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Prague, CZ

by dan.kronstal on October 26th, 2011

The night before our departure from Vienna could have gone better. I could drag this out, but the short version is that one of our neighbors is a long-term guest of this guesthouse, and has some health issues. I feel for the guy, but it’s really hard to be sympathetic at 4AM when I’m helping a smelly old dude back to his room, after picking him up off the floor then helping him onto and off of the toilet. For the second time that night. Anyway, we woke up early, and hit the train station right about on time. A delayed train allowed us to savour another 45 minutes of brisk Austrian air while huddled around some hot chocolates on the platform. Once aboard the train we were fortunate enough to have a 6-seater cabin to ourselves, so Christina spent most of her time racked out across three seats attempting to sleep, and I alternated between playing video games and watching the (mostly quite grim) countryside pass by.

The Czech Inn

The Czech Inn

Five hours later we were in Prague! A quick jaunt through the metro system and we were at the door of Czech Inn, our hostel for the next few days. Owing to our sleepy state, we had a rest during the afternoon. Christina spent the entire time sleeping, and I went downstairs to the bar to sample some of the legendary Czech beers, all of which were very good, and got mostly caught up on my journalling. In the evening we headed out to U Bulínů, a recommendation for dinner from the front desk, and feasted on some delicious traditional dishes. One nice thing about the Czech Republic is that they use their own currency instead of the Euro, making it much more affordable than our other European countries visited so far. I should also mention that the Czech language is very nearly incomprehensible. All of the “romance” languages have their share in common, and have lent a significant amount of vocabulary to English, as has German. These guys have their own thing going on, and it’s really quite different. It’s a 100% phonetic language, so each letter is always pronounced the same way, but it’s not necessarily the way we’re used to, plus they’ve got all sorts of accenting ticks and things which essentially result in about a dozen new letters that look similar to letters we’re used to. It actually sounds a bit like French, when spoken, with many soft consonants and long, open vowels. I would have liked to have had more time to learn it, but three days is not really enough for more than a “dobrý den”, which means “hello”.

The next day we spent exploring, and covered a broad swath of Staré Město, or “old town”. There is a lot to see in Prague, and it competes warmly with Salzburg for the “Most Towers and Spires and Castles and Churches per Walked Foot” award. There were a few highlights, though the whole of the center, as well as a fair radius beyond, was interesting to see, and rich in character.

Týn Church

Týn Church

Streets

Streets

Astronomical Clock

Astronomical Clock

The main square itself had a few key features, including the terribly imposing gothic architecture of Tyn Church, the Town Hall, and the clock tower. The clock tower holds the Astronomical Clock – the third oldest in the world, built in 1410, and the only one of those oldest three still functioning. The clock is quite a marvel of engineering, with more gears and moving wheels and figures than you can shake a stick at. On the hour the bell will sound, a series of figures will move in the little windows, performing The Apostles March, then a real live trumpeter will appear at the top of the clocktower, and play a short tune. Crowds gather in the square to hear him play, then applaud and cheer. This happens every hour between 9AM and 9PM.

Church of St. Nicholas

Church of St. Nicholas

Beyond the square, we visited the Church of St. Nicholas (Kostel svatého Mikuláše). Not the biggest or fanciest in town, but I found it to be one of the most beautiful of our trip.

St. Nicholas interior

St. Nicholas interior

We crossed Charles Bridge (Karlův Most), the most popular in town, especially with the tourist set. It was lined with buskers and artists, but the most entertaining by far was The Bridge Band. There was always a small crowd gathered around this “Dixieland Jazz”-style group of older gents, who were throwing down the tunes pretty well all day long. They’ve got a website, and you can check them out on YouTube. I recommend it.

Charles Bridge gate

Charles Bridge gate

East Bank

East Bank

The Bridge Band

The Bridge Band

On the topic of music, I have been remiss, for several months now, to not have mentioned Dan Child’s blog. He’s the brother of Anne, one of our friends from home, and has recently concluded a RTW trip of his own. His blog is a really great read, and much more entertaining than our own, each post cleverly themed with a music video. The link above goes to my favorite post which is a bit about travel, but mostly a diatribe about Nicolas Cage (also my least favorite actor). I thought if you were reading this than you might enjoy his writing also.

Prague Castle front gates

Prague Castle front gates

Prague Castle seems more like a palace or chateaux, since we didn’t notice any fortifications or military capacity. We saw a “changing of the guard” at the gates, and took a look around at the grounds and gothic cathedral at the center.

Changing of the guard

Changing of the guard

It was certainly huge and fancy, but I still preferred the simplicity of the St. Nicholas interior.

Gothic St Vitus Cathedral

Gothic St Vitus Cathedral

The view from the castle was panoramic, but the weather was not cooperative, so it was difficult to get a nice photo of town. The weather here seems like some of the most tempermental we’ve encountered. Blue skies in the morning would give way to a grey and overcast sheet by the time we hit the bricks, this would be be pushed out again by fierce winds, changing again a moment later to big fluffy clouds.

Strahov Monastery

Strahov Monastery

Town Panorama

Town Panorama

Lion with arms

Lion with arms

A short way past the castle was the Strahov Monastic Brewery, which was very cool, though it didn’t feel quite as authentic as our stop at Augustiner in Salzburg. Their beers were quite nice, but I would have liked to see more monastery and less brewery.

National Museum

National Museum

Back in town we walked the shopping Boulevard called Wenceslas Square, between town hall and the National Museum, where crowds of people window shopped or snacked at stalls selling sausage or crepes or noodles.

Square at night

Square at night

We worked up an appetite our selves, so wandered back to the main square, where we found a restaurant supporting a population of outdoor diners by use of numerous heaters. There we found a nice spot fronting the street and watched the crowds go by while we had another fantastic meal, this time I had a goulash and dumpling dish, and Christina had roast beef and mashed potatos. As we dined the sun set and we had a front row seat as lights were switched on to illuminate the buildings of the square one at a time.

Our show

Our show

The next day we indulged in a nice long sleep-in, then headed back out to see a few bits we had missed. Along the way we stopped at the Národní divadlo theater, and booked a couple of tickets for Jakobín, the opera being played that evening.

Absintherie

Absintherie

We then did another quick tour along the other side of the river, and crossed back again via Charles Bridge. We stopped in for a break at an Absintherie, since this is one of the things for which Prague is famous, and had ourselves a little sample.

No magic inspirations for us...

No magic inspirations for us...

It was tasty enough, and certainly quite strong, but we didn’t partake enough to see any “little green fairies”, or be transformed into brooding Bohemian artists. I did enjoy the process and paraphanalia of it however, something akin to making a martini, I suppose.

We did a little more shopping, then returned home to “freshen up” for the show. Christina had picked up some new boots, lamenting the lack of classy footware appropriate to these colder climes. I wore my trusty jeans & sweater combo, which has gotten a lot of play these last couple of weeks.

Národní divadlo hallway

Národní divadlo hallway

The theater was very much a match for the one we had attended in Vienna. Old world class oozing from every gilded chandelier and sculpted buttress. We had quite good seats, considering the low cost of our tickets (630Kč, or around 25€, or around $35), on the second-level balcony with a great view of the stage, though I found my eyes straining just a little to read the english subtitles printed above the stage.

Czech Theater

Czech Theater

It’s only my second opera, so I’m no expert, but the story seemed to be told in two completely unrelated parts – one being a pretty standard love story, and the other being something like the parable of the “prodigal son”. The principal characters from the two stories had almost no interaction with each other, so it seemed like watching two separate operas, set in the same town, which happened to be occurring concurrently. Confusing plot aside, we enjoyed the show, and appreciated that we got to see an actual Czech opera instead of a translation of something Italian or German.

After the show we had a late dinner at Cafe Louvre, which has been running for over one hundred years and has hosted Franz Kafka, Einstein, and now us. We had a surprisingly good (though not creative) meal, and pretty well shut the place down. With this ends our time in Prague, as in the morning we will be headed out for Berlin, and Germany, the last country on our European leg of the tour.

2 Comments
  1. Mom and Dad E. permalink

    And then you’ll take Berlin!
    I’m quite familiar with Prague since I used to have officemates from that part of the world and they showed me interesting places… Plus Prague was backdrop to movies, one was from a 007 movie, (the title escapes me…)
    It seems the mode of transportation is very good and the city is an easy walking tour?

    • Yeah, it’s a great city to explore by foot, but they’ve also got one of the better metro systems we’ve seen in a smaller place. It’s all trams, but in 3 days we only waited on the platform once. There always seemed to be one right around the corner.
      It’s definitely been used in movies a lot – in fact, before we arrived Christina said that the only thing she knew about Prague is that it’s “where the spies go”, heheh…

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