Trip Start Jun 10, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Czech Republic  , Bohemia,
Friday, November 14, 2008

We had both wanted to visit Prague for a loooong time but for one reason or another it didn't happen in previous trips. However, when we finally did make it, it did not disappoint. We arrived in the late afternoon and found our fabulous hostel (thanks for the recommendation Elizabeth - they even gave us a deal!). It is located out of the city centre in a working class neighbourhood which we were quite excited about. It is one thing to see a city from the pricy and touristy core, but quite another to see it surrounded by locals and away from the touristy gimmicks. We headed out to do the usual walk-about and to a local bar to sample some of the best and cheapest beer in the world. For well under one euro we managed to have a round of some of the tastiest pilsner on the planet. Considering it wasn't too long ago that we had a round of drinks in Santorini for about 18 euros, we felt we had to have another couple wouldn't you say... From there we went to a restaurant recommended by our hosts that served incredible food for shockingly cheap prices. Full of fabulous food and drink we headed back to rest up to tackle Prague the next day.
We first headed for the Prague Market as it is only a couple of blocks away. In true urban European style, this market has it all, produce, clothing, jewelry, you name it. After getting annoyed by the pushy vendors, we escaped on the tram into the old town. We started in Wenceslas Square. Today it is made up of souvenir shops, trashy casinos, and hotels but this square has also been the heart and soul of political expression and activism in the past. This is where many of the "Velvet Revolution" protests occurred that eventually lead to the independence of Czechoslovakia from Soviet control in 1989. It was called the "Velvet" revolution because it was a much more peaceful transition than that of many of the other formerly Communist countries. We continued into the old town winding through the maze of alleys and streets full of beautiful old buildings. The Czech Republic has had a long history of occupation by other European powers over the centuries, but as a result of its past willingness to submit, much of the architectural beauty of the town has been very well maintained (although there was a period under Soviet control that saw preservation initiatives wane for a bit). Today it makes for a gorgeous stroll that seems to go on forever. The old town must be one of the biggest we have seen as we walked around all day and managed to stay what seemed like in the same neighbourhood. One of the most impressive squares we came across (in all of Europe) was the Old Town Square. The buildings again are gorgeous and they have an astronomical clock where tourists gather at the top of the hour to watch as skeletal Death empties his hourglass and a parade of apostles goes by the window... odd, but interesting. This is also the square were we saw how funnel-cakes are made. They are not deep-fried (rather roasted) and in the shape of actual funnels (unlike the North American version)... it was interesting to us anyway. We then walked across the famed Charles Bridge, one of Prague's most treasured landmarks, and at over 500 metres long it gives the tourist lots of opportunity to check out all of the buskers and vendors stalls along the way. We ended up at Petrin Hill and Gardens. It is quite a large park that makes a wonderful retreat from the chaos in town below. It even has an Eiffel Tower-esque structure that provides some spectacular views of Prague from the top. After soaking in the views along the walk back down we headed for Josefov, the historic Jewish neighbourhood and the oldest in Central Europe. Most of the buildings here were demolished in the late 19th century (except the synagogues) and during the Nazi era the majority of the Jews were deported. However, thanks to Hitler's intention to create a "museum of an extinct race", Josefov's old cemetery and Synagogues remain very well preserved. It is now by far the most stunningly beautiful area of town. The buildings are immaculate, the streets are clean, and you can tell that this is now the ritzy spot in town. It even has a Parizka (or Paris Street) running through the centre that closely resembles the Champs-Elysses in Paris (Louis Vuitton, Armani, the works are all here). As we knew we were out of our league for shopping let alone eating, we retreated to our cozy neighbourhood for another fabulous and more than reasonable meal to end the day.
Our last day here we couldn't avoid heading to Prague Castle. It has been the seat of the Bohemian government since it was built over 1000 years ago. Today it is also home to a plethora of other attractions that give good indication as to why the courtyards are bustling with so many tourists. We visited their fine art collection that wasn't huge but it was well put together with its works by the likes of Rembrant, Rubens, and Goya. We then checked out the Old Royal Palace that was pretty but not inspiring although they had one neat room where the coats of arms of the past rulers were painted on the ceiling and walls like a family tree type thing. Next to that was the "Story of Prague Castle" museum that showed a chronological development of the castle's development with various artifacts discovered over time. The St. Vitus's Cathedral was amazing. It took some 600 years to build the place and is absolutely massive. It is full of gothic carvings silver sculptures, and enough gorgeous stained glass to kill your camera battery. After lunching at "Bohemia Bagel" (thanks again for the tip Elizabeth, they do a mean bagelwich there), we headed back across the bridge to the old town. Prague has a ton of museums and galleries to check out. We decided to head to one that was a little more unique. We managed to find the Museum of Communism ironically behind a McDonalds and next to a seedy casino... fitting. It was actually quite amazing. It has an incredibly comprehensive chronological history of Communism in Czechoslovakia. It was extremely engaging full of propaganda posters, Stalin busts, and a powerful documentary in its cinema. We didn't want our visit to end, but alas, it was time to go. We thoroughly loved Prague, not only is it buzzing with action, but there is an absolute ton of substance to the city. We are still here and can't wait to come back. Tomorrow we head south to Cesky Krumlov for a few days before Berlin... we also can't believe we will be home in less than 2 weeks!!!
Megan and Kevin
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