Photography / Travel

Day 21-23: Vienna, Austria and Prague, Czech Republic

from Photographs of Europe, May-June 2002 by Tim Darling     (Click on the photos..)

Friday, June 7 - Vienna, Austria and Prague, Czech Republic

At 6:30 we got to Vienna. I got a ticket to Prague for 10:30 and walked around the city for a while. I went to the Karlsplatz metro (U-bahn) station which was supposed to have one of the few original pavilions. It was designed around 1900 in art deco style by Otto Wagner.

While I was there, a college aged guy came up to me and started talking to me in German. I heard the words 'United States' and he was holding a wine bottle in his hand. I thought: he's from the US and wants to know if he can drink wine in the streets.

"You're American," I said, interrupting his tirade. His face lit up when he heard my accent and he pulled his hand back to enthusiastically shake mine. He was from Boston, had been up all night drinking and talking into his video camera, and wanted to know if he could drink wine in the streets. I said I was sure he could. He left and I went up to the river for a while and then to my train to Prague.

I liked Prague a lot despite the fact that it was raining, they didn't use the Euro, and train travel there wasn't covered by my Eurail pass. The metro system there was the nicest, newest, and cleanest that I'd ever seen. They have a good above ground train system which was older but some of the tram cares were new and had digital screens that marked off the stops.

Both the metro and train system use tickets on the honor system- they don't even have turnstiles! I rode it without buying a ticket because I couldn't figure out how or where to buy one. No one checks or asks to see your ticket on either system. (The same was true of the Vienna metro, too).

The Karluv Most (Charles Bridge) is the center of Prague. I walked around near it on both sides of the river until 11.

I learned in Czech that my name means 'thereby'.

Saturday, June 8 - Prague, Czech Republic

Dvorák is my favorite classical composer so I went to visit his museum, but it wasn't as big or exciting as I had hoped. It was raining for most of the day but I went to Wenceslas Square and to a TV tower in the east which gives a good view of the city. (Although it's even uglier than its fellow TV tower in Paris).

Old Town Square was the last European battleground of WWII. There was a wedding there when I walked through it. There's a tower from which the most popular view of the city can be seen from. A few minutes before the hour, the square fills up with people underneath the tower who gather to watch its astronomical clock's hourly display.

I walked over to Hradcany and went inside Prague castle. Franz Kafka lived in a little house there on Golden Lane for a while. I tend to think Kafka has only become as popular as he has because people like to say his last name. Popular culture has adopted phrases like 'Kafka-esque'. If his name had been Franz Franzson, who'd be reading him now?

All the houses on Golden Lane are humorously small. Kafka's house is a postcard store now and it's almost too small to be that.

I ate dinner at a restaurant a little down the hill from the castle because they had posted a vegetarian menu out front. Ravioli, bruschetta, a salad, and a glass of wine cost me $10! Some of the best food I've ever had was in Prague and it's cheap too. Better food than Italy in my experience, no question- plus the Czechs have figured out how to mix vegetables in a salad.

The waitress taught me my first Czech word: 'dekuji' ('deh-kwee'), which means 'thank you'. It's humbling to be in a country where you can't say anything. Parents make such a big deal about hearing their kids' first words, but what about their first words in Czech or Hungarian? I hope that waitress knows how privileged she was.

I was leaning on a wall outside the castle when I met Amber and Ivonne, two students at Texas Tech who had been studying in Sevilla for the past few months and were now traveling around Europe. They were looking for the road to get to a cathedral we could see from the wall. I walked down the hill with them and we went into a restaurant/bar which had one of the coolest atmospheres I'd ever seen. We got cappuccinos and, with my raving about Czech food, they ordered dinner. I had already eaten, so I got a B-52 which was one of the few things I recognized on the drink menu written in white paint on a mirror on the wall.

The B-52 came in a shot glass and the waiter set it on fire. He gave me a short straw and Amber said I should put the straw in and drink from the bottom while the flame was still burning. I put the straw in and the blue flames rose up the straw and set my goatee on fire! The three of them apparently found this very funny and the waiter came back a couple minutes later with a foot long straw and it was OK after that. I ordered two more and gained a liking for this burning drink: I lost my voice and breath for a few seconds after the third one.

Amber and Ivonne traded travel stories. They seemed like the kind of people I would want to be friends with if we lived nearby. The thing is: I think I'm a fairly independent person but I am also influenced by the people I spend with, like most people probably are. In my three weeks of traveling, I'd met a lot of people and learned a lot from them. But most of them were different from me in some ways. These are good things, but I felt like my compass had been tugged in many directions. I bug people I meet for stories and try to extract from them their opinions and beliefs. After that, I have a reaction to them and their sense of 'normalcy,' but I always have to wonder: should my sense of normalcy be closer to theirs?

When I told my stories about the people I'd met to A and I, they had the same reactions to them that I did. They laughed at the same things I had laughed at. That was great! So I wasn't too crazy and liberal or too conservative and boring. They saw things about the same way that I did and I liked them- they were fun to talk to.

At midnight, we walked back across the Karluv Most bridge and said goodbye- they had a train to Berlin to catch at 8 the next morning. On the walk back to my room, I saw some welders fixing a line of the tram tracks on one of the streets.

Sunday, June 9 - Prague, Czech Republic

Hallelujah! I have a new prized possession! I was walking around the Old Town Square and saw a small CD store. I went in and flipped through the few CDs it had, mostly unimpressed. Then as I was leaving, I looked at the rows of CDs by the door. They were professional bootlegs: the CDs that copyright laws prohibit American CD stores from selling. (In Spain, there are people selling home made copies of CDs they lay out on a blanket in the streets, another thing you'd never see in the US, a country where laws are at least occasionally enforced).

In any case I found a CD of outtakes from Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run album. I pulled it from the shelf and asked the guy at the desk if I could listen to it. He said yes so I turned off his CD on the store stereo and cued up track #2 and the opening drum roll of Born To Run filled the store. I turned the volume up. A moment of pure happiness.

I often say that if I had to choose only one album from my 1000-some CDs and LPs, it would be Jeff Buckley's Grace. But after three weeks away from any of my albums, I'm changing my mind. It would be Born To Run. (Of course I would have been just as excited to find a CD of Grace outtakes).

The version of the song Born To Run on this CD was a different take with female backing vocals during the chorus. When it finished, I skipped to one of the Thunder Roads which was a different take with 'Christy' in place of 'Mary'.

On a similar note, the title track Born To Run refers to a girl named Wendy. When Peter Knobler, a writer for Crawdaddy visited Springsteen's Long Branch house in 1974 to get an early listen, he saw a poster of Peter Pan leading Wendy out of a window above his bed. The final lyrics in that song included the line: "Wendy let me in, I wanna be your friend/ I want to guard your dreams and visions."

I bought the CD and a couple others. They weren't too expensive, or at least, they were cheaper than the CD player I bought on Wenceslas Square so I could listen to my new Springsteen because it was driving me crazy not to hear it.

I sat on a bench in Wenceslas Square at 6 PM in the rain with the CD playing in my ears and a devilish grin on my face. 3 weeks is a long time, OK?

The real jewel of the CD, an acoustic version of Thunder Road (which sounds eerily like it could have been on Nebraska), rises to a peak when he sings:

    "Well I try hard Christy to understand
      I'm riding out tonight to case the promised land
      Baby, if you're born with nothing in your hands,
      Hey it's your only chance"

  Instead of the better known:

    "Oh oh, come take my hand,
      I'm riding out tonight to case the promised land
      Woah oh oh oh Thunder Road, oh Thunder Road, oh Thunder Road"

I was happily listening to the CD in an internet café when I got an email from Lina. I hadn't heard from her since Spain so I had assumed she was politely saying 'no' to my suggestion about visiting her in Sweden while I was in Copenhagen. She said something about not writing earlier because of her Swedish ego that I didn't understand, but she said yes, I should come up for a day. I didn't write back, but planned to call her when I was in Copenhagen in a couple days.

The Velvet Revolution (when communist Czechoslovakia became the democratic Czech Republic without a war- you have to respect them for that) was less than 15 years ago. Is it related that I saw armed police patrols dressed in black all over the city? North of Wenceslas Square, where Radio Free Europe supposedly broadcasts from, I saw two armored personnel carriers and a number of camouflaged soldiers with machine guns blocking off a street.

Day 24-25: Budapest, Hungary

Your Comments

Tim, the photos and journal are awesome. Your skills have increased tenfold since 1996. See you at the grocer's.

-- Johnny , Aug 13, 2002
This trip is what I've dreamt of doing my whole life - photography is my passion, travelling is my dream - through ur photographs I've lived that dream just a tiny little bit. Thank you for that!!!

-- Anna, Jan 22, 2007
Add a comment

All text and pictures copyright © 2002 Tim Darling.