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29 July 2005

other ways to conquer the armies

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sarah and i got up early with ambitious plans. today we would sack the prague castle, capture tickets and photographs, plunder all there was to see. we would attack the tourista troops, take no prisoners, show no mercy. we would climb the tower of the cathedral and claim the city of prague as our own. once victorious, we would celebrate by taking a day trip to kutna hora in the early afternoon. it was time to attack.

my compatriot and i were outfitted for tourista combat. she carried guide books and i carried electronic surveillance equipment; we carried superior gear, of that we were sure. we made a stealthy entry into the old town using public transportation and arrived a little before 0900. fortunately, the enemy had not destroyed the stone bridge [digression ### below]; we crossed with little resistance, in fact, the least resistance we had encountered since arriving in the city several days prior. apparently the enemy was not expecting us this early; we obviously had the advantage. despite the early hour, the sun had a firm grasp on the day and was beginning to sap our energy. the long uphill climb made matters worse, but we persisted and made it to the top by 0922, still undetected. we were both pleased to see that the enemy had not yet arrived. while energy reserves were low, morale was high. we pressed on.

the main entrance to the castle was guarded by but two armed men wearing light blue uniforms. bah! we scoped the area quickly and decide to attack straight on, straight in. we walked deliberately to the gate, ready to break out the camera and shoot should the need arise. as we closed in, it became obvious the guards were paralyzed by fear; sensing they were outclassed, out... fitted [?], out-outfitted [?]... er, and outdressed (did i mention their light blue uniforms [intelligence had told us that these uniforms were designed by the costume designer for the film 'amadeus']), they moved not one inch to stop us. we breached the gate and soon after the first courtyard.

in the second courtyard, it appeared the alarm had been raised. there was a state of confusion as small groups of touristas wandered aimlessly looking for their commanding officers. we quickly consulted our charts and realized we needed additional intelligence; it took little to 'convince' a young castle guard to give us the location of the ticket booth. we dashed out and through the second courtyard, making it through unscathed. the last fifteen minutes had been a blur. sarah and i didn't know how we had gotten to this point without opposition; we just knew we had made it and hoped that we could complete the mission without incident. unfortunately, that was not to be the case. we stood in front of the massive st. vitus cathedral, pausing to survey the scene.

a large mass of troops had gathered at the entrance to the cathedral. the tourista armies were assembling quickly, officers waving their brightly colored standards in the air and shouting over their portable pa systems. we saw umbrellas... canes with dangling ribbons... pinwheels which spun in the wind... long sticks with paper flags. the officers raised their standards and the troops fell obediently in line like flocks of sheep. castle guards were posted at the entrance to the cathedral and at a nearby ticket stand. clearly we had met our match. the sun beat down upon us as we looked at the long line of touristas winding around the counter at the ticket stand. morale was low. we decided to find cover and rethink the plan.

i proposed conducting a mission to seize all of the officers' standards. without the umbrellas and twirling pinwheels to lead the way, the armies would quickly fall apart. the officers would still have their portable pa systems to give orders, but i was confident that i could reconfigure my gps receiver to jam their systems. sarah didn't like the idea and consulted the guide books while i thought about other ways to conquer the armies. i proposed conducting only an external survey of the cathedral until we could regroup and devise a plan to enter without resistance. ultimately, timing dictated that the mission was completed today; we needed to proceed with the original plan despite the masses of touristas. we summoned up our energy and ran to the ticket office, each of us completing not one but two rambo rolls in the process to evade the enemy.

much commotion in the ticket office. we saw two cashiers and three distinct lines leading to them. a man in charge of the audioguides continuously yelled out 'i have only audiogeeds. no tickets. only audiogeeds.' a clear sign above his post would have ended his misery, yet he struggled on, signless. i contemplated informing the chief executive officer of audioguides that he was mispronouncing the word but decided against it when i couldn't think of a way to tactfully present the information. after all, did i know how to say the word in czech? of course not. i did however know how to say it in german: audiof├╝hrer. the ceo of audioguides continued yelling while sarah and i split up to cover two of the three lines. she reached the objective first, and only after she had secured two tickets did i remember to tell her that i wanted to buy a required license ticket to take photographs. she gave me a mean look [sorry sweet. :)] back in line. i'm not sure how she did it, but she managed to secure the license ticket within a few minutes. out the ticket office door, we continued with the mission, walking directly through the cathedral entrance, bypassing several groups of scrambling troops along the way.

once inside, we realized we had made the correct choice with proceeding, not because it wasn't very crowded inside (to the contrary, it seemed that more than half the population of both japan and italy had descended upon this czech cathedral) but because the stained glass was magnificent. i would say the most beautiful stained glass that i've ever seen. in particular, this window, designed my czech artist alfons mucha, was stunning. [there is an alfons mucha museum in prague which we planned to visit later if time and energy permitted.] a wood carving of prague, hundred of years old, showing the charles bridge which we crossed less than an hour earlier. tombs, hundreds of years old.

the long column of tourists wound clockwise around the cathedral in a long rectangle. if the rectangle had been a circle, which of course it wasn't... in fact, it was a rectangle, but if it _had_ been a circle, and if the circle had been a clock, we entered the clock at about 0700. at approximately 0300 we saw a small staircase leading down. while the rest of the horde continued walking the clock, we descended, unnoticed, so we thought. below, we found the crypts. as we continued, we discovered that the exit of the crypts took us back up to the rectangular clock at an undesired time, so we backtracked to the stairs we had descended. it must have been just seconds before we arrived back at the bottom of the staircase that a major contingent of the clockwise winding column of tourists above located the _top_ of the staircase and broke off from the pack to see what was downstairs. the staircase, while only containing at most 10 stone stairs, was only about 1.5 people wide; sarah and i waited for literally two full minutes while a steady stream of people descended single file until we grew impatient and decided to attack straight up. each person had .75 person width... [outta our way, we're coming through, damnit]... we crushed by and made it back to the rectangle clock.

at 0400 we located the tower staircase. there was of course no discussion of whether or not we would ascend the 287 stairs to the top; the tower was part of our mission agenda. the guard stamped our tickets and we were off to the top, up, as others returned to the bottom, down. fortunately this winding windowless staircase was just a bit wider than the cryptcase and it was easier to slide around the descenders. i counted the stairs as we climbed. 285, 286, 287 stairs later, we had reached the pinnacle, the zenith. we had conquered the st. vitus cathedral staircase and captured photographs of the city. we left no photograph uncaptured, in fact. we captured them all. i counted the stairs again as we descended. some insidious voice inside me made me misrepresent the height of the tower; i told several sweating people who were within 30 stairs of the top that they had made it to the halfway point. i know, not nice... but they _were_ the enemy afterall.

sarah and i continued the clock and exited at 0500 with a burst of morale and a sense of accomplishment. we had seen the inside of the great beast and had survived. we continued on to the castle palace. once inside, i discovered some dates and names carved into the courtyard walls of the palace [photographs of other carvings can be found in the gallery here]. here sarah and i had a heated debate concerning the authenticity of these carvings. my claim: that they are authentic, carved in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. her claim: that they were carved long after, that if they were as old as the indicated date, the powers that be would have taken measures to protect them. she's seen my website and knows that i've been collecting photos of old stone carving 'graffiti' whenever i've encountered it, but despite all of the photos i've collected of carvings all over europe, she still insisted that these carvings were not authentic. were they all fake? was there some devious plot by some modern day taggers to carve old dates into cathedrals around europe? i suppose there can be no proof either way and i suppose she did have a point about the protection; they were old enough to warrant some type of plexiglass covering (which, incidentally, we saw over some indoor carvings in buildings on the castle grounds). we agreed to disagree. anyone care to share an opinion?

back inside the palace, the giant vladislav hall, once used for banquets, councils, coronations, and occasionally, jousting. we walked on and came to a room showing a movie about the castle [in czech; the english showing required a separate ticket that we had not purchased]. we decided to stop briefly. i watched the images intently at first, then less intently, and then not at all as the darkness and drone slowly stopped me for just a short rest. sarah shocked me awake and we were off... out of the palace to the golden lane, a series of old cottages originally used by castle sharpshooters, later by goldsmiths, now a long line of retromedieval shops wherein any d&d gamer would have traded his broadsword +2 and one thousand gold pieces to work. one shop sold all sorts of hardcrafted armor and weapons [aforementioned d&d gamer behind the counter], another room had an exhibit of torture devices. we walked on down the street, through another gate, past an interesting sculpture, to the black tower and down into a prison chamber, before leaving the prague castle. mission accomplished. venimus. vidimus. vicimus.

fatigued from our castle seige, sarah and i decided to change our victory celebration from a trip to kutna hora to a leisurely walking afternoon around prague. we made a quick stop into an internet cafe to make some additional accomodation reservations for the rest of our trip. i hadn't brought my laptop and we needed to make some reservations then and there; i reluctantly typed my credit card number into a public terminal and soon after realized my worst fears. the browser had saved the form information [very important financial form information, as it were] and without admin rights i was unable to clear the forms. the staff person didn't have the admin password either; perfect. he said he would shut down the computer and only after the admin had cleared the forms would they put the computer back into the cafe circulation. fine. sarah and i stopped back into the cafe three additional times that day to see if the admin had been in; negative, but the computer was still powered down.

after a lovely sunset, we had a delicious dinner in the old town square. blah to the couple behind us. tomorrow we'd be leaving prague for cesky krumlov. we returned to the hostel and packed so we could get another early start.

[### digression about the charles bridge. completed 600 years ago, the stone bridge was open to wheeled traffic until the 1970's when it was turned over to pedestrians. there are statues along both sides the entire length of the bridge; one particular statue draws a lot of attention. it's said that if you rub the plaque at the base of the statue of prague's patron saint, jan of nepomuk, tortured to death by vaclav iv in 1393, you'll return to prague later in your life. there's obviously more to this story; i need to do a little research. and of course i rubbed the plague.]

posted by paul on Fri 29 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 est (-05:00)

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