Dream trip day 80 Krakus Mound, taco Tuesday, late night

Woke up to a break in the rain which meant I could explore a bit during the day.

My friend had fresh pierogi he bought from a small shop nearby and encouraged me to eat them soon as they are fresh, no preservatives.

To heat them, drop in boiling water for a minute.

It was my first encounter with sweet pierogi, too. These had blueberries inside a wonderful doughy shell. Delicious!

Plus, these were much larger than I had seen before, probably close to fist sized dumplings so 2 was enough to get the day started.

He had also picked up gołąbki or cabbage rolls filled with minced pork and rice. All hand made in a small store a short walk away. I was going to eat like a local!

Once I was outside the apartment, I crossed the Vistula River via bridge which lead to a small business district that had  food options as well as a tailor shop.

There was definitely a lot more older professions like cobblers, tailors, woodworkers in this country than the US.

EU and UK seem much more attached to repairing worn out or older items vs US.

I soon entered a large forest, park area as I began to walk uphill.

Park was very lush, green and welcoming. It was very close to downtown too.

I wound my way through a residential area next to the park and heard car noises. A highway blocked my path.

I followed a very cool spray-painted wall until I arrived to the pedestrian bridge over the busy highway below.

Off in the distance, I saw tall smokestacks next to what I presumed were nuclear power coolers. Both billowed white smoke, I hoped it was steam.

 

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Further research revealed this was the Krakow CHP Coal Power Plant. It was disarmingly close to the city, I felt.

Such a juxtaposition: to the south, a beautiful park. To the east: a coal burning plant.

After the pedestrian bridge, I passed through a gravel road that surely homeless and teenagers drank at due to all the empties littering the ground. Very sad to see what could be a nice area destroyed by people.

I began to encounter a lot of other people so I knew the mound was near. After passing through a canopy of trees, the path opened up and I saw the tall, looming mound directly ahead of me.

The way up to the top of the mound was via a dirt path that wrapped around the mound slowly ascending up.

Once ascended to the top, there was a wonderful view of Krakow. 20160813_152714.jpg

 

To the south was an abandoned salt mine.

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I made my way back to the area around my friend’s apartment. It was Tuesday and to my surprise, Taco Tuesday is very much a thing in Poland!

My friend’s co-workers went out for tacos every week to a Mexican style restaurant a few blocks away in the Kazimierz district.

A short walk through shops and restaurants I arrived at the place. I knew it would be a good meal based on the large tequila selection behind the bar.

The table was full of people who made room for me across from the other person I knew there.

Beer, tacos and margaritas were soon ordered and conversation began.

I was seated next to a Spanish guy and Polish girl. We took turns asking about Spain, Poland and EU from each other, trying to learn about things to do and see.

My pastor tacos arrived and I was pleasantly surprised, they were very good. This coming from eating tacos since I was a kid.

The main difference is that these were ‘fancy’ tacos, not street tacos, so they had large chunks of avocado and sour cream.

Talk soon turned to a venue change. There was a Spanish match on so we followed our friends to a small pub that had wall sized screen.

My friend had to duck out early as he had an early flight to Paris, which is really the best excuse.

Friendly bets were made between co-workers over beers as the match began.

I chatted up a guy from the Netherlands as well as continuing to talk to the quiet Polish girl with short hair.

She slowly came out of her shell after each beer. I thought she was intriguing, meaning she may not be the first girl you’d notice in a place, but she was pretty and most importantly, interesting to talk to.

Soon cheers rang out and shots arrived. The loser wound up buying shots for everyone.

We continued our evening at a diner bar, Pijalnia Wódki i Piwa. I was convinced I’d see the Fonz or a couple slurping a milkshake with 2 straws here it was fairly authentic.

This place is more a shot bar, cheap too, maybe a dollar per shot.

Our group order a tray and then another. I opted for their only draft beer.

During the evening I found myself at the center of attention as my Dutch friend and Polish girl were on either side of me slowly stroking my beard.

Just ask if you can do that, don’t just put your fingers in someone’s beard or hair without permission, I was taken aback by the attention.

I soon realized that I’d have to find my way home and by the jolliness of my companions, they weren’t leaving anytime soon.

I bade goodbye to my new friends and began walking in the direction I thought my apartment would be in.

Luck was on my side as I found the road I knew just as it began to sprinkle rain.

It was full on rain as I turned the corner to my apartment after about a 20 minute walk.

Glad I decided to not have 1 more beer for many reasons.

Great night out in Krakow!

Beer: Warka

Song: Chopin  Nocturne in E-flat major, Op. 9, No. 2

 

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Dream trip day 79   Train to Kraków, catching up with friends, Polish food

No issues checking out, just drop your key in a box, doors lock behind you.

Hardly anyone walking around the streets early in the morning, quite a change from the crowds I’d usually seen gathered.

Soon I was at the Praha hlavní nádraží (man do I enjoy all the accent marks on these letters!)

Rail, bus stations are always active and usually crowded no matter the time of day.

I located my train to Ostrava, a small city close to the Polish border and where I was to hop a bus to take me the rest of the way to Kraków.

Ah sweet relief as I fell into my window seat and watched the city disappear into countryside.

I was soon asleep.

Woke up to very beautiful, green countryside that soon gave way to the city.

We stopped and I had maybe 15-20min to find my bus, a process that is always tense, but especially so when all the signs are in Czech.

Whoever decided to add images to signs will forever be my hero.

Fortunately this was a small depot and I quickly found the bus area.

I stood at where I thought my bus would arrive based on the sign only to see the Krakow bus pass by and stop further down the street.

Buses overseas usually don’t have their destinations lit up on top, but rather they hang a sign on the lower right corner of the windshield with the destination city.

Sometimes the bus made you stow backpacks and this was such an occasion. This is one of many reasons why you need a small bag or satchel on trips.

You can carry needed items like say a water bottle as well souvenirs, snacks, etc.

Not many people heading to Krakow this day so most everyone got seats to themselves.

Gorgeous views as we exited the city and soon we entered Poland!

After awhile we entered the city at a huge rail, bus depot that after walking awhile, I realized the depot was connected to a mall.

That is such a great idea, get off your bus or train to find food, clothes, most anything a person could need after or before a trip.

I ducked into a burrito joint, I know, why there right, but I didn’t see a kielbasas r us or a pierogis haus, nothing that was decidedly Polish.

Happy to report that the burrito I had was very fresh and tasty. I only wished this and other places that try to interpret Mexican food would ease up on the beans.

I ordered a chicken burrito, not a bean burrito with chicken, you know. Had to stop the lady from spooning yet another scoop of what appeared to be ranch style beans.

At least know that if you use beans, they need to be wet, in a liquid vs the pile of dry beans that was my option here.

I walked the mall afterwards and they are very similar to the US malls I’d grown up going to, sometimes willingly, most of the time clothes shopping or worse, for portrait pics.

Clothing stores pumped out modern dance music here, as did shoe stores. No arcade, but they probably don’t have any in the US anymore either.

On one end of the mall was a theater, cinema so that was a universal thing.

About the only thing that really stood out was the amount of coffee kiosks. For sure, there was no reason to wait in line for a coffee, just walk a bit further.

I stopped at one and was amazed at how many employees worked in such a small, not busy kiosk. Every girl did 1 job: take your money, make the coffee, or serve it to you. Plus another girl showed up to pick up the trash and was probably around to help if it got busy.

Made me think about the hectic US places where there was a long line and 1 person doing all the jobs.

Once outside the mall, I entered an enormous courtyard. At the far end was a salt mine tour.

For sure if you want to see an abandoned salt mine, Krakow has you covered. I saw many ads for this one as well as larger mines outside of town.

I located the main road to my friend’s apartment which lead under a bridge then opened into a wonderful park road.

It’s always a good thing to sit on a bench covered by trees to watch car traffic, walkers or in this case, a small girl trying to catch a squirrel.

She was not successful in her endeavor. Her mom chain-smoked on a nearby bench while loudly talking on her cell in Polish.

I followed the wonderful tree-lined road as long as I could before I had to cross the street.

I knew one of my days here would be spent walking the whole garden road, wherever it lead.

There were castles and fortresses on both sides of me on this part of the walk. More exploration options.

It was hot in Krakow, I was sweating. Make fun of me if you want, but I wore hiking pants that unzipped at the knee so I paused on a bench to removed my leggings.

My un-stylish pant option served me very well on this leg of the trip. It was August after all, it was supposed to be hot.

After passing over the tram lines, I was on a business lined street full of coffee shops, convenience stores and food options.

Soon I was at my friend’s apartment where I was buzzed in, took the lift to the 3rd floor and saw my friend.

Earlier in the year one of my former corporate work friend had messaged me about her new life in Poland. Come for a visit if you can she wrote. Haha little did she know 6 months after that invite I would be there.

She was traveling this week, but I knew her husband and he was cool.

We chatted and I filled him in on my trip. I was in a corporate supplied and furnished apartment.

It was super modern place, sleek, exposed pipes, dark hardwood floor. On one wall was old black and white photos artfully arranged into a unique, somehow still in a square pattern.

These photos were totally random shots of fashion models or movie stars. Seemed odd in a family residence, but they couldn’t change it.

They had another room for their son they let me sleep in, and I was super grateful for a bed, especially a bedroom with a door for privacy.

I had arrived around their daily call time so I was able to talk to my friend who was very excited I was there. She was in the US at the moment.

I soon learned they were going to meet up Paris in a few days. To my shock, she said I should just stay there in the apartment for the week. I could house sit.

The husband nodded approvingly, better to have someone here. They were so generous, I was flabbergasted and humbled.

Talk soon turned to food and off we went to a local spot the family frequented.

While tempted to order pierogi, I was assured those indeed were everywhere, including fresh ones sitting in the fridge in the apartment.

I opted for my first taste of white borscht, a soup that is very Polish as it also included kielbasa sausage. Most borscht was beet red outside of Poland.

My entree was pork served with potatoes or latke. A hearty gravy was poured over the dish along with cream. It was very good and rich.

Throughout the course of our dinner I discovered my friend’s family was of Polish decent, his grandparents immigrated to escape the Nazi’s and settled in Ohio.

He had grown up with many of the dishes he ate here regularly and even spoke Polish when he was little, but had forgotten it. He remembered enough to get by, but couldn’t hold a full conversation like he had growing up.

I was shocked when the check came in under 20$. That’s with 2 soups, entrees and beers for 2 people! Dang that’s affordable.

We stepped outside to light rain and I inquired about a neon sign I saw on a couple of apartments.

Turns out those were the massage parlors, aka prostitution rooms. Guys could pay for the company of women. It was not highly recommended for me to check them out.

We popped into a small convenience store and picked up some beer which we enjoyed on their balcony.

The balcony overlooked a courtyard with a couple of churches on either side.

My friend had an early morning at work so he soon retired, but not before inviting me to taco Tuesday with his co-workers the next evening.

I sipped a beer, watching the rain fall from the balcony before I retired for the evening.

Song: Władysław Szpilman   Little Overture

Beer:  Tyskie Gronie

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Dream trip day 78 Water festival, island views, Pivovar Národní

Hooray sun, a great way to wake up!

I headed out for coffee and to plan my final full day in the city.

The west side area was very intriguing to me as well as the part of town I’d been to the least, may as well start there.

Success! There was a festival or competition going on as I heard sounds of music once I reached the bridge.

In the river below, they’d sectioned off the far side so they could host jet ski races.

I wasn’t aware racing jet skis was a thing, so this was a very excellent competition to stumble upon.

Making my way down stairs, the music grew louder and louder.

It became unbearably loud once I arrived to the stage. A DJ was spinning tunes and some girls flanked him on either side of the stage.

These 2 girls wore bikini’s and were sort of half ass swaying to the music, one foot in front of the other, repeat. They looked incredibly bored.

They were dancing to a lone kid, no older than 10, the only person in front of the stage rocking out to painfully loud EDM.

I watched several races, cheering on a girl who was for sure the youngest contestant, but alas, her motor dipped into the water and stalled out so she had to wait for a tow.

A dude in a lifeguard orange wet suit soon lassoed her jet ski around the steering controls and towed it away from the still continuing race as the girl hopped on the back of his jet ski.

What luck this event had cheap beer and brauts for sale so a late lunch was secured.

I nestled into a small area by a tree, the river to my right, the huge castle in the distance to my left, the Charles Bridge dead ahead across the water.

The sun shone down on me as I ate. I was so happy to be out experiencing this random event in a very cool city. Lucky, lucky me to be on this amazing trip.

I stayed way after the skiing event ended and the sun began to set on this island oasis.

There was a large brewery restaurant that I passed many times on my westerly walks, so tonight was the night to give it a shot.

It was still early…or late, dinner time was very different overseas. Point was most tables inside were full, so I was lead out back by the very pretty, very long haired hostess.

The inside was very wooden: long wood tables, big wood chairs complemented the wooden walls.

Not the case on the patio, full of several rows of metal tables covered by umbrellas.

I sat at a small, unoccupied table. A waitress duly came over and seemed even more disappointed I just wanted beer, not food. Hey at least she spoke English!

All the beers in this place were very good and very Czech. I was rather pleased that I’d developed a good palette for the many beer regions I’d been to on my travels.

Czech style were usually very light and crisp, perfect for a hot day or reward after a long work day.

Czech did have dark beers as well, but they weren’t super heavy, like dark Belgium or German beers that overwhelmed and knocked you and your tastebuds on their ass.

This joint made both light and dark styles all named Czech Lion followed by the degree number. I’d read this degree was percent malts used OR sugars after fermenting.

Higher the degree the darker, sweeter the brew. I’d seen some US brands refer to this as Plato.

For sure it’s very complicated and was perfected by a German as most things beer related seem to be.

It lightly sprinkled rain on and off, and due to the umbrellas, no one moved inside.

After my third pint the friendly waitress said they would be closing soon. It was nearing midnight.

Probably a good thing to call it and ‘early’ night ( I know, right, midnight… early night?! I was on a whole different time table due to my new, free schedule.)

I had an early train ride scheduled for 10 am. So early I know but when you add in check out time and a walk to the station, that made it early for me.

Oh well I could sleep on the train.

Next stop, Kraków, Poland!

Song:  the Chainsmokers   Don’t Let me Down ft Daya (NOT Rihanna like I thought. Heard this one a lot on the trip, but finally able to shazam it thanks to the festival DJ playing his entire set on max volume)

Beer:  Czech Lion 11° Nefiltrovaný Ležák

Dream trip day 69 goodbye Vienna, bus to Prague

I woke and collected my things, still only a backpack of all my possessions.

From previous travel days, I knew it was best to eat a big meal before hopping on a long bus ride.

There was a local chain bakery a few doors down that I knew was good as I’d had a croissant and coffee from another location in town.

This time I selected a substantial cinnamon roll like pastry and coffee. So good!

It always takes awhile to point at an item on a shelf and for the server to automatically select not what you are pointing at several times, each new wrong selection eliciting a curious eyebrow raise.

There was a grocery store on my walk back so I bought some fruits and nuts to snack on during the long bus trip.

Sometimes the buses stopped for breaks, sometimes they didn’t, I guessed the length of drive time was a factor for when buses stopped so it was best to be prepared.

Having time to plot my days I realized I had a lot of time until my bus left, but not very much time before I had to check out of my hostel.

I needed to shower, too, so I was going to have to chance it and shower after checkout to kill some time.

On the way to checkout at the hostel, I stashed a fresh shirt, undergarments and towel into a shower area and hoped no one would take them.

Checkout was simple and they let me stow my bags for a couple hours in a locked back room.

I sat outside for a few moments, scanning around at the nature as well as the reception area.

Finally, as I knew it would happen, the receptionist had some odd job to do away from the desk.

Seizing my chance, I strolled up the back stairs and hit the shower.

I’m not certain if anyone really cared about my shower, I had paid for several nights so they had made euros off me.

I was also technically not staying there at that moment when the water hit me. I figured it was all a wash, certainly much worse things went on than a guy using some water.

My only burden was now I had to travel with damp clothes, a fair punishment.

Per my map app, I was well over an hour walk to the bus depot. Appropriately I called for an Uber.

A very nice man picked me up and we talked about the city.

‘I love Vienna. It is so pretty. Often I find myself staring at a building while at a light or returning to a certain street to look at the architecture.’ He said with a huge grin. ‘Where are you from, the States?’ He asked as he turned around while we where stopped at a light.

I told him about Dallas and Texas. He was curious and I saw something in him I rarely encountered, but was searching for: he loved where he lived.

I’d determined that Dallas was just a place people worked, not a destination.

Few dream about moving to Dallas from outside the state or country, I reckon.

In some way this trip was about seeing how others lived, why do people live where they do? Is there a place for me out there, somewhere?

I waved goodbye to my newest short term friend and looked around the depot for TVs.

There is a bit of consistency at train, bus depots as far as scheduling info goes in that there were TV’s or a display with all the arrivals, departures it was just the location of these info portals was different.

I had over a half hour til departure so my info wasn’t displayed yet.

Typically only arrivals in the next 15 minutes were displayed, then more info was added if a bus was delayed, which happens a lot.

Thankfully my bus wasn’t delayed this time plus it wasn’t packed.

Only a couple trips I had a neighbor and the seats were close so you bumped shoulders, which is tough for several hours.

I slid into my seat, unpacked my iPad, headphones and water. I also had my camera phone ready as we usually passed by cool photo spots when driving out of town.

Surprisingly to me, most cities had a camp site just outside town. So that’s where the real budget travelers stayed.

I saw so many people with enormous packs, like big enough to fit a human in sized packs, strapped to all genders. Made me wonder how they were able to carry them for very long.

I’d also read about a website that connected people who were ok with camping in their backyard or gardens in town.

When traveling as long as I was, I’d become jaded about all the beauty outside my window. Rolling green hills, bucolic towns, old cathedrals, all blurred into one.

For sure rural Europe is far more pretty than rural US. They had style over here in whatever they built.

I guess I’m being a bit judgmental as when I think rural US I think of west Texas, or Oklahoma so long stretches of no trees, towns or hills.

Occasionally you’d see a collapsing farmhouse or windmill.

We pulled into the bus depot, train station in Prague or Praha as it was displayed.

Out front of the depot was a small park full of homeless people in varying degrees of sobriety or fully asleep.

In the other places I hadn’t encountered many homeless, but for sure I saw less than I did in Dallas. Per city I mean, had less or I saw less homeless than in Dallas.

I waved no as I passed by to the many calls for money or cigarettes that I presumed they were asking me for in Czech.

The route to my hostel took me through an open air mall that had a side entrance to a main walkway that soon connected to the downtown square.

I had selected my hostel as it was located in the old town, near the main square that had most of the attractions.

It was also the most affordable room per person ratio as I’d slept in a room with upwards of 10+ people, but rarely interacted with my suite mates. It came down to just more people snoring or stumbling in late.

The best place to meet people was in the common area or kitchen and this place had a great kitchen area with 3 tables.

I stayed on a floor that had 3 rooms with each room containing 6 beds.

Each of the hostels 3 floors had 3-4 shower/restrooms, a kitchen and lounge areas with couches.

The smokers lounge overlooked an Italian restaurant.

A large wooden gate with a small sign pointing you to the hostel which was on the far side of the building so you had to walk through the restaurant to check in.

My floor was accessed via iron gate just before the hostess station which was occupied by a friendly lady who would ask ‘Food or hostel?’ And direct you accordingly.

It was confusing and most guests walked by many times or tentatively wander the restaurant convinced they were in the wrong place.

My bed was in the back room so I walked through a 3 bed room, then a door to another 3 bed room.

Fortunately there was only 3 others staying so 2 people in each room.

I said hello and waved at my new roommate who smiled and shook my hand.

Where are you from? Is always the 1st question you ask anyone at a hostel.

‘Italy!’ He replied. ‘You French, English ?’ He asked me.

Wow must be the hat. I don’t know but most of the time I was rarely pegged as American or from the States.

We chatted a bit while I stashed my bag in the locker provided.

The only one that didn’t have a lock on it had a large dent, someone was using 2 lockers for their stuff.

I never heard of anything being stolen whilst at a hostel on this trip, but I read reviews where that happened.

I presumed it was locals invited in by trusting guests who specifically targeted these places because most people travel with iPhones, iPads or other easily sold electronics, not to mention stacks of cash.

I always had cash on me or in my bag for this reason. If anything was stolen from either place I was not totally broke.

My roommate was a soccer player teaching for an exchange program between the countries.

He spent a few months teaching in Prague, then played in games on the way back home with a semi pro Italian club that sponsored his stay.

He told me to be sure to go to the square at night as that’s where lots of people congregate.

A brief internet search I discovered it was a short walk to the Vltava River and I recalled how great it was watching the sunsets from a bridge in Budapest.

Along the way to the river, I located a noodle joint for dinner.

Pretty cool concept and affordable too. Build your own box using different proteins, vegetables and sauces.

To my surprise duck breast was on the menu here and most places I’d go in Prague.

Duck n noodles with spicy sauce for dinner it was. Beer only cost 2$ too so had a Thai beer.

Total cost was under 10$ for the whole meal. Quite a relief from the high Vienna prices.

On the way to the river, I encountered a small store well stocked with all sorts of Czech beers so I picked one up.

I cracked it open once I was at the bridge and had a good view of the river.

After a few moments I realized why this section wasn’t occupied as someone had thrown up nearby, maybe into the trash can or street. No visible liquids or solids around but what a smell!

I walked away from the stench and over the river on the bridge where I saw an immense castle in the distance.

 

I finished my beer as the sun went down, pausing to help a couple get a sweet pic of the river and sun in the background.

I always help someone take a great pic as I’d seen some very poor framing in many people I passed, stealing a glance into their screen.

Typically I took more than one shot with the goal of having one candid and one posed shot per session.

My favorite were always the candid shots because it showed people laughing, preening or embracing in very real ways.

Following the river a few blocks in the direction of my hostel but taking a different route, my map indicated a small brewery.

These joints were all over Prague and they only made enough to beer to serve in the restaurant, never bottled or canned.

It was a small spot, slightly elegant I dare say. Most definitely more restaurant than brewery, with wooden stools and tables covered by red velvet cloths.

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I spied an empty 2 seat table and sat down.

A bald waiter arrived and said, “Dobry den’,  hello in Czech.

I returned his hello and asked for pivo, beer.

He showed me their beer menu, only 4 beers, all listed in Czech with lots of accent marks over some letters.

‘Uh English?’ I tentatively asked.

He smiled and pointed to a beer then stating only its style: ‘lager, dark, red, eh monk pivo. Ah don’t know how to say style name. Is very ah high taste.’

I understood, it was an Abbey ale most likely with high ABV so that’s where I started.

It was great, dark beer served in a goblet glass.

Looking around I spied the vats in the back, not many and very small which made sense as they didn’t need too much beer. Maybe a few kegs a month.

I noted most people were eating and drinking wine.

Haha wow I sure stuck out drinking beer alone. It came with my goal of trying to taste the most local beer possible.

I attempted conversation with the waiter and bartender about what to see in the city.

They had a brief exchange in Czech then revealed they both lived outside the city.

‘We just work, no go out here,’ he said with a laugh. ‘We don’t know much, but this place.’

I selected a red ale and was informed they were soon to close so this was my final beer.

A couple staggered in and to my shock they were served wine, despite their obvious drunkenness and near closing time.

They finished their wines before I could settle my tab and off they were into the night.

It was a very cool walk on stone streets to my hostel, passing by very gothic buildings on either side, occasionally passing an open pub or restaurant.

I heard a low roar and was soon walking through the city centre.

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Long tables full of people eating and drinking surrounded the path.

Soon the walkway opened up into a large square.

An imposing gothic cathedral lay directly in front of me, the famous medieval astronomical clock to my left but due to an enormous crowd it was very hard to walk through without bumping into someone.

I paused after navigating the crowd to get a glimpse at the clock.

Seemed like a just a clock, a couple statues surrounding it, I didn’t see the big deal at the time.

After looking at the gothic cathedral I heard a large commotion and gasps from the crowd I learned what the big deal was: the statues were moving!

It wasn’t just a clock it was a dang show, every hour on the hour these statues would perform as they had done for centuries only now people took pics and videos of the show instead of just watching.

It was now late, after midnight and I had a long travel day.

I had been given 4 keys to access my room in the hostel. Each key was colored and numbered sequentially.

It took time, but I got the huge wooden door unlocked, then struggled with the iron gate lock, then the door to my floor lock and finally, the old mortice key to unlock my room which was most upsetting to me as in my struggles I awoke my roommates who let me in and locked the door behind me.

Beer: Klášterní special sv. Jiljí no 1
Song: Ocean Colour Scene  the Riverboat Song

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