We arrive at Prague Castle before opening time and take pictures from the courtyard. A man in anachronistic chainmail poses for the group, checking his phone between photos.
The skyline of Prague is diminished by an ill-placed Starbucks.
We are among the first waves of tourists to enter the castle grounds for the day. I do my best not to step on any small children or Asian people as we shuffle through St. Vitus Cathedral. I am mostly successful.
The castle tour guide’s English appears to have been learnt from television – her phrasing and syllable emphasis call to mind a through-the-looking-glass version of BBC standard newscaster.
The church is an odd mix of styles – art nouveau, baroque, gothic, renaissance, gothic-renaissance. Literal tons of cast silver make of statues, coffers, and crypts. The Czech crown jewels are here as well, although sequestered away in a room protected by six locks.
The castle itself is still in use by the Czech government so only a limited portion is available to tour – a grand ballroom and the Defenestration Wing which is important to Bohemian history. Apparently the people of Prague really liked throwing one another out of windows.
By now the castle grounds have filled almost wall to wall with tourists so we make our way down the hill and back into town. On the way we encounter a selectively polished statue outside of a children’s toy museum.
We find lunch at a French open-air market underneath the Charles Bridge – sausage, fries, garlic bread, and a pizza-like flatbread with cheese and onions that I did not realize was covered in onions until too late.
Across the Charles Bridge, we walk to the Jewish Quarter where we are met by a block-length wall of tourists. I am interested in visiting the cemetery and some of the other historic buildings in the area, but the horde of tourists, signage, and barkers put me off. These are the types of sites I visit to let history wash over me and to learn, which seems impossible in the context of a Disneyland of dead Jews.
We redirect to the north and people-watch from the benches in front of the Charles College School of Law. My right shoe is full of blood again. We spend almost an hour just sitting and watching.
Our tour guide told us that Prague would be a good place to do laundry, so we migrate back to the hotel and I search online for a nearby laundromat. Andy’s Prague Laundry fits the bill and is just a $4 Uber ride away.
I sit and read “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” as our clothes spin in the washer. The other customers are mostly American tourists. None of them seem to know how to operate a washer and dryer. I am impressed as Andy patiently explains and re-explains the operation to them.
“Put token in. Then detergent in. Then clothes in. Then press start.”
A fiftyish, overly-tan man wearing Ralph Loren shorts and a Porsche Design polo looks completely overwhelmed. He asks another customer to help him. Later on I overhear him say that normally his maid does his laundry.
Andy’s guestbook is filled with curious entries. There are intricate sketches, personal confessions, and poetry. Only a few of the notes are the idiotic scribblings one would expect. The inside of the back cover informs the reader that asking Andy for extra detergent is the secret code to initiate a drug deal.
Back at the hotel we re-pack our bags and watch German TV. One of the shows appears to be a mash up of The Bachelor, Real World, and Survivor except everyone is nude. The commercial breaks are filled with indecipherable Czech-language commercials and bizarre ads for equally bizarre junk food that still haunt my dreams.