A Trip To Europe, Hold the Tourists Please

Notes on the Sleeper Train from Katowice to Prague

Toured Auschwitz/Birkenau today, ouch. Difficult to fit in one's head. Humans did this?


From: Philip Semanchuk
To: john, irene & scott, steve & liz
Subject: Re: Dzien dobry from Krakow
Date: Sunday, August 29, 1999 11:05 AM

scott & irene <fatbak@pobox.com> wrote:
> Thanks for your travel updates -- we're
> enjoying them. Say hi to all the people
> I don't know over there. (?)

You guys owe me bigtime for making the trip to see the relatives. It has been great but since I was the first from America to visit, I was the recipient of two generations of pent-up smothering affection and sloppy kisses. The advance word went out that I was a vegetarian who liked pierogies so at every house (and we visited 3 or 4 each day) I was greated with great steaming mounds of cabbage pierogies swimming in grease, vodka, excellent rye bread, farm butter, borscht, vodka, beer, cheese, and vodka. And sometimes cognac. After eating until I almost lost consciousness they would refill my plate and tell me to eat more. Always in Polish. If I took a slice of bread, five more would replace it. "Why don't you finish? You don't like?" It was like a Twilight Zone episode about a glutton.And they kept asking me the same questions over and over -- why I'm not married, why I am a vegetarian, why haven't I found a nice Polish girl yet and settled down? Try answering questions like this through a mouth full of pierogies and an interpreter whose English is limited. The last question is especially delicate, and I couldn't really say the truth which is that in Sweden I couldn't find many unattractive women whereas in Poland quite a few have five o'clock shadow. Probably wouldn't translate well.

Anyhow I'm in Prague now. I spent last night on a train from Katowice, Poland. Both the train ride and the bed were too short to get a decent night's sleep. Travel enthusiasm has its ebbs and...ebbs and what? Ebbs and eddies? Ebbs and flows? Ebbs and neaps? Anyway I'm trying to find some Viagra for my wanderlust right now because the pierogie overdose and a soaking long walk through rainy Prague this morning (which was nice until the rain started in earnest and I got lost hiking up steep steep Petrin hill) have sapped some of my energy. In any case I'll return home sometime this week after checking out Prague Castle and maybe pushing someone off the Charles Bridge into the Vlata.

Gotta go. Access here is 2Kc/minute and I'm not sure how much that is. Poland had an easy exchange rate to figure out -- 4Zl per dollar. Here it is 34 Kc per dollar. When was the last tiime you tried to divide anything by 34?

Soggy Pragguie,

Prague Blues, August 29th

Sunday at the end of August and I am crabby in rainy Prague. Visiting relatives in Poland was marvelous but not being allowed to do anything for myself sapped my energy. I am a bit tired of travelling, and being sleepy and rained on doesn't help. So I'm sitting here writing this, eating Polish sandwiches, drying out, weighing my options.

Monday, August 30th. Impressions of Prague

What bothers me about Prague is that I'm unable to see its character beneath the postcards and the tourists. It looks like a hastily organized post-Soviet Disneyland. To quote a paraphrase I read in a Prague newspaper today, it is so crowded that nobody goes there anymore. I feel lonely.

A picture of Prague Castle overlooking the Vlata River at dusk
Prague Castle overlooking the Vlata River at dusk

So where do I go from here? Am I really done? I think so. OK, fair enough. Out of gas, disgusted by tourists, homesick, tired of trying to divide by 34, I'm outta here.

Cultural note: In Prague it appears that all you need to open a bar is a fridge and a cash register.

From: Philip Semanchuk
To: john, irene & scott, steve & liz
Subject: too many consonants in Czech too
Date: Monday, August 30, 1999 04:38 PM

After 3 weeks, I finally found a decent pizza in Europe. Sadly, my guidebook's warnings about unscrupulous Prague merchants ripping off tourists were right on the mark. Not very nice, makes me paranoid every time I buy something.

Prague is architecturally impressive with a whopping great castle and towers and spires everywhere; the view over the Vlata at night is gorgeous. But the people seem to be divided between locals trying to hide from the tourists and tourists being obnoxious. Americans and Brits sucking down the Pilsner Urquell & Staropramen as fast as they can at approx. $1.80/liter and aged Asian tour groups with videocameras pointed everywhere. I cringe when I think of how many hours will be spent watching these painfully dull tapes of statues and buildings and other tourists...but I'm being ugly and bitching about the tapes is even worse than watching them.

I am leaving here Wed. night and will arrive home Friday morning after spending too much time in airports. I hope Hurricane Dennis doesn't monkey wrench my plans.

I'm off!

PS - It stopped raining.

A picture of the interior of St. Vitus' Cathedral
A portion of the interior of St. Vitus' Cathedral

Waiting for a Train Notes. September 1st.

Excellent. Last day in Prague starts with a good bagel, good coffee and Louis Armstrong's version of Mack the Knife. Scarlet billows. I met a kind fellow named Martin today who was not ashamed to take me, a tourist with backpack and all, to one of his favorite Czech pubs. When we walked in speaking English, heads turned. No bad vibes, but maybe there would have been if he hadn't spoken Czech? Anyway we had a liter (each) together. Czechs drink enormous quantities of beer, according to my guidebook. We met a woman who was sad and who spilled her guts to Martin who got to play psychologist. I played with a box of matches while being thankful that I do not speak Czech. Martin and I left and went our separate ways. Nice guy, I hope he does well in life. He reminded me of a Swede, happy, open.

I'm sitting in the grotty train station now. I am ready to GO! The guy on the bench behind me looks homeless and is snoring loudly. I am tempted to steal his brown wingtips just to see if I can do it. I'd have to be a real bastard to steal this man's shoes.