Friday, July 4, 2014

Weirdness in Bohemia

No trip is complete without the requisite amount of weirdness and some places had more than
their fair share. Stuttgart, Germany is a quiet town, especially during the week. Pretty much everything closes up by 8:00 PM; it’s even difficult to find an open restaurant. But it is lovely and the strolling down the tranquil mall area we were quite surprised to learn the reason for all of the serenity. As we looked up to a row of apartments we saw the apparent guardian of the town: Spider-Man! Perhaps he was on vacation.

As expected, things in foreign countries are not as they are in the US. On this trip it was access to restrooms. There were few places that had free facilities; I’m supposing that this is to keep the riff-raff from wandering, in mucking up the place and
costing the business owner more money for cleaning. However, two places should be mentioned in this weirdness tribute. In Strasbourg, France, the restroom near the cathedral was plainly marked. The founding fathers wanted to make sure that all beings were aware that the facilities were available. The traditional male/female icons are readily apparent at the lower right of the picture, but I’m not at all sure what those icons at the upper right are supposed to be ~ two kinds of flowers, maybe? There was a nice lady on duty to make sure the stalls were clean and toilet paper was available. While she didn’t ask for Euros, she appreciated tips. The “Easy Entrance” sign that marked the restroom in the MacDonald’s in Prague was completely misleading. The restrooms were down a spiral staircase, but once you got there, even though you were a patron you had to have 10 Kč (koruna) to get in. So back upstairs you go to get exact change. Once back downstairs, you put your money in the coin slot then receive a receipt that, thankfully, serves no other purpose. By this time the image of a person running through a turnstile is entirely accurate.

Parades are a wonderful way to mix with the local people and see what is important in their
culture. In Ludwigsburg, Germany we watched a delightful parade showcasing bands, people in historical costume, and, what we’d actually come to see, the horse market. There were large horses, small ones, those that pulled heavy wagons and some that upheld that English tradition of fox hunting. The hunters were a real surprise, but evidently there are a large number of foxes that are ‘culled’ each year. Currently, there is wide-spread protest of this method of controlling the fox population. Adding to the fun during this parade were actors dressed as fairy tale creatures; I particularly liked the donkey with the cat necklace.

We encountered another German tradition, this time on a train. It was odd to see several young
Bride on a Train
women jump aboard with what looked like bags of plastic cups and a large, heavy box. Very shortly we were treated to this giggling group uncorking several bottles of wine. Speaking to us in excellent English, they explained that when a couple plans to marry, they and a number of their friends ride trains to raise money for the wedding. Evidently, as long as everyone has a ticket, the train company doesn’t mind this bit of revelry. The bride, dressed in jeans, hoodie and bridal veil passed through the train cars selling cups of champagne. For 1€ you could enjoy a cup, support the bride, and share a laugh or two about the trip. She and her friends were happy to let us take pictures and share in the fun. On yet another train trip, we ran into a group of guys doing much the same thing, but with beer.

Prague is a common destination for guys on bachelor party trips, as well as a popular site for
Hare Krishnas and Balancing Act
tourism. Perhaps this is why there was an abundance of weirdness in Prague. I was forcefully reminded of the 1970s when I heard the sound of chanting, singing, and ringing bells and saw the flash of orange robes. The Hare Krishnas were out in force in the streets, spreading their doctrine of seeking the ‘natural, pure state of mind’. Also dressed in orange, but neither moving or chanting were two other people. One appeared to be balanced on a stick that the other one held. They spent many hours in this position with several folks tossing some coins into their box. I did hear one observer remark, ‘Don’t you think the arm of the guy holding the stick gets tired? That arm must be really strong.’

Woman with Snake
Some things defy explanation or description. While we were watching the lady and her snake, several men asked to have their picture taken with her. Each time, she smiled, coiled the snake around them both and took their money. Evidently this was a profitable site, since she was there every evening when we passed by. I do wonder what the snake thought.

U Kapra
Traveling reminds me of the phrase, ‘Carpe diem’ ~ seize the day. That’s what you are doing when you explore new places and have novel adventures. This sign, however, seems to have a different message. Apparently you’re supposed to seize the carp. Well, that’s Near-Normal. 

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