Thursday, June 9, 2016

10 Days Off the Island (a.k.a Honeymoon Edition, Part 1)

"So...I'm married now. That's pretty cool." -Me, Tweeting 5/28/2016

I know it's lame to quote yourself, and ordinarily I would never do it...but that's still a pretty amazing thought to me. Fiancée Reptar has evolved into Wife Reptar, and if anything she looks more beautiful than before. Things are roughly the same as before...but something feels different.
But anyway, enough of the sentimental stuff. Or "senti", as my cousin (and Deacon at my wedding) Josh puts it. We took off for our honeymoon, a much-needed 10-day vacation to end my intern year and start Reptar's. After an 8-hour flight, Wife Reptar and I landed in Prague with the typical "Um...what do we do now?" expression on our faces. So...

We took a nap.

From the Charles Bridge
Later we explored some of the surrounding areas, and to show you how little research we had done prior to the trip, at one point we crossed a bridge with a ton of statues depicting various scenes of religious strife and major figures. It was crowded, nearly choked with tourists gawking at the statues, peddlers hawking their wares, and caricature artists creating hilarious art, all the way across. At the end of the walkway, Reptar turned and asked, "Joe, was that the Charles Bridge? The big tourist landmark everyone told us to check out?" As it turned out, it was. Almost missed the significance, there. 

We also immediately discovered the Czech Republic's rich artistic culture. Obviously the architecture is immediately breathtaking, as visible in any photo or painting of Prague. But beyond that, in nearly every cathedral or church or other other venue, almost nightly they have classical music performances. Have you ever heard Vivaldi or Dvorak as performed by string quartet+organ combo? Toss a rock in Prague and you can hit a performance. It's beautiful. More on music later.
We also realized that we had timed our trip perfectly with the Prague Fringe Festival! Amazing performers from all over Europe had arrived to show off their talents. The first night itself we caught a one-woman show of Richard III, one of my favorite Shakespearean plays. Soon to become one of Reptar's(?). Later in the week we would catch the hilarious improv group Men with Coconuts, as well as the Who Dares Twins, a musical stand-up act featuring two twin brothers, and at the end of the week we would be taken along on an acid trip in story form, simply titled "Tiger," and be read (disappointingly) by the Singing Psychic, an act which should really just be called "A British Woman Puts on an Eastern European Accent and Shows Off Her Singing Talent by Looking Up (In a Book) and Then Singing Top 40 Hits from the Week You Were Born."
The peeing statues

Our second day of the trip was probably the most memorable, as it started off with us setting an alarm for 8:30 and not actually waking up until...1:00 PM. Whoops. Still, we wasted no time in getting lunch and then headed to the KGB Museum. If you're ever in Prague, I highly suggest this (thank you Foursquare app for suggesting it to us!). The owner is clearly waiting for Putin to call him and initiate a new Soviet Union by taking the Czech Republic back into Russian hands. He also may have a bit of a cocaine habit fueling his Russian pride. But he will give you an excellent and animated tour of his little museum, pointing out and demonstrating the function of various Russian weaponry, communications, and spy equipment and using it to provide historical context as he takes you through the history of the KGB from pre-WWI up to the end of WWII and beyond. The whole thing was really intriguing and educational (if biased)...but he was weird. 
The other great museum is that of Franz Kafka. If you have even a passing familiarity with his work, or any interest in a man whose writing shapes our interpretation both of life and of history, you should definitely go here. The creepy yet enticing exhibit takes you through his life and thinking process, and you really get a sense of knowing the man a tiny bit better (if only a tiny bit).
St. Vitus Cathedral

Reptar and I prided ourselves on not using the tour group thing and just discovering the city and its history on our own. But one tourist trap you absolutely should fall into is Prague Castle. The basic ticket package consists of the four main attractions - St. Vitus Cathedral, St. George's Basilica, Old Royal Palace, Golden Lane. I have never seen Reptar display as much wonderment as when we walked through the awe-inspiring St. Vitus Cathedral, with its brilliantly detailed stained-glass windows and its incredible architecture, and the sheer ethereal quality to the air that made you feel like you were truly in God's presence. Later, we would encounter the camaraderie of our profession in a cafe after the Castle. Reptar's American Medical Student Association sweatshirt prompted a pathologist and her reproductive endocrinologist husband to introduce themselves, wish us congratulations, and pass on both career and marital advice, as well as suggestions for leg 2 of our trip, Budapest. 

And they had Starbucks
Of course, no travel post would be complete without food. Czech food is heavy on the meats and carbs. Reptar and I quickly found our favorite dish to be goulash, a far cry from the pasta-and-ground beef combo of American goulash, but rather delicious chunks of spiced beef in a sauce reminiscent of (but not as flavorful or spicy as) an Indian curry, with bread dumplings that would have been tasty enough on their own. This can be found in any Czech restaurant, but our clear favorite was a quaint little mom-and-pop eatery in Old Town named U Modrého Hroznu. We might go back to Prague sometime just to eat at that place again.
The amazing hot chocolate
I drank a beer with every non-breakfast meal, which was pretty standard (the Pilsener was first brewed in the Czech Republic, so that's what is found pretty much everywhere - it would take some doing to find a good dark beer to suit my tastes). They appear to drink more beer than water (which comes only in bottles and costs extra) in Prague, much to Reptar's beer-aversive chagrin.
In the cafe with the two physicians we would encounter the terrific combination of Schnitzel+strudel, as well as Prague's infamous delicious spoon-required hot chocolate. Later we wandered through a wine festival with some of the best chocolate cheesecake I have ever encountered. But no trip to Prague is complete without the cinnamon sugar-coated dough spiral known as Trdelnik, now sometimes paired with flavored gelato for a truly delicious cold treat.
And, of course, it wouldn't be me without some music. In addition to the aforementioned classical music, the wine festival featured an impressive jazz quartet of guitar, accordion, banjo, and double bass, putting a delightful Eastern Europe spin on classics like "The Girl From Ipanema" and "On Green Dolphin Street." And on our last night we descended into one of the established jazz clubs in the area and took in the mighty Jan Kofenik and the GrooveKeepers, of whom I've never heard, but they were a tight little organ jazz quintet that brought the house down for their CD release party. That's right, I own a CD of a Czech jazz group now.

Overall, an amazing trip. And it's the only the first half! Now we're off to Budapest for the second leg. Maybe I'll let Reptar talk in the next post. Or at least talk about her a little more.

Yay, Trdelnik!

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