thought I'd share the experiences of the last couple weeks.
On 31 August, I caught a flight to JFK and spent a day visiting my cousin in
Hoboken, NJ, playing with pumpkinseeds in a pond in Central Park, visiting
the American Museum of Natural History, etc. The AMNH's fish exhibits are
pretty good, if a bit dated, and the biodiversity exhibit is excellent but
depressing. All in all, a generally fun NYC experience.
On 2 September, I flew from JFK to Prague, Czech Republic, to attend the
Congress of European Ichthyologists. The meeting was well-attended by fish
heads from all over Europe, and elsewhere. Henri Persat, from France, had
organized a symposia for people working on sculpin biology, which turned out
very well. There were many excellent talks, on everything from genetics of
loaches, conservation biology of the endemic Fundulus of the Iberian
Peninsula, to competition ecology between European cyprinids, to general
survey work of remote rivers in Greece, and many, many more.
Resturaunts were abundant, cheap, and generally good. A fantastic meal (say
a small salad, appetizer, soup, entree, dessert, and wine) would cost
somewhere about $9 or $10 USD. Most of the fish dishes I had were excellent
(fried zander, broiled eel, Norwegian salmon, etc.), most of the other stuff
was on the heavy side.
Beer was between 25 and 40 cents (US) for a half-liter of fine brew.
One afternoon, a Czech ichthyologist invited myself and a couple of German
scientists out to his fish lab, in a small town 30 or 40 km N of Prague. He
is currently doing a lot of work on loaches of the genus Cobitis, and has a
beautiful facility for maintaining them in aquaria. We also got to make a
short detour out to a small stream nearby, where we shocked up some stone
loaches (Barbatulus barbatula) and some carp (Cyprinus carpio). A couple of
locals were angling nearby, one had a very nice pike (Esox lucius), another
had a live sack full of cyprinids, including at least Leuciscus cephalus,
but also some others I didn't recognize. It had rained every day so far,
mostly just drizzling, and would continue to do so for the rest of the trip.
The next day I overslept the bus to go on a field trip to the Danube Basin,
but managed to tag along on a tour of the tropical fish industry in the
Czech Republic. We visited several commercial breeders, and a couple of
processing facilities, where fish are delivered by breeders and shipped out.
Impressive, but since it was almost all just tropicals, my heart wasn't
really in it. It didn't help that I had a hangover that didn't go away until
about 5pm that afternoon. Whew.
I spent several days out just walking around the city, marvelling at the
architecture and being amazed at the craftsmanship in the castles and
On the 10th, after spending a day travelling all over Prague trying to get
the appropriate licenses for flyfishing (FOUR offices, three separate
permits, $100 for one week! Aargh!), I caught a train south to Cesky
Krumlov, just north of the border with Austria, with a slight layover in
Cesky Budejovice, home of the "real" Budeweiser. I will vouch for the fact
that it blows away the cheap American swill that stole its name. The rain
Cesky Krumlov lies along a series of sharp bends in the Vltava River, and
has some incredible castles remaining. Much of the town is geared around
shops for the hordes of Austrian and German tourists, but there are lots of
cheap places to stay, and some fantastic resturaunts in town. I spent most
of my time there in a hostel, which charged about $7 a night, was clean,
spacious, and provided a fine breakfast spread.
The river here is beautiful, with long riffles interspersed with slow deep
pools. There were many anglers in this stretch, but the only things I saw
caught were a small pikeperch (Zander lucioperca) and some unidentified
cyprinids (they guy was on the other side of the river). I was really
wishing I'd brought a seine at this point, because it was perfect habitat
for lost of the small percids endemic to eastern Europe...
The afternoon of my first full day, I stopped in at an internet cafe to
check in with my family, and got an email from my sister which mentioned the
WTC attack. I spent much of the night huddled arount a tv watching CNN with
a group of Brits, Germans, and another American, trying to undertstand how
this could have happened. Also, sometime late during the evening, I drank a
glass of tap water... with consequences later...
The next day I felt horrible, bad abdominal pains and still in disbelief of
the attacks on the WTC and Pentagon. Desperately needing a little solace, I
wandered out to a small tributary of the Vltava nearby, took my socks off,
threaded up my fly rod, and began to wet-wade upstream. The first cast
produced a small grayling (Thymallus thymallus) which immediately lifted my
spirits. The European grayling has a different color pattern on the dorsal
than grayling I've seen before in Montana, more red on the margin, with
dusky membranes. Also more red on the sides of large fish. The next three
hours were incredible, a fish on every cast, mostly grayling up to about
14", but with a few brown trout thrown in, also. Maybe 70 or 80 fish
released. All of them beautiful.
By this point, my feet were completely useless, had long since stopped
feeling them. It was raining heavily, and my core temp was really low. I
headed back to the hostel, took a long, hot shower, and climbed into my
sleeping bag, where I would stay for the next three days. The GI problems
got REALLY bad a couple hours later, and would continue for the next several
days. The fever was horrendous. I lost about 10 lbs- woudn't have noticed,
but on the walk back to the train station I couldn't keep my pants up. So
much for the planned trip to Sumava National Park, and any backpacking...
On the 14th, I decided to try and get back to the Prague airport to check on
flights. Of course, they were still closed. I spent two more days in Prague,
feeling lousy, but slowly recovering. The lines at the airport were
incredible, and the customer support people were less than helpful.
I finally got a flight into Amsterdam on the 16th, stayed overnight in the
singularly worst hotel I've ever had the displeasure of staying in, and flew
into JFK on the 17th. Once in the States, the airline folks were great, and
got me on a flight to Birmingham via Charlotte without any additional
problems. On the takeoff out of NYC, the spaces where the WTC used to be
were all too evident- rather a surreal sight.
I would highly recommend both Prague and the CR for anyone planning a trip
to Europe... but be careful of the water outside of Prague. Don't believe
anything you read about English being in common use there, learn about 75 or
100 Czech words, and you'll be fine. If you speak German, even better.
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