A Travellerspoint blog

August 2011

Three days in Prague

A mini-honey moon

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Time to say goodbye to my family and friends in the Uk and slowly begin to head back to Japan, but on the way we're stopping off in Prague for a few days. Prague is a city I have a bit of a history with, but Haru has never visited it.

We arrive in the early afternoon and get picked up by the hotel taxi at the airport. As we drive I'm surprised how much I can still understand on the radio and from the signs we zip past. My very basic knowledge of Slavic languages is being kicked back into life. Suddenly the driver pulls an intersting manoeuvre and starts reversing, at a reasonable speed, down a narrow road on a steep hill. This is a slavic style short cut, we're now going the wrong way down a one way street, but by reversing the driver can switch to going the 'right' way at any moment and avoid trouble (in theory). I don't think you'd get that in Japan, but he does get us to the hotel in one piece and in good time.

By the time we've checked in and freshened up a bit, it's getting dusky already. Our hotel is located on the old town side of the river though, and it's close to a lot of the really famous sights so we head out for an evening stroll. Charles Bridge is just at the bottom of the hill so I take Haru there to her a first taste of classic Prague.

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After a good nights sleep we're up bright and early (well, before lunch anyway) and ready to explore. The hotel is located just a couple of minutes below the castle district, so that's where we're going first.

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The castle district is actually a lot more than just a castle, it's the heart of what would once have been the old town and one of the most prominent buildings there is the wonderful gothic cathedral.

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Both inside and out it is a really impressive piece of work. It still stands in the centre of the old square surrounded by complimentary architechture, unlike St. Paul's or Westminster in London, so it's easy to imagine how this scene may have looked long ago when this was still a walled medieval town.

One of the most famous spots in the castle district is Golden Lane, a narrow street full of small houses muddled in the space between the square and the defensive outer wall. This area was once home to many craftsman including the goldsmiths from which it gets it's name.

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These days the old houses either are either preserved exhibits of how they used to be, or are craft shops in the tradition of the street. For example, the blue house on the top left is now a second hand book shop trading on that fact that famous Czech writer Franz Kafka once lived there.

Deeper in the walls and under the floors there is rather dark trend towards arms, alchemy and torture in the rooms you come across. A stark reminded that a world lit only by fire was capable of casting some dark and twisted shadows.

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We really enjoyed exploring around this area and ended our tour of the castle district with a look at the Old Royal Palace. A wonderful building full of immense halls and fantastic vaulted ceilings, I love the sense of space and awe inspired by these kind of designs and really enjoyed this building. I also liked the story of how the citizens of Prague used to deal with politicians who failed to meet their expectations -

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- see that window on the on the top right above the wall? Well, they threw three politicians out of that for a start. Amazingly none of them sustained any serious injuries on the way down.

After leaving the Old Royal Palace we slowly made our way down to the river, taking our time to explore some of the small backstreets and winding stairways as we went.

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Eventually we came down to the river and had a great view of Charles bridge upstream.

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Eventually, all streets in Prague seem to lead back to the main square, with its famous Astrological clock, where almost every conceivable type of tour is on offer to the multitude of tourists. Do you want to see Prague by land train, classic car, segway, hot-air balloon, boat or (the most photogenic) horse and cart.

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We're already planning to spend some more time around the square, and really explore this side of the river, tomorrow. So for now we content ourselves with a quick look around before picking up our reserved tickets and going to check out one of Prague's several black light theatres (bottom right below).

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The basic principle behind black light theatre is that performers wear costumes that are partly as black as the backdrop, and partly coloured in a way that is picked up by UV lights. In this way they can create some interesting effects and quite surreal scenes. As you might expect of an art form conceived mainly to get tourist bums on seats it's light and entertaining, but overpriced.

By the time we came out of the theatre it was getting dark and rainy. Time to head back to the hotel for the night, luckily Prague is one of those places that for a visitor is actually quite pretty in the rain. Sharing an umbrella, holding hands and crossing Charles bridge in a summer shower is really quite romantic.

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Of course it wouldn't stay romantic if it just rained all the time so we we're happy to see that by the morning it had cleared up and was promising to be another lovely day. We had a lot of ground to cover today and our first call was to the senate gardens below the castle. Many of the features here are typical of a nice formal garden, such as the fountains, lawns and statues. Even peacocks are quite common in such places, but never before have I seen an albino peacock like the one we saw here. Such a beautiful creature.

There was also a rather interesting grotesque wall, man made but created to look like quite natural until you notice hidden faces and creatures in it's folds.

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Today though we're heading over the river again to take a look around the new town.

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The main objective today isn't any famous sight, it's finding a branch of the bank I used in Slovakia when I lived there, and finally closing my bank accounts; they won't let me do it by post. To be honest this was the biggest single reason for stopping in Prague at all, and when we finally find a branch of CSOB bank it's like a kick in the head being told that the Czech and Slovak banks (despite having the same name, logo and parent company) are separate and I still can't touch my accounts. Meaning I still have a few thousand pounds sitting in account in Slovakia, that I cannot access in any way, shape or form. F**k!

Shaking off the disappointment as much as possible, we head back down to the main square for a less rushed look around and some shopping. We're also in good time to see the astrological clock striking the hour today, cogs whirr and mechanisms click into life and as the clock chimes a pararde of wooden saints wheel past small windows and a grinning reaper tolls a bell.

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We are already tired. Yesterday most of what we saw was contained in quite compact area, but today we've walked much further. However, there's still time to cross back over Charles bridge and take in some of the streets that follow along the riverside (we even managed to find the Japanese Embassy much to Haru's delight).

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We agree that we'll return and explore the riverside more tomorrow (our last day) and head back to the hotel to rest up for a while. Despite having seen a lot of nice things today, we both agree that the castle district yesterday was more impressive. So, having rested we decide it'd be nice to go and see the area by night as it's so close to the hotel. This turns out to be a great idea, not only is it the atmosphere totally different at night, but the crowds are gone as well, giving us almost the whole cathedral square to sit by ourselves and soak up the ambiance.

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The next day I leave Haru in the hotel and head out on business again, after the disappointment with the bank I've decided to try going to the Slovak embassy thinking that they could help me get some official proof of identity acceptable by the bank to verify postal instructions... well, I got a paper, but the bank still won't accept it. B****rds!

Anyway, we did a lot of walking yesterday, and I thought this would be a pretty dull walk in a more residential area of the town, but in the end the route took me behind the castle and presented some nice views that I regretted Haru missing.

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Hurrying back to the hotel as soon as possible we decide to pick up where we left off yesterday, down by the riverside. On the way I'm snapping pictures of address stones that I was reading about in the guide book last night, markers that served as physical addresses for illiterates. So your address might be, the baker under the three fiddles, or the apothocary under the golden snake. Spotting these old stones, or shops that still bear their names is quite interesting.

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We're not following the guide book today, just exploring, and the first thing we find is the John Lennon memorial wall. The Beatles are still popular in this part of the world, and here fans can come and remember and pay their respects to the late, great John Lennon in their own way.

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We want to take it a bit easier today, so we decide to hop on one of the many tour boats running up and down the river. Which provides not only another perspective, but also a welcome break from all the footwork of the last two days.

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Refreshed, we have just enough time to explore one last riverside park, before returning to the hotel.

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That's it, we have to pack and jump back into a taxi for the airport. We have a long flight back to Japan ahead of us.

The honeymoon is over!

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Posted by DKJM74 22:30 Comments (0)

Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell: The Wedding Special

A Very 'Travellerspoint' Wedding

This is my 100th entry on this blog.

That means I've averaged damn near one entry a week over the two years I've been writing it, covering pretty much every aspect of my experience leaving Slovakia and travelling to Japan to take a job with JET.

This also means that regular readers will have followed my relationship with Haru pretty much every step of the way - everything has been recorded right here.

The day we first met at Otsu Matsuri.

The day we 'officially' got together.

Our first weekend away, first Christmas, first Valentine's day (spent hanging around with snow monkeys),
even the day I proposed, and she said 'Yes'.

It's all on here, no wonder one reader once commented that reading this blog was like reading a 'romantic comedy'. A comparison I both appreciated and totally agreed with. Yes, this is a travel blog and it is the story of my journey, but that journey wasn't always about travel.

So, for those of you who have been following our lives on this blog I'm very happy to present - the wedding special :-)

This is where it's all going to take place. Masson Farm, on the hills overlooking Matlock Bath in the Peak District. I grew up near here and spent a large part of my youth wandering these hills. See that ruined castle across the valley, I used to have to run around that for PE, cross country running, when I was a secondary school student.

I always thought that if I got married (and for a long time that was a big IF), it would be a small, intimate, ceremony somewhere like this.

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Of course, having been out of the UK for about 15 years now, keeping the ceremony small isn't a problem. I don't really know anybody here anymore. So it's just us, close family and three friends I've managed to keep in touch with since I was 16 - Nik, Jules and Chris.

Although it is possible to drive up to the farm, we've decided to take alternative transport, and are arriving by cable car (pure class).

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Since I left for Slovakia, about 15 years ago, the four of us have only managed to get together about 3 times and the last time was about a year before I went to Japan. So it was great to have this chance to catch up, and regress to our idiotic 16 year old selves for a bit. After arriving at the top of the cable car we had a long walk through the fields to reach the farm, it was all very reminiscent of the caravanning holidays we took together during our collage days.

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While we were still ambling down the hill, enjoying what Chris dubbed 'The shameless cash-in reunion tour', (dogged by paparazzi every step of the way, actually this is probably the first time I've done a blog entry where all the pictures were taken by other people), the other guests were arriving at the farm and getting seated.

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We soon joined them, and the nervous hanging around began. Everything is ready now, but we're all still waiting for one very important person.

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Haru and the bridesmaids are following us, also coming up by cable car, about 20 mins behind us. I guess that this is usually the most nerve wracking part, waiting for the bride to turn up - but I'm not too worried, I'm still holding her plane ticket back to Japan, so she can't run far :-)

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Me and the boys in our suits attracted a fair bit of attention, but a beautiful Japanese woman in full bridal gear wandering through Matlock Bath and riding the cable car turned a lot more heads.

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They may have gained more celebrity than us, but the walk down to the farm was a little more problematic for them. Well, we didn't have to do it in high heels, but being smart girls they took a change of shoes for the cross country hike.

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If you've wondering how far it is, well this will give you a fair idea. By pure chance, the father of our wedding photographer was out on the other side of the valley with his camera and snapped a couple of shots - look carefully, that white dot on the left hand hillside is Haru heading down to the farm.

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Then the wait was over, they had arrived and everybody went to their places. As Haru's father is quite frail, and wasn't up to the long flight to the UK, her brother is giving her away instead. Suddenly I realize that there are some details I want to know that I never asked about - like now, I don't know if I should turn to watch her approach, or if I'm supposed to stay facing the front until she is beside me??? I try to think back to weddings I've seen in movies, and before I know it she's beside me anyway, and I see her in the dress for the first time. Wow!

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The actual ceremony is taking place in a building called Swallow Barns after the nesting swallows who use it every summer, and who we terribly inconvenienced by having our wedding there. Here you can see one of them waiting for us to leave so it can get to it's babies.

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The registrar has been wonderfully accommodating, and the service was a mix of traditional parts and personal readings selected by Haru and me (I'll add the readings at the bottom). Nik is on best man duties, after years of loyal friendship and shared adventures he was the obvious choice, and I was glad to have him there. The ring won't go on my finger, but I'm ready for this - I heard it's quite common as your fingers to swell with all the heightened emotion of the day - so I just hold it on my fingertip until I can shove it on at a discreet moment later.

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We even managed to arrange a fly-by of an old world war two bomber to perfectly cover up the moment Haru fluffed her lines - though I'm not sure it was an accident, as she skipped the bit about having to honour me!

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Then we're signing the paper and the official part is all over, time for everybody to move over to the front lawn, and to stop disturbing the poor swallows. We've set up a small marquee in the field, and this is where we're moving now.

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In keeping with the countryside farm theme of the wedding, and the small number of guests, we've requested a natural picnic basket style buffet lunch. Everybody can help themselves and eat in the marquee or out on the lawn.

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At least that was the theory, one big worry about the day has been the weather. The couple of days prior have been really changeable and we really didn't know if it was going to be rain or shine. So far it's held out, but now the sky is glowering and really threatening to turn nasty.

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Luckily it never came to anything more than a few drops of rain, and a chance to get that great dramatic photo, before clearing up again! So taking full advantage of the good weather it was time for our photographer, Sam, to get some more formal group photos.

One really great thing about Masson Farm as a venue is that, in a quite a small space, you have many distinct spaces - the barns, the front lawn looking over the valley, the rose bushes by the main gate (that were in full bloom for us) and a back garden full of wild-flowers including some really nice foxgloves. All this made a great backdrop for some beautiful pictures.

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Our time at the farm was fast running out now, and everybody regrouped at the marquee for what turned out to be one of the biggest surprises of the day - Nik's best man's speech.

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Now Nik is known to all of us for being a generally quite quiet and reserved. So it's not exaggerating to say he went above and beyond with his speech, it not only covered all the formal thank-yous required, but was by turns laugh out loud funny and actually quite touching too. He certainly earned the proud smile he was wearing by the end of it, I was proud of him too!

It's time to start heading down to the main gate and the waiting cars now.

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Just time for one last round of photos by the rose bushes and a confetti shower, then we're thanking our host, Denise, for a wonderful day in a picturesque place and getting into the car - but it's not quite over yet, we have one more surprise for the guests still to come. Something I haven't even told Haru about yet!

After a short stop back at the hotel for everybody to rest, as it begins to get dusky we head out to a local park. While we wait for it to get a bit darker we pop some champagne and cut the cake.

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Then once it's dark enough my sister, Francesca, produces glow lanterns and marker pens for everybody. The idea is to write some personal message on the lanterns and send them off into the night.

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It was another personal touch and a lovely way to end the day, Haru who had no idea why we were hanging around in the park was amazed and delighted. Watching those glowing balls receded into distant points of light somehow seemed like a metaphor for the journey we still had ahead of us - who knows how far we will go and where we will finally come to rest?

So that was our wedding, and, if we get it right, the only one we'll ever have. Sometimes it didn't go as smoothly as planned, but it was never a disaster and most importantly I think everybody had a good time. When I look back I think what I'll remember the most will be how beautiful Haru was, and how much everybody seemed to be smiling.

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Thank you everybody who shared the day with us in person and made it so warm and friendly.
Thank you to my sister Francesca for handling most of the UK preparation in my absence.
Thank you Denise for providing a perfect romantic setting.
Thank you Sam (and Dave) for capturing the day for us.
Thank you Muro Sensei for translating the whole ceremony into Japanese for my in-laws.
Thank you Travellers point and everybody who has shared the journey with us through this on blog.

Here's to the future, I can't think of any reason why we shouldn't have a long lasting, and loving, life together ahead of us....

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Hey, what did I do to deserve that??

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Aahhh, yes! Oh, well, we'll see how it goes :-)

THE WEDDING READINGS

The Registrar's reading we selected

Louis de Bernieres, from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin:

Love is a temporary madness; it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of eternal passion. That is just being in love, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.

My reading to Haru

Daily Afflictions, by Andrew Boyd:
Loving the Wrong Person

We’re all seeking that special person who is right for us. But if you’ve been through enough relationships, you begin to suspect there’s no right person, just different flavours of wrong. Why is this? Because you yourself are wrong in some way, and you seek out partners who are wrong in some complementary way. But it takes a lot of living to grow fully into your own wrongness. It isn’t until you finally run up against your deepest demons, your unsolvable problems – the ones that make you truly who you are – that you’re ready to find a life-long mate. Only then do you finally know what you’re looking for. You’re looking for the wrong person. But not just any wrong person: the right wrong person – someone you lovingly gaze upon and think, “This is the problem I want to have.”

Haru's reading to me (read in Japanese)

One with each other by George Elliot

"What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel they are joined for life – to strengthen each other in all labour, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories."

Posted by DKJM74 21:51 Comments (1)

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