In this journal:
cheesy kimchi potato pie hot pot;
a numerical palindrome;
a chandelier made of human bones.
long journal, please refresh when pictures do not load
I was back in Seoul, 3rd time during this travel by ordeal. Coming next was the heavy hitter of this entire series, my first segment containing two destinations other than Chile. In a few days, I would head for South America again, before turning back to Europe for a birthday in Czech Republic, and then visit the beautiful nation of Malta, and finally coming back to Seoul. Just thinking about that started to make my heart pound: I had never had such crazy plans for my birthday, ever!
Voyager 3 routing
It was so crazy that, in fact, after checking all the photos and notes I took, I had to split the journey segment into two parts, A and B, or the blog page might crash due to the length that I planned to write. I might just write 1/3 of a mystery novel’s length just to document this trip! Without further ado, let’s begin right after where we left off on my arrival in Seoul at the end of Voyager 2.
Seoul & South America Approach
streets in Hondae
Agersch doing the classic barbecue!
I spent most of my days resting after getting nearly a thousand mosquito bites in the jungle of Peruvian Amazon. Honestly, I would not even be surprised to find out that my bloodstream was 60% contaminated by mosquito spit by now. I mostly annoyed my Seoulite friend Agersch, who I met in San Diego last year and was prominently featured during the C.A.T.17/18 trip. As usual, I tagged along like an ugly shadow behind her, who also was capable of yelling how hungry his tummy was. We had insane amounts of food, and I did not regret one bit of gaining over 10 pounds during the short stay.
fried chicken with beer of course!
One great thing I like about Korea is that people all come up with ingenious ways of combining food with new influences. By merging traditional cuisine with western styles and ingredients, Koreans pushed their influenced cooking to a new level, beyond what normal people would even imagine possible. We visited a restaurant doing exactly that. By fusing the traditional Budae Jigae, a kind of kimchi-based hot pot, and the western cheesy and fried items, they made a feast for the new era.
oh my god
You dip the hot melted cheese into the pot, and inhale it with some fried potato cakes, and then slurp down some piping noodles, what else do you want in life? What? Life accomplishments? A girlfriend? A non-humiliating salary? I cannot hear you over the bubbling of this pot!
Agersch’s hungry smile
Agersch’s favorite drink is 막걸리/makgeolli, or as the official Korean Ministry named in English after a competition, “drunken rice”. Seriously, I am not kidding. It is some strange alcohol made from rice, and is usually a happy community drink done in groups. The rice is not filtered out, so it has this viscous, cloudy, sparkling and chalky taste, very much like masato I had just in the last leg of this trip in the jungles. However, it is not pasteurized, meaning that it keeps fermenting inside the bottle too, just like the cactus alcohol I experienced in Mexico City. It tasted sweet, tangy, and surprisingly refreshing, and I loved to have it!
I am fat too? whaaa~?
dessert shop in Kakao Friends shop
Did you know? Many areas of the world can be split into different communication apps they use nowadays. North America is dominated by Facebook messenger, and Latin America as well as Europe have Whatsapp, while Japan and Taiwan mostly use Line, as China uses Wechat. Here in Korea, the king of chatting is Kakao Talk, and I love using its silly stickers. These protagonists now have many shops dedicated to them everywhere in Seoul, and they sell everything related to them, ranging from plushies to vacuum cleaners. Even the dessert shop in this 4-story building has large cupcakes made in their shapes!
Incheon Terminal 2
my daily commute
After stuffing myself with enough calories to feed a starving African village, I sadly moved on to the airport, where I spent more time than my home in the past year, literally. The gorgeous terminal 2 in Incheon still got me every time, and I could not help but take some pictures, despite the horrifically gloomy weather that the area was notorious for. I boarded my flight to Helsinki, and began my bi-weekly commute to the other side of the world.
Finnair Helsinki lounge
The nice thing about Finnair is that they completely mastered the art of transit. Coupled with an efficiently set up airport, Finnair could allow passengers to book flights with a 25 minute connection in Helsinki, because they are just that confident. Before arriving, you can check every single flight departing the airport within 2 hours, and the information for me was usually correct. The lounge was simply walking in and out and scanning your boarding pass on the machine, and I could just grab a few snacks before storming out. Nordic efficiency, simple yet well-planned.
on the way
this must violated some EU law
On the A350 to Helsinki, I noticed that a crew member put his or her items right in front of the space of an emergency exit. I was perplexed: this must made the door slightly harder to operate in case of an emergency, right? Given the usual habit of EU making a few thousand laws for just about anything, this had to be in violation of one or two clauses. I guess it would not be too much of a hindrance, but hey, you know how the Germans like to run the ship!
transiting in Lima… wait what is that?
While I was bored out during one of my many soul-leaching transits in Lima, I spotted the tail livery of the eye-catching burgundy oryx. Why is this Qatar Executive Gulfstream G650 ER doing in this godforsaken place? Maybe… Qatar is gonna launch operations to Lima!? Make sense, Peru is gaining insane amount of traction in the travel world, and South Americans had been more and more keen to explore Asia too. Additionally, Qatar owns a stake in LATAM airlines, which has a hub here. That would be their second and longer route to South America! Woah that is so cool!
GRU traffic: 5 planes from 5 continents!
GRU LATAM lounge
My tiny LATAM A320 flight slowly parked at the international terminal in Sao Paolo, and I realized I was among 5 giants from different continents! A South African A340 from Johannesburg, a far-from-home Air China B787 from Beijing, a Swiss B777 from Zurich, an American 787 from Los Angeles, and a LATAM A320 comfotably at home, all stopped by here for a jug of Brazilian beer. That is just too cool! I proceeded to the business class lounge located in a different terminal, which was very airy and well-deigned: it was LATAM’s hub after all.
lounge food selection
Unlike the stupid situation in Lima, LATAM aced their performance here in Sao Paolo, and honestly, I could not say many things negative about the lounge except maybe the lack of a good business center. Food was relatively high quality, napping room was great though lacking a tiny bit of privacy, and the airy feel was not interrupted by any noise from the terminal. Service was great, and everywhere was kept spotlessly clean. A solid lounge given all circumstances, I would dare to say.
late night traffic
On my way out, I also saw the notorious TAAG 777 from Luanda. It is pretty nice when you have so much oil, eh? I boarded my flight towards Santiago, and landed around the middle of the night. Luckily, I had no intention to stay in Santiago this time, unlike the past 4 instances that I had to pass by. I purposefully left myself some extra leg power to go to my favorite city of Valparaiso, undoubtedly a great choice that could only be made by an expert traveler~!
Valparaiso & Prague Approach
ocean mist approaching
Ah, I am back, the coastal city of quirks and charms! Last time when I visited Valparaiso, I was completely stunned by its outstandingly colorful hills, as well as its vibrant music and art scene. This time, I wanted to get out of the routine Santiago raucous, and enjoy a good cup of coffee overlooking a music-filled garden, and that was why I showed up here.
a qiltro asking for a belly rub~!
view over the city
I had already understood most of the city culture and backstory last time, so I will not bother you with the details again. This time, we experience this enigmatically attractive city with pure hearts, and sharpened eyes. During the first morning I was there, I witnessed the predominant and large cold front advancing towards the city. At the port where I was standing, it appeared to be a layer of ominous darkness, approaching the city like Steven King’s novel the Mist. Quickly, the entire city would become engulfed in the cloudiness, and the brilliant weather would turn miserable and cold. Nothing could stop it, as it encroached on the land, and slowly crawled up to the hills, higher, and higher…
mist overwhelming Cerro Concepcion
I walked around the parts that were my favorites, from the steep streets of Bellavista to the narrow alleyways near Galvez, where street musicians and local artists form a beautiful melange of fun and joy… Ahhh! Marvelous! Unfortunately, the local “library” made out of an abandoned fridge was gone by the time of my visit, as I wanted to see if I could exchange a book or something. However, the district felt as nice of an area as before, and the exercise of climbing up and down the hills were definitely still there, not one calorie less.
I also took a visit to the place that I was unable to get in last time with Pia, the tiny alley called Pasaje Bavestrello, where an adorable alfajore shop was located. Unlike the alfajore I encountered in Pica during C.A.T.17/18, the local style here in Valparaiso favored more towards chocolate, less for fruity flavors. Thus, I had to knock on the door, anxiously waiting for Don Sergio, probably the most famous citizen of this city, to make his appearance. My heart was pounding, partially because of the excitement and partially due to the stairs I had to climb, and I should better start getting used to it: after I eat 20 today, diabetes is gonna make my heart pound like this every minute!
stair to artistic heaven
And did you know? The firefighters in Valparaiso are actually incorporated companies. The city itself did have a department, but because all houses in town used to be made of wood, and ocean breeze could get really strong, a random house fire could spread out of control within minutes. In fact, as recently as 2014, a normal fire torched over 2800 homes simply because of the favorable (or should I say unfavorable) winds. Luckily, Valparaiso, as a port town, was not short on immigrants back in the day, and in 1851, the first volunteer fire brigade in Latin America was formed, consisting of immigrants. Quickly, fire volunteer groups mushroomed, all based on the origin of descent. German, French, Italian, British, and even Arabic fire squads carried on till this very day.
Arabic Chilean fire brigade, note the “Arabe” in the front
this way to revolution!
For late night, I met up with Anne, who I met last time during Voyager 2. It was a tiny bar down in the city’s most famous party street, Cummings. Her boyfriend worked as a chef in the kitchen, so of course I wanted some free drinks, duh!
drinks that Anne treated me
her boyfriend with a few donburi
To my greatest dismay, it turned out that I could not get treated free drinks just because her boyfriend worked in the kitchen. As I was about to grab my coat and leave, Anne proposed to treat me herself. Now we were talking! We talked all the way till the bar closed, as she had to wait for her boyfriend to finish up work and go back together. For the next day, we tried a Japanese restaurant that seemed to be quite popular. Just finishing up Osaka in part 1.5 of this journey, I was not impressed, as the rice tasted bland and sandy, and the serving portion strongly favored the horrendous rice. However, the lovebirds seemed to like it, so I guess that was a toss up.
grave keeper’s cat
For the gloomy afternoon, Anne and I paid a visit to a few attractions that I missed last time around here. We first walked up the other party street Ecuador Street, except this one was a bit trashier as the poor students gathering here for the cheap public universities were not terribly good at enjoying 5000-peso bills. Then, we walked all the way up to a special hill called Panteón dedicated to the cemeteries. The large number of immigrant influx demanded special burial grounds back in the days, so you could see German, Italian and British areas dotted around the hills, with their easily-identifiable last names everywhere. However, Valparaiso was also the first city in Chile to have a non-Catholic church: the Dissidents’ Cemetery. The area was called Panteón because the front gates looked like the large ancient buildings standing tall in Athens.
grave keeper and his loyal dog
It was a serene area, overlooking the bay, just like Pablo Neruda’s house. We encountered the grave keeper, and he was more than happy to show us around his area in No.2 Cemetery. He had been working for years, and owned a happy dog and undeniably spiritual cat. After waving him goodbye, Anne and I climbed steep stairs down and up to the neighboring hill for a friend of hers. After a long afternoon tea, it was time for me to go. With a good selfie, and a bag full of memories (also dirty clothes), I hugged Anne goodbye. In the next leg, for sure we can meet again!
Santiago LATAM lounge work room
Santiago LATAM lounge
I was back in the airport the next day, waiting for my flight to Lima, and onward to Madrid, which was on the way to Helsinki, where I had to transit once more to Prague. It was not easy to mentally prepare for this kind of turmoil, but hey, I had nothing to lose: no family, no friends, no girlfriend, no job, so why the hell not? I enjoyed a good lunch in the LATAM lounge, and hopped onto the jetway.
The flight to Madrid was bad as usual, and I stayed in the same place as I did during Voyager 1. The owner was not here this time, so I had a good chat with fellow residents. Don’t you just love the design of Madrid metro entrances? I had already visited Madrid once before, and this time was too short of a transit to explore properly, next time for sure!
As I boarded the Finnair A321 towards Helsinki, I gladly found out that there was actually a special kind of rack for placing your magazine or devices for exit row passengers. And to be honest, I think Finnair is one of the best airlines for intra-Europe travel, as their legrooms were above average, while the service was warm and attentive. For the many times during which their flights were empty, they gave me extra blankets when they saw me lying down for poor man’s business. Those 13+ hour flights in old aircrafts were not mere jokes. Additionally, their complimentary blueberry juice was very good, and very Finnish.
After a series of long flights, I was finally approaching Prague. The golden fields of canola was blossoming like Midas just touched the soil of this beautiful nation. After watching my flight gracefully gliding over the bright yellow fields for hours, I finally stepped onto the land of Czech Republic, the first focus destination for this leg of Voyager Series. I was rearing to go: as this was my first time in the ever-so-popular nation!
A pleasant bus ride, a quick walk to the metro station, and before too long, this lonely traveler was swinging to the rhythm of train wheels going over the gaps between rails. It is funny how perspectives work. I have seen first-time travelers being so excited that a plane can take off by its own, and I just sit there, yawning after traversing literally half of the globe from South America, couldn’t even remember how many days ago I departed.
waiting for the tram, or is the tram waiting for me?
(that makes no sense!)
Lastly, a modern tram hailed me to my hostel. I always like how cities incorporate trams into the public transport system: it is fast, efficient, inexpensive to build, and pleasant to the eyes. In Asia, most cities cannot build it because the population demands mass transit systems, but it does not mean European and North American cities cannot implement such fun ideas. However, a new trend of tram-resurgence had arrived in North America, which was music to my ears. I slept soundly in the hostel, after getting a free drink from the bartender. Time for Europe, I say!
guard tower on the bridge, and King Charles IV
For Prague, there is nothing more important than Charles Bridge, probably the most prominent bridge in Europe during the medieval era. Ordered to be constructed by Charles IV, it was the only means to cross Vltava River for over 400 years until 1840. Legends say Charles himself was a nerd for numerology, and picked July 9th for the date to begin construction. More specifically, at 5:31 a.m. Why? Because the date 13220.127.116.11.31 forms a palindrome. He believed that it was crucial to have this numeral bridge to give the physical structure more strength. Oh you jester Charles! But who can say he was wrong? The bridge is still standing over 600 years later.
museum with 135797531 on the sign
the bridge and the lesser town on the other side
As I walked onto the bridge, it became clear that those statues on the sides had unfathomably profound history carved within. One of the most prominent ones was the statue of Saint John of Nepomuk, a fella who was ordered to be drowned right at the spot where the statue stands nowadays. Legends say that he was the confessor of Queen of Bohemia during his time, and the King of the Romans and Bohemia, Wenceslaus was suspicious that his wife was cheating, and probably with John, as his wife had to go for “confession” three times a day. He questioned John for the details of the confessions, but due to Seal of Confessional, the law in Catholicism that strictly prohibits disclosure of any confession, John refused to explain anything. Reasonably, this fueled the suspicion of the king, who eventually ordered John’s death after long terms of torture. Thus, John of Nepomuk became the patron saint of floods and drowning. Yep, not having anything to do with his great achievements alive, but for his way of death. And do you notice the shiny parts in the bottom right? No, it is not actually related to some “touch this and it grants you that” bullshit, but a practical joke. A bunch of students saw the hordes of tourists in the city, and decided it would be funny to see what would happen if they polish some random parts of the statue, so the tourists would be beguiled into believing that touching those parts bring in good luck. Guess what? It worked, now many people come and touch the right part of the statue, while the “real” part you have to touch was the left.
John of Nepomuk statue on Charles Bridge
There were many other statues, mostly Baroque, that were erected during the late 17th century. However, the city had been secretly swapping out the old original ones with carefully mimicked new replicas since mid-20th century. It was easy to spot, since industrial revolution coated most of the original statues with an indelible layer of coal, so they appeared dark and sooty. Thus, if you see any statue that is not black in the crevices, then you know it is a new one.
statue with a view
Across from the river was the so-called Lesser Town of Prague. Do not be fooled by the name, it is anything but lesser than the proper center. This used to be the noblemen’s quarters, mostly ethnic Germans and Italians, while the central parts were more bourgeois and Czech. I continued all the way up the hills, and eventually reached the entrance to the enormous Prague Castle complex. According to Guinness Records, this is the largest ancient castle in the world, and I spent the whole afternoon getting lost in the labyrinth covered with greenery and art.
Ball Game Hall
The beautiful Ball Game Hall was definitely one of the original buildings that survived the years. The detailed patterns on the facade were carved out by chipping away the surface of rocks to reveal the inner colors. Interestingly, the communists decided to preserve the building despite their usual habit of destroying medieval leftovers such as this one. By doing so, they added in a tiny symbol of their own, so maybe next time you visit Prague, go take a look on the facade and see if you can find communists’ version of medieval architecture.
can you find the communists’ touch?
change of guards
Incidentally, the castle still serves as the head office of Czech presidents nowadays. Many people complain that the president having the largest castle in the entire nation might be a bit opulent, but for this country that had not even existed for 3 decades, there were still many opportunities for a change. I watched a swap of guards at Matthias Gate, where giant gold letters misspelled the Latin for “year”, “Anno” into “Ano”, asshole, since King Matthias was not particularly interested in paying the stonemasons for their work, according to some legends, so the workers carved their final revenge into the stones. Lastly, I paid a visit to the compound’s church, St. Vitus Cathedral, which was arguably the most important church in Slavic history.
notice the year’s “typo”?
St. Vitus Cathedral
Founded in 1344, the cathedral took a whopping 585 years to complete. Thus, interesting result from this kind of long construction without a concrete plan and change of many hands was a drastically different style of architecture. It was evident that different eras left their marks on the church, especially on the south wall, ranging from a the Gothic underlying tone to the marvelously Renaissance mosaic tile art, and eventually to the golden extravagant Baroque window, gilded to nauseating perfection. Thankfully the building was finished before the communists reached the country, otherwise we might get a utilitarian concrete cover for the dome!
the south wall
Since the cathedral was completed relatively recently, do not get fooled by its medieval looks. If you examine closely, you will find many hilarious details hidden in the window mosaics. For example, on some panels, if you look at some men and check their attire, you would find them wearing suit and ties! Why? Because money donated to build this part of the window was donated by an insurance company, and they apparently wanted the forgiveness of the father.
insurance adjusters on the window of a church…
Additionally, in the building next to the Cathedral exist a special window. It is where the angry Protestant Bohemian nobles committed defenestration to the Catholic Habsburg ruler King Ferdinand II’s envoys. What is defenestration, you ask? Well, it is the act of attempting to kill someone by tossing him or her out of a window. Yes, English is a weird language. This was the very cause of the traumatic Thirty Years’ War. If you do not know what this war is, then you really have to brush up on your European history, as this is likely one of human kind’s biggest wars, and I am not very inclined to summarize a war that spanned over 100 Wikipedia pages.
the windows for defenestration
For lunch, I opted for something a bit expensive but Czech, as it was my birthday after all! I found a little tavern that a local recommended, and enjoyed a nice roasted pork thickly sliced, a traditional food here. The dumplings they had here differed significantly from the ones I had in Germany before, since they were sliced up from a large dumpling instead of served as individual balls. Then I climbed all the way up through the imperial gardens onto the monastery grounds, which overlooked the city. Time for a good, traditional Czech beer! Of course I would pick the black beer brewed in this very monastery for over 800 years, anything else would be a disgrace to the notion of birthday beer.
here is to 23!
Finally, I went back to my hostel for a bit of a rest, as well as to freshen up. Still a tad bit tired from jet lag, and, well, just life in general, I was more than happy that I got the best nap this year on my birthday. Then, I boarded one of those little trams, and wandered in the city, letting it take me anywhere it could, because I was lost anyway, so why not?
the beautiful city of Prague
birthday cake of the year: beer
Finally, I finished up my day with a slice of birthday cheesecake, and a jug of nice, cold beer. I used to hate this caloric beverage, but it slowly started growing on me, especially in Czech Republic. I wonder why… Am I getting older, or was I slowly getting used to the taste? Oh wait, maybe it was because the beer here was just too delicious? Czechia is where the modern blond lager was invented after all!
Old Town Square
For the next day, I started in the Old Town Square, and went for a walking tour of the oldest parts of Prague. In the above picture, you can find the Jan Hus Memorial, which depicted the grand exile of Protestants in the aftermath of Thirty Years’ War, as well as Church of Our Lady before Týn, a beautiful looking Gothic church with four cute spirals on the top. The church is also where the famous astronomer Tycho Brahe was buried, as he was sponsored by the Holy Roman Emperor at the time, and Prague was the capital. Moving east, in front of the Estates Theater, where Mozart premiered his famous Don Giovanni in 1787, sat a silent statue called Il Commendatore, named after the famous character in this play. It is actually a piece of the Cloak of Conscience series of statues, made by the famous Czech sculptor Anna Chromý, who made the same statue in limestone, but 10 times larger. However, it is said that once a drunk guy got his head stuck in the gaping hole because he was so curious as to what was inside the void.
Cloak of Conscience
Basilica of St. James
Next stop was the unassuming church called Basilica of St. James, where a beautiful ceiling adorned every inch inside. This is not that big of a deal, given the fact that everyone and his 3rd cat has seen some marvelous churches. However, what made this church stand out was a mummified hand dangling from the roof. The tale goes as of the following: once there was a thief trying to take the jewels of St. Mary’s statue, but as he reached out, the rock statue suddenly grabbed his arm and pinned him in place. After being discovered by the parishioners, who happened to be guild members of the local butchers, he had no other choice but to be amputated. As his arms were cut off, the statue mysteriously resumed its original position, dropping the arm onto the ground, and the severed arm has been hung there ever since as a warning. Who says god is merciful, eh?
enlarged: a hand dangling from the church roof
statue of Franz Kafka
Then we proceeded towards the old Jewish ghetto of the city. The very first thing that welcomed me to the Jewish ghetto, called Josefov, was a statue commemorating Franz Kafka. Probably one of the most influential writers in 20th century, this German-speaking, Jerish-descent, Bohemia-originated short story writer penned famous works such as the Metamorphisis, demonstrating a complex yet grim inner struggle of a loner protagonist. His works, for some bizarre reasons, always reminded me of myself, and I could not help but project myself into his absurd settings. Now, in English, the word “kafkaesque” has begun circulating, describing the feeling of frustration and anxiety in front of impending doom. The above particular statue took inspiration from Kafka’s famous Amerika, for candidates are held above giants’ shoulders for campaign speeches.
view from Old-New Synagogue
I then rolled towards the Old-New Synagogue, the oldest Synagogue in the entire city. Built in the 13th century, the building adopted the earliest form of Gothic style. The bizarre name, according to some ancient tales, comes from Hebrew word “עַל תְּנַאי”, meaning “on condition”. Because the legends say that the angels permitted the Jewish folks to build this synagogue using the bricks of the Temple in Jerusalem, given the condition that when Messiah comes and the Temple has to be rebuilt, the bricks have to be returned. The Hebrew words also sounds incredibly similar to the Yiddish of “alt-nay”, meaning old-new, so the name stuck. Next to the synagogue was a building that had a weird clock on it, as the numbers were written in Hebrew, featured in the above photo. More unusual was that the clock goes backwards, since Hebrew is written in a different direction. People say that a thick-skulled clocksmith did that, since he imagined Jewish people must needed clocks that way. Later, they built a new one using the normal way that Jews and everyone else read it, but kept the old stupid one there.
view over the Vltava River
Then I explored the Jewish cemetery, which had graves on top of grave on top of graves, layering over 7 graves deep, all because old city laws prohibited Jews from being buried elsewhere. For the last bit I found out that Jorge and Susana, two friends I made during Panambia 2016, were also in town, what a coincidence! Additionally, because May and I were the people that brought the party in Medellin together, I kind of sorta helped them become a couple! Awwww, why does that never happen to me?
selfie in another continent!
After meeting them for a nice lunch, I had to board the train towards the other city I wished to explore: Brno. Prague was very nice as a tourist city, but it was a tourist city after all, so I could not really enjoy the whole experience as no matter where I went, thousands of tourists flooded the area as well. Charles Bridge was never in its beautiful sunrise/sunset mode that I imagined when I first heard of it 10 years ago, and tourist traps were so prevalent that it was basically impossible to dodge. However, in Brno, mostly a student town, things should be a bit better. I don’t want to ask too much, just some authentic experiences and decent food, that’s all.
on the way to Brno
The Berlin to Graz train was completely stuffed, so I had to sit on the floor the entire time of the journey, but it wasn’t bad at all. Fields of golden flowers whoooshed by, and the hours on the road felt much more pleasant. As I stepped off the train, it was a brand new city in the real Moravia region. The city center, where I stayed, was exactly the kind I sought: not too modern, but definitely not intentionally kept in 17th century for tourists to gawk at. Most streets were blocked off from automobiles, and were limited to just foot traffic and trams, making the city particularly nice to walk around.
Brno Astronomical Clock
For my first morning, I decided to go for a walking tour, which met in the plaza called Náměstí Svobody. And the most prominent thing on the plaza was a giant clock. It is supposedly powered by steam, and each black stone piece rotates around the central axis at a specific rate, thus forming a kind of time-telling system. However, not one single person I met during the journey could read what time it was, making it the least effective clock I had ever seen, even beating out that stupid clock in Hebrew that goes backwards in Prague. Due to its shape, most people also loved to refer to it as BBC, big black clockwork. I am an innocent boy, so I definitely have no idea what that was supposed to mean. Every day at 11:00 a.m., a glass ball would drop from one of the four gaping holes down in the bottom, and the lucky person can take it as a souvenir. The clock thus needs to be refilled every once in a while, and some said people planned to rob those trucks refilling the clock as the glass balls were quite valuable, and some were limited editions…
a glass ball from the glory hole
But you may ask: why is it at 11 a.m., not noon? Well, here is a funny story. During the Thirty Years’ War that started with people being tossed out of windows in Prague, the then undefeated Swedish army marched all the way to the gates of Brno in 1645. After a long siege, the Swedish general was getting impatient, and told his fellow soldiers that if they had not taken the walls by noon tomorrow then everyone had to go back home. Brno’s citizens heard this, and quietly adjusted the clock so that the bells would ring 1 hour early, sending the Swedes packing. Thus, 11 a.m. became an important time here in the city.
Brno Old Town Hall
Then we marched forward. In front of the city’s Old Town Hall, a strange crooked spiral was actually the artist Anton Pilgram making fun of the Gothic style. There always has to be someone who treats arts like jokes, eh? Down in the hallway, a large stuffed crocodile was rumored to be the source of the legendary Brno Dragon. The city is famous for this “dragon”, who once ravaged the city, until when a butcher came up with the idea to sew a lot of lime (the stone, not the fruit) into an animal skin, pretending to be a meal for the beast. Now, some people say the dragon still lives on underground, and the city had quite a few places with smoke spewing out to show as “proof”.
sign “proof that the dragon still lives” with smoke
Next stop was the Zelný trh/Cabbage Market Square, where every morning, merchants come in and sell freshly harvested vegetables and fruits, just like every day since the 13th century. However, I had to say I was slightly disappointed by the amount of cabbage there, but everything else was lovely, especially the ice cream truck which hauls in freshly made sorbet every day, stored in traditional non-powered coolers to keep the original texture. Yum!
Cabbage Market Square
Interestingly, there is also an underground system beneath this oldest square of the city. They were used to store food or wine, and some go as deep as 4 stories beneath the surface. However, most of them were not connected until a massive renovation undergone in 2011, and the cave system is now open for visitors as an attraction.
ice cream truck
In the corner of the plaza sat a statue of a little boy, quietly gazing upon the commotion going on in the market. This is a statue of Mozart, and this was him when he was here during his childhood, as the smallpox epidemic was raging through central Europe. It was a nice gesture to acknowledge him, especially he played as a childhood genius in the theater behind the statue. People told me the reason why he only had one wing was because of his tragic end. For you guys who did not know, he died of syphilis.
statue of W.A.Mozart
view from the monastery
Then I went for the Capuchin Monastery, where the monks had been practicing their religion for centuries. What interested me the most was not the church inside, but what was underneath. Due to their vow of poverty, capuchin monks did not bury their fallen brethren in coffins. They just simply lie them down on a brick as a pillow in a crypt. Accidentally, the topsoil composition coupled with nice aerodynamics mummified these 17th century bodies, and I could still see them now. After a long series of narrow tunnels, I was finally in front of the 24 bodies, some in peace, some appeared to be in pain. Of a classic Capuchin fashion, a solemn warning was written above the peeking window in Czech:”As you are now, we once were; as we are now, you shall be.”
Crypt of Capuchin monks
view of the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul
I then climbed up the hill, and took a look of the Gothic Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, but it was not particularly spectacular inside. Incidentally, its bells also ring at 11 a.m. every day for similar reasons as the astronomical clock. During the construction period of this church, another one called Church of St. James was also on its way to completion, so people said there were quite a lot of rivalries going on, since the two churches were built by different neighborhoods. Thus, a funny story that was told around the city goes as of the following: the ones financing St. Peter and Paul were rather rich, so they decided to threaten the primary builder of St. James, forcing him to quit the job. However, the builder finished one last window before he packed up his tools, and that window featured a silly 2-headed guy exposing his full buttocks to the direction of St. Peter and Paul, as a middle finger for the rich folks. You can still go and see it today.
butt, butt it is so funny!
Church of St. Thomas
I finished up the morning walk in the Church of St. Thomas, a Catholic church that was dedicated by John Henry of Luxembourg in 14th century. The horse statue in front of it, called Equestrian Statue of John Henry of Luxembourg, was made by Jaroslav Róna in 2015, a famous Czech sculptor, and was highly unusual as well as controversial. It is over 8 meters tall, and without a pedestal, completely different from what normal people would call a mounted statue. Additionally, if you stand underneath, you may see the horse turn into a giant, uh, male genital.
After a nice traditional Morovian goulash, I proceeded to the park to the west of the city, where a large hill was topped by a cherry-like castle, called Špilberk. Built by the Bohemian kings in the 13th century and used as the seat of Moravian margraves since 14th century, the castle had been shifting slowly towards darker usages ever since. The Austro-Hungary empire mostly used it as a prison, and Nazis tortured many Czechoslovakian nationalists during World War II. However, the Soviets promptly abandoned the place, and gave it back to the local government. Now it sits calmly in a serene park, enjoying its newfound peace and quiet. I explored the older prison cells, which had no light or ventilation, also no sewage, where prison inmates were chained to the wall for literal decades. I then paid a visit to the Nazi barracks where they tried to build a proper bunker before losing to the Red Army. And almost pointless to mention, it had a killer view of the city.
Nuclear Shelter 10-Z
For the next fun attraction of my journey, I went to a nuclear shelter built by the Nazis and improved by the Communists, yay~! (note: long terms of lack of social interaction had created Young’s sick sense of “fun”.) It was used as a hotel after the great union disbanded, mostly to house people in the bunk-bed rooms for a retro-style experience. Now it had been converted into a museum and restaurant, featuring food named after renown items of the appropriate era. Super fun fact: if there is a nuclear war, they are still gonna house people for free, isn’t that cool~?
It was not tourist season if there is no Trdelník stalls. It is a strange, large split cake baked on a thick big pin, creating a huge hole in the middle. It is then rolled around in sugar and crushed walnuts, and new versions feature ice-cream inside the hole… Though a popular tourist snack in Prague, it is actually Hungarian or Slovakian, but definitely not Czech. Why are all yummy things so bad for me? Why can’t I just enjoy food and not be fat and ugly? Uh never mind, I will just buy one and cry later. I carried my new trdelník baby down the road, and entered the last spot to visit in Brno, an ossuary, a place to store bones. This is the second largest in Europe, harboring over 50000 skeletons in a tunnel system under St. Jacob’s square. They were piled meters high to make space for newcomers in the city cemetery, likely during 1600s and 1700s. Pay special attention to the ones with a yellowish tint, as these people died from cholera, and those with reddish tints perished from the plague. This place was only discovered in 2001, and now had special spoopy music playing in the tunnels, echoing the tormented screams exuding from the painful spirits. Humerus, isn’t it?
even the walls are made of bones!
I had a good taste of some horror, and headed back to Prague. I thought to myself, hey, I got time, so why not go take a day trip from the capital? What an awesome idea! It definitely, 100%, absolutely, would not backfire on my plans! Yay! The location selected was a beautiful little town called Kutná Hora. It is famous for one thing: bones. Yes, I had not got enough taste of the skeleton spooks, so I went for more. The tiny Sedlec Ossuary was said to have more than 40000 human skeletons inside, and what made it UNESCO heritage worthy was that a guy named František Rint decided to arrange the bones into funky shapes as decoration for the halls. Apparently this woodcarver also got paid for that by the powerful family of Schwarzenberg, what a legend!
Rint’s signature, made in bones
Why was this town so popular with dead bodies? Well, apparently Henry the abbot of Sedlec took some soil back from Golgotha and sprayed it onto the grounds around the area in 1278. Golgotha, coming from the Hebrew word of גֻּלְגֹּלֶת, meaning skull, is the place where Jesus was crucified, right outside Jerusalem, so its soil was considered super holy. Thus the cemetery exploded in popularity, and quickly many abolished graves needed attention, so this ossuary was created to put unwanted skeletons together.
Coat of Arms of the family of Schwarzenberg, made in bones
So included inside was a Schwarzenberg family coat of arms, because they sponsored this project, and how cool of a party story would that be? “Yeah your family got a castle? Cool. My family has a coat of arms made of fucking human bones. Ladies, let’s go somewhere more private to let me show you the bones.” There was also a large chandelier made of every single human bone in the body. If you say this is not metal, then you need some zinc in the bloodstream.
chandelier made of human bones
After having the boner inside me satisfied, I moved on to the more scenic parts of the town. (wait, something doesn’t read very right.) Kutná Hora also had a very nice cathedral, called Chrám svaté Barbory/Church of St. Barbara. Built during the town’s heyday as a silver mining town, this 14th century Gothic building was absolutely stunning, and truly deserved its UNESCO heritage title. Situated on a little hill peak, the church had its spiral visible throughout the region, and I dare to say it looks way better than the St. Vitus in Prague.
road to the hill
And the walkway leading up to it also looked majestic as fuck. A long, cobbled road, lined with ancient statues at the sides, led all the way from the center to the church, which stood proud on the peak of all peaks, surrounded by beautiful vineyards filled with green. Man was that a sight to behold! This is the magical wonderland I wanted to be in, some kind of medieval kingdom, where knights with shining armor had to ride down this road to report to his king about a cave troll in the northern parts of the mountains… Stunning, just, stunning!
view of the town
Yet, it was time to go back to Prague, and onto my next destination: Malta! But next time in Czech Republic, I know what to do: skip the crowded capital, and head straight for magnificent towns around the country, and enjoy the best wine and views in my life. I boarded a tiny train that would haul me across the city from one side to the other, and caught an express train back to the capital.
Young, always on the road
Ahhh, what a nice day to be out and about! Can’t wait for the next leg tomorr-wait, why is my flight update already buzzing for departure gate change? Huh, let me see. It says: your flight is changed to depart at gate 11 in 30 minutes. But my flight is supposed to leave on the 14th!
Today is 14th.
And this was the reason for my first time completely missing a flight: I was having too much fun in Czech Republic. I had missed my flight because I messed up the time zone on my phone before, and I had missed my flight because I booked it for the wrong month, but this was a first: completely forgetting the correct date to go to the airport. And that began my 2-day calling with LATAM, the airline that issued my ticket, and Finnair, the airline that was supposed to carry me to Malta. Finally, after 15 hours of sitting on a toilet in the bathroom of my hostel, (I sat on it for so long that I gave the toilet a name; his name is Lucas) I got my ticket reissued for free, and I just needed to get to Malta. Phew, that was the best outcome of this worst shithole that I put myself in. I just needed to go to Malta by myself, so I opted for an Easyjet flight that actually did not cost too much for such a last minute measure. Disaster (kinda?) averted, imagine having to get myself to Seoul just to catch Voyager 4! That would cost me a kidney!
Czech Republic was a nice place to celebrate my 23rd birthday, and was definitely a good choice to get my fix on beer, bones, and many other things. Prague was touristy but for good reasons: beautiful old architecture, breathtaking views from Charles Bridge, and intriguing stories in the Jewish quarters. Brno was also a good change of pace: much more tranquil, quintessentially Slavic, and an enragingly palpable history. There was simply no other way to put it: Czech Republic was fucking awesome, and I seriously hope everyone can come and Czech it out a few times in his or her lifetime. After all, this is the only country beautiful enough to make this travel monkey lose track of flights!
just a nice afternoon in Kutná Hora
I sheepishly boarded my flight to London Gatwick, partially fearing for my first experience on Easyjet, partially still hating myself for my stupid rookie mistake. Yet the flight was very pleasant, full of nice people, nice service, and nice food, and I dare to say it was indistinguishable from any legacy carrier like British Airways or Luftansa. As I disembarked in Gatwick for my connecting flight to Malta, I cannot even believe as I am gonna say this, but I was kinda looking forward to my connection flight. Despite all hardships, I was finally heading towards a country that I had been having dreams about: Malta. And guess what? Young happens to be the type that hates waiting for his dream to become a fantasy, so Hospitaller Knights beware, an Asian dragon is approaching!