Monday, May 23, 2016

Slavic Peregrinations

My next stop as I stomped around Central Europe was Roznava. I imbibed in the Slovak countryside that is like the Microsoft XP wallpaper, endless rolling hills of verdant green. Roznava is a small town in Eastern Slovakia that isn't used to tourists. A tall brown guy with a camera was a subject of attention everywhere I went. Maybe if they started receiving bus loads of Chinese tourists, their curiosity will be diminished. I jest. Those cute villages cradled in gorgeous valleys are best left in the time capsule they are in.

One thing I noticed was that every home my host took me, I was offered Slivovika, a Slovakian spirit. It doesn't have to be 5 o'clock anywhere for Slovaks to drink. I guess this is the source of the high spirits of the Slovak people. Apparently they drink spirits to kill bacteria in their systems. Given the amount they drink, either they have superbugs in their tummies or they are just plain hypochondriacs. Another peculiarity of Eastern Slovakia - Gypsy villages. These are pretty much clean slums. The Gypsy people have a culture, language and society of their own. And they are known to have originated from North India. Though their language is very different from Hindi, the only North Indian language I know. I tried speaking Hindi to one guy, and he just stared at me. Maybe I just spoke really bad Hindi. What a strange parallel society to exist in the heart of Europe.

Moving on to Krakow, a quick stop in Poland to get another country checked of the list of countries I have visited. It is the relatively undiscovered Prague of the East. Emphasis on the term relatively. It has a lovely old town with numerous magnificent Gothic churches. And for once there were people praying! Most of European churches have turned into museums of art and architecture. So it was a pleasant surprise to see people of ages showing some form of piety.

But as I stepped out of a church and I got accosted by a pretty lady trying to make conversation with me. Now in my 29 years of existence, I have concluded that I will never attract a hot girl based on my looks. It's not that I suffer from low self esteem (read this blog URL), but facts are facts. How did I become attractive suddenly? So naturally this lady's overtures made me suspicious. She said she would get me free drinks at a gentleman's club. I asked her if I looked gentle, given my 5 o'clock shadow from last week. Besides, I wasn't thirsty. The problem with puns is that they are completely ineffective when English is not the first language of the audience/victim. And I don't think she was interested in my jokes anyways. She moved on to her next target and I was left wondering about the contrast of churches and strip clubs in the heart of Krakow.

A must visit in Krakow is the Schindler Factory museum. WWII brought out the best and the worst of the human soul. There was brutality and horrors beyond words. And there was sacrifice from people who went above and beyond the call to help someone else, sometimes at the risk of their own lives. You read about stories of hope and resilience of the human spirit. And finally it is a lesson in history. One mustn't forget that these events transpired less than a lifetime ago. And history repeats itself for those who forget.

If any city could be a melody, it would have to be Prague. The seamless blend of architectural styles surrounded by spires in all directions results in a delightful harmony. It is easily the most beautiful city I have been to so far. Prague is simply stunning. There's something magical at every turn as you stroll through the medieval streets of the old town and over the Charles Bridge towards the Castle. Thank you WWII leaders for not bombing the crap out of it.

Charles bridge is probably the most famous sight in Prague. Every time I walked across, I was awestruck by the views in both directions. The panoramas never ceased to amaze me. Agreed that it is so crowded that they almost have foot traffic lanes with pull outs for photo ops. I wouldn't blame you if you thought for a brief moment that you were on a subway train in Tokyo. But go there at 7am (or earlier) for an experience to savor. The quiet of the morning augments the eminence of the spires and arches looming over the horizon. Now who wakes up that early when on vacation? Well, if the offspring of a peasant wants a royal experience, you gotta do what needs to be done. The other famous attraction in Prague is the clock. At first I was, well, whelmed. Not over or under. It seemed nice and fancy, but not deserving the throngs of tourists who gather faithfully every hour, like clockwork. Later, after reading about the details of the clock, I was definitely overwhelmed. I encourage you to read up before you go see it so that you are not left thinking that staring at the clock was a waste of time. Give it a second glance and the minute details will manifest themselves.

If all that sight seeing has made you thirsty, grab a Czech beer. Oh yes, pilsners and lagers. Enough with the pale ales that have infested the American beer scene. Czech beers are refreshing, delicious, potent and cheap. They love their beers so much that once my coffee was served in a beer glass. And with the foam at the top, it looked like a porter. A delightful place to enjoy a cold one and feel like a million dollars (for $4) is at the bar on the roof of U Prince. It's a hidden gem overlooking the main square. Best time is after 5pm as the best views are to the east.

Time for a little general rant. Why do people feed pigeons? I don't want to be a party pooper here. But I'd rather poop on this party figuratively than be pooped on literally. Let's keep these flying rodents away please. They are menace to the outdoor spaces and monuments. See those ugly nets hanging everywhere, that's to scare the pigeons. And while on rant mode, what do smokers think when they drop cigarette butts all over the place? Do they think that when they stamp it out, it just magically disappears? Cigarette butts are one of the major polluters of the oceans as well. I wish I could tell smokers that dealing with their smoke was enough. Now if they could clean up after they are done, it would be a breath of fresh air.

Shout out to the Dorcakovas in Roznava and Vieroslava&Marek in Prague for hosting me.