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Old 25th March 2016, 20:05   #46
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Fantastic travelogue, mentalmaxout!

Thoroughly enjoyed every word and every picture - even the history lessons.

Great job & I'm happy to see everyone enjoyed and you earned brownie points for the sanskari trip!

Hope to see more from you.
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Old 27th March 2016, 01:17   #47
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An awesome travelogue, I would say a must read for anyone planning a Road trip to Europe, please do keep updating this thread. Cheers.
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Old 28th March 2016, 10:39   #48
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Default Re: The Sanskari Middle Europe Trip - From Berlin to Vienna via Eastern Europe

A truly entertaining and educative thread. The personal nature of the narrative and photgraphs is what makes this thread stand out from its contemporaries. And hats off to you for sharing these personal experiences and photographs.

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Originally Posted by mentalmaxout View Post
Day 2 Berlin contd...

Reichstag - the German Parliament

However, a visit to its glass dome is one of the highlights of the tour. With its gently sloping spiralling stairway, replete with motion sensor based audio guides, the experience is one to savour. With crisp commentary coupled with clear views of Berlin skyline
The way the designers have been able to translate 'transparency', a cornerstone of the German system of governance, into a physical attribute to their parliament building is truly commendable. The tour commentary and notes provide a fairly resonable understanding of the parliament and a snapshot of Berlins past and current landmarks. A 'must-do' in my sight seeing recommendation for Berlin.

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Day 1 contd

Berlin

Berlin is like being abroad in Germany. It's German, but not provincial. Berlin has an amazing public transportation system consisting of trams, buses, and subways..


Genocide of countless millions jews
Public transport is convenient & relatively inexpensive. My wife and I drove down to Berlin but opted for public transport as advised by the friendly front desk clerk at our hotel. Turned out to be a good decision as the U-bahn and bus lines blend seamlessly to cover every nook of the city. Well, at least the parts we wanted to see

While the sheer number of people from the jewish community that were persecuted during the Nazi regime is staggering, the number of Non-Jewish poles and soviets killed as part of the military campaign is said to exceed the number of Jewish victims. Not to mention minorities including, but not restricted to, certain denominations of christians, gay and lesbian folks, people of Arfican origin (many of whom were 'only' sterilized), the disabled and the mentally challenged. Hard to imagine that these attocities were carried out just around 75 years ago.
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Old 28th March 2016, 13:04   #49
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Thank you for the positive comments Guys ! (sniff) Its akin to receiving the "Filmfare Best Newcomer award" !! While the happiness to see your views exists, so also a new pressure has built up to maintain the same flow.

Nonetheless, I shall strive to do what other accomplished travelogue writers before me on TBHP do ; - pour the heart out and pray furiously everyone likes it


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Originally Posted by aquashankar View Post
Outstanding travelogue. Beautifully narrated. And you have captured photos of people, places and particularly emotions so well. I have read your entire set of posts twice.

It is a dream of mine to take my better half and do Eastern Europe just like you have, especially Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Bucharest and if possible Copenhagen, Oslo and Helsinki. For now, you have given me some great pointers like hostels and cycling to keep things alive.

Please keep it coming. I will be rooted to this post for updates. Once again, brilliant narration, easy flowing and captivating style.
Thank you for your kind words. Quite a long list you have there - and each one more beautiful than the other.Don't hold on too much longer - these countries are not yet on the "quintessential Gujju tourist radar" & hence offer an amazing local experience yet... Do it asap

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Originally Posted by BlackPanda View Post
Beautifully written, subtle sarcasm, loved it. Please keep it coming. It would be nice if you can share complete itinerary + expenses incurred.
Regarding expenses, shall strive to do it at the end.

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Originally Posted by vinayrathore View Post
Great writing skill you have!! Had me in splits!! Especially the DDLJ connection with FIL

Even my first Europe thread starts with a mention to the Movie and you have taken it to the next level. Made my day!!
Yes i had read your travel post earlier & had loved it. Thank yo for your comments. Since we are both DDLJ fans, lets bond over a pigeon-feeding session sometime

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Originally Posted by Srikji View Post
This is just excellent! Have been procrastinating my Hobart travelogue but this has inspired me to put it here soon!
I procrastinated for a year , scared if I would be able to do justice to writing about the trip ! Please dont make the same mistake - Nek kaam mein deri kyun ?

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Originally Posted by understated View Post
@ mentalmaxout

Man o man!!! You are making me relive my school days again, did schooling from Szeged, looks beautiful and Gto rightly said, awesome pictures, beautiful family, fantastic narration and breath taking memories... Please update more pictures of Budapest,, Eastern Europe has a old world beauty and charm
Schooling from Szeged ? Man !! that must have been some experience

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Originally Posted by rdhawan15 View Post
@ mentalmaxout - This travelogue has got to be one of the best posted on here. It would be an understatement to say that you write well !!! It is an absolute delight to read and go through wonderful pictures.

Wish the best for your family and yourself; stay blessed.

Your write-up gives me confidence that I can do Europe sometime soon -perhaps in 2017. Thanks bud.
Am glad it gives you confidence. Trust me, the key to doing it in your budget lies in planning early

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Originally Posted by Chethan B G View Post
Awesome travel-log! Enjoyed reading. Thanks for sharing!!

Did you try doner kebab at Mustafa's? They are the best in Berlin and lovely to say the least! Both vegetarian and chicken.

Link: http://mustafas.de
No i didn't.. Unfortunately I didnt know about it. But next time maybe... Thanks for the tip

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Originally Posted by aah78 View Post
Fantastic travelogue, mentalmaxout!

Thoroughly enjoyed every word and every picture - even the history lessons.

Great job & I'm happy to see everyone enjoyed and you earned brownie points for the sanskari trip!

Hope to see more from you.
Thank you - massive brownie points earned. The saasu maa still has a loving look, a year down the line. However methinks to keep the Glow going, will have to plan another trip soon
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Old 28th March 2016, 14:57   #50
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Amazing travelogue Sanskari Damad!! I too have booked tickets to Prague and return from Budapest for the month of June . I have decided a road trip rather than travelling in Euro Rail. Like you, I too was fascinated to make Euro Trip after watching DDLJ
I am planning to visit Prague - Salzaburg - Vienna - Budapest. Do let me know where have you made reservations in Salzaburg , Vienna and Budapest, so that it would help me in planning my trip

Last edited by vin_b : 28th March 2016 at 15:24. Reason: Devar->Damad.. My bad hindi !!
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Old 29th March 2016, 12:51   #51
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Day 4 – Berlin to Prague

As you guys remember, the desire to visit Prague was fuelled by the movie “Mission Impossible” in 1996, and until a year ago, any thoughts of visiting Prague were deemed to be indeed, “Mission Impossible”


However, here we are. After a visit to Berlin, today we are excited to visit the lovely spired city of Prague. Named after the Goddess “Praha”. The name actually meant “threshold” in Medieval Europe. It was said that the city was a portal between the life of the good and the underworld. A city of dark magic. Prague lay before us like a mysterious stranger in an old hat. An exotic woman beckoning the youth in poor light ... Like an inviting gypsy peddler with a brand-new iPad… always taunting “Come, have a look !!) or like Amitabh would have said “Kuchh din toh guzaaron Hamaare Prague mein !!”

It is said that if European cities were a necklace, Prague would be a diamond amongst the pearls. For me, the mystique of Prague lay in what I had seen in the movies - its dark streets with small lamp posts, cobbled roads, fog enveloping itself in the blue hues of a dark night, with locals glancing suspicious looks at outsiders. However, Prague by daylight is a different story altogether – Inviting, warm, beautiful & funny. Few cities can match Prague for Over-the-top romance & evocative old world Charm. Having been spared the ravages of the 20th century wars, it remains a place of proud medieval towers, lively cafes & a thousand years of history.

So it was with this knowledge that our Sanskaari Bandwagon moved to Prague. To each of us, we looked forward to visiting Prague for different reasons.

Me – Tom Cruise, Mission Impossible, Cobbled streets, the Romantic Charles Bridge

The Wife – The romantic Charles Bridge

FIL Amrish Puri – no idea, but our jamaai babu says it’s a nice place

MIL Farida Jalal - no idea, but our jamaai babu says it’s a nice place

The saala saheb - no idea, but i have heard its a beautiful place

The Brat – no idea, why I was tagged along here

Getting to Prague

The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. In our case, the first step meant, catching our early morning train on time.

At the planning stage, this was the part which was giving me the “heebie-jeebies”. If we had to make the most of our 3N stay at Prague, it was imperative that we reached Prague as early as possible. Accordingly, I had booked the 8.45 AM train from Berlin to Prague…which meant we had to reach the station by 8.00 AM, which meant… we had to leave the hostel by 7.30 AM… which meant we had to wake up by 6.45 AM, on a cold wintry Berlin morning.

For most of us Gujaratis, early morning is wonderful. Its only drawback is that it comes at such an inconvenient time of day. Given a choice, we would have preferred early mornings to start from 10 AM. Such an early start meant, we would have to (gulp!!) skip breakfast or have it hurriedly. So the night before, alarms were set for 6.45 Am, 6.50 AM, 7.00 AM & 7.05 AM just to be sure !!

The JIT approach

JIT (or Just-in-Time) approach was invented in Japan. JIT can be defined as a philosophy which came into existence in the early 1970’s and for the first time it was developed in Toyota manufacturing plants. The success of this method depends on being able to accurately forecast your lead-timings & process intervals to ensure optimum utilization of resources to achieve the desired results.

Why am I displaying my MBA gyaan ? Simply because like most Gujarati travelers, we pride ourselves in being able to plan for JIT approach in our day-to-day life. Whether it’s a meeting, appointment, event etc, JIT approach serves us well. Other communities, especially Parsis, Tamils etc may believe more in BT (Before time approach), but for us, JIT works just fine. This again stems from the need to derive maximum ROI from our investments - in this case, not checking out of the Hostel, a minute earlier than required (after all we have paid full money for it). Also the train arriving within 10 minutes after we have reached the platform is the parameter by which we would know if our JIT approach has been successful.

However, in our case we don’t’ follow the JIT approach, we follow the SHIT (Somehow-in-time) approach!

In spite of rigorous JIT planning the night before, the alarms don’t go off in time (or maybe we snoozed it). After waking up at 7.30, it’s a mad rush to get our things in order..After all of us descend to the lobby and check out, the brat suddenly decides he has some unfinished business with the loo and spends a leisurely 15 minutes in the bathroom, while the wife is outside, coaxing and cajoling him to “perform to his full potential”.

This was the time I finally understood Albert Einstein’s abstruse theory of relativity pertaining to the passing of time. How long a minute is, truly depends on which side of the bathroom door you are on!!

Anyways, with the brat out of the washroom, with a wide grin smattered on his face, we huffed, puffed and ran all the way to the metro station and reached the Berlin Hauptbahnoff at 8.32.

IN the earlier part of this travelogue, I had written - "For first time travelers to Germany, The Berlin Hauptbahnoff is an experience in itself. Its a massive railway complex with three tiers of train stations - the S-bahn (suburban railway), the U-bahn (underground railway) & Intercity trains. The upper level of the station has six tracks (two of which arwe used for the Berlin S-Bahn). The lower level has eight tracks for main-line trains, plus a further island platform for the Berlin U-Bahn. There is no rail connection between the upper and lower level track in the station area (or anywhere else nearby). 1800 trains call at the station per day and the daily number of passengers is estimated to be at 350,000."

The massive complex of intertwining platforms and platform signs in German, all seemed to conspire against us, ganging up in order to cause as much delay as possible. The same massive Engineering marvel called the Berlin Hauptbahnoff, today seemed intimidating & confusing, almost as if it had made a decision to not allow us to board our train on time. It reminded me of the battle between Gandalf & the Balrog in the Lord of the Rings movie

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The Genius that I am, on the day of the arrival, I had forgotten to ask which out of the Goddamn so many platforms would be the ones we would use to catch our train to Prague. Which meant all of us were running all over the place, asking random passer-bys where our train would be? Which out of the numerous platforms do we have to go to? Seeing all of us sprint at full tilt, with our numerous dangling bags, would have made MS Dhoni & Usain Bolt’s chests swell with pride.

Anyways, finally we reached the right platform at 8.46 AM and hurriedly boarded the first compartment we touched and no sooner had we all loaded our countless “Boriyas & Bistars” on the train, the train took off.

This, Ladies & gentlemen, is called the SHIT (Somehow-in-Time) approach. On hindsight, benefits of SHIT approach over JIT approach is that in both cases, the results are the same (Boarding the train before it takes off), but SHIT approach is more difficult to execute, which results in greater satisfaction and pride at the times of future narrations & recollections of the events as it unfolded.

The Train Experience - Berlin to Prague
As any successful exponent of the SHIT approach would tell you, the joys of victory are far more rewarding than the boring JIT approach. Once we boarded the train, we all looked at each other as if we had just completed a 500 metre hurdle race and our team had won. We laughed recollecting at how with just two minutes to spare for our train, we had scampered all the way from the topmost platform to the lowest platform at Hauptbahnoff, over the bridge, down the stairs and into the compartment a fraction of a second before the train pulled out – and then had our heart thump for a whole twenty minutes – yes folks, we had timed it well!

However, in all the confusion, we had forgotten to check our tickets. Supposedly, the morning trains functioned on a FIFO basis (First In-First Out) which meant, grab the first available seats ;There were supposed to be reservations only if you had “selected” them while booking the tickets and had “paid extra” for them. I had spied a few code numbers on the tickets, thinking them to be our seat numbers & left it at that. Upon boarding the train, we sauntered to our so-called seat numbers only to find an old grumpy German couple sitting there. After trying to unsuccessfully evict them, we were told to “go fly a kite” in the local choicest words. And here we were, proudly displaying our tickets and thinking that just buying the ticket means we had a seat guaranteed!! Like any first time traveler in Mumbai local trains will tell you, a Ticket is merely an “entry” into the compartment. Sitting seats require planning, connections, art of convincing etc.

Anyways, being the hardcore Mumbaikar, (born, bread and toasted in Mumbai), the jugaadu mindset soon set in. Since we were a large travelling party, we could not find an empty compartment nearby. We stood with our luggage near the door like most joy riders on trains do, while myself & the saala saaheb set out in search of the elusive full empty cabin. Finally after searching the whole train, we found an empty cabin marked “++” at the end. As most travelers in Mumbai trains will tell u, an empty seat is like a treasure. You look at it with envy, jealousy & pride. You can salivate & drool over it, hug it, kiss it, but first you must BLOCK it.. and here I had not only stumbled upon a treasure seat, but had stumbled upon a whole empty cabin. A feeling experienced by Alladin who set out in serach of a lamp, and found a whole cave filled with treasure. The only challenge was that the Empty cabin was on one end of the train, while the family was on the other side. Blocking the seats was fairly easy. I plonked myself on a seat and blocked the other 5 seats with assorted accessories like a handkerchief, a jacket, a cap etc while i sent a messenger (the saala saaheb) to call reinforcements (the family) to come and occupy the newly conquered kingdom.

With the family all settled in our newly conquered cabin, we were now happy and looked forward to the rest of the journey. The only mystery was the interpretation of “++” on the cabin door. But we left that mystery to be solved for later..

Give a gujarati family an empty cabin & you can bet your bottom dollar that soon, there would be an emergence of home-made theplas, chundos, wafers, khakhras etc. And we were not just “any ordinary” Gujarati family, we were a family that had won a race in the morning, were hungry, famished & slightly sleep deprived. So out came our prized food possessions and for the next hour, we lost ourselves in enjoying and savouring a “well-deserved & earned breakfast”

Winners happiness displayed after crossing the hurdle race & ensconced in the cabin
The Sanskari Middle Europe Trip - From Berlin to Vienna via Eastern Europe-day-1-2.jpg

Notice the pride on the face as the FIL surveys our newly conquered cabin
The Sanskari Middle Europe Trip - From Berlin to Vienna via Eastern Europe-day-1-3.jpg

Out come the saviour of modern day tourism economies - the quintessential Gujarati 'snakes' - Theplas & Khakhras & chundos !
The Sanskari Middle Europe Trip - From Berlin to Vienna via Eastern Europe-day-1-4.jpg


The mystery of “++”

With our stomachs full, the mind set out to wander. Several thoughts flitted through our minds - “How nice the train is”, “How tasty the theplas were”, “What a lovely city Berlin was”, “What an experience catching the train today was”, & finally “How come every other cabin was occupied, except this one?” &“What does ++ on the cabin door mean?”

Since we were happily ensconced on our seats, it was now time to solve the mystery of “++”. We sauntered down the train to the pantry car and asked the guy behind a counter if he knew what the symbol meant, but he didn’t. We kept on hunting for a while, till we met the TC. Upon asking him the question, our joy evaporated ; ++ meant that cabin was exclusively reserved for Doctors & Handicapped travellers. Gulp !!

In halting english, he told us that, if a handicapped passenger(s) come along, we would have to vacate the cabin. Vacate the cabin??? he said it as if it were as easy as waving a wand!! Imagine lugging around 5 large suitcases and several large hand bags. !! We returned to our cabin heartbroken & broke the news to our fellow family members. After a round of "Idiot, moron, Can't do a thing right" type of unparliamentary compliments from the wife & looks of fear, shock & disappointment from the in-laws, we settled down morosely. For the next remaining few hours of travel, Our position was similar to that of illegal migrants , dreading the hand of the law, casting furtive glances at passer-bys, and on the lookout for advancing gendarmes.

Nonetheless, God was kind to us that day and we completed the journey successfully without evictions, without meeting any handicapped passengers & thankfully without any further events. SHIT approach ensure that we made it comfortably to Prague - Some-how !!

Now, onwards to Prague !!

Last edited by mentalmaxout : 29th March 2016 at 18:00.
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Old 29th March 2016, 14:11   #52
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Prague - Day 1 contd..

Our train pulled up at Prague’s Hlavni Nadrazi station at 13.25 hours and we let out a collective yelp of relief !! Yes we made it !! I for one, was very excited - a major bucket list item was getting ticked for me. the cobbled streets, the city's spires, the architecture etc, see,ed to beckon me invitingly!

But before i move ahead, a few basic facts & info about Prague

Prague, although a member of the EU, doesn’t share the same currency. Its currency is called “Czech Koruna”

1 Czech koruna (CZK) = approx 2.5 INR
1 Euro = approx 27 -30 czk (depending upon where you exchange it from)


Additionally, travelers in Prague may face a language issue, as English is not spoken widely. However with Prague getting increasingly touristy, that will change pretty soon.

Generally, i prefer hailing a local taxi from outside a station as compared to chargeable Hotel pickups. However with an increasing number of tourist traps, and additionally a language barrier we may face, we had requested the hotel to arrange a pickup for us. However, if you do decide on hailing a taxi, please make sure you book it from one of the reputed cab companies like AAA Radio taxi - +420 233113311, +420 729 331133, +420 222 333 222


Prague - where to stay

Nestled in the bend of the river Vlatava (pronounced as “Vul-tava), Prague as a city is easily walkable. Its cobbled streets and easy access to sights and sounds, means biking may not be a great option here, and neither would renting a car. As a city, it is divided into multiple zones.

The below Prague map gives a quick overview of this exciting Czech city and Prague districts and neighborhoods . Prague is big but getting around is easy, thanks to its excellent public transportation which includes trams & metros. A glance at the map shows that the city is divided into 10 districts (Prague 1, Prague 2, etc.) which refer to each of the Prague neighborhoods; in many cases locals use the neighborhood names (Stare Mesto, Mala Strana, Vinohrady, etc) more frequently than the district numbers . Although most first time visitors want to stay in Old Town (Stare Mesto), many of the neighboring districts have sections that are within easy walking distance of the major tourist attractions and offer better value for the price. I shall try & explain a brief overview and attractions of a few zones which would be the best for tourists

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PRAGUE 1 - Stare Mesto (Old Town) .
The geographical center of Prague and the home of its best known tourist attractions; many buildings in Prague 1 date back to the 13th century. Charles Bridge , Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square , the Jewish Quarter and many other popular tourist destinations can be found here. The area is also popular among locals for its wide variety of trendy boutiques, restaurants, trendy nightlife and modern shopping centers. Nonetheless, being the most touristy, everything from accommodation to shopping to food tends to cost quite a bit more in Prague 1 than it does elsewhere in the city.

PRAGUE 1 (contd) - Mala Strana.
The Vlatava River divides Prague in half and because of this, the Old Town is split into two distinct neighborhoods. The Mala Strana side (lesser side) is located just across the Charles Bridge from Old Town, at the bottom of the hill that leads up to Prague Castle. It is known for the many embassies that are located here. Quiet and very upscale, it is the most exclusive neighborhood in Prague. Many of Prague's finest restaurants can be found here, as well as elegant cafes and tourist shops.

Prague 2 - Vinohrady
Located at the top of the hill just beyond the far end of Wenceslas Square, Vinohrady is named for the vineyards that were found here during the 19th century. Today it is most popular among young professionals, international residents, and other well to do residents who like its chic cafes, upscale shopping centers and restaurants. Much of the neighborhood is within easy walking distance of Wenceslas Square and excellent bus and Metro service is available throughout. A good location for escaping the tourist crowds, yet still close to the center. Hlavni Nadrazi (Prague's Main Train Station) is located here, near the point where Prague 1, 2 and 3 come together.

Prague 3 - Zizkov
A favored Prague neighborhood among the students and young expats, Zizkov is traditionally one of the less affluent neighborhoods. Yet this district encompasses a trendier side. The areas located adjacent to Old Town and Vinohrady are replete with the pubs, restaurants and the famous architectural stylings that those areas are known for. Farther out in Zizkov you won't have to look to hard to find dingy and depressing Communist era housing. But tourists who decide to venture out into the Zizkov neighborhood will be rewarded with the magnificent views offered by the Prague TV tower.
So if nightlife & club is your main focus - Ziskov would be a good place to stay.

There are other zones as well as seen in the map; However, for tourists who wish to derive the maximum buck for your stay, its advisable to stay in Zone 1,2 or 3 as these would be just a walk away from the best sights & sounds. Although the city’s local trams and metro service are pretty good, still staying in these areas affords greater accessibility

Being on a budget, we ruled out Zone 1 as the prices were close to 1.5x to 2x the other areas. We also ruled out zone 3,- being on a sanskari trip, we didn't want to be near pubs & clubs which would mean loud non-devotional songs blaring at unearthly hours and non-pallu clad girls & assorted guys waltzing around.

Hence Prague 2 it was. Close to Wenceslas square & easy access to major sights in Prague on foot as well as by metro & trams, located just opposite to our hotel. We had booked ourselves at a Hotel situated in a quiet bylane with easy access to the Namesti Meru Metro station. We reached the Hotel by 2 pm and after a brief period of rest, we set out to explore the city. Our aim, like we did in Berlin on Day 1 - explore the city by foot and get acquainted with its layout, sights and sounds.

Prague Day 1 Evening contd

This is a brief layout of the city and covers most parts of tourist interest
The Sanskari Middle Europe Trip - From Berlin to Vienna via Eastern Europe-prague-walking-map_2.jpg

We planned to start walking from the Historic Wenceslas square in the New Town (close to our hotel), wander through the old Town, & end at the river, on the Charles Bridge, one of the most atmospheric spots in all of Europe. This little walk would allow us to witness both, the urban bustle of Modern day Prague as well as the pedestrian-friendly lanes of its Old Town.

A bit more information about Prague -
Prague, only recently, in 1989 truly attained independence. Over the past few centuries, the Czech have courageously fought against foreign oppression, from Habsburgs to Nazis, to Soviet Communists.

Also, locals in Prague are a bit more shy, compared to say, its neighbouring Germany. However you will find, that learning a few local words, would go a long way in making them warm up to you.

A few helpful pronunciations
Good day = Dobry den (dobree den)
Please = Prosim (proseem)
Thank You = Dekuji (dyekuyi)
One more, please = Jedno pivo prosim (yedno pivo proseem) (will explain why this is very helpful, later in the travelogue)

Our hotel was a 5 minute walk from the historic Wenceslas square. So we joined the good King Wenceslas’s statue from where he gazes down the long, broad street ahead of him. It’s actually more like a boulevard busy with cars, with a park-like median right down the middle. The Wenceslas Square has served as a kind of a national stage for important events in the history of the Czech people.

Pics of the Wenceslas square - the below have been sourced from the internet (copyright with respective owners)

Wenceslas Square at night
The Sanskari Middle Europe Trip - From Berlin to Vienna via Eastern Europe-wenceslas.jpg

In 1918, it was here that jubilant crowds had gathered to celebrate the end of WWI and the subsequent creation of Czechoslovakia (Today its split to 2 countries - the Czech Republic & Slovakia)

During WWII, Nazi tanks rolled down this boulevard and then rioting Czechs drove the Nazis out, until the Soviets came and occupied the country in.
In 1989, more than 300,000 Czechs & Slovaks converged at Wenceslas Square to reclaim their freedom in what was famously called “The Velvet Revolution”


& this was a good place to start our walk along the city’s main boulevard, and acclimatize ourselves with the sights, sounds & smells of Modern day Prague.

Wencelas Square in the 1970's
The Sanskari Middle Europe Trip - From Berlin to Vienna via Eastern Europe-wenceslas-old.jpg

Wenceslas Square as it is today
The Sanskari Middle Europe Trip - From Berlin to Vienna via Eastern Europe-wenceslas-2.jpg

Few BHPians would remember King Wenceslas I, who was known as the “Good King”, featuring in several Christmas Carols. He was a wise & well educated King, who united the Czech people, back when this land was known as Bohemia.

The Sanskari Middle Europe Trip - From Berlin to Vienna via Eastern Europe-day-1-6.jpg

Saasu - grandson bonding over lollipops
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If you zoom the picture & look at his statue, Wenceslas, on the horse, is surrounded by 4 other patron saints. Notice the focus on books. A small nation without great military power, the Czech Republic chose national heroes who enriched the culture by thinking, rather than fighting.

Nowadays, his statue is a popular meeting point & landmark. (Locals like to say “I’ll see you under the Horse’s a**)

The National Museum in the background
The Sanskari Middle Europe Trip - From Berlin to Vienna via Eastern Europe-day-1-5.jpg

You can see the first president - Vaclav Havel's picture behind on the Museum front. Who is Vaclav Havel - will explain below !

The Sanskari Middle Europe Trip - From Berlin to Vienna via Eastern Europe-day-1-19.jpg

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Notice the beautiful cobbled streets and beautiful buildings - Wah ! Prague
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- A bit of History
As we walked downhill from the horse statue, some 30 yards away, lies an easily missable memorial dedicated to the victims of Communism. There’s a small round patch of greenery with a big message. In 1968, after the Soviet Tanks rumbled into Prague and violently suppressed massive demonstrations, a group of patriots wanted to stand up to the powerful Soviet occupation. One of them was a young philosophy student named Jan Palach. he decided that the best way to inspire the Czech & stoke the flame of Independence was to set himself on fire. On January 16 1969, Palach stood near Wenceslas square and set his body on fire for the cause of Czech Independence. He died a few days later in the hospital ward. A month later, another student did the same thing, followed by another, followed by another. Czechs are keen on anniversaries, and - twenty years after Palach’s brave & patriotic act, in 1989 - Czechs gathered here in a huge demonstration. An uprising swept through the city, and these protests led, 10 months later, to the overthrow of the Soviet-controlled Czech communist government in 1989 - and to freedom.

memorial to Jan Palach
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Prague City is traditionally divided into 4 quarters - The New Town, the Old Town, the Castle Quarter & the Little Quarter. The advantage of walking in Prague at an unhurried pace is that there is plenty of visual treats all around right from medieval architecture to modern day buildings, from historic landmarks to modern day junk food outlets - all seem to coexist peacefully next to each other. Walking allowed us to interact with locals and gain insights into spots and landmarks, which we would normally have skipped.

That's how we discovered the next place of interest - It encapsulates the same philosophy - a landmark not covered in many tours - the Grand Hotel Europa.

A few hundred metres ahead of Wenceslas square, to our right, was a yellow Arty kind of building known as the Grand Hotel Europa - an important element in Czech History. Over the past few centuries, just like India, Prague had suffered greatly under the thumb of foreign rulers like the Royal Habsburgs of Austria. Over the next centuries, the Czechs continued to fight popes & Habsburgs for self rule. Then in the historic year 1918, when WWI ended, the modern nation of Czechoslovakia was created. Unfortunately, that nation was trampled yet again, first by the Nazis & then by the Soviets. In fact, much of Czech history has been a fight for the tiny Czech nation to survive amidst its powerful neighbours. So imagine the joy when, after over a thousand years of struggles, the Czech people could finally celebrate their freedom once again. This happened right here - at the Grand Hotel Europa, near Wenceslas Square.

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The Velvet Revolution

Picture the scene on a cold November night in 1989. Czechoslovakia has been oppressed for the past 20 years by a harsh and communist Russia. But now, theSoviet empire was beginning to crumble. The Berlin wall had been broken & with that, the Czechs too got a whiff of freedom. Night after night, the huge square was filled with more than 300000 ecstatic Czechs and Slovaks who believed freedom was at hand. Each night they would jangle their key-chains in the air as if saying to the Russian rulers “its time for you to go home now”. Until finally the Russians left. This was one of the recent freedom movements similar to India’s non-violence freedom fight.

On that November night in 1989, when they finally won their freedom, as thousands filled the square, the to-be first leader of modern day Prague, Vaclav Havel, addressed the people of Czechoslovakia from the balcony of Hotel Europa. Vaclav Havel was a charismatic playwright & had spent years in prison, becoming a symbol of resistance - a modern day Czech Nelson Mandela. He proclaimed the resignation of the Russian Politburo & the imminent freedom of Czechoslovakia. Havel pulled out a ring of keys & jangled it. Thousands of keys jangled back in response. It was their symbolic way of saying :the communists have packed up & left & now we are free to unlock our chains.

A few more shots of the easily missable - Grand Hotel Europa
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While I was awe-struck by the piece of history all around me, the rest of the family were busy admiring the nearby shops and Cafes. And with evening nearly upon us, we felt it was a good time to sample a locally recommended ice-cream joint - The Fruit Bar Svetozor - every local’s favourite ice cream joint situated in the Svetozor mall. Their Banana strawberry ice cream is considered to be a local delicacy.

Our first food in Prague - Strawberry raisins & chocolate cake along with the local favorite - banana strawberry ice cream. I am on a diet you see!!
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As we step out, the wind picks up its chill again and within a few minutes, the weather gets increasingly cold. As a result, the ladies decide to pack up and get back to the hotel, whereas the men continue to walk further towards Charles Bridge.

Post our dinner, we saunter towards the iconic Charles Bridge at approx 10 pm. Even at night the Charles Bridge looked regal and majestic.(more about the Charles Bridge later in the travelogue) We cross the bridge and reach the Castle district where we spied a Thai Foot Massage parlour. Tired and exhausted after a long walk, we indulge ourselves to the luxury of a Thai Foot massage, catch a Tram back to the Hotel and get some zzz’s. Tomorrow is a big day ahead !!

Entrance to the Charles Bridge

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Crowded even at night

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The cobbled streets - lovely for the eyes, but deadly for the feet !!
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The sanskaari masseur touching feet expecting "Alok Nath" type smiles , while the FIL giving her the hard "Amrish Puri" stare !!
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Tram station - caught the popular Tram 22 back to the hotel

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Old 29th March 2016, 17:06   #53
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Day 2 Prague

After the early rise of yesterday, we woke up leisurely and had a peaceful breakfast at the hotel. Today was going to be day full of sightseeing & hence had to make sure we got our nutrition done well


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the Brat seemed more intent on punching a hole in the bread, while the wife did what she does best "ORDER & REPRIMAND!!"

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With our acclimatization of the city’s layouts done, Our plan for the day was to take a romantic boat cruise on the Vlatava River (pronounced Vul-tava) & then later in the afternoon post lunch, taking a free walking Tour of the city

We started our day walking from Wenceslas Square towards the Old Town and onwards to the Charles Bridge. By this time the “Bauji-in-kaanoon” (Father-in-law…duh !!) was well versed with the city’s layouts and was leading the way for all of us. After yesterday’s late evening boys night out, he had his chest swelled with pride and was impressing the Saasu-maa with little tit-bits of information about Prague, which he no doubt had weaned out of me during yesterday evenings bonding session at the local restaurant.

Plus he now pretty well knew the roads and where they lead to, having spent a good half hour pouring himself over the city map. This coupled with his new-found knowledge of Prague’s sights gave him the satisfied grin, which Amrish Puri sported when he first touched down in the fields of Punjab !

Our first goal for today - Prague's Old Town !!

For your refernce - Prague's layout again!

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The Old Town

Prague was largely spared the devastating aerial bombardments of WWII that leveled so many great European cities, like Berlin, Dresden or Munich. However, seeing how thriving and lively the city is today, its hard to imagine the grey & bleak Prague of the Communist Russian era. Before 1989, the city was a wistful jumble of possibility. Cobbled lanes were shadowed by decrepit, rusty, creaky buildings. Throughout the city, statues were black with dirt & soot, & on Charles Bridge - so busy today - there always lurked shady characters, trying to fleece you. However, today the bleak communist era is fast becoming ancient history.

We reached Prague’s historic center of the Old Town, appropriately called.. The Old Town Square. This is a focal point for most tourists & one of Prague’s top sights. This has been a market square since the 11th century. Today, the old-time market stalls have been replaced by outdoor cafe’s and touristy horse buggies. But behind this commercial veneer, Prague’s old town square hides a dramatic & powerful history.

Right in the middle of the square, lies a memorial to Jan Hus - a Prague priest , in the 1400’s who defied the catholic church & European kings to fight for an independence struggle which lasted close to 5 centuries.
Even today, the Old Town square, is like an oasis - amidst the hustle, bustle of modern day Prague, lies the serene, historic Old Town with ancient Gothic & Baroque architecture, Tall church spires with bells dangling. The setting would not seem out of place in medieval times.

Some clicks of the Fantastic Medieval Old Town Square

A festive vibe throughout the day

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The memorial to Jan Hus in the centre & the Tyn church in the background

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Notice the medieval styled Lamps & the Astronomical clock in the background

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Bylanes lined with family run eateries
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Touristy buggies line the square today
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gets very crowded close to the hour- when the Astronomical clock puts up its show

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Even in the evenings & nights, the square looks majestic

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Anyways, to the left of the Old Town square, stands its grand touristy attraction - The Astronomical Clock. The clock rings daily from 9.00 AM to 9.00 PM and always has a massive tourist horde below it. With revolving discs, celestial symbols & sweeping hands, this clock kept several versions of time - medieval Bohemian time (sunrise & sunset) & modern day time. In the center of the dial is a map. 500 years ago, everything revolved around the Earth which (so they thought) stood still. & at the center of the Earth, of course, was… Prague !! It also shows orbits of the sun & moon, lunar & solar eclipses etc.


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With so many figures, calculations & diagrams, my head was already spinning. If this seems complex to us, it must have been a marvel in the early 1400’s when the clock was installed. But as it is worldwide, with most ancient statues and with most of the wife’s reprimands, everything carries a social message.

4 statues flank the clock - A Turk with a mandolin symbolizes HEDONISM, a Jewish moneylender holding a bag of coins is GREED, & the figure staring into a mirror stands for VANITY. All these worldly goals are vain in the face if DEATH, whose hourglass reminds us that our time here is unavoidably running out.

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Greed & Vanity

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Death & hedonism

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The eager crowd waiting for the hourly spectacle
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Every hour, the Astronomical clock puts on a little show. first, DEATH tips his hourglass & pulls the cord, ringing the bell. Then the windows open & 12 apostles parade by, acknowledging the spectators below. Then (a bit of anticlimax), the rooster crows, & finally the hour is rung.

Link to a video on YT -

The whole experience is akin to waiting in line-for a roller coaster at a crowded fun park - for a 2 minute ride, one has to wait for one hour.
Nonetheless, i enjoyed watching the spectators whose constant “OOHs” &“AAH’s in varying pitch levels were fun.

Our Day continues ahead in the next post !! Keep reading !!

Last edited by mentalmaxout : 29th March 2016 at 21:37.
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Old 29th March 2016, 17:40   #54
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Now that is some hilarious TL. I just laughed my Ass out going through the photos of Amrish Puri.

If you are not already a part-time humor columnist, you should definitely give it a try. Amazing skills at writing!
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Old 29th March 2016, 17:58   #55
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Day 2 Prague ...contd !!

In the afternoon, we opted for Sandeman’s FREE walking tours http://www.newpraguetours.com

Most of us would jump at the word “FREE” walking tour. However, allow me to explain - The Tour is indeed FREE in the sense, that you need to just confirm your booking by mail & don’t pay anything upfront. The concept of FREE walking tours is that you can join the group and finish the entire tour for FREE. However, if you did like the tour guide and enjoyed the experience, you ARE expected to tip. But Yes, if you do decide, you want to be a cheapskate or if you did not really enjoy the tour experience, you CAN choose NOT to pay !

The meeting point is the Old Town Square, where Tour guides will be waiting at pre-informed spots wearing red clothing & carrying a Red umbrella. Our tour guide this time, unlike Berlin, was a ‘pretend - to- be Alia Bhatt’ type, giggly, gawky with a heavy accent. As a result, we couldn’t follow her explanations & she tended to rush through her narrations and between sights. Considering the weather chill had picked up plus we had our in-laws to take care, who couldn’t keep up with the fast walking pace, we left the tour midway & decide to go for one of our favourite pastimes - some pet-puja!!

Several tour companies throng the Old Town square - U can see them holding the umbrellas

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Our giggly-googly guide

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The only one-who kept up pace (apart from athletic me was the brat !! As you can see, he was getting his nutrition absolutely spot-on !

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Two scam artists - Look how they gel and bond well with each other !!

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For our afternoon lunch, we decided to try out the iconic Lehká Hlava - http://www.lehkahlava.cz/en_home.htm. This is a pure vegetarian local czech food restaurant and often reservations have to be made a few days in advance. The location of the hotel was a bit tough to find on a map.It’s located in a small alley off Borsov street, on the opposite side of Charles bridge - but locals would know it (simply ask for directions)

As a vegetarian i had heard rave reviews of this place&was relieved to find a restaurant where i could put a finger on anything on the menu without worrying about the ingredients. The food was simply outstanding and the prices too, were quite reasonable.

Both Lehka Hlava (means the clear head) and its sister restaurant Maitree are very popular with the locals and its suggested if possible to make a reservation before u go

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Combination of hummus type paste, olives & other "don't-care-what-it-is-as-long-as-its-veg" items

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The Brat found a furry friend !

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Post our lunch we headed (again!!) towards Charles Bridge from where we took a River-cruise. The boat itself was made of wood & the commentary by the boatman was enthralling. Cruising in the river is a great way to spend some time soaking in the sights & sounds plus the panoramic views.

meeting point for the cruise -at the entry before Charles Bridge

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Some clicks of the river cruise

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The Charles Bridge

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Notice the Ice-breakers - to keep the ice from eroding the 400 year old Bridge

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Pic taken about 100 years ago when my FIL was young - Yes, one can skate on a frozen river Vlatava

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the communists had erected a statue of Joseph Stalin on the river bank, which as the Soviet union exploded in 1991...

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So did Stalin's statue

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The River's waters are so clean that one can actually drink directly from it - The government spends massive amounts on river cleaning projects !

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The saasu-maa seemed to be reminded of the long & loving boat cruises taken almost 50 years ago with an erstwhile romantic Sasurji !

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the Sasur ji meanwhile sported his brand new 'Ray-Ben's and looked at me seemingly to question "What is so romantic about this cruise?"

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The Brat, meanwhile, took out his version of 'Ray-Ben Gogals' and asked "What do I do on a romantic cruise ?"


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After about 45 minutes of getting acquainted with the river Vlatava, we now (finally) head towards Charles Bridge (again) !!

Keep reading !!

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Old 29th March 2016, 19:01   #56
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Day 2 Prague - The Charles Bridge - contd..

Charles Bridge
What do i say about the iconic Charles Bridge ? This was the bridge which had drawn me from India to Prague !!

Check some random pictures I have used as desktop wallpapers from time to time. These pics are sourced from the internet & copyright with the respective owners

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As I had written in my earlier part of the travelogue - "In 1996, Mr. Tom Cruise started his Mission Impossible series and the opening scenes showed the mysticism and intrigue of Prague – the Czech capital in the former USSR occupied Eastern Europe. The cobbled streets, the blue night lights, the threat of KGB spies jumping out of every nook & corner, hostile non-english speaking locals – all of it built up another dream – Someday I will visit Prague."

The Scene link -

As you can see, in the opening scene of the Mission Impossible series, Tom’s erstwhile mentor was deemed to have been shot on this bridge and supposedly fell to his death in the flowing Vlatava river. Ever since then, the prospect of visiting Prague & Charles Bridge was something i used to always fantasize about.

I wanted to experience Charles Bridge as dear Tom had - between dusk & twilight, although i didn’t have any extra family members who could be tossed into the river below (i did try to nudge the brat over the parapet though, but the wife had suspicious eyes on me throughout!!).

Well, with or without the experience of tossing people over (sigh!!), the Charles Bridge is a sight to behold.

At the entrance to the bridge, is a tall medieval 500 year old Powder tower which was erstwhile used as a garrison to store the City’s gun powder.
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As we strolled onto the bridge, up ahead on the hill was the Prague Castle, topped by the pointed spires of St. Vitus Cathedral. Prague Castle has been the seat of power in this region for over a thousand years. By some measure, it is the BIGGEST castle on earth. When the nation of Czechoslovakia was born in 1918, it then served as the Rashtrapati Bhavan of its new President.

The view of Charles Bridge is extremely photogenic. The historic bridge is almost 3 football fields long, lined with lamps & lanterns & over 30 statues, punctuated at each end with medieval towers. It is one of Prague’s defining landmarks and it is this picture you will see whenever you get a postcard from Prague. This much-loved bridge offers one of the most pleasant & entertaining strolls in all of Europe. In the evenings, it is dotted with musicians, artists & a constant parade of people. The best part about the bridge is that one can come back and back to this bridge enjoying its charms differently at different times of the day.

Some Pictures of our buffoonery & Tom-foolery on the bridge !

With both my loves - Prague & the wife !!

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Two-and-half men

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Main aur meri maa pose !! The saasu maa was shivering in the cold by now !

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"mere do anmol ratan" pose by the sasurji !

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"Shut-up & smile" pose - threat by the wife, since her 'Bauji' was clicking the snap !

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Family - you can always lean on them !!

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Superb panoramic vistas

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In peak-summer, the bridge is pretty crowded I have been told !


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Artists & musicians throng the bridge giving it an air of festivity & fun

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Family -touristy pictures !! For the walls of our home !!

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Beauty all around

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Selfie -clicked by the BRAT !

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The In-laws meanwhile were having their own coochie-coo moments & it was a great time for them to be spending in the company of each other in the romantic city of Prague !!

Sanskaari Alok Nath & Reema Lagoo poses

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And beneath our feet, flowed the majestic Vlatava, the watery thread that has & always will - connected the proud Czech people.

To be contd !!
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Old 29th March 2016, 19:31   #57
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Day 2 Prague...contd !!

With our fill of Charles Bridge done for the day, we proceeded to walk back to the Old Town square !. By this time, it was close to dusk & it was getting pretty windy & cold !! the saasu maa, by this time was a bit tired and was the first wicket down !! To protect against the cold, she needed to be covered in every available piece of scarves, jackets, mufflers, monkey caps & what-nots !!


No - this is not what it seems . This is not a re-run of wedding vows exchanged half a century ago !!


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Instead of wedding garlands - exchanging scarfs, mufflers and jackets to protect against the chill and wind

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& the final result !!

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After the final wrap was done, the Mother in law closely resembled the famous bandits from Chambal !! This is precisely the reason why men should not be allowed to gift-wrap !!

With the saasu-maa feeling the chills, the sasurji accompanied her back to the hotel & took the BRAT with them - which left me, the wife & the 'bone-in-the-meat' (kabab mein haddi) - dear saala saaheb to explore Prague by dusk light.

After grabbing a few ‘snakes’ along the way, we proceeded to wander around by ourselves. Late evening, we caught the famous Black Light Theater show - its Prague’s most unique form of entertainment and is advertised everywhere. The performers dress in fluorescent costumes which glow under Ultraviolet black lights.

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Its playful & absurd at the same time. Since its mostly pantomimed or danced, there is no language barrier. It’s definitely off-beat experience and we were glad we did it.

Some random shots on the way back to the hotel

The restaurant @ Obecni Dum (Municipal House), Námestí Republiky - one of the poshest in Prague. it was used in the movie XXX (Vin Diesel - 2002)


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A panorama shot - I loved the architecture of the building

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The luxurious interiors

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the Beautiful city streets on the way back !!

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reaching the hotel, we had dinner at a local Indian restaurant & trudged back to the hotel for some much needed rest & relaxation !!

Tomorrow will be our last day in Prague !! Wonder how it will be ?? Keep reading
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Old 29th March 2016, 20:29   #58
MDe
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Default Re: The Sanskari Middle Europe Trip - From Berlin to Vienna via Eastern Europe

Fantastic travelogue. Thank you for presenting it so well, I feel like I have already seen some of Berlin
How were the rooms at the hostel? The hostel reception definitely looked good. Also, how was the overall food experience? Any pointers for vegetarians?
Thoroughly enjoying your updates. Cheers!
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Old 30th March 2016, 10:56   #59
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Default Re: The Sanskari Middle Europe Trip - From Berlin to Vienna via Eastern Europe

Maulik, Brilliant travelogue my friend. You instantly took me down the memory lanes when I was posted in Munich for a short stint. I instantly fell with love with Germany, and that love still continues. Keep your post rolling. This is one post I have read at a length and loved every bit of it.

I am soon going to buzz you to plan my extended Euro Trip.

PS- Hope your F-I-L hasn't read this as of now.

Last edited by sawnilrules : 30th March 2016 at 11:02. Reason: change from how to hope.
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Old 30th March 2016, 11:10   #60
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Default Re: The Sanskari Middle Europe Trip - From Berlin to Vienna via Eastern Europe

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Originally Posted by vin_b View Post
Amazing travelogue Sanskari Damad!! I too have booked tickets to Prague and return from Budapest for the month of June . I have decided a road trip rather than travelling in Euro Rail. Like you, I too was fascinated to make Euro Trip after watching DDLJ
I am planning to visit Prague - Salzaburg - Vienna - Budapest. Do let me know where have you made reservations in Salzaburg , Vienna and Budapest, so that it would help me in planning my trip
Hi was in Salzburg only for a day - would have liked to be there for 2 !! But preferred to stay in a little village hamlet in the middle of the Alps. Will post details in the travelogue when i reach there !

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Originally Posted by YoungSaint View Post
Now that is some hilarious TL. I just laughed my Ass out going through the photos of Amrish Puri.

If you are not already a part-time humor columnist, you should definitely give it a try. Amazing skills at writing!
Thank you !! I will show this to the Wife ! She thinks my humour is more of the puerile & kids variety !!. Ek heere ki pehchaan sirf johri jaanta hai !!

Quote:
Originally Posted by MDe View Post
Fantastic travelogue. Thank you for presenting it so well, I feel like I have already seen some of Berlin
How were the rooms at the hostel? The hostel reception definitely looked good. Also, how was the overall food experience? Any pointers for vegetarians?
Thoroughly enjoying your updates. Cheers!
The hostel experience was fantastic to say the least.. if me and the wife would have been travelling alone, i would have booked hostels throughout the trip. If you have reservations regarding hostels, i suggest you break it down a bit - half hostel stays & half hotel stays !

As regards vegetarian food, its not a problem these days, enough subways, McDs & Burger kings plus lots of pasta, pizza joints !! It may be a challenge in countries where English is not widely spoken, but not in the places we had gone

Quote:
Originally Posted by sawnilrules View Post
Maulik, Brilliant travelogue my friend. You instantly took me down the memory lanes when I was posted in Munich for a short stint. I instantly fell with love with Germany, and that love still continues. Keep your post rolling. This is one post I have read at a length and loved every bit of it.

I am soon going to buzz you to plan my extended Euro Trip.

PS- Hope your F-I-L hasn't read this as of now.
Thank you for lovely comments !! Buzz me anytime !! As regards the FIL, he hasnt read it yet.. Its only a question of 'when'. i would prefer he reads it when i finish the travelogue, rather than now - better to be hammered once & for all, rather than multiple times after every portion of the travelogue !!
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