Six Short Stories From The Roskilde Music Festival

Last year I wrote up my experiences as a first timer at the Roskilde Music festival. The festival is world famous, not only for its size, but for it’s unique and quirky atmosphere.  The experience was rich and deeply enjoyable in no small part due to the people I had with me.  So, this year, I recruited Juan Martinez, a close friend and periodic consultant for VirtualWayfarer. I gave him free reign and set him loose on Roskilde with the charge of recording, documenting, and then coming up with a creative look at the festival. What follows is “Obi” Juan’s insights into the festival as a long-time festival veteran and one of my de-facto tour guides.

The Orange Feeling (n) defined as: Good friends, good vibes and good times

Six short stories of the Orange Feeling at Roskilde Festival

by Juan David Martinez (flickr | Instagram)

Camp Unknown

My phone rang. It was a lovely Wednesday summer afternoon and our camp aptly named “Camp Unknown” was beginning to start the party in the camping area. We had one day until the music started and the friends who couldn’t be there the entire week started coming in. Beer in hand, we took in the much needed sun, and told stories of festivals’ past. I answered my phone. I heard a soft familiar voice, but seemingly saddened.

It was my friend Andra. She was in tears – the ticket she had bought was fake. The festival had sold out that year and she tried to purchase the ticket via an online website. The frailty in her voice drove a dagger through my heart. Some of our close friends were already at the festival and she was the last person we were waiting for. My heart started racing, and I asked where she was and immediately started running that way.

I told the rest of the camp what had happened, and immediately the party stopped.

My First Time At The Roskilde Music Festival

I was deep in thought, a conversation about something that seemed relevant at the time raging as my friend and I lugged our heavily-laden backpacks down the road toward our campsite in the B section of Roskilde’s sprawling camping area. So, it was with some surprise that I looked up and realized that the chain link fence to our right was lined by people.  These people were a mixture of men and women, some in the midst of their own conversations, but all diligently focused on not falling over while peeing on the fence.  The men unashamedly looked around, equipment in hand and fully exposed, as they artistically sought to wet the criss-cross of metal links. The women, casually enjoying a public squat, were a bit more furtive in their efforts.  Some had friends making some effort to block their naked bodies, while most just embraced the moment with a very typical Danish pragmatism. It’s just a naked body, right?

Students Only: Partying in the Black Diamond Library in Copenhagen

Black Diamond Student Party

While Copenhagen is famous for its architectural flare, one of the city’s famous landmarks is the “Black Diamond“. Built as an extension to the city’s ancient Royal Danish Library, the Black Diamond is a neo-modern 7-story addition which extends from the old library building to the city’s harbor/waterfront. It was finished in 1999.  Granted its nickname due to the polished black marble and dark glass used to design the building, it houses a theater, armies of book shelves and a classy waterfront cafe.

Black Diamond Student Party

The library holds a yearly event with a local students group which puts on a fantastic evening of music, drinks, and social mingling. The event is limited exclusively to students and their guests. This year it showcased a variety of wonderful musical performances ranging from a lone cello performance to well known hip-hop artists.

Black Diamond Student Party

While the individual library wings were closed (understandably) to the general audience, all of the open spaces were made available and filled with wild lighting, musical performances, and space to mix and mingle.  With large open halls and an acoustically friendly atrium crisscrossed at different points by flying bridges it made for a delightful experience. It is also interesting the difference a legal drinking age of 18 plays in enabling these sorts of events.  While still possible in the US, the lack of a need to ID, wristband, and police the event as well as the more responsible drinking behavior among undergraduate-aged students that results from the lower drinking age makes a huge difference. While you could hold a similar event in the US, it would definitely be far more challenging logistically and have a different ambiance as a result.

Black Diamond Student Party

The main performers were set up on the flying bridge that cut across the center of the atrium at the 3rd story.  It served as the perfect stage as the rest of the atrium consisted of wrap around, open air causeways which formed a large U before giving way to the ceiling to floor glass windows.  The main windows which stretched from ceiling to floor before warping into a large skylight offered a charming view of the harbor at night.

Black Diamond Student Party

A group of students from the Communication, Cognition, Film and Media Studies programs met up before the doors opened for a relaxing drink along the harbor waterfront. As the sun set we made our way into the Black Diamond.  It set the mood for the night.   Once inside we split into smaller groups as we explored the library (for most of us, it was our first time inside) before re-connecting to catch up on the week’s events and antics while listening to the various music performances.   The entire event was more than just music or drinks.  It was a beautifully executed experience and definitely ranks as one of my favorite events in Copenhagen so far.

Black Diamond Student Party

There’s something truly magical about a great concert series in a captivating venue.  The added effort the organizers put into building on the library’s native ambiance also made a huge difference. One surprising aspect of the evening was the number of international students in attendance.  Though University of Copenhagen has a relatively small international student population (in comparison to its size), the event was very foreign student heavy which offered a fun mixture of accents, cultures and personalities. Holding the event as a students-only event also ended up being a great thing.  It eliminated the potential social discomfort that often goes with attending a formal event and served as a fun way to bridge the gap between a more traditional event and student life’s informality. The event was an absolute delight and one I hope to participate in again next year. Have you enjoyed a concert or event in a particularly unique venue?  I’d love to hear about it in a comment.

**I didn’t take my camera with me to the event so the photos in this post were taken by Frida Zhang and are used/hosted with her permission.

Sex On the Dance Floor or Just a Flirtatious Tango? Argentine Tango at Cafe de los Angelitos in Buenos Aires!

Pausing for a Dance in Tierra del Fuego

With that keen sense of despair gnawing at the edge of my mind, I gradually began to internalize that my trip to Argentina was nearing its conclusion. Anything but ready to leave Argentina behind I relished every remaining moment I had, and to be fair, those remaining moments promised grand adventures including a visit to La Boca, a stunning tango show, live tango dancing with locals, a bizarre amusement park and of course New Years celebrations!  After a 17 hour plus bus ride back to Buenos Aires from Puerto Iguazu I settled into my new hostel in the Palermo district. After getting settled I had the Hostel’s front desk call and book a reservation for me at Cafe de los Angelitos – one of Buenos Aires famous cafes offering live, choreographed Tango performances. While more expensive (the show was 300 ARS or about $75 USD and offered an option for 450 ARS which included dinner) my local friend and tango instructor Rodrigo had suggested it, which left little doubt in my mind.  Eager to find a hole in the wall for dinner and already smarting from the sticker price of the show alone I opted for the show, sans the meal.

As a latin and ballroom dancer the opportunity to see a live Argentina Tango performance stood out as one of the key draws which had driven me to book my Argentina trip.  Though my relationship with Tango has always been with International/American Tango I love watching Argentina Tango and have the utmost respect for it.  In 2007 as a semi-accidental discovery I caught Tango Fire, a touring Argentina Tango troupe, while they were performing in London.  The show was mesmerizing, simple, sensual, and a magical melding of love music, dance and physical artistry. It set a high bar and is a fond memory – one which I was eager to match or surpass.

Unsure what to expect and regretting the lack of more formal clothing I put on my black dress shirt, cleaned up, and hopped in a cab. I’d battled with the decision to take my camera’s with me, and given the semi-formal setting eventually opted (much to my later lament – the photos in this post are from their website) to leave them at home.  As we sped through the streets and across town I chatted with my Cab driver, a gentleman who was as much tour guide as cabbie and every bit the proud Argentine. He extolled the virtues, history and reputation of Cafe de los Angelitos and then told me I absolutely had to return to the Cafe another evening for one of the live musical performances (next trip my friend!). As we pulled up in front of the cafe I hopped out, bid him goodbye and checked my watch. I was 40 minutes early – whoops!  Never one to mind being a bit early, I paused to take in the Cafe before making my way inside.

Taken by Cafe de los Angelitos

Cafe de los Angelitos was founded in 1890 and is far more than just a simple cafe.  With a formal, though more traditional, cafe in front the venue manages to secret away a large balconied dining room decorated in an ornate 19th century style.  The dining room and the connected balconies resemble the general feel of your traditional opera or play house and are carefully laid out to offer a fantastic view of the raised stage. The stage is a beautiful two story thing, with a recessed space for the band and multiple layers allowing fantastic acoustics and the dancers wonderful opportunities to use the set as part of their performances.  All of the wait staff are in traditional outfits which offer a turn of the century meets old Victorian Gaucho look.

I checked in and to my delight was escorted to the end seat directly off the center of the stage.  Though located near the back of the ground floor it offered me a centered view of the stage and placed me close enough to see everything in perfect detail. I ordered still water and relaxed to people watch as time slipped by. I’d arrived right before the main course was served for those who opted to do the dinner, and I have to confess that the dinner looked superb. Multi-course with oyster appetizers, a large steak, and wonderful assortment of desert options it left my mouth watering.

Taken by Cafe de los Angelitos

And then the lights dimmed, plates were cleared away and the stage lights lit the stage. As the lights slowly came up the performers made their way through the crowd before finding their way up onto the stage. They giggled and laughed, chatted and teased each other in character while dressed in beautiful summer clothing. One jovially lugged an early model camera with him while others had umbrellas and tophats in tow. They settled into a group, posed briefly and then with a large flash the Camera went off. From there the picnic evolved into a delightful dance with the five partnerships spinning, twisting, dipping and pausing for a periodic corte. All the while the band, which was located in a recessed enclosure in the center of the stage, played piercing tango music.  I was instantly drawn into the performance and found myself on the edge of my seat.

Taken by Cafe de los Angelitos

As the night progressed the performances varied. Some were group performances featuring all of the couples, while others were solo or duet pieces. Yet others were pure musical performances and featured one of the two main vocalists. To my delight I’d attended in the hope of seeing a great tango show. As an unexpected bonus I also received a fantastic concert. They sang piecing songs of tragedy, love, passion and desire all set to the heart stopping ballads of live tango music so full of power and energy that you could feel them pulsating in your chest.

Taken by Cafe de los Angelitos

With each new performance the women’s costumes changed from traditional gowns to incredible evening dresses that highlighted the dancer’s stunning physiques and left little doubt that they were every bit as sensual and attractive physically as their dancing was captivating. For the men’s part they demanded their place on the stage with puffed out chests, low sitting fedoras, and a mixture of suits that offered their own character and feel. Each time they took the stage a hush drifted over the crowd.

Taken by Cafe de los Angelitos

One of my favorite performances began with a dark stage and enchanting vocals. As a spotlight slowly drifted down, it revealed the female singer perched in the band box. Eventually, as though responding to a her song, a lone male dancer took the floor. After a series of solo routines showcasing his talent he appeared to win her over. She slowly walked to the edge of the 2nd story box, gently took a seat, and then to our shock and delight slipped off the edge and down into his waiting arms. From there the song gave way to pure music, and a story told by entwined bodies as they drifted – sometimes fast, sometimes slow – across the dance floor.

Taken by Cafe de los Angelitos

Another of my favorites began with a lone woman standing, posing, and then eventually dancing elegantly in front of a sheer curtain. As she danced, the light on the front of the stage would periodically switch from front to back, which in turn highlighted the silhouette of lone male figure. As the dance continued he eventually struck out from behind the curtain where he approached her and was accepted. They danced. Legs entwined in a maze of motion, I quickly realized that the curtain was as much dress as curtain. Made of the same material and color as her dress it found its way to the floor before drawing in to wrap up and around her as part of her dress. Then as he wrapped her in it, the curtain released and fell to the ground leaving the two to wrap themselves in the curtain, dance around it, and unwind themselves before that part of her dress fell away leaving them to do grand dips, lifts and catches. The interplay between light, shadow, the music and each other was fantastic!

Taken by Cafe de los Angelitos

Though most of the dances were in deed Argentina Tangos, they also mixed in a number of other pieces which varied from Sambas to sensual rumba-like routines danced in sheer nightgown-esq outfits on a stage obscured by billowing fog machines. The show was everything you would expect and more. Sensual, passionate, entertaining, playful, lustful, moving, and even at times slightly tragic. While it may not have been true street tango it was easily one of the most spectacular performances I’ve ever enjoyed live. I would readily put it head to head with the great musicals and other similarly spirited performances.

The one truly unfortunate aspect of the evening was the service. It was easily the worst I’ve experienced in a long time and by far the worst I experienced in Argentina. I’m not sure if it was due to confusion over whose section I was in, the fact that I was alone, young, male, didn’t purchase the dinner or a combination of all of the above. Regardless it took me more than 50 minutes to get my water, which included flagging down waitstaff 5 times and having them deliver gas water vs. the still I had ordered. During that same period (before the water arrived mid-show) I also ordered a hot tea which took two requests (combined with the water inquiries), over 20 minutes and frustrated complaints before it arrived. Keep in mind this all occurred at a venue charging almost $40 USD for dinner and with ample wait staff on hand. I eventually flagged down a waiter from another section, was forced to complain in broken Spanish, and after repeating my story several times was introduced to a manager who spoke English. She was apologetic, said she would work on it immediately and insisted I accept a free desert in addition to comping my water and hot tea. As the show started the fruit plate arrived, which was a wonderful mixture of sweet kiwi, grapes, mellons, strawberries and blueberries. Unfortunately, and perhaps somewhat comically, even as the plate arrived the one thing I truly wanted – a bottle of still water – took an additional 10 minutes to find its way to me.

While the service was disappointing, frankly rather insulting, and extremely unfortunate I will say that the manager made a decent effort to make it right once it was brought to her attention, was apologetic and despite it all did little to truly diminish the experience. In truth it became more comedy than frustration. Though I’d be far less patient with the service in the future I’d gladly attend the Cafe’s performance again as it was truly magnificent and an experience that was gently enhanced by the feel and ambiance of the venue. For more info feel free to visit Cafe de los Angelito’s website.

Ahhh Buenos Aires. I think I may have fallen in love with your charm!

Reminder: This post is a continuation in my Argentina series. Jump to the previous post: Puerto de Iguazu, Toucans and an Animal Rehabilitation in Argentina or if you’re itching for a bit of tango music check out Tango music on Amazon.

**Please note that all of the photos from Cafe de los Angelitos in this post are theirs and are from their website. As stated in the post, I did not have my camera with me. All rights are retained by the original photographer.

Granada Part III – Hostels, Cities and Adventures

Groggy, but feeling thoroughly refreshed, I awoke to the rustle of bags as two new arrivals settled into their bunks.  Glad to be awake I hopped out of bed, wobbled a bit and then stepped through the door from my hostel room onto the rooftop terrace (above).  There, I inhaled the crisp Spanish air, looked out over the rooftops and reveled in wonder at the amazing adventure I was living.

After a quick glance in the mirror and grimace at my nap hair, I tossed on my cap and made my way down to the entry hall. There I quickly fell into conversation with a number of fellow travelers, checked my e-mail and then decided to duck out for dinner.  Following the front desk’s recommendation, I quickly found my way to a small tapas bar where I picked up a beer and free side of tapas.  In most places in Granada the tapas itself is free, so long as you order a drink, unfortunately, it’s also random….still free is…well…free!  With my appetite wet I polished off my Alhambra beer and stepped around the corner to the local Kebab King.  There I discussed the days events with a Palestinian immigrant fluent in at least 3 languages. Before long I was off and wandering once again, this time with a steaming chicken kebab in hand.

Through the streets, up small narrow stairways and into the heart of the Albayzin I wound eager to explore and discover the city’s hidden secrets. Never quite lost, but often quite turned around, I quickly found myself in the heart of the old city.

As night rolled in I slowly made my way back to the hostel, unloaded my day pack and found my way to the hostel bar. There I bumped into my tour guide from that morning and he quickly introduced me to several of the other regulars. Two girls living in Granada (from Australia/New Zealand) and an English gentleman. All were in their late 20s/early 30s.  We all sat in the tiny, cramped hostel bar, surrounded by walls covered in chalk graffiti left by travelers.  Some of the words scrawled across the walls were quotes, others well wishes and yet others…just downright odd and obviously left after a few drinks.   We drank wine, smoked hookah and exchanged stories. Before long I was privy to all of the recent goings on and had my fair share of insights into the local drama.

As other travelers drifted in the group slowly grew in size.  I quickly got to know Andreas – a traveling Swede who was working at the hostel during an extended stay in Granada. The wine, sangria and Alhambra beer was flowing freely when 9 o’clock rolled around.  One of the other people staying (and working) at the hostel announced the beginning of the free tapas tour and before I knew it, I was swept up with the crowd and into the night.

We toured two tapas bars sampling sliced pieces of Spanish ham on small crackers, Spanish meatballs and various other delicious eats before eventually winding our way down through the city and finishing the tour at a flavorful reggae bar.   The reggae bar was a delightfully odd place. The entrance was little more than a door off the street that dumped you into a small entrance room no bigger than most master bathrooms in the states. As I entered I found myself standing at the small bar.  Immediately in front of the door there was just enough space for 2 or 3 people front to back, which allowed us to stand at the bar 2 deep as we ordered while leaving a small path to the long sloping hallway that ran some 20 feet down and into what must have been an old cellar.

The ceiling in the hallway was arched and just short enough that I didn’t feel comfortable walking completely upright.  As I shuffled along, slightly bowed, I quickly spilled out into a second, slightly larger room where I was greeted by an odd mishmash of sights.  Along one side of the whitewashed cellar was a small bench piled with drinks and stacked coats.  The room itself had a cement floor with a DJ at one end on a slightly raised platform and a small partition at the other end which led to two lock-less bathrooms.  Smoke of all varieties hung heavily in the air and the music boomed down upon us.   Our group of 10 or so unloaded our jackets and quickly set to dancing, drinking and bonding as only travelers can.

An hour or two slipped by before we decided to strike out once more.  Eager to find a flamenco bar we wound up into the Albayzin and eventually found our way to Granada’s famous cave residences & bars.  Though most were closed we eventually found a tiny place carved into the side of the mountain.  With whitewashed walls and ceilings the place had old photos of flamenco players and random women on the walls. The bathroom was outside and more of an outhouse than a proper toilet. Inside the small 2-room bar served everything out of bottles/cans and only had whatever stock they could fit behind the small bar – it was a hoot.   We worked our way to the back and in the smaller of the two rooms crowded together as a series of incredibly flavorful musicians sat and passionately played flamenco.  While I can’t say I was overly fond of the musicianship the passion and setting was an absolute kick…I’ll let you see for yourselves:

As the bar ran out of beer and I grew antsy several of us set off back into the Albayzin eager to see to the Alhambra at night. 3AM had already come and gone.  The views out from the Albayzin and the hill it rests upon are spectacular, as are the winding streets cloaked in shadow and gently lit by the soft yellow glow of aged streetlights.  The Alhambra at night is an incredible sight.  Back lit by the twinkling lights of the city, the Alhambra is lit by a combination of green and yellow lights.

After resting and taking in the sights and gentle sounds of the city as it slept we wound our way back, down through the dew kissed streets and back to our hostel where as quietly as possible I crawled into my bunk bed and began snoring away contentedly.  It was 4:45AM.

Sevilla – Part I

Christmas has made writing the last few days extremely difficult. Everyone has been engaged in one giant festival here in Cadiz with stores running odd hours, people everywhere, and lots of fun adventures to be had. As I wait for my train to depart Cadiz, I finally find myself able to sit down and share a bit about my time in Sevilla.

After arriving at the hostel, I unloaded my bag and began to get situated. Oasis Sevilla is a fantastic 4-story hostel with a bar and common area on the first floor, rooms on the 2nd and 3rd, and a rooftop terrace with a (cold) pool and nicely equipped kitchen. From the start, the hostel had a warm, friendly feel to it which built camraderie.

I immediately met two German guys and a Swede who were in my room. We made the usual introductions, I checked my email briefly and eagerly dove into the city. The hostel is located immediately off a large plaza containing a mid-sized cathedral. The plaza, divided  into two park areas, was the site of one of the oddest pieces of construction I’ve seen in a long time. One half had been turned into a large walled-off construction zone as they assembled what looks to be some sort of flying sauceresque large building. I cannot for the life of me figure out how or what the end result will be, but it makes for a very odd addition to the skyline. As I was checking my e-mail I talked briefly with a guy who recommended walking down to the river and tracking down some of the graffiti which I put on my to do list for the following day. With no particular direction or location in mind, I set off picking up a bit of tapas in a small tapas bar along the way. I wandered around the zone immediately around my hostel, taking in the huge crowds of people in the streets, the chestnut vendors cooking and hawking their toasty ashen wares and the general hum-drum of a vibrant city alive with life.

By about 8:30 pm I got back to the hostel just in time to join up with a free Tapas and Flamenco tour provided by the hostel. The guide was a German fellow doing an extended stay at the hostel. With some 15 odd people in tow we set out and wound our way through the streets before  arriving at a small tapas bar on a small stone square full of cafes and small shops. In a stampede we set upon the bar, scratching our heads, picking out tapas and passionately wolfing them down with the customary beer that goes with it. After glancing at a menu, I decided to take a different route than the others and asked the waiter/barman for a recommendation. Something different, exciting, and uniquely Spanish. An older gentleman – Fernando – who was sitting next to me at the bar jumped in, and after a quick conference with the barman they picked out a pork tapas for me. When it arrived it was delicious pork tenderloin in a mild olive oil and garlic sauce, over sliced potatoes with whole nodules of cooked garlic. All served with a basket of crunchies and bread and a glass of local beer. It didn´t take long to devour the entire plate.

As we drank and munched away contentedly we all exchanged stories and got to know each other. As it turned out it was our guide’s birthday was at midnight which added to the festive cheer of the evening. As we all relaxed at the table, I chatted with two brother and sister duos, both traveling from the states, as well as an Australian girl who knew one of the sisters. My buddy Rick, whom I´d met in Madrid at the hostel and bumped back into in Sevilla,  joined us … as did several others, including the two Germans and the Swede from my room.

Eventually our guide rounded us up and we again meandered through the city to a bar entrance off a side street. The building was an odd thing. It had an old stone entryway with a fireplace and small stage. There was an outer room with a tin roof, bar, and an expansive set up of two-tiered tables. We quickly re-arranged the tables and in the second (higher) tier set up a long bench of seats. The venue was a kick with old fans hanging from the roof, propane tower heaters, a thick layer of cigarette smoke, fake plant vines, large movie-sized flamenco posters and other odd decorations. The place was dirty, grungy and packed with flavor. Before we knew it everyone had picked up a cheap pitcher of local beer and the tabletop was littered with pitchers, glasses and cameras.

The flamenco show was good, more traditional and with better dancing than the casual flamenco evening I´d stumbled into in Madrid … but lacked some of the character. The performers consisted of two men, one on guitar, one singing and clapping, and a woman who did the majority of the flamenco dance. Her movements were beautiful and flowing all done to an amazing rhythm. At one point the second man got up and joined her in a passionate, tangoesque flamenco which combined the power of a romantic tease with the feel of a bullfight and the paso doble. By midnight the flamenco was coming to an end. We wished our guide a happy birthday finished off the pitchers of beer and made our way to the door. Or next stop was northward to the bar and club section of the town.

The club part of town is around the Plaza de Hercules – a long plaza/parkway full of cafes and shops during the day. In the evening the place comes alive with bars, lounges and discotecas. About 10 strong, we found our way to a rather odd alternative club. The crowd was a bit edgy, and all of the bartenders were female, with short hair and a lot of piercings. Some had mohawks or other similar hair styles. It was all around interesting…if short lived. About 20 minutes after we´d arrived in the packed, shoulder-to-shoulder press some sort of smoke went off. At first we thought they’d teargassed the bar, but despite being unpleasant to breathe and having a slightly orange aftertaste, it didn’t overly hurt, beyond generally being unpleasant. Jostled by the press to get out of the bar, hunkering low to avoid the smoke/fumes, we joined the others as the bar emptied out into the streets. Some sort of fire extinguisher? Hard to know.

After purging our lungs and trying to figure out what had happened, we continued up the street a ways before finally finding another nightclub. Once there, we settled in until 4:30 in the morning when one of the guys got kicked out (apparently for deciding to water the bar). Laughing at the absurdity of it, we decided to round up the troops and head back to the hostel. The walk back was hilarious, with several games of orange dodgeball in the empty streets, using fallen oranges from the heavily-laden trees that line the streets.

Covered in orange juice and smelling of smoke we crawled into bed and prepared for the morning.

The next day started at 11 am. Time is up, I´m off to catch my train. More adventures soon!

Prague

Unfortunately, the computers in this hostel are located in the bar area…soo we’ll see how much I get written before I get interrupted and/or can’t focus any more. There are people starting to show up so I imagine it will get fairly rowdy before long.

First – in general. Prague was a very different experience then the other cities I’ve visited. In part due to the Eastern European influence and in part due to the general spirit of the city itself. The elder Czech generations I saw tended to be very hearty looking. You could tell by looking at them that many had worked hard throughout their lives under rugged conditions. In particular I noticed it in a lot of their hands. Both men and women often had rugged, calloused hands with finger nails that showed an existence filled with heavy use and constant wear. The younger generations shared that look to a lesser degree, though as I’d commented previously many of the Czech girls on the subway were quite attractive. Boots seem to be a huge Euro fashion thing currently, especially in Eastern Europe so seemingly every third young girl-woman was dressed in some form of mid-shin or knee-high, high-heeled boot. The locals in general were very friendly and warm. Though there was a huge difference between the locals outside the tourist areas and those within.

The locals located within the tourist sections and working at tourist locals were some of the rudest people I’ve encountered so far on my trip. Brusque, devoid of patience and just generally rude. It was surprising, as one would think they of all people would be polite with their livelihood depending on tourist dollars. From many of them I got the vibe that they didn’t like the direction that tourism had taken the city and in part blamed the tourists for visiting.

Many people talk about Prague as a beautiful city. Which it definitely is, though I don’t feel that it’s as beautiful as everyone claims. Rather, I would say it’s an interesting city with it’s own rich flavors. The river itself, is without question beautiful, as are the old buildings but the skyline is mixed with more modern buildings. Many of which are high rise residential buildings from the 60s, 70s and 80s. From an architectural standpoint I think the two most noteworthy parts of Prague are the monument roofs with their spires and clean lines and the statuary located on the older buildings. Many of the older buildings have incredible figures and statuary over the windows, surrounding the doors, and set at random on the buildings. These figures are typically carved in the very stoic, hard, almost skeletal style that I’ve always associated with the old Soviet Union. They also bring to mind elements of the Chrysler building in NY and that time period. I found them fascinating and beautiful. They have so much emotion which depending on your mood and perhaps the state of the building can come across as either great stoic pride as a modern Atlas steadfast in his vigil while he gladly holds up the world, or alternately as worn and haggard faces that have lived hard lives with a penetrating sadness to them that makes you pity their stone hearts.

Another thing I heard while gearing up for Prague was that it was cheap. Luckily that was definitely the case. Though movies such as Eurotrip etc. exaggerate things a bit, there is a massive difference between the Euro and the Czech Krunar. At about 20 K per dollar a beer or coke typically cost between 15 and 25 K. I could order a full plate of chinese food (rice, chicken, the works – just no drink) or goulash, biscuits and meat for 69 K or so that would leave me stuffed. Though these prices required I leave the tourist section and stray into the city.

Food – as long as it’s not dairy-I’ll eat most things. I usually try and draw the line at eyes, brain or pieces of an animal’s sexual anatomy but depending on my mood and how good it smells I try and keep an open mind. As a result if I’m feeling up to it I’ll ask the waiter or waitress to surprise me with something regional that they think iI should try. It almost always works out and doing it over the years I’ve been served everything from tripe to steak and eggs. I charged my waiter/ress with my meal twice while in Prague and ordered things at random off the menu 4 times. The local Czech food that I ended up with was delicious. One of the meals was breaded chicken, much like a chicken-fried steak, but with real slices of chicken breast and a very different/thick batter served with dumplings and gravy. One of the other meals was gulash- a slice of ham, a slice of beef, and two huge sliced dumplings. Both were delicious. One of the other more interesting things was a large fried potato cake (a huge latka?) with chicken bits in it. It was about a foot long and about 4 inches wide. Regardless of what I ate, be it Chinese (seems to be the Czech version of Europe’s kebab shops or US Mexican), Czech, or just general brats, burgers and random food, it was almost all delicious.

I spent the first two nights of my stay at a hostel a bit outside of town. The hostel was clean, had free internet and friendly people but lacked atmosphere. The common area was closed at 10 and the train ride into town was a pain. When my two nights there were up, i made my way into the heart of town and booked into the Clown and Bard. A boisterous social hostel with a huge 30 plus person dorm room, and then 2 and 5 bed rooms. The hostel had an on site bar, fun playful atmosphere, and a backpacker oriented mentality. The walls of the room were covered in writing, some were quotes, some were profanity, some were insults and some were humorous. Other bits of bedroom graffiti included a giant doodle of Bevis and Butthead, other strange pictures, and a huge face. Despite the graffiti however, the hostel, sheets, and room were all clean.

The arts: I’d been told that Prague was a very musical city so, eager to take advantage of the exchange rate and wide musical selection I saw several shows. In Prague almost all of the cathedrals & monasteries put on small, medium-sized classical shows. Some are basic with just a few violins and cellos, others use organs, others use small symphonies.

The old Opera House: Romeo and Juliet. It had been a long time since I’d seen a ballet as when the opportunity arises I usually choose to see the symphony or opera instead. As I walked around the city I saw signs for Romeo and Juliet at the old opera house. Initially thinking they might have turned it into an opera-and that it would be awesome to see something in the old opera house-I looked into tickets and found decent balcony seats for a fair price. As I purchased the tickets I learned it was in fact a ballet. I decided to push ahead and give it a go (I had missed all of the actual opera shows in my time window).

The opera house itself was gorgeous. A small round classical building with a beautifully fresco’d roof-the house itself was a slightly different layout than I was familiar with. It had group-general seating in a long swatch down the middle on the floor level, which carried up on to the 2nd and 3rd balconies. The swatch though was only the area straight out from the stage, with all of the side area, except for that up on the 3rd story, being filled by small 6 person areas. The walls and ceiling were all coated in golden figures and the whole room while lit seemed to glow.

Now, as I mentioned earlier ballet isn’t my favorite thing in the world but, the shows I have seen I enjoyed. While this one was not necessarily an exception it was a huge disappointment. It wasn’t until the last 1/3 of the show that I felt like I was actually enjoying it and that the performers got on cue. The set was very plain, with a number of wooden constructions that would have looked a lot more impressive with a little paint. To make it more annoying one of the larger ones had a piece of the paneling coming loose which could have easily been fixed with a few screws. The performers themselves, while obviously skilled, seemed off. In many of the group movements there were visible differences between dancers and (perhaps due to my ballroom background?) I noticed that many seemed to have unstable footing and be constantly adjusting. Also, a number of the moves seemed ballroomesque and to be honest I’d rather see the ballroom version. It’s possible I just was overly critical and/or don’t understand ballet, but I think a large part of the sync and performance quality came from nervousness. At the end of the performance they brought an old lady on stage and introduced her. Apparently she was the original Juliet that had launched the performance years ago. Given her presence…it wouldn’t surprise me if their nerves had thrown the troupe off. To top the experience off I’m pretty sure one of the main dancers was REALLY excited to be performing for 5 or so minutes before he was killed off, though from the look of things it was a whole different type of performance he was hoping for. Watching a bunch of guys leap around in skin tight tights was bad enough…the added bit just generally made the whole experience a bit traumatizing. So, Romeo and Juliet – 2 of 5 stars.

Two nights later I decided to try one of the many shows held around town. I purchased my ticket and then killed some time before making my way to try and locate the building. When I followed the map it took me down a main street, to a side street where an attendant was directing people in through a small doorway. Nowhere to be seen was the classical cathedral or small church I’d been expecting. My annoyance went through the roof as I made my way up a flight of winding stairs and was met by an attendant who took my ticket and seated me in a small room with a fresco’d ceiling, bout 50 chairs, a small stage, and 4 seats for the musicians. Ready to demand a refund, I forced myself to sit tight and give it a chance. The room itself was maybe 75 feet long and the seat I chose was about 5 rows back located directly under the center of the domed fresco’d roof. The fresco was of a multi-story library with teachers, books, railings, and objects arrayed above us. While not captivating it was beautifully painted and with the curve of the dome felt 3 dimensional. About 15 people in total filed in and then the musicians entered through the same door we’d all come in, as you can imagine this added to my annoyance. They sat down on the stage and I found myself looking at 3 violinists and a cellist. They paused and then began to play. Within the first 3 notes I knew I’d been wrong and that the show would be well worth the money. Because of the acoustics and my proximity to the performers the power of the music was incredible. Especially due to my location directly under the middle of the dome. Violin is easily one of my favorite instruments, if not my favorite and this show made left me breathless. They played a number of famous pieces including Canon, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and about 10 other pieces whose names escape me right now. Each one was even more impressive than the last. The hour plus that the show ran, passed in a heartbeat. Where the ballet was a huge disappointment, this show blew even my initial expectations out of the water. Easily a 5 out of 5.

Lot more to share about Prague but the bar is getting too rowdy and I can’t focus any more, so for now. Goodnight!