I do apologize for the delay in posting. I get easily distracted nowadays.
Prague! So pretty.
When we first knew we were moving to Germany, and the idea of trying to explore some of Europe came up, I would constantly joke that we should go to Prague. Not only because it’s close, but because I heard it was cheap. And, for the most part, it is both close and somewhat cheap.
Chris had a work conference to attend, so I tagged along as it meant his transportation, hotel, and food would all be covered. So we really only had to pay for my food and transport, and it was only 40 Euro each way. Which is a bargain around here. So we took the train to Nuremberg (another town I’ve wanted to visit) and quickly rushed to find the bus that would take us to Prague. And, after a 3 and a half hour drive, we were there.
For the first time…well…I think ever, I didn’t really have any plans for this trip. I knew we would take a walking tour on Tuesday, and I was taking a trip to Kutna Hora on Wednesday, but otherwise it was all a question mark. Hal, who coincidentally was in London at the same time, agreed to meet us there, so I would have a wandering companion while Chris was at the conference during the day.
Our hotel was…a bit out of the way. Four or five stops out of downtown, on the other side of the river, up on a hill. As soon as we got out of the Metro station we were immediately turned around and no idea which way the hotel was. Even one of the drunk locals who offered to help us had no idea which way we should go.
This was going to be a pattern.
I have a pretty decent sense of direction, I like to think. I don’t really get lost much at all. I can’t really even remember too many times where I’ve actually been lost. Unless it’s dark and raining and I don’t know the roads, I can usually find what I’m looking for.
But, man, Prague is confusing. When you’re downtown, there’s no real landmarks to fix on to get your bearings. All the streets curve. They clearly grew organically, and they are a twisted mess. Zig-zagging, ending abruptly, turning suddenly, no clear street signs (as if you could even read them). The tourist landmark signs are no help either as they’re all in Czech and they don’t seem to point to the two biggest places (the Charles Bridge and the town center). The river runs north/south parallel to the city center, then abruptly turns east and makes a U turn.
I got lost every day. Multiple times. It was great, really. That was half the point. I would know the general direction I needed to go and head that way, then invariably get lost and wind up going a different direction. I had the time, and I wasn’t going to end up in a bad neighborhood or anything, so it always worked out. Hal managed better as he’s learned to orient himself based on the sun. Chris, who has no sense of direction, got hopelessly lost the one day he was going to meet me downtown, but found me just in time. It’s a confusing town.
But, wow, is it a beautiful town. A photographer’s dream. Gorgeous cobblestone streets, countless alleys, stairways, churches, towers, and sculptures. You can’t turn around without seeing something beautiful. It’s a great town to wander and just take it all in. That being said, there ain’t much to do besides that. Not a lot of attractions begging to be visited.
The first night Chris and I just wandered Wenceslas Square, which seemed like the most touristy and crummy street. We chose a Czech restaurant with a big picture menu (so Chris could clearly identify everything). Everyone speaks English, of course, and the host had the strangest accent. It almost sounded made up, and even mimicking it is difficult. I had goulash for the first time, which was pretty good. You could get it everywhere, and I quickly learned the next day I grossly overpaid. But whatever. Chunks of beef in a nice sauce with bread and dumplings. Nice hearty food, very similar to German fare.
The next day Hal and I just wandered around, exploring the Castle district. A lot of winding streets going up to the top of the hill where the castle is located, along with a bunch of embassies. We passed a tiny little bakery and got some of these delicious pastries. The sign said TRDLO, but I don’t now if that’s the actual name (Czech words do seem to lack vowels). They were cooked on these spinning cylinders right on the street, brushed with sugar and some other spice. Still warm and fluffy. Delicious.
It seemed every other storefront was a restaurant there, the others being souvenir stores. Unfortunately, since it’s such a huge tourist destination, most of the stores are all the same. The same Prague trinkets and such. Garnet, amber, and crystal shops. Sure, some of them are a little unique, but the more central you get, the more homogeneous it is. It’s a shame. The castle district had some unique stores, and I almost bought a thing or two. There was an awesome three-headed dragon marionette that I loved, but it was pricey and what would I do with it anyways?
The castle itself is large and beautiful (the largest functioning castle in Europe), but mostly just a collection of buildings. It’s impressive, but not awe inspiring or anything. We happened to pass by it during the changing of the guards, which was cool.
We wound up at a little cafe on the bank of the river by the Kafka museum for lunch. We had an amazing view of the Charles bridge and downtown. It was very nice.
Speaking of the Kafka museum they had an…interesting statue/fountain of two guys peeing. It was automated as well, and the two would, apparently, trace out the borders of the Czech Republic with their streams. Hmmmm.
Dinner was at TGI Friday’s, because we tend to end up at American chain places when we travel (Chris hit up KFC at least 3 times). Usually it’s Pizza Hut, but they didn’t have that. Hal was not enthused, but it’s not a kind of food we can get easily in Göttingen. A ridiculous American style burger was good though.
The following day Hal and I did some more wandering, this time in the Jewish quarter. Unlike most of the Jewish areas in European cities, Hitler didn’t have this one walled up. Seems Hitler loved Prague and wanted the Jewish quarter to remain as is so it could serve as an open air museum to an extinct race. Luckily he didn’t get his way and the area wound up well preserved.
I had most wanted to see the old Jewish Cemetery, but they were charging a ridiculous amount to get in (it included a museum and some synagogues as well, but that didn’t interest me). The small little cemetery has something like 100,000 bodies buried there in about a dozen layers. Since space was at a premium, and they had no other place to bury their dead, they kept adding layers to it. And since Jewish law forbids the moving of a headstone, the place is crammed with them. It’s creepy. We could see the smallest bit from the street though, it would have to do.
I also bought my mom a birthday gift and was my first time ever haggling for something. I, of course, probably grossly overpaid for what I got and immediately felt buyer’s remorse. ‘Cause even after talking him down some, it still wasn’t cheap. Oh well, it’ll make a nice gift.
Hal and I found a small cafe far enough outside the tourist area that it was less than half the price of the first restaurant we went to. It was a gorgeous little place, across the street from an opera house. Art deco/30’s decor, lots of marble, and an old world feeling. It was awesome. I had baked duck on red cabbage with potato dumplings. I wish I had a picture (Hal took one), but it was as tasty as it looked. And dirt cheap, comparatively.
The walking tour was nice. The same company for the Berlin and Hamburg tours we took. Our guide was super friendly and knowledgeable and fun to talk to. Seems Czech is a pain in the ass to learn. Seven cases and sounds found in no other language. Even after living there 7 years she’s considered intermediate at best. Glad I only have to deal with German.
Also found a burrito place, thanks to the tour, and it was the best Mexican food I’ve had yet here. Which is a big deal for me, as I miss it so much. Who would’ve thought?
And, wow, their public transportation system is amazing. One of the few benefits from decades of communist rule. A large subway, tram, and bus system that can take you anywhere you want to go. During rush hour the subways were coming every minute. Crazy! And cheap. Only 24 Crowns for a 30 minute ticket (roughly 15 Crowns per US dollar).
So I’m glad we went. Prague is a gorgeous place to visit. But, man, plan it carefully. We were still technically in the off-season, though there were a lot of US college kids on spring break trips (as well as Italian high-school classes), and it was still pretty crowded. Not overwhelming, but you could sense how unbearably crowded it could get once summer hits. Stick to early spring/fall when the big crowds are there. It must be awful with the heat and the crushing throngs in the small, confusing streets.
Also, frankly, it won’t take more then two days to see absolutely everything. The city center is small and compact and all the landmarks are within walking distance. Not a whole lot of museums to peruse. The big one is closed for 5 years for renovations, and Chris didn’t want to go to the Sex Machine Museum for some reason. Weirdo.
Would I come back? Sure. I hope I do someday.
Next up: Kutna Hora and its many skulls.