Week 7 - What happens in Prague, stays in Prague

Trip Start Jun 16, 2006
Trip End Aug 15, 2006

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Friday, August 11, 2006

Our first day in Prague started off hot and crowded. We dumped our bags at the hotel and headed for a loop around old town and the Charles Bridge. To be honest - avoid the Charles Bridge between noon and 7pm - it's just miserably crowded. Outside those hours, you can somewhat stroll along, see the statues and admire the view. Inside those hours, you are elbowing your way through the throng.

We were staying at Hotel Julian, which has good reviews from Rick Steves and TripAdvisor. Nice medium priced hotel - just outside the tourist area, but near tram connections to go any direction.

Mom tried to learn some Czech phrases, but it's a tough language to decipher. We had a great experience at (nearly) all the restaurants. Our first dinner was at a place called Olympia. We had two Czech specialties - goulash (the Czech version) and sirloin with cream sauce and cranberries (I can't remember the Czech name). Both were delicious. I also had a dark beer that was slightly sweet and very, very good.

The next day went better for the crowds. We wandered up the west (castle) side of the river, by the Kampa Museum. There was a photographic exhibition on display called the Earth From Above. I'd seen this exhibit in Stockholm a few years ago - very, very cool. We hit the Charles bridge while it was still semi-navigable, and wandered around old town. One of Mom's goals was to hit a Harley store for t-shirts and the like.... There was a retail outlet near old town, but honestly, they had crappy stuff and a very unpleasant woman working there.

In the end, we called a taxi and headed to the "real" Harley store in Prague. Our taxi driver had a very difficult time finding it - in fact, we eventually got to a point that I was pretty sure I understood where we were, and I had him just let us out. We were only 2 blocks away - but the roads were pretty convoluted...and it was in a residential neighborhood which was a bit odd. But the store was great and the staff was very friendly. Mom nearly bought the place out.

We asked the sales clerk for a lunch recommendation and she gave us directions to a nearby cafe. We wandered down the hill, and found the place. Again, I can't even begin to spell the name. The menu was completely incomprehensible and the waitress spoke extremely limited English. We made a couple guesses and ordered the wine of the day. Lunch was good - but the wine was even better. It was a semi-sweet Lambrusco - which is a sparkling red wine. I didn't know such a thing existed! I don't like white or rose, so I was very glad to find a red wine that you can serve cold, and that is light enough for a summer lunch. Worth a try if you are looking for something new on a hot evening!

We walked the rest of the way back to our part of town, and found a shopping mall. The prices were very good with the exchange rate. Though the sizes ran very small, hrmph.

For dinner, we decided to try Kampa Park - a highly recommended restaurant in the area. As it turned out, Mom had seen the place from the bridge and thought it looked interesting. She was right - it's earned its reviews. I had a delicious duck breast; I can't remember what Mom had to be honest, but she enjoyed it.

The next day, we woke to the Heathrow terrorist plot news. Ugh. Mom had been considering shipping some stuff home just to lighten her load, and that sealed it for her. DHL came and picked up her smaller bag.

We wandered around the castle, and back over to the Jewish Quarter and old town. We finally saw the Astronomical Clock hit the hour (sitting at a slight distance having capuccino). And for dinner, we headed to New Town to have goulash and sirloin with cream sauce again (first night's version was better). On the tram back, there were some Norwegians trying to find the Prague nightlife. I loaned them my map, and we headed back to the hotel for our last night's sleep in Prague.

The transfer to the train station the next morning was a bit stressful. I knew there were two train stations, and yet we still managed to get dropped at the wrong one. Luckily, we had time (and Czech bills) to spare, so we caught an overpriced cab to the right one. We were a bit frazzled, but made the train in plenty of time in the end. I was surprised to see that the first class car seemed to have been overbooked (or some people were in the wrong car?) Luckily, we had seat reservations, so no problem for us. And on the train, we heard a couple other groups talk about going to the wrong train station as well. So word to the wise - if you are taking a train from Prague - double check which station your train leaves from, and be very clear to your taxi driver. And don't pay more than 300 Czech crowns for a taxi to the station from the general downtown area.

Once we were on our way, we opened up a bottle of Lambrusco we'd bought for the journey and got out our picnic lunch of bread and spreads. We shared a bit of wine with an Australian girl who was traveling to Vienna as well - she's lucky enough to have a paid leave after 10 years working as a teacher... and she'll be travelling around Europe for six months or so. Lucky bastard(-ette).

The border crossing was somewhat unusual - first the Czech border guards came on the train and stamped everyone's passport for leaving the country. Then, a few miles down, the Austrian guards stamped everyone into their country. Huh. Both the Czech Republic and Austria are in the European Union - so this procedure seemed like overkill. Ah well, maybe a leftover of the old Eastern Block days where leaving the country took a bit of work.

I was looking forward to Vienna, but I really enjoyed Prague. It's a bit of an eccentric town - lots of history, not quite westernized, just a little nutty. But the people were friendly, and very hospitable. If I went back, I'd try to add a few more days so I could visit the wine country or one of the historic villages such as Olomouc.

Ah well, next time.
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