Prague in the (almost) Springtime

Trip Start Sep 29, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Tower One

Flag of Czech Republic  , Bohemia,
Monday, January 10, 2011

We arrived in Prague early in the morning having snatched a few hours sleep on the sleeper from Krakow. We couldn't check into our accommodation until midday so we stored our luggage at the train station and decided to go see the castle and cathedral on the hill which everybody raves about. To be honest it was a bit of a let down. We traipsed around the castle grounds for about an hour waiting for an epiphany that did not come. The cathedral had some nice stained glass windows (one of which was designed by Mucha the art nouveau prodigy, more on him later) and a beautiful gothic exterior, but the palace grounds were for the most part closed off and those rooms we did see were underwhelming. Imagine a large, empty wooden hall with a red carpet: that was the ‘royal’ throne room. There was a stunning view of Praha from the top of the hill though, and a statue that had a shiny willy from people rubbing it. Teehee. Afterwards we still had a few hours to kill before we checked in so we wandered towards the Jewish quarter and had some coffee. It was bizarre handing over a hundred crown note and getting a few coins back for a cappuccino. It honestly felt like playing monopoly, but by the end of our eastern European foray we were getting used to the ridiculous conversion rates. 

We arrived at our apartment and were confronted with one of the nicest surprise of the trip so far - the place was beautiful and completely kitted out with everything we could ever want or need. When the owner showed us around the apartment we could barely contain our stupid tourist grins so as not to embarrass ourselves, “No biggee! We stay in these kinds of places all the time! Pshh”. Best of all it was OURS alone for the next 4 nights, a fact that was all the more comforting having spent the last month or so in dorms with various maladies that go along side limited sleep and cold and flu ridden dorm mates. That afternoon we dragged ourselves out of the apartment and made a half-hearted attempt to sight see. We picked the easiest (and we would later realise most overrated) sight in Prague - the TV tower, which was about 500m away. The TV Tower dominates the skyline of Prague kind of like the sky tower in Auckland. It is not overly attractive but what really sets it apart are the gigantic steel babies crawling all over it. It is really hard to explain so check out the pictures to see what I mean. We payed some stupid amount to go up to the top of the tower, walked around a bit, and then 5 minutes later walked out the front doors again. The cashier looked at us like we had SUCKERS tattooed across our foreheads, but at least we felt we had achieved something and could go hibernate back at the apartment. Later that night I made a Czech feast of goulash and potato pancakes because we were trying to be authentic, and we sampled the first of many Czech beers, which are very, very good. It was quite nice but I grossly over catered and we ended up eating it for the next four days, such that if I never again eat goulash in my life, I will be OK with that.

The next morning we had planned to do a walking tour of the city but it was pissing down so we went to the communist museum instead, which was actually really interesting and a lot less dry than it sounds. It was situated on top of a McDonald's and next to a casino. Har har. Then we decided to go check out the Charles Bridge, but due to  a series of navigational errors we ended up in the Prague ghetto in a squat by the river. It was aaaaages away. And didn’t look remotely like the Charles bridge. You would think the gigantic tyre fort and discarded gas tanks would have clued us in but instead Joel conquered the tyre fort and we soldiered on for another km or so until we were ankle deep in mud and smack bang in the middle of this homeless squat. That was when we started to realise something was amiss and we beat a hasty retreat while hungry beggars looked on like villains from “The Road”. It took us about an hour to get back to the Bridge, which was quite nice by twilight (yes, we left for the bridge at midday.) We flitted about on the other side of the bridge for a bit, which was a bit posh, then went home for the second  of about seven installments of goulash/potato pancake. 

By the third day I had decided that I was desperately in love (and lust) with Prague (hence the obscene number of photos taken). The architecture is stunning and incredibly diverse, the people were really, really friendly (except for a homeless woman who spat and stamped her foot at me when I wouldn't give her my metro change and a guy who tried to lick my hand on the subway), and the beer is cheaper than water and much more delicious. It felt to me like a more accessible version of Paris, and I was seriously entertaining romantic notions of chucking everything in and moving there to become a struggling artiste. We did the walking tour that day and I drifted around blissing out on the buildingscapes and semi-ignoring our eccentric and inappropriately emotional tour guide. At one point the took us to the holocaust memorial section of the Jewish quarter which was very sad. There was a museum there with hundreds of drawings made by children in the concentration camps. Then mid story, our tour guide began to bawl his eyes out. It was deathly awkward. No one knew whether to say anything or try to comfort him so we all twisted our ankles and looked at the ground for about five minutes while he pulled himself together. Yes it was a very sad story but it was a little suspect that approximately 30 seconds later he was telling us a hilarious story about an ill fated chess master complete with funny voices and elaborate hand gestures. To his credit he was pretty hung over. Anyway after the tour we trekked up a hill and climbed a pretty weak replica of the Eiffel tower for yet another panoramic view of Prague and yet another gluhwein to calm Joel after he freaked out at the height at the top. At the base of the tower there was this spoof of a museum chronicling the life of Jara Cimrman, the greatest Czech inventor who never lived. The museum was bizarre but an excellent example of the Czech sense of humour and their capacity to laugh at themselves. The inventor was fictional but if you ask any Czech they will insist he is real just to perpetuate the joke. The Czech republic recently did a vote to find out who the most popular Czech of all time is. England did it and Churchill won. The fictional Czech inventor beat out all other contenders by a landslide.

The next day we allowed ourselves a sleep-in, which we hadn’t enjoyed in a really long time. Late morning we went back to see a few of the sights we skimmed over in the tour, including a memorial to the martyred students from the Prague Spring, and a beautiful church (St James - I think?) that has a human hand relic hanging creepily from the ceiling. Then we spent the afternoon wandering the city, eating Thai food (we were done being authentic by our 5th installation of goulash) and we finished up at the day at an art nouveau exhibition. It was a small museum exhibiting some of the works of Prague’s son Mucha, one of the foremost proponents of that movement in the late 1800s. His illustrations were really beautiful but later on in life he totally sold out and started designing cigarette cartons and advertisements for soap and magical elixirs and stuff which was kind of lame. Afterward we had fun spending all our remaining crowns (like, eleventy billion of them, because we grossly underestimated how cheap Prague is) on food, wine, beer and pharmaceuticals, just because we had to.

The next morning we reluctantly bid adieu to our apartment (the landlord turned the power off in a bid to oust us!) and headed to the bus station to begin our journey to VIENNA. Why did we go there? No one really knows, least of all our tireless protagonists. But I will let Joel fill you in on our exploits in Austria’s capital city.
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