Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Brr? No. Warm rain and warm people

The scariness and the magic began happening in the Czech Republic. Our last pre-booked hotel was the Royal Ricc, very fancy and expensive at 129 euros, a luxurious and pleasant soft landing with a genuine bathtub and even a bidet. We stayed there two nights, visiting Spilberk castle and the Capuchin monastery, where you can look at 30 mummified monks and prominent Brnoites for 40 korunas ($1.60).

Spilberk has a true castle feel, what with tall brick walls and a battlement. They've put a lot of energy into creating their upstairs museum, but the military has definitely not left the castle. A bunch of baggy old docents insisted we start at point A and move along in order, even though the English translation of the guide had no correspondence to items in each room. The docents followed us along to make sure we didn't steal anything. I got kvetched at once for touching one of two large broadswords displayed in the open, and a second time for gesturing too close to a painting, which had a proximity alarm.

Downstairs you could tour the prison. Ironically, here the people were much nicer, spoke excellent English, and each point of interest had numbers that corresponded to the guide pamphlet.

We ate several times at "Under the Golden Sword," a restaurant and pub recommended by the Lonely Planet guide, just around the corner from the Royal Ricc. The food was quite good (get the French beans with bacon and cream sauce), the staff friendly, and they have an English version of the menu. One of the items omitted from the English menu is steak tartare, which is truly tasty.

In Czech we got the distinct impression that people actually liked tourists and tried their best to help us. Viennese are a bit cooler in temperament, more self-assured of their superiority, but kind and helpful once you break into their space. Budapest was a toss-up, between our 'secret police' and the genuine police who will fine you on the spot if they catch you not paying for the bus.

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