We rode the subway to our hostel's stop and followed the directions provided, and got there without any trouble! We are definitely getting better at navigating the trains/subways/trams, and the directions provided by the hostels seem to be improving as we move farther west.
We booked the hostel in a big rush because we were worried about availability, but it turned out to be totally amazing.
Our room was a palace with 4 beds, an adjacent dining room/kitchen, a semi-private bathroom (shared with 1 other room), and a private elevator! Needless to say, we are pretty excited to get to stay here for 3 days. AND they have hot water, but it was REALLY hot water that was hard to balance with the cold, so the showers ended up being a bit scalding. But the hostel was perfectly located (in New Town) by most of the main tourist attractions, and we had a nice view from our window. Very lucky to have scored this place.
After settling in a bit, we headed down to the river to check out the views of Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge.
Prague Castle is the largest castle in the world, and it is so impressive. Even though we had marginal weather (off and on rain) the entire time we were in Prague, we still managed to take unbelievable pictures of the castle.
I think almost any picture of this thing would probably be unbelievable actually... The best views of the castle were on the walk from our hostel to the bridge, which was really convenient. The Charles Bridge was really cool too, but it was SO crowded. The bridge itself is lined with sculptures of varying religious symbols, but you can hardly seem them because of the lines of stalls selling souvenirs and people drawing caricatures along the entire expanse of the bridge.
On top of all the vendors, there were a million people posing for pictures and mulling around-- definitely a pickpocketing dream. We clung to our bags and went across in a hurry to duck into a bagel shop and escape the rain.
The bagels ended up being really good, and they gave us unlimited refills on our coffee so we hung out there for a while to hide from the rain. Thankfully, it only rained in short spurts during our visit to Prague, so we were dry for most of the time.
When the rain stopped, we went up to the castle complex to poke around and check things out. The grounds were really impressive-- 4 different squares and lovely gardens-- but the castle itself seemed really small from up close!
Definitely a trick of the eyes based on the perspective you look at it from, because the thing is definitely not small. It's absolutely imposing if you loo at it from the water. We spent a good few hours wandering around and checking out the views.
Prague is MUCH bigger than the cities we have visited recently, and it is really excellent from above. Plus, we had a few lucky hours of perfect sun, so the pictures turned out really well!
We went down to Charles Square (near the hostel) to hit the supermarket for breakfast food, since we had a kitchen in our room! We got an assortment of goodies-- bread, cheese, Nutella, bananas, chocolaty cereal, milk, orange juice, coffee, and a few big bottles of water. I keep posting pictures of bottles of water and forgetting to talk about them; water seems to be a difficult problem for us on this trip. In the first number of countries, the water was really expensive and hard to find.
Then, as we moved further west, the water became really difficult to buy because the "type of water" was hard to figure out. We bought carbonated orange-flavored water, then a number of bottles of plain carbonated water before figuring out the German/Czech words for "gas" and "no gas." What a pain in the ass. Who ever knew water would be such a luxury? But apparently we can drink the tap water through Germany/Austria, maybe not in Hungary/Croatia, but we should be safe from Italy through the rest of the trip!! Hooray!
We were really tired from all the walking and the excitement of the past few days, so we ate a quick dinner in a little Chinese restaurant right next to the hotel. We had wonderful dumplings, which seems to be a pretty solid staple of the Eastern countries. Pretty much the pizza of the East. I love dumplings AND pizza, so I'm definitely not complaining.
On Tuesday (4-26), we slept in and spent the morning trying to figure out our next moves from Prague. We had planned a pretty solid route up until Prague, but never really figured out where we wanted to go in Germany.
Working with the fact that we have to be in Munich by the 6th to meet Jenna, we decided to head north to Dresden/Berlin then south to Heidelberg/Nuremberg, finishing it all in Munich from 5/4 to 5/9. So we officially have reservations at accommodations for the rest of the trip with Dad and for mine and Jenna's first night alone. Hizzah! It's a good thing we stalled a bit before heading to Germany, because accommodation is expensive as all hell.
After the reservation fiasco, we grabbed a quick/cheap "business lunch" at a local Czech restaurant. I ordered Goulash, which is tender meat in a thick sauce with a ton of spongy bread to soak it all up! Really delicious! I
took a picture of it, of course. Initially, I felt pretty stupid taking pictures of my food everywhere, but we were recently in a restaurant where EVERYONE was a tourist taking pictures of their food. It made me feel much better.
We walked up a giant hill to get to a fortress called Vysehrad, which was a massive structure surrounded by an impenetrable wall. The gardens inside the fortress were really beautiful, and we spend a long time walking around the wall and checking out the views of the city from all the different sides.
The best view was from the South side, but the sun is in the south side of the sky here.... so it was hard to capture with a photograph. There was a big church in the center of the fortress, and it was surrounded by a really beautiful cemetery that housed the remains of a few famous composers-- Smetana and Dvorak.
The cathedral actually played a piece by Smetana with bells to mark the hour. Neat! I wonder how hard it was to get a place in this cemetery-- each tombstone appeared to have the names of multiple generations of family members. Looked awfully exclusive and expensive...
We walked FOREVER to get to New Town and tried to check out a big group of neat looking red building that we saw while looking out from Vysehrad. It took us a really long time to find them, but they turned out to be a huge hospital complex!
Many of the hospitals in the US are really beautiful too, but in a very different way (lots of fancy glass and sky walks). Then we headed a bit further into New Town to reach Wenceslas Square, which was a big street with lots of designer shopping. We popped into a weird little mall and found a really bizarre statue of an upside-down horse with a right-side-up rider on it. Strange.
It was starting to get dark so we walked back to the hostel to pick up our other coats and grab some Kebabs for a quick bite. Then we walked across the bridge to get to a little tram that takes you up a big hill to an observation tower that looked like a tiny version of the Eiffel Tower.
The tram was really small and cute, and we were very grateful to not have to walk all the way up the hill. It was raining slightly when we got to the top, but thankfully the 300 steps in the observation tower were covered.
That would have a been a treacherous climb if those steps were wet... We finally reached the top and it was pouring rain, but we still had a really good view of the night lights of the city. Probably not the safest place to be during a storm though. After a little while, the rain stopped and we headed down the hill to walk across Charles Bridge.
Thankfully, all of the street vendors were gone at night so we actually got to see the thing this time. The castle and surrounding buildings were really beautifully lit, so we spent quite a bit of time on the bridge with the tripod, trying to get clear pictures. My camera takes really beautiful pictures of landscapes at night, but it requires some work. If you move even a tiny bit, the picture blurs. AND the picture looks best if the shutter time is set to be really long, so you have to stay perfectly still for a few seconds to get a good shot.
All of this would probably be simple if I was carting around a giant tripod like some of these other tourists, but that would be far too ridiculous and large. My little tripod is doing a pretty good job, but it requires a good portion of trial and error. Definitely worth it though!
On Wednesday morning (4-27), we got an early start and headed to Josefov, the Jewish Quarter of Prague. We wanted to see a few synagogues and a popular cemetery, but apparently all of Prague's tourists decided to visit Josefov on Wednesday morning. There was a line for the cemetery that literally wrapped around the whole building.
There had to be at least 200 people in line! Since we had seen a pretty neat cemetery the day before and had no interest in waiting for hours in line, we decided to skip the cemetery and head to an old convent instead (Convent of St. Agnes).
The convent was really neat-- it was super old and had been recked a whole bunch of times, but it was clearly restored extremely well. As an added plus, there were substantially less tourists here...
We headed up to Old Town square to check out the famous Astronomical clock with a skeleton that rings the bell every hour. [
] Thankfully, we had pretty low expectations for the skeleton, but the experience was hilarious. There were hundreds of tourists gathered around this huge clock waiting for this silly little skeleton to ring the bell. Absurd. There was a big Easter market in the square-- apparently these Easter markets last until mid May-- so we got some delicious potatoes.
Then, we walked to the main train station to get an idea of the cost of trains to our next destinations in Germany. The trains are appallingly expensive, so now we are looking at a combination of trains and buses. Thank goodness we will all have the Eurail pass for May and June...
Let me preface this next session for the people/mother's of the people who are going to meet me in Europe: we planned this rendezvous less than a day before it actually happened. The meetings in May and June will be much better planned (both parties with have copies of reservations, phones, specific walking directions, etc.). So please don't get stressed out.
At around 2:00, Dad and I headed to the main bus station to try and meet up with my friend Colleen (from school). We got a little bit lost on the way to the station, but got their right around 2:30, which was when Colleen's bus was supposed to get in from Germany. Unfortunately, we didn't actually know what bus company/city in Germany Colleen was headed from, so it was hard to figure out the Arrivals schedule at the station.
After a bit of investigation, we discovered that there was only one bus arriving at 2:30 and it was coming in from Slovakia (the opposite direction). We waited around for about 45 minutes to see if Colleen would magically show up, but no luck. Also unfortunately, Colleen didn't have a phone or computer on her, but she did have the directions to the hostel. SO we went back to the hostel to check for any emails/wait/figure out a plan B.
At about 3:45, I got a call from an unknown number and surprise (!), it was Colleen calling from an Internet cafe near the hostel. I ran down the stairs to wait for her outside the front doors, and about 2 minutes later she arrived! Apparently, her bus got in an accident on the German Autobahn, so it was about 40 minutes late arriving to the station.
In addition, it didn't arrive at the main bus station, it arrived at the main TRAIN station (not where we were waiting). So Colleen took the metro to the bus station to see if we were still there and must have just missed us, then took the metro to the stop by our hostel. Then she got to the hostel and rang the buzzer a bunch of time, but apparently the buzzer gets turned off when the receptionist leaves because I was listening carefully for it and it never rang. Then she found an Internet cafe, called me, and I came down and let her in!
What an adventure! Definitely could have worked out easier, but at least we found each other. One rendezvous down, at least four to go.
Once Colleen had gotten rid of her bags and recovered at bit, we headed back to Old Town to eat more delicious food and check out the scene in the evening.
There was a ridiculous concert going on that consisted of a bunch of different groups of children singing and dancing around. The highlight of this experience was definitely the lady that was standing right in front of us-- I actually went so far as to figure out the video setting on my camera in a big hurry to try and capture her behavior on film. Initially, she was just dancing in an extremely flamboyant and hilarious way along with the children. As soon as I figured out the video, she stopped dancing and we were disappointed that we missed it. THEN, she pulls a mouse out of her bag and puts it on her shoulder and starts dancing around again.
As if this wasn't weird enough, the mouse then scampers towards her face and she lets the thing crawl halfway into her mouth!! Be sure to check out the fun in the video posted on the bottom of the blog. I'm not convinced that this blog website has the capacity to upload the videos, because the camera records them in really high quality, so the files are giant. I'll give it a try, but they might not be that great.
We bought tickets to the Prague State Opera for less than $3 each. Granted, we had to stand the whole time, but $3 is SO cheap! Plus, because we were standing in the back, I could freely take pictures and videos throughout the performance
. I'll post one at the bottom of the blog, and hopefully it will work. The opera was Mozart's Cosi van Tutti, and it was really silly.
The plot went as follows: two couples love each other, some guy bets the men that their girlfriends are unfaithful, the men pretend to go to war, the men visit the women dressed like Albanian princes to try and woo them out of fidelity (at this point, the men switch ladies), the women fight it for a while then give in,
the guy who made the bet orchestrates a fake marriage, the women marry their opposite Albanian princes, then men disappear and come back as their original selves, the scheme is discovered, and they all marry each other!
Thankfully, the music was really wonderful. Mozart didn't have much talent for story writing, but the orchestra played beautifully and the singers were really talented. Definitely made up for the terrible plot!
After the opera, we walked back to Charles Bridge so Colleen could check out the views, then headed back to the hotel to use the Internet and relax. Colleen flies out of Prague in about a week, and is meeting a friend in a few days, so she needed to make reservations in a hostel for the next night.
Luckily, she found one for Thursday night that was right next to our hostel! Very convenient. On Thursday morning, we packed up all of our stuff that we had strewn all out in the last 3 days and finished the food we bought. Then we checked out around 11 AM and parted ways with Colleen to head to the train station. What a fun (short) rendezvous in Prague!
At the train station, Dad bought a ticket to Dresden and I activated my train pass! So now we officially have to go to the UK on 6/28, because that is when my pass expires. Shouldn't be too hard. We'll see how long it takes to pay off that pass... not too long at all of we spend any more time on the German trains.
So now we are on the train to Dresden in Germany! The train is really nice-- big seats with tables and plenty of leg room. Plus, the views are really excellent. The route from Prague to Dresden goes through some big national parks and follows the Elbe river the whole way. Beautiful! I'll post again from Dresden in a few days. Zijte blaze!
We arrived in Prague with no problems on Monday (4-25). We were a little bit concerned about train seat availability since it was the day after Easter, but it seems as though everyone was leaving Prague rather than coming into it.