Monthly Archives: April 2012

Ich haße Schwitzen!

I’ve been going to the gym roughly 3 times a week (never less than 3) since July. Certainly the longest physical exercise routine I’ve ever maintained. Though, when I say gym I really just mean weight training. Because, as I’ve ranted about before, I find the idea of regular gym activities insulting and awful.

I chose the gym I go to now because 1) It’s close. Just around the corner. So only truly inclement weather would stop me. 2) They only offer weight training and have a strictly outlined plan and 3) My mom paid. Lord knows I don’t have the money for something like that. In theory, weight training should be beneficial as building any muscle at all is a benefit, should help raise the ‘ol metabolism and increase how many calories I can consume in a day, and is the most bang for your buck as you burn more calories with weights in the same amount of time as, say, anything else. I also appreciated how simple and short it seemed. Try to do 90 seconds, then move to the next machine. 10 machines in all. No dipshits yelling at you to “just do one more” or anything like that. And no bad music blaring.

And I’ve been doing it pretty much nonstop since I signed up in July. There was a slight gap when I went to Hamburg, and I missed once or twice when I got sick around Christmas. But otherwise, 3 or 4 times a week like clockwork. Totally didn’t bother me. Got up, went to the gym sometime in the late morning, did my thing, and it was over.

Then I went to Prague and, as a result, took about a week off from it. Now I loathe the idea of it all of a sudden. I still go every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, and it’s over before I know it. But, ugh, I don’t wanna!

Maybe it’s because I’ve sort of reached my limit? The amount I lift isn’t going to increase much anymore unless I were to change something. And I’m not. The goal was never to become ripped or anything. I can feel muscles now that I’ve never felt before, and that’s nice. But there’s still a layer of fat (and, to be disgusting, extra skin) over it all that negates any real visual progress. I even have the slightest semblance of pecs, but they’re betrayed by the remaining man-boob fat that still hangs there.

My membership expires in July, and I haven’t talked to my mom about renewing. I’m not 100% sure if I want to. Maybe find other things to do? Stick to the same schedule but spend the time walking or something instead? It’s the structure of the gym that makes the habit possible. A structure that someone else put in place. I worry I’m not as likely to keep that on my own. And what would happen if I stopped? Would the muscle immediately disappear? Would I lose a few pounds of muscle, but only replace it immediately with fat? I’m going to have stop doing it for a time anyway whenever we move to wherever we move to.

I hate exercise. I hate it so much. I really don’t understand why some people willingly do it all the time. I’ve never finished a workout or any stenuous physical activity (recreational or otherwise) and felt amazing. Renewed. Refreshed. I know that’s what they say it’s supposed to be like. But I just feel tired, annoyed, and sweaty. And who wants to feel sweaty?

I still maintain that I’ve never seen someone look happy while jogging. Look at them sometime. They look miserable. Because they are.

Kutna Hora

That picture is just inside the entrance to the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora, a small town about 90 minutes northeast of Prague. I had read about the Ossuary on one of those internet timewaster sites with a million lists of things. Top ten creepiest places or something like that, so I stored it in my small file of interesting places to visit if given the chance. And, since I was in Prague and had the time, I went for it.

The tour company I chose to get me there was pretty sketchy. But I had to book it pretty blindly as I’m not a last minute kind of person and I didn’t want to navigate the Czech train system alone. And the town is large enough that walking it all seemed tiring. So a small, cramped coach picked me up at my hotel and a Czech guy gave us a tour both broken English and Spanish.  I’d hesitate to call him a tour guide though, as he would just say the names of things, but not give any background information on them. So, instead, I found myself eavesdropping on other tour groups.

The Sedlec Ossuary…well, I don’t remember the full history of it. But it’s decorated with human bones. That’s the main point, isn’t it? Something like the remains of 40,000 to 70,000 people lines the walls, ceiling, and corners of the church basement. Most of them having died of the plague, or in the Hussite wars.

Since an Ossuary is meant to store remains, I guess someone thought they’d spruce the place up a bit by using them as decoration. Sure, most of them are in giant bell-shaped piles in the corners, but there are little flourishes. The town seal, crosses, on the confessional booth (long since removed), and the centerpiece of the place, the chandelier. It contains every bone in the human body, and it sure is interesting to stare at.

You’d think it feel morbid and ghoulish to be in there. But it’s not. Sure, there’s that realization that every skull once contained a person. Someone who couldn’t possibly conceive some schlub like me would wander in 400 years later and gawk at his bones. But there are just so many, and there’s something playful about it that makes it interesting. It was done with the intent of respecting the dead, after all.

Kutna Hora, the town, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is extremely beautiful. It was once a prosperous silver mine and home to one of the first mints to make currency for all of Europe. When the silver ran out nothing much happened there until a big Philip Morris plant opened up. That’s the heart of the town now.

At the top of the hill is Saint Barbara’s Cathedral, a massive gothic thing that, while beautiful, isn’t too different from any other big cathedral I’ve seen.

Next to the cathedral was a pathway lined with familiar looking statues. Seems they like the Charles Bridge in Prague enough to make their own knockoff version. It’s nice, but not the same.

The part of town I really enjoyed was the Italian Court, which was where they minted the coins. There we got a local guide who, though she still spoke broken English, actually knew what she was talking about.

I thought the building itself was just gorgeous. Almost to the point where, if I ever made myself a mansion (something I don’t really aspire to do, actually), I’d think about modelling it after here.

My pictures don’t really do it justice (the lighting was against me), but it was really something. The interior had some exhibits on the minting process, some very old coins, the king’s meeting hall, the king’s bedroom, and the king’s chapel.

We had free time after that, so I just roamed the streets for a while. A nice, small, quiet, and tourist focused town, yet it didn’t feel as tacky as big parts of Prague with the constant souvenir stores. I stopped in a little cafe for a slice of cake as I was starving and watched people. It was great. Should you be in Prague, it’s worth a day trip.

Karlovy Vary, and some other local castles seem like good side trips as well. Perhaps another time.

 

Prague

I do apologize for the delay in posting. I get easily distracted nowadays.

Prague! So pretty.

When we first knew we were moving to Germany, and the idea of trying to explore some of Europe came up, I would constantly joke that we should go to Prague. Not only because it’s close, but because I heard it was cheap. And, for the most part, it is both close and somewhat cheap.

Chris had a work conference to attend, so I tagged along as it meant his transportation, hotel, and food would all be covered. So we really only had to pay for my food and transport, and it was only 40 Euro each way. Which is a bargain around here. So we took the train to Nuremberg (another town I’ve wanted to visit) and quickly rushed to find the bus that would take us to Prague. And, after a 3 and a half hour drive, we were there.

For the first time…well…I think ever, I didn’t really have any plans for this trip. I knew we would take a walking tour on Tuesday, and I was taking a trip to Kutna Hora on Wednesday, but otherwise it was all a question mark. Hal, who coincidentally was in London at the same time, agreed to meet us there, so I would have a wandering companion while Chris was at the conference during the day.

Our hotel was…a bit out of the way. Four or five stops out of downtown, on the other side of the river, up on a hill. As soon as we got out of the Metro station we were immediately turned around and no idea which way the hotel was. Even one of the drunk locals who offered to help us had no idea which way we should go.

This was going to be a pattern.

I have a pretty decent sense of direction, I like to think. I don’t really get lost much at all. I can’t really even remember too many times where I’ve actually been lost. Unless it’s dark and raining and I don’t know the roads, I can usually find what I’m looking for.

But, man, Prague is confusing. When you’re downtown, there’s no real landmarks to fix on to get your bearings. All the streets curve. They clearly grew organically, and they are a twisted mess. Zig-zagging, ending abruptly, turning suddenly, no clear street signs (as if you could even read them). The tourist landmark signs are no help either as they’re all in Czech and they don’t seem to point to the two biggest places (the Charles Bridge and the town center). The river runs north/south parallel to the city center, then abruptly turns east and makes a U turn.

I got lost every day. Multiple times. It was great, really. That was half the point. I would know the general direction I needed to go and head that way, then invariably get lost and wind up going a different direction. I had the time, and I wasn’t going to end up in a bad neighborhood or anything, so it always worked out. Hal managed better as he’s learned to orient himself based on the sun. Chris, who has no sense of direction, got hopelessly lost the one day he was going to meet me downtown, but found me just in time. It’s a confusing town.

But, wow, is it a beautiful town. A photographer’s dream. Gorgeous cobblestone streets, countless alleys, stairways, churches, towers, and sculptures. You can’t turn around without seeing something beautiful. It’s a great town to wander and just take it all in. That being said, there ain’t much to do besides that. Not a lot of attractions begging to be visited.

The first night Chris and I just wandered Wenceslas Square, which seemed like the most touristy and crummy street. We chose a Czech restaurant with a big picture menu (so Chris could clearly identify everything). Everyone speaks English, of course, and the host had the strangest accent. It almost sounded made up, and even mimicking it is difficult. I had goulash for the first time, which was pretty good. You could get it everywhere, and I quickly learned the next day I grossly overpaid. But whatever. Chunks of beef in a nice sauce with bread and dumplings. Nice hearty food, very similar to German fare.

The next day Hal and I just wandered around, exploring the Castle district. A lot of winding streets going up to the top of the hill where the castle is located, along with a bunch of embassies. We passed a tiny little bakery and got some of these delicious pastries. The sign said TRDLO, but I don’t now if that’s the actual name (Czech words do seem to lack vowels). They were cooked on these spinning cylinders right on the street, brushed with sugar and some other spice. Still warm and fluffy. Delicious.

It seemed every other storefront was a restaurant there, the others being souvenir stores. Unfortunately, since it’s such a huge tourist destination, most of the stores are all the same. The same Prague trinkets and such. Garnet, amber, and crystal shops. Sure, some of them are a little unique, but the more central you get, the more homogeneous it is. It’s a shame. The castle district had some unique stores, and I almost bought a thing or two. There was an awesome three-headed dragon marionette that I loved, but it was pricey and what would I do with it anyways?

The castle itself is large and beautiful (the largest functioning castle in Europe), but mostly just a collection of buildings. It’s impressive, but not awe inspiring or anything. We happened to pass by it  during the changing of the guards, which was cool.

We wound up at a little cafe on the bank of the river by the Kafka museum for lunch. We had an amazing view of the Charles bridge and downtown. It was very nice.

Speaking of the Kafka museum they had an…interesting statue/fountain of two guys peeing. It was automated as well, and the two would, apparently, trace out the borders of the Czech Republic with their streams. Hmmmm.

Dinner was at TGI Friday’s, because we tend to end up at American chain places when we travel (Chris hit up KFC at least 3 times). Usually it’s Pizza Hut, but they didn’t have that. Hal was not enthused, but it’s not a kind of food we can get easily in Göttingen. A ridiculous American style burger was good though.

The following day Hal and I did some more wandering, this time in the Jewish quarter. Unlike most of the Jewish areas in European cities, Hitler didn’t have this one walled up. Seems Hitler loved Prague and wanted the Jewish quarter to remain as is so it could serve as an open air museum to an extinct race. Luckily he didn’t get his way and the area wound up well preserved.

I had most wanted to see the old Jewish Cemetery, but they were charging a ridiculous amount to get in (it included a museum and some synagogues as well, but that didn’t interest me). The small little cemetery has something like 100,000 bodies buried there in about a dozen layers. Since space was at a premium, and they had no other place to bury their dead, they kept adding layers to it. And since Jewish law forbids the moving of a headstone, the place is crammed with them. It’s creepy. We could see the smallest bit from the street though, it would have to do.

I also bought my mom a birthday gift and was my first time ever haggling for something. I, of course, probably grossly overpaid for what I got and immediately felt buyer’s remorse. ‘Cause even after talking him down some, it still wasn’t cheap. Oh well, it’ll make a nice gift.

Hal and I found a small cafe far enough outside the tourist area that it was less than half the price of the first restaurant we went to. It was a gorgeous little place, across the street from an opera house. Art deco/30’s decor, lots of marble, and an old world feeling. It was awesome. I had baked duck on red cabbage with potato dumplings. I wish I had a picture (Hal took one), but it was as tasty as it looked. And dirt cheap, comparatively.

The walking tour was nice. The same company for the Berlin and Hamburg tours we took. Our guide was super friendly and knowledgeable and fun to talk to. Seems Czech is a pain in the ass to learn. Seven cases and sounds found in no other language. Even after living there 7 years she’s considered intermediate at best. Glad I only have to deal with German.

Also found a burrito place, thanks to the tour, and it was the best Mexican food I’ve had yet here. Which is a big deal for me, as I miss it so much. Who would’ve thought?

And, wow, their public transportation system is amazing. One of the few benefits from decades of communist rule. A large subway, tram, and bus system that can take you anywhere you want to go. During rush hour the subways were coming every minute. Crazy! And cheap. Only 24 Crowns for a 30 minute ticket (roughly 15 Crowns per US dollar).

So I’m glad we went. Prague is a gorgeous place to visit. But, man, plan it carefully. We were still technically in the off-season, though there were a lot of US college kids on spring break trips (as well as Italian high-school classes), and it was still pretty crowded. Not overwhelming, but you could sense how unbearably crowded it could get once summer hits. Stick to early spring/fall when the big crowds are there. It must be awful with the heat and the crushing throngs in the small, confusing streets.

Also, frankly, it won’t take more then two days to see absolutely everything. The city center is small and compact and all the landmarks are within walking distance. Not a whole lot of museums to peruse. The big one is closed for 5 years for renovations, and Chris didn’t want to go to the Sex Machine Museum for some reason. Weirdo.

Would I come back? Sure. I hope I do someday.

Next up: Kutna Hora and its many skulls.