Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Prague, Czech Republic--Day 136

Today we woke up and got a taxi over to the Prague Zoo (or Zoo Praha as they say here). We got a map to where the hippos were and headed over. Well, once we arrived we found that the hippos were not where they were supposed to be. There was this really huge elevated viewing area which overlooked the elephant and hippo enclosures, which I found to be quite impressive. What wasn't impressive was that there were no hippos to be found.


So we decided to head into what the map said was a mammal house, and see what we could find. So we walked over to the big concrete building and up a few stairs which we saw to overlook the hippo enclosure from another angle. Peering over the edge didn't produce the hippos. Great. Where on earth could they be? We looked inside and saw what we thought could be a hippo enclosure on the inside--a big concrete room with hay and grass laid out. So we decided that we were going to try and get into that room. What we found instead was this little room with reptiles and snakes, but not hippos! Where on earth could they stash them?

Walking back outside past the elephants, we were just about to find a keeper when we looked inside the building next to us and spotted the hippos! YAY! Now the question was, how were we going to get into THAT room? Luckily we found some steps and walked down into them and lo and behold, we found them.

Two of them, in fact, and they were swimming in circles and being quite feisty considering the teeny tiny area that they were in. Obviously something was up--perhaps feeding time? Why were they inside? Do they come in at night or something? But at this point it was 10 am, so why were the hippos still inside?

Luckily to our benefit a keeper showed up and opened up a door and released the hippos. Not out to us, of course, but into a back hallway that led somewhere. But where? The hippos were gone and we had to find them. They didn't go next door to the big concrete room with the hay (which we found out later was for the elephants) but must have gone outside. So we literally ran to where they should have been all along and finally, they were there.

The two of them were quite a sight because they were eating their food for the longest time. I snapped away on my camera and a man walked up to us with this huge book and showed us his own pictures of the two, (the book contained practically every animal in the zoo it seemed) and pointed out the names of the two--Maruska and Slavek. He seemed equally excited about seeing them as we did, and boy was I thankful for his help. I still hadn't figured out how to ask what a hippo's name was in Czech...

Feeling obliged to sort of talk with this man, he wanted to show me the elephants next door and tell me their names. So I wandered off to the other side of the viewing area to see this elephant (I'll be honest here, I didn't really care to see them) and for that few seconds I was gone the hippos did the most amazing thing.

And I missed it.

apparently while I turned my back not only did the hippos DIVE into the water but they started to RUN and jump in the water and CHASE each other around the pen. Honestly. It was like a hippo marathon or something, or a great game of tag. Sarah started shrieking with shock and I raced over to catch a glimpse of the action, but by the time I raced back they had settled down again and were munching on their hay. The elephant man watched to see if I would return to him, but when I didn't he wandered off to see the elephants on his own.

Dang. That was something that would have been great video footage if I had a video camera. Running hippos? Hadn't seen that before, and I guess I will have to wait to see it myself in the future.

After perusing the gift shop and parts of the zoo (which by the way was completely flooded two summers ago and all of the animals had to be evacuated--well, except for Slavek who apparently had quite a fun time swimming over to the elephants and playing in the mud). You really could not tell how much damage had been done to the zoo because now the only reminders of the flood are picture boards showing the damage.

After this we walked next door to Troja, which is an old mansion that again is now and art gallery. It was funny because we had to wear these HUGE funny slippers so that we didn't scratch the floors with our shoes. But it seemed like our slippers had no elastic to hold them on to our feet (it seemed like everyone else's had it except for of course, our two pairs) and so walking around the museum was more like a shuffle.

Troja was impressive (and also affected by the floods but you again wouldn't be able to tell now) and afterwards we hopped on a bus (keeping our fingers crossed that we got the correct tickets) and despite getting off one stop too early, made it to the subway station where we took a train to the center of Prague.

We then spent the afternoon getting lunch and walking around a lot of Prague. We saw both the Old and New Towns, as well as the Prague Castle which was very impressive, even though we had quite a hike to the top of the hill to see it. We toured the castle and its grounds, saw where Kafka lived, and then walked back down into town, across the famous Charles Bridge, and back into Old Town where we found this crazy park called the Wallenstein Garden which has the most bizarre wall I have ever seen. Those who have been to Prague know what I am talking about!!

Afterwards we walked and found dinner at a recommended restaurant from a friend from Arizona, and then made it back to our hotel. What a day! We walked basically all around Prague and managed to make it back to our hotel in one piece. Tomorrow we're off to a nearby castle and then onwards to Wroclaw, Poland.