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travel, stories, and other flights of fancy


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Titirimundi

It’s that time of year again! The time when the sun comes out, the old French carousel is set up under the aqueduct, and the puppets come to Segovia. Titirimundi is an annual festival, which unites some of the best puppeteers and performance artists from all over the world. It also attracts hordes of children, street musicians, fire twirlers, balloon vendors, and dreadlocked alternative bohemian folk (selling alternative bohemian wearable wares). There are also workshops, exhibitions, and puppet stalls, so that anyone who’s mildly creative and/or under the age of ten can have a go at being a part of the action themselves. And to top it all off, there’s the Tierra de Sabor (Land of Flavour) food tent, which I can personally recommend for the rich, psychedelic-dream-inducing cheeses, just in case the festival performances aren’t bizarre enough for your taste.

Oh yes, and there’s also the King. His Majesty Juan Carlos I of Spain decided to grace Segovia with his presence this weekend, but I don’t think he came for the puppets. There was some kind of Royal Artillery anniversary, with cannons and speeches etc. A bit of bad timing I guess, given the evident political persuasion of Segovia’s current transient population. Luckily, the King is recovering from a hip operation (after a triple fracture incurred during an elephant hunting trip in Botswana, I kid you not), conveniently excusing him from any obligation to walk through the city or greet the populace.

Anyway, back to the wonderful mundo de títeres (world of puppets).

Last time Titirimundi came to town, I was tragically desk ridden and didn’t get to see any of it. This year, no such lucrative translating jobs have come my way, leaving me free to roam the streets and enjoy the spectacle. I’ve been feeling so relaxed and enchanted by the atmosphere, that I was almost tempted to take my chances at joining one of the wandering artists’ troupes. The nomadic, penniless, circus-esque life is beginning to look like an attractive career move.

Whilst the atmosphere in the streets is fantastic, it’s really just a side show, a bonus. The main event(s) are the espectáculos, shows, held in ambient venues such as old monasteries and churches, and the famous Juan Bravo theatre on Segovia’s Plaza Mayor. Some are free, but you have to reserve, others are cheap, but it’s first in best dressed on the day, and some require you to book and pay in advance (although this is no guarantee of a seat). Yes, the ‘system’ is typically Spanish; varied and complicated. But one thing is consistent; all main events have been well attended, and tickets must always be bought as far in advance as possible. They usually go on sale about a month before the festival. Consider this a heads up for next year.

The shows themselves range from traditional favourites such as The Flea Circus and Punch and Judy, to all kinds of kooky international avant garde theatre productions.

As someone who is unfamiliar with puppets and their possibilities, one thing that has really surprised me is that although it’s clearly possible to make delicate, refined, and highly realistic puppets, many puppeteers chose not to. The majority of the títeres at this year’s festival, from hand puppets to marionettes, were extremely rudimentary in design. Beautifully crafted dolls could be found in the stalls, but not on the stages. For an internationally renowned festival, the sets were also very crudely constructed, at least in the few shows that I saw. Strangely enough, it seems to me that this deceptively amateur look actually emphasises the professionalism, skill, and creative talent of the performers.

The three espectáculos I attended were:

Sopa de Ladrones (Soup of thieves) by Titiritainas, Ecuador
A hand puppet drama about an Ecuadorian spinster who prays to Saint Antonio for a boyfriend, and then falls in love with a robber, whom she believes was sent in answer to her prayers. This lively mini theatre works on two different levels, with plenty of interactive moments for children, and funny adult innuendos. Almost worth seeing just to hear the kids’ animated commentaries.

Algo huele a podrido (Something smells rotten) by Elvis Alatac, France
A hilarious, depraved, very messy re-enactment of Hamlet, with kitchen utensils being the main protagonists. The actor/puppeteer was fantastic; eccentric, overly exaggerated and subtle at the same time, and probably best described as French. My only criticism is that despite having paid for tickets, many people still had to sit on the floor up the front, which meant that they A: got splattered with flour and fake blood, and B: had to strain to see the “subtitles” above the stage. Fortunately we all know more or less how Hamlet goes, and it wasn’t too difficult to understand the multilingual (French, Spanish and English) babble being spoken. The point was that it made no sense. Well, at least I think that was the point. Shakespeare always has been a bit over my head.

Dan’s atelier (Something about a workshop?) by Le Tof Theatre, Belgium
By far my favourite performance. In fifteen minutes of pure comedic brilliance, a puppet constructs himself, and then rebels against his puppeteers. The physical evolution of the puppet is fantastic, every gesture, every second of the performance is hilarious, and the skill of the two puppeteers absolutely blew me away. Acting is one thing (and difficult enough), but acting two roles at the same time (for example, a frightened puppeteer quivering under the threats of a menacing puppet), must require incredible talent and coordination. I walked away from this show feeling elated, exhausted from laughing, knowing that I’d seen something incredible that I’d never seen before, and that if every show after this was a let-down, the night would still have been good value.

So, as you might have guessed, Titirimundi was well worth the wait, and I very much enjoyed the glimpse I had into the colourful and exciting world of puppets. However, I know they’re not for everyone, and it’s no surprise that some local Segovians are a little bit over the annual hippy/artist invasion. Puppets can often be corny or clichéd, they have inherent limitations, and if done badly, they can be terrible (even embarrassing). But this makes them all the more challenging, interesting, and fun. It occurred to me halfway through Algo huele a podrido (Hamlet) that the performance was basically an adult playing with random objects and talking to himself in silly voices, just like a kid playing with toys. I don’t know how, but it worked. I guess that’s the magic of a good puppeteer.

 

 

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Zaragoza – madness and mudéjar

The first time I came across the name Zaragoza was when studying a map of 1612 Spain for a uni history assignment. The subject was “Witches and Witch Hunting in Europe”, a bit of an anomaly amongst my other more modern and ‘relevant’ studies. The topic for my final essay was The Basque Witch Craze and the Spanish Inquisition, a theme which I found a little too absorbing – the research obsessed and possessed me. Hours of poring over exotic, illuminated documents and ancient maps, with names like Zugarramurdi, Urdax, Almándoz and Zaragoza, transported me to the mystical world of early 17th century Spain. I imagined it as a fiery, craggy landscape, dotted with tiny wooden villages and inhabited by a backward, superstitious people, who trudged through the mud and mist, wailing in overly pious hysteria and cackling with deranged laughter as they burned ‘heretics’ at the stake (condemning them to a hell even more insufferable from the one they already inhabited). Over the course of my research I also developed a slight crush on Alonso de Salazar; a young inquisitor with beautiful calligraphy and a formidable determination to save the innocent lives of old, misunderstood spinsters. You can read the essay here if you like.

Back in the real world, it came as a bit of a shock when I found out that Zaragoza now has a population of 800,000 people, and is considered to be one of the most modern and architecturally advanced cities in Spain (and it was the first to have a telephone network introduced). How disappointing.

Undeterred, I resolved to visit it after all, mostly because Zaragoza is such a cool name, but also because it’s the province where Goya was born and is home to a number of his works.

Last weekend was “the bridge of Carnival”, a four day weekend to facilitate the debauchery that traditionally precedes the solemn fasting period of lent. I did not partake in any debauchery and nor do I have any intention of being solemn, fasting or ‘doing’ lent, but bridge weekends are great for domestic tourism, so off I went with a friend to visit Zaragoza.

The city itself was a little disappointing, through no fault of its own. The weather was awful, the modern architecture (slick bridges and shell-like exhibition centres) didn’t interest me, and we had to pay for tapas, which felt like a terrible injustice. There were a lot of unfortunate looking run-down high rises and abandoned shopping strips, which is completely normal, I suppose, for a normal city in a country in the midst of a financial crisis.

However, despite not being particularly attractive, Zaragoza did have its attractions, which rendered the trip completely worthwhile:

Goya’s etchings: Forget the crown-commissioned tapestry designs and religious frescos of his younger years, it’s when Goya was an old man  – deaf, depressed, and disheartened by society – that his true genius surfaced. At the Museo de Ibercaja in Zaragoza you can see his complete engravings. They’re beautifully displayed, with each series to a cabinet, and carefully lit to showcase all their gory detail. The atrocities of war, brutal excitement of bull fighting, chaos, despair, and madness…these are the demons that haunted Goya’s darkest years. Although he lived a full century and a half after the witch craze in the same area, you’d be forgiven for thinking that he was contemporary to the event, and witness to the winged devils reported in Salazar’s investigations. Goya’s etchings are the star feature of a three level exhibition that also boasts some fantastic medieval art, and an incongruous selection of modern works (some of which are tenuously connected to or inspired by Goya). Overall it’s a lovely gallery, with an easy layout, pleasant atmosphere, and a lot of thought provoking material on offer. Well worth a second visit, especially as it’s free!

Mudéjar: Refers to the Arabs who continued to live in the Iberian Peninsula long after the Christian reconquest, and also describes a particular style of Moorish architecture found in Castile and Aragon in the North of Spain. Zaragoza has some fantastic examples, the most notable of which is the Alfajería, a beautifully conserved castle which boasts elaborate Moorish arches, detailed painted ceilings, an Andalusian style orange garden, a small (but fascinating) exhibition on the history of Aragonese shields, and various bits and pieces of ancient pottery and Islamic tiles. Another great example of Mudéjar architecture is La Seo del Salvador, now a Christian cathedral. Like many in Spain, it la Seo del Salvadorhas a bizarre mix of Arab and Christian design – a tessellated mosaic facade, a sombre Gothic interior (vaulted ceiling), and rows of ostentatiously gilded chapels (each devoted to a particular saint). There’s a lot to take in, and to be honest, I found it a little oppressive, but if Christian symbology is your thing, I’d definitely recommend it. If not, at least check out the exterior.

El Tubo: If it weren’t for this recommendation (a student of mine used to live in Zaragoza), we would have been completely lost when it came to eating out. El Tubo is a series of narrow side streets adjacent to the Plaza de España. Although the tapas weren’t free, they were cheap (1 or 2 euros each), and delicious, and there were a tonne of slick-yet-affordable bars to choose from. All had friendly service and a welcoming atmosphere. However, many stopped serving food shortly after midnight on Saturday. Again, another shock to the system!

In short, after two days and nights in Zaragoza, I was feeling culturally sated, but a wee bit underwhelmed by the gastronomy and nightlife. I’m told the city has a second ‘hub’ on the other side of the river, but this seemed a long way off, and the weather was not conducive to exploring. After a slight mishap with trains (fortunately resolved by the world’s most friendly station attendants) and a three hour wait (spent in a restaurant, of course), we boarded a train for Logroño – another key city in my witch hunting project, which these days is more commonly known as a wine Mecca.

to be continued…


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Vienna + spiel

Sometimes I get jealous of my European friends. I know this is silly, given that I was born in what I honestly believe to be the luckiest country in the world, but Australia is very far away, and I have to try not to think about how wonderful it is. There’s no point in lamenting what is for the moment out of reach, and the purpose of my living in Spain (or one of the purposes), is to enjoy and “experience” as much of Europe as possible, while I can.

Europe is like a giant mega mall of history and culture. Every shop is completely different, but they’re all housed together in the same complex, for your convenience. Crisis aside, who doesn’t occasionally think it would be great to be a European? To be able to work in any European country, legally, sans visa rubbish hassles. To always go through the fast lane at passport controls. To be able to drive for an hour and be in another world. To have the experience of living “abroad”, and still be able to visit your family on long weekends (or just pop home for weddings). To be sophisticated and multilingual. To grow up surrounded by art and architecture that’s hundreds of years old.

Now I know that not all Europeans are sophisticated or multilingual. That, just like anyone from anywhere, they can be backward, conservative, and not speak anything more than the dialect of whatever is spoken within a 10km radius of their village. That the cities are old and the infrastructure is struggling. In many ways, the ex-Imperial nations have been surpassed by their more innovative, progressive, and financially stronger ex-colonies. In Australia, all the shops have automatic doors. And our bureaucracy mostly works.

But Europe has ruins.

And my Austrian friend has a castle.

The last stop of my Easter sojourn, after Prague and Český Krumlov, was Vienna. There I stayed with Marion, a Viennese girl who I met at the language school in Segovia. (She has the same job as me, but teaching German). Naturally, she was taking advantage of the Easter break to chill out at home and spend some quality time with her friends and family. Hmm. Just a little bit jealous.

I stayed with Marion and her boyfriend for a couple of days. She showed me round the city, came with me to see Gustav Klimt at the Belvedere Palace, and took me to the village where she grew up, to meet her parents. On the outskirts of her village, on top of a hill, was a castle. We went for a walk around it (sinking all the while in the snow-filled moat), and discussed the fact that when she was a girl, she liked to think of it as her castle. Of course now I want one too.
Kreuzenstein - Marion's castle (Google's photo)
 
Anyway. I guess it was just a symbolic moment of why I love Europe. Ancient buildings everywhere. A castle on every hill. Regular people living in 500 year old houses. And every time they go to build an underground car park they have to abandon constructions when they hit Roman Ruins. Or something like that.

So what did I think of Vienna?

the only photo I managed of Vienna
 
Well, despite the weather, I liked it. A lot.

Firstly, Vienna in German is Wien. And wine in German is wein. Or perhaps it’s the other way round… no matter, it’s wonderfully confusing. Vienna clearly means some kind of happy place. Perhaps that’s why it’s ranked as the world’s second most liveable city. Second only to… I just looked it up… Melbourne??!!

The public transport was certainly better than Melbourne’s. Then again, Marion did all the ticket buying/map checking/stuff that required German. It’s so lovely and so relaxing travelling with a local.

Speaking of locals, everyone was so nice. And there were even cheerful waiters in lederhosen, and rosy cheeked buxom waitresses with frilly pink aprons, and this was in non-touristic venues… they just wear them crazy clothes for the hell of it. Awesome.

Kaiserspritzer, “royal bubbles”, is my new favourite drink, de momento. It’s white wine, soda water, and a dash of elderflower cordial. Although more of a summer beverage, we had it while it was snowing outside, cos it’s that damn delicious. I guess it’ll be even nicer when the weather warms up.

Everything will be so much nicer when the seasons get themselves sorted. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the weather this Easter was pretty atypical for April. On my first day in the city, Marion gave me a tour of the main sites. Regardless of which direction we walked in, it seemed we spent the whole afternoon struggling head-on into wind and snow. The commentary followed a rather repetitive trajectory.

‘See this plaza? It has a really nice market in Summer’

‘See this park? They have an awesome music festival in Summer’

‘See this garden? Well you can’t, it’s covered in snow, but it’s really beautiful in Summer. Usually it’s beautiful in Spring too’

I really want to go to Vienna in summer.

wasserschlangenFortunately, there was plenty to do in-doors as well. Unfortunately, of all the galleries and museums and giant shopping centres, I only had time to see one. The choice, for me, was obvious. The Belvedere Palace hosts the largest collection of Gustav Klimt’s paintings to be found in any one place. Among the most famous, you can see The Kiss and Judith. But what really captivated me was the less-famous, but absolutely exquisite Wasserschlangen I (Freundinnen I) (Watersnake friends?). It would actually have fitted in my hand luggage. If I had a castle, I would trade it for this painting.

What else was good? Mozart chocolates (filled with marzipan and nutty praline). More sauerkraut (I just can’t get enough of the stuff. I’ve found where they sell it in Spain. And when I finish this next jar, I’m gonna start making it myself). Goulash (the perfect stew for when you’ve got cold wet feet). Bosnian cinnamon honey and crusty wholemeal bread (part of Marion’s breakfast spread). Flower shops (spring bulbs, just in).

Another thing that I particularly liked about Vienna was the German they speak there. In general, German has an unfair reputation for being a harsh and guttural language, but this really depends on who’s speaking it. I prefer to keep my distance from harsh and guttural people, so it’s never sounded like this to me. In fact, I think it sounds quite soft and friendly, and even more so in Vienna. Apparently some Austrian dialects are kind of sing-song, but Viennese German was very pleasant on the ear. (Except for when I attempted to learn a few phrases, when it just sounded like staccato coughing with the odd kartoffel thrown in).

Fortunately, everyone I met spoke English. Damn impressive multilingual Central-Europeans.


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Český Krumlov…

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Český Krumlov is a little town, nestled in the hills in the southern region of the Czech Republic. It’s about halfway between Prague and Vienna, and was therefore the perfect interlude between the two big cities I visited during my Easter sojourn. It’s popular with tourists because it’s pretty, has fresh air, nice countryside, cute little shops, and a big castle atop a cliff face.

It was popular with me for three reasons.

1. Krumlov House. Was one of the cosiest hostels I’ve ever stayed in. The beds were comfy, the decor was rustic but spotlessly clean, everything was eco-friendly, the living room was decked out with lounge chairs, board games, puzzles and books, and the staff couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful.

2. U Dwai Maryi (The 2 Marys). Was recommended to me by the hostel, and I liked it so much I went there twice. It’s a traditional bohemian restaurant which specialises in medieval cuisine such as mead, gruel, and smoked meats. Although I wasn’t about to go and fight a crusade, it was cold and I did do a lot of walking, so the cheap and hearty meals were ideal. The comprehensive menu features an interesting ‘history of Czech cuisine’, and a guide to the health and nutritional benefits of the herbs and grains used in the Middle Ages. The only disappointment was that the cabbage, potato and daisy soup didn’t come with any daisies because they were out of season. But the idea has piqued my interest and I think I’ll attempt my own version as soon as spring comes.

3. The Egon Scheile Museum. For me a trip to a just about anywhere just isn’t complete without some kind of art and culture fix. Although Scheile was Austrian, his mother was born in Český Krumlov, and the artist took refuge there for a few years while he tried to escape the claustrophobia of city life. These days Egon Scheile is a touristic drawcard for the town, although at the time when he lived there, the people weren’t quite so appreciative of his presence. He was scorned for living in sin with his mistress and for using young girls as models. Eventually they denounced him for ‘violating public morality’; the police raided his home, seized his artworks, and arrested him. He spent a total of 25 days in custody and imprisonment, which turned out to be one of his most prolific drawing periods. Scheile later died of Spanish flu at the age of 28, along with his pregnant wife. He left behind a remarkable body of work for someone so young, in terms of both volume and maturity. I guess people just worked harder and grew up faster those days.


Aside from a lot of trudging up and down hills and trying not to slip on the ice/snow/wet cobblestones, I didn’t do much more of note in Český Krumlov. I’m afraid to say that the castle was (again) a bit of a letdown; it looked great from a distance, but close up, the facade was gaudily painted. I guess I’ve become spoilt from having the Alcazar of Segovia in walking distance – bright yellow fake sandstone bricks don’t just cut it for me anymore. Fortunately the way the castle was built up/on/in a cliff face was very impressive.

And the Scheile Museum Cafe had domed ceilings and a delicious poppyseed slice.


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The Slav Epic

Is a pretty dramatic title, and entirely inappropriate for my rather unadventurous two day stint in Prague.

It’s actually the name of a monumental collection of 20 masterpieces by Alfons Mucha, which pays tribute to the history and mythology of the Slavic peoples. For me, seeing the remarkable Slav Epic was the saving grace of a visit to a city which I should have loved, but somehow left me feeling cold.

Don’t get me wrong, Prague is magnificent. It has everything; spectacular monuments, excellent public transport, beautiful parks, slick bars and trendy modern stores. Above all, it has a dynamic history that shows no sign of slowing down.

Unfortunately, there are just too many tourists.

The hordes of sightseers don’t usually bother me, as after all, I’m one of them. But this time round they caught me off guard, and were an unexpected imposition on what I felt should be a special, personal trip. I’ve always wanted to visit Prague, not because it’s a touristic ‘must do’, but because it’s where my Great Uncle Charles was born, long ago when the country was known as Czechoslovakia (and the Nazis hadn’t yet screwed up the map of Europe and lives of millions). To me, Uncle Charles is possibly the closest figure I have to Gandalf in my life.  He’s wise, funny, and full of stories and knowledge from times and places that I will never know. As kids, we used to visit him and my Aunty Joan about once a year, usually at Easter. It was a ten hour drive to their little farm in Southern New South Wales. The visits were characterised by daily fresh baked bread, home-made jams with home-grown fruit, Czech dumplings and hearty stews, classical music by dramatic Slavic composers, games of chess (I’ve never won in my life, which somehow adds to the allure and mystery of it), an infinite library of fantasy novels, a 5 acre property to run wild in, geese to chase, lizard-tails to collect, and several beaches within walking distance. For us city kids, it was paradise.

I guess it’s unfair for me to associate all this magic with Prague, seeing as most of it’s unrelated. But I liked the idea of going there at Easter, as though seeing the gingerbread and painted eggs would be like spending time with my Aunt and Uncle on the other side of the world. When planning the timing of the trip, I’d also envisaged a European Spring, replete with baying lambs, yellow chickens, singing birds and fields of poppies and butterflies.

Unfortunately the world has gone topsy turvy and ideas such as ‘seasons’ can no longer be counted on. After two European winters I still haven’t seen a white Christmas, but somehow I’ve scored an unexpected ‘white’ Spring. Last weekend, Prague was gloomy, wet, bitterly cold, and covered by mounds of muddy half-melted snow. To make matters worse, I didn’t get to meet my long distant relatives (Charles’ family was out of town for Easter), the dumplings weren’t as delicious as I had hoped, and I couldn’t get any nice photos of anything… it was too cold to work my camera, there were too many tourists blocking my path, and I didn’t feel like anything was sufficiently picturesque. In fact, many parts of Prague just seemed tacky and grimy. When I crossed the famous Charles Bridge, I almost didn’t recognise it for all the pop-up stalls and swarms of people. I didn’t get into the massive castle, because the queue for information was so long, I couldn’t even find out how or where to buy a ticket. I guess I wasn’t the only one on school holidays.

But the unexpected had some positive aspects too. In an effort to sidestep the castle’s hordes (and find a loo that I didn’t have to queue for), I ducked into a temporary exhibition being held in what were once the Imperial Stables. It was a retrospective of Vladimír Suchánek, a leading Czech graphic designer from the 1950s, that until then I had never heard of. His work was mostly lithography, blended with collage and some water colour. The broody colours, fluid draughtsmanship and surrealist nature of his work was perfect escapism.

The only other two exhibitions I saw were Mucha and Mucha.

Alfons MuchaIn first year uni I bought a giant Mucha poster of a naked lady advertising absinthe. It was a little exotic, a little erotic, and I felt quite the rebel having it on my wall.  I loved the fantastical art nouveau style (though I had no idea that’s what it was at the time), and it was the start of a lifelong infatuation with Mucha’s designs. It took me a while to find out he was Czech, as for some reason I’d always assumed the posters were French. This is probably because during the first half of his artistic career, Mucha lived in Paris, where he made a name for himself designing advertising posters (for theatre, booze or cigarette papers), magazine covers, children’s book illustrations, jewellery and even stage sets. He also designed the Bosnia-Herzegovina pavilion at the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris. Projects just kept on coming. After Paris, he moved to New York. Then, when Czechoslovakia won independence after World War I, the artist returned to his homeland to design banknotes, postage stamps, and army medals for the new country.

The Mucha Museum in Prague focuses mostly on the decorative work from this early period. There’s a lot there. My first impression was ‘wow, this guy was prolific’. Then at the rear of the museum they were screening a short film about the artist’s life. The video mentioned that the reason he moved to New York was strategic rather than artistic… his plan was to earn enough money and/or score financial backing for his lifelong dream; to produce a monumental cycle of works depicting the glory and the suffering of the Slavic race. So it turns out that Paris and New York were just the preliminary. Those projects were trivial in comparison to his ‘real mission’ as an artist.

After years abroad gaining sponsorship and funding, Mucha returned to Czechoslovakia in 1912 to begin The Slav Epic, which he successfully completed in 1926. Ten of the paintings focus on Czech history, and the other ten depict scenes from other Slavic and pan-Slavic stories. The result, for want of a better word, can only be described as epic. Each painting is at least 4m², and bursting with detail, symbology, and multiple portraits. To have finished the lot in 14 years, Mucha must have been working very fast indeed. I guess his experience as a commercial graphic designer was excellent training.

Although the artist stipulated that the collection be held in Moravia (Southern Czechoslovakia), these days it’s being exhibited at the National Gallery’s Veletržní Palace in Prague. It’s cheap and there’s practically no queue. If you visit Prague, just go see it.

 
What else can I recommend? Well, to get a good view of the city, on Uncle Charles’ advice I took a funicular from Mala Strana to the mini-Eiffel tower monument… from there you can see just about everything, and the steps to the top of the tower are probably a good idea if you’re planning to get stuck into trdelník, which are hot, sugar coated, tunnel shaped dough treats, on sale at all the markets. Another highlight was definitely the Astronomical Clock, for its 15th century gadgety awesomeness, although I wouldn’t recommend paying and queuing to climb the tower. As Prague is nestled between hills, there are plenty of good views from other vantage points all around the city. The only other advice I can offer is, if you can’t find any Czechs to hang out with (you might struggle), then make friends with some nice Russians (or people from any other country that’s significantly different from your own). Remember to eat before getting into the heavy Eastern European beers, and try not to get freaked out by the giant baby statues climbing the Zizkov TV Tower. Prague is a modern city now, just remember that.