A Vacation in Bohemia

  • In a word: lovely.  Which encompasses both the experience--I've been in need of some decompression, and it was a chance to spend time with my family and celebrate both my mother's birthday and my brother's discharge from the army--and the setting, for which I need offer no more evidence than the following:

  • On the other hand, dear God is this city expensive.  I've been to many popular tourist destinations in my day, and especially with the Euro so strong at the moment it was clear that this was not going to be a cheap trip, but much as I enjoyed Prague it was hard to escape the impression that this is a city out to bilk tourists for everything they have.  The $3 water bottles (closer to $7 in the real tourist areas), the exorbitant prices at restaurants (which, surprisingly enough, returned to Earth almost as soon as we left the realm of tourist attractions), and most of all, the price of entry to almost every attraction, often completely out of proportion to the breadth of the exhibit in question and the care taken in its presentation.  (Notable exceptions: the Jewish Museum, which for a not-unreasonable fee offers access to all the synagogues in the Jewish quarter and the extremely well-curated and presented exhibits within them, and the Museum of Decorative Arts, also in the Jewish quarter, which was both relatively cheap and so comprehensive as to be nearly overwhelming.)

  • For those craving roller-coaster rides, may I recommend the escalators on the Prague metro, especially those at Namesti Republiki station?  Long, steep, fast, and just that bit off level, plus the stations themselves double as wind tunnels.  Fun.

  • The internet, making my life funnier since 1995: On Tuesday, Jeff VanderMeer sends Niall Harrison a Facebook friend request.  Niall reads Jeff's profile and learns that Jeff and wife Ann are going to be in Prague on Wednesday, on their way to Parcon.  Niall text messages me, I e-mail Niall my particulars, Niall forwards them to Jeff, and the upside is that on Friday I had a lovely breakfast with Ann and Jeff at their hotel, which turned out to be just around the corner from mine.

  • Also on Friday: Shabbat services at Prague's reform congregation Beit Simcha, whose members meet in what was once a coal cellar.  A tiny service--half locals, half tourists, and barely even a minyan--which tickled my nostalgia bone as it reminded me where our congregation was just fifteen years ago, if you replace coal cellar with classroom at local college.  Where, to be fair, we still meet, though nowadays we have a rabbi and much higher attendance, so here's hoping Beit Simcha manage to take that step forward as well.

  • Books read: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve (great premise but skews far too young), Spook Country by William Gibson (I liked this book better back when it was called Pattern Recognition), and on the plane, 2/3 of Allegra Goodman's Kaaterskill Falls (beautifully written but, to me, less interesting in its topic than Intuition).  More thoughts, I suspect, next time I do a recent reading roundup.  I did not get around to reading the latest Fantasy and Science Fiction giveaway-in-exchange-for-blogging issue, but I'm quite looking forward to it as the table of contents is very promising, including stories by Geoff Ryman and Stephen King.

  • Books purchased: because of the aforementioned high prices of everything, I restrained myself to just The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano, Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris  Strugatsky, Excession by Iain M. Banks, and a short story collection by Karel Capek.  I am also in receipt of two issues of Weird Tales, courtesy of Ann VanderMeer.

  • While I was gone: Stargate: Atlantis was cancelled, which frankly is a bit of shock.  What is the world coming to if formulaic mediocrity can't survive indefinitely on TV?  Not to fear, another spin-off series, Stargate: Universe, which from its premise sounds like the Voyager to Atlantis's Deep Space Nine, is in the works (the preceding is not to be taken as implying that Stargate: Atlantis's quality is in any way comparable to that of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; I make no such assurances about Voyager), but I think I may finally be done with the franchise.  This does, however, leave me with the question of what the hell I'm going to watch next summer.

  • Of course, assuming it gets a second season, the answer to previous question would be The Middleman, which despite a cute but rather stiff pilot has turned to be quite delightful--think The Avengers by way of Pushing Daisies.  The last episode I watched, featuring Kevin Sorbo as a 60s-era Middleman frozen in time, was hilarious.