We arrived to the golden city little after 6 in the afternoon. It was a gloomy, windy, rainy day. Not much to write about our first day. We spent some time in the train station, figuring out which metro line to take, exchanging euros to crowns, buying tickets for Berlin, buying tickets for metro, getting directions, getting a map….. You get the idea. I will say this: I love Praha hlavní nádraží, the main train station. It is more beautiful and better equipped than some airports I’ve been to. I want to live there. I want to become a hobo (home challenged?) just so I could stay there for extended periods of time.
Anyway, our hotel is nowhere near the centre. It’s pretty far away from everything remotely interesting and there are next to no sights in its vicinity. The metro lines don’t reach it and the lady at the tourist info centre, while quite kind and attentive, forgot to give us further instructions, so we ended up having to make do on our own. It was Sunday, which meant no people in the streets, no one to ask for directions. Fortunately, I’d installed an offline map app beforehand and, little by little, dragging our ancient suitcase across cobble-stoned streets in pouring rain, we somehow made it to the hotel.
The beauty of our spacious, tastefully decorated room almost makes up for its location. We stayed in that night. It was already 9 in the evening, so there was really no point in going out, plus, we were quite tired.
Refreshed and rested, we headed for the centre the next morning. Well, not really. We crossed Vltava and climbed our way up the picturesque Petřín hill. Lots of fruit trees along the way. Saved us the money we were going to spend on lunch. The scenic climb is beautiful. We actually had those 3-day metro passes that granted us a free ride on the funicular, but I decided to go old school and hiked up. Just in case we weren’t tired enough yet, there was the observation tower waiting for us on the top, in all its glory and all 299 steps up. There are two panorama terraces. The lower one is open-aired, pleasantly breezy and spacious, while the one on the top is extremely crowded and closed, which means not enough space to move around and not nearly enough air to inhale. We stayed up there for all of two minutes before deciding enough was enough and heading down.
This exercise costs a hefty fee (you can always take the lift, but I’d feel really stupid standing in line for the elevator with all those elderly and disabled people). Even though we paid this fee, there was still an added one to pay to use the toilets in the basement of the tower. Utter insolence. So, naturally, I refused to pay, even if it meant soiling my pants.
Next up, we headed over to Loreta church, a quaint gothic piece of architecture. Sadly, taking pictures was not allowed. Ok, it was, but you have to pay extra for a “special permit” and I was too cheap to do it. It isn’t even about being cheap or not having enough money or having to mind your budget. It’s about principles. I refuse to pay for a special permit that costs almost half the price of a regular ticket. I simply won’t do it. I’ll enjoy everything there is to be seen and, even though I won’t have any photos to prove the experience, I’ll stand by that decision. I understand that these are all cities that greatly rely on tourism, but there is a line.
In any case, Loreta is a cute complex that houses some very interesting buildings and objects, such as Santa Casa, Church of the nativity of our lord and the Prague sun, an oddly shaped object that resembles the Sun and consists of more than 6000 diamonds, bequeathed to the church by countess Ludmila of Kolowrat. The treasury boasts other intriguing objects as well, ranging from crowns to cutlery.
Lunchtime had already long passed and we decided to sit down somewhere, anywhere, eat and rest. We stumbled right upon The Golden Pear restaurant (U zlaté hrušky) in scenic Nový Svět street. We both ordered saffron risotto with mussels, tiger prawns and artichoke. And did it cost! I’ll admit it right away – I do not have a talent for finding cheap places to eat. Although the meal was superb and their own black tea/mint ice tea concoction delicious, if you’re travelling to Prague on a budget, do not eat at these places! That was a fair warning and I feel better about having written it.
We rolled down hill straight into Nerudova street. Fun fact: Pablo Neruda’s real surname wasn’t originally Neruda. He took it as a sign of respect and admiration towards Jan Neruda, a famous Czech poet from 19th century. Thus the street was named after him. Other notable residents include Casanova and W.A. Mozart. It is an extremely adorable street. Another fun fact: numbering houses and buildings is a relative novelty in Prague. Up until a few decades ago, houses were distinguished by unique marks above the front door, some of which can still be seen today, such as: a golden key, a golden sheep, two Suns, a golden wheel, three small violins, etc. How creative is that? I wish this system was still in place, not just here in Prague, but everywhere in the world.
For a bit of a nostalgic hippy experience, head on straight to Lennon wall. We did. After Lennon’s death in 1980, this wall began expanding and becoming more and more colourful as the years went by. It helped inspire the non-violent 1989 Velvet Revolution, which led to the fall of communism in former Czechoslovakia. There are so many people here, all different, all sharing the same ideals of peace, freedom, tolerance and love. There are young people, there are children, old hippies with long beards reliving the glory days…. It’s wonderful. For a moment there, I felt like I’d stepped right into my own private little Woodstock. The wall is filled to the brim with John’s pictures, his verses and well-known quotes about peace and change by other influential people, such as Gandhi. Truly a wonderful experience. You may say I’m a dreamer/Give peace a chance/Imagine/etc… Words to live by, especially in this turbulent day and age.
We continued on and passed the Devil’s stream by an ancient-looking mill with a gnome (Devil?) sitting by it, a grumpy expression on his face. There’s a net there which, naturally, means – love padlocks. I’ve seen thousands of love padlocks this past week, not only on bridges, but in every single place one can think of to put a padlock on. They’re getting quite annoying. I wonder how many of these couples are now sitting in courts around the world, fighting for custody over kids and dogs.
On our way to Karlův most, we encountered a quaint little bookshop called Shakespeare y sinovy (Shakespeare and sons), where they sell new and used books in various languages. It was like a paradise for me. Thank heavens I was out of money for the day, or I would’ve bought the entire bookshop. I cannot even find the words to describe how perfect this place is for a book lover. It’s got everything you could possibly want. Don’t forget to explore the lower level. There are some unique gems to be found there.
And, at the long last, we made it to Charles Bridge, a stone bridge lined with baroque statues with two magnificent towers on either side. I guess this place is crowded even at four in the morning, but then again, crowds are unavoidable when you set your heart on visiting one of the most famous European sights. There are wonderful views of both sides of Vltava to be seen from here. There are also various artists to be seen, selling and showcasing their crafts, from ceramics, pottery, photos, drawings, to a string band playing famous songs in new, creative ways. Try not to miss the statue of St John of Nepomuk (Svatý Jan Nepomucký), a martyr who was tortured and thrown into the river for siding with the Queen and refusing to reveal her secrets. Aside from being the royal confidant, he was also a follower of the Prague bishop who’d had a huge argument with the King. Jan stood by his bishop and refused to betray him. I mean, torture and death were inevitable for this guy. Shortly after his death, his body was found in Vltava with five stars floating around him. He was canonised and is today considered the patron saint of the Czechs. They say that touching the plaque below his statue is supposed to bring good luck and ensure a return to Prague. Naturally, we touched it. Now, we’ll see about that good luck and another trip to Prague thing.
We made it back to the hotel, exhausted but pleased with ourselves and fell asleep as soon as our heads touched the pillows.
First up on our itinerary was breakfast. All taken care of, we headed out to see Žižkov television tower. Like any other TV tower in any other city, it’s nothing impressive to look at, save for a unique set of details, namely – a hoard of giant babies crawling up and down the tower. An interesting detail. But, really, it’s nothing extremely captivating and, if you’re just passing through Prague or staying here for a limited amount of time, I’d suggest skipping this and focusing on other sights. However, the tower was on our way to town, so we decided to take a five-minute detour and check it out.
A while later, we arrived to Václavské náměstí (Wenceslas square). It’s more of a boulevard, though there is a separate little square there with a statue of this particular saint mounted on a horse. There’s also the National museum right in front of it, as well as the State Opera house. The entire stretch of the boulevard is concentrated around an elongated pedestrian zone, filled with carefully groomed flowers, benches with famous quotes written on them and lined with restaurants, hotels, massage parlors, metro entrances, boutiques and Goddess knows what else. It is a vivid, loud, vibrant place that should not be missed.
Near St Václav’s statue there is a little plaque commemorating two young namesakes. I only know the story of one of them – Jan Palach. He was a student who’d set himself on fire in the late 60’s in protest of the Soviet invasion. People nowadays revere him as a hero. I wouldn’t go that far. I mean, he was obviously devoted and brave, but there’s got to be something sinister and insane about a person capable of setting their own body on fire.
There are intricate webs of labyrinthine passages all over Prague, but one of the biggest and most interesting ones has got to be Lucerna (Lantern) passage. There’s a rock club there, a cinema, a theatre, various restaurants, boutiques and new age shops, as well as an upside-down statue of king Wenceslas sitting on a dead horse hanging from the ceiling. All in all, an interesting place to see.
They say that there is only one Cubist lamppost in this world and that it is located in Prague. We visited it and it’s nothing overly impressive, slightly angular and chunky. May be just one person’s opinion, but I preferred seeing Guernica in Madrid. But, hey, the choice is yours.
We crossed the river and walked over to Hradčany square, a place that has kept much of its medieval appeal, with traditional houses of various colours lining it on all sides. The only thing ruining the experience were hoards of segway tourists, buzzing around on their wheels. When did this become a thing? I’ll go ahead and just say it – I hate segways. I think they’re a fine invention when it comes to elderly people or disabled people or people with severe medical conditions. But, when I see perfectly healthy kids riding around on these things, paying more attention to the machine than to the beautiful city around them, I get a sudden urge to spank them, jam a fist into their parents’ faces and break the damn machine. What was it that I saying about peace and tolerance earlier by the Lennon Wall? Can’t seem to remember. Oh, well, it was probably nothing too important.
Anyway, we headed up to Prague castle, easily one of the most recognisable European sights. The grounds are huge and, even as I’m writing this, I’m utterly convinced we didn’t get to see even a full third of its glory. And, we couldn’t anyway. The prices are ridiculous. Once again, I backed out of buying a special photograph-taking permit, summing down my choice to pure principles. It was near closing time, so we picked up the pace and first went to see St Vitus cathedral.
It is a magnificent gothic giant, the biggest church in all of Prague. Inside it, you will find the Royal Oratory, an impressive balcony used for breaking bad news to poor town folk. There’s also the silver tomb of St John of Nepomuk, which contains two tons of silver. The cathedral is beautifully illuminated by shy rays of Sun bursting through the painted-glass windows, one of which was done by the world-famous Alfons Mucha. I began thinking about the amount of churches and cathedrals and, in general, religious objects I’ve visited these last several days and my atheistic ass began fearing I’d get converted. Turns out my worries were completely misplaced. The stories and legends tied to these cathedrals and their patron saints are intriguing, to say the least and the architecture stunning, but that simply isn’t enough to turn a hardcore heretic such as myself.
Next up, we headed to the Old Royal Palace, which is still being used even nowadays, most notably when electing and declaring Czech presidents. There is a nice balcony on one of the sides of the castle facing the city and providing a nice vista over the royal gardens. The crown jewels were temporarily moved to Rosenberg palace which we had no access to with our Circuit B tickets, so we had to settle with ceramic busts and other objects from court life. All in all, I was not impressed, but if you’re the type for exploring museums and historic palaces, then go ahead. Crown jewels or not, this place will probably impress you.
Due to closing hours, our tour of Prague castle was somewhat rushed and, as I’ve already mentioned, I’m completely aware that we’ve skipped quite a lot of places. That being said, I would like to point out that the young woman who’d sold us the tickets was of no help at all. When I asked her where the castle was, she rudely answered that we were already in it. “You don’t say?”, I thought and barely managed to restrain myself from giving her a Nicolas Cage meme look.
“I know that. I meant – where do I start? Where’s the entrance? This place is huge”, I specified. I’d also like to point out that there was no one behind me, no line at all, so my questions weren’t keeping anybody who was in a rush.
Instead of an answer (her English is great, by the way, so it was just laziness), she just tapped on the miniature map of the castle drawn on our tickets.
Where’s the cathedral? Where are the toilets? Every question was answered in the same way – fingers tapping on the ticket. I explained to her that my eyesight isn’t the best and that I can’t read such a tiny map well.
“Not my problem”, she answered and turned away to her colleague.
I swallowed the insult that was on the tip of my tongue, politely said ‘thank you’ and walked out. I was angry, but I wasn’t about to let a single arrogant person ruin my mood. So, in our defence, we’ve wasted a lot of time just finding certain points of interest. Well, anyway, what’s done is done. At least they’ve recognised how vast the complex is and made the tickets valid for two days. Maybe we’ll go back tomorrow. If not, then another time. And that time around, I’ll set aside an entire day (or two) for exploring Prague castle and its grounds.
We did however get to see the wonderful Golden lane, an adorable street where castle defenders, soldiers, maids, smiths and others lived. It got its name for the goldsmiths that heavily populated the area. We’ve gone to the gallery of medieval armors, helmets, spears and torture instruments. Some of the most notable residents include Franz Kafka and a sibyl, known as Madame of Thebes who was captured and killed by Nazis for prophesying the fall of the Third Reich. If it’s any consolation to her spirit – she was right.
Before crossing over to the other side (of the river), we made a quick stop at the courtyard in front of the Franz Kafka Museum. No, we did not enter. I’d considered it, but have read article after article saying the entire thing was a rip-off and that there are other, far more interesting places to visit if you want to find out more about this man whom I, personally, consider a literary genius.
No, the real reason we’d decided to make a brief stop there was to see Proudy, a comic fountain of two men urinating in a pool which resembles the shape of Czech Republic. Their bums are moving along left and right and are supposedly controlled by microchips, so that these man are not just randomly pissing away, but are actually writing out famous quotes of Czech literature with their urines. Not a bad idea.
We made our way back across Karlův most again and then caught a tram going beside the river all the way to the famous dancing building. Curvy, bold and modern, it certainly stands out from the other, more traditional buildings surrounding it. It was once, quite appropriately, named Fred&Ginger.
Our feet were killing us by that time, so we drowned our sorrows in some ice cream and went back to the hotel. And, surprise, surprise. We turned on the TV for the first time in weeks (neither of us are big TV fans) and, despite a limited amount of channels, managed to catch a live broadcast of the aeroshow we’d seen in Budapest. The world is small, indeed.
Our final day in Prague was one of relaxation and casual strolls around the city. And, in the great fashion of leaving the best for last, we headed over to Old town square. There are so many people there. There are so many people there. There are so many people there. Got it? Good. Now, I like to think the best of people (even complete strangers) and always try to find some good in them. But, the square was so overcrowded that I simply couldn’t trust my trusting instincts (?!) and kept a firm hold of my bag at all times. And, I suggest you do the same.
Due to a late breakfast, it was little before 2 in the afternoon when we finally arrived to the Old town square. We quickly found a good spot in the crowd and assumed our photograph-taking positions. Some minutes later, the bell rang, and every person in front of the Astronomical clock tower raised their cameras, GoPros, phones, tablets and other gadgets, ready to make a memory. The twelve apostles passed by pretty quickly. We later rewatched the video I’d taken and I can be heard clearly saying: “That’s it?”
Ok, so perhaps it was a tad short for my taste. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this mechanical performance very much. There’s the crowned golden rooster on the top (they say that his first morning cry chases away all demons and ghosts from Prague), the skeleton ringing the bell, the Turk shaking his hand and Vanity staring at itself in the mirror. When it was first installed, the Astronomical clock tower was considered a world wonder and the ruling class liked it so much, that they gauged out the eyes of its maker, so that he may never again make something like that in another city. Got to love those middle-ages politics, right?
Surrounding the vibrant square are many instantly recognisable sights, including the Church of our Lady before Týn, Church of St Nicholas, Old town hall tower, statue of Jan Hus, etc.
There are some wonderful buildings all around, their styles and architecture ranging from baroque and romanesque to gothic. Truly an architect’s dream, but even for us regular folk, it’s an unrepeatable experience. We stayed there for about an hour, just wandering around, taking pictures of the square, taking pictures of each other, running through a sea of bubbles with other three-year-olds and drinking litres and litres of water. The Sun was blinding, so we finally decided it was time to move.
There are about two or three other sights on my list that we didn’t get to see, but we decided that they were too far away and that we shouldn’t waste time in metros or skulk around in scorching heat trying to find them, especially not on our last day, which we’d designated to be an easy-going one. No pressure, just casual strolls.
This part of Prague may just be my favourite one. There’s almost no need to fly around, chasing sights. The cobble-stoned streets are sights enough. You have your quaint little cafes, restaurants specialising in traditional cuisine, mimes, street performers, the sound of various different genres of music coming from unseen, ethereal places… It’s all there. Magic is everywhere, if you know where to look.
With huge smiles on our faces, we made a turn over at Powder Tower and proceeded to Na příkopě street, an almost pedestrian zone filled with fashion boutiques and high-end stores. In other words, nothing much to see or do for a couple of wanderers such as ourselves who have next to no interest in fashion and clothes. Still, we found the overall atmosphere of the street very enjoyable and soaked it all in. Quite by chance, we came upon a ramen restaurant and quickly decided that we were indeed up for having some. I think I’m starting to notice a pattern here. Well, anyway, we sat down in one of the tables on the street and ordered shio and shoyu ramen. Mere words cannot describe our joy and enthusiasm when we set eyes upon our bowls. Forget that ramen wannabe we ate back in Budapest, this was the real thing! Or, at least, the closest you can get to a real thing outside of Japan. The richness, the noodles, the broth, wakame and nori seaweed, pork, spring onion and even naruto, which I’d now tried for the first time. The portions are huge and I had to stop halfway into my bowl. I just couldn’t open my mouth any more. But, seriously, if you’re in Prague and want to take a break from local cuisine, I recommend Kitchen Ramen Bar in Na příkopě Street with all my heart. We won’t talk about the price, but I will tell you that they have some of the best and kindest staff I’ve ever encountered. They went above and beyond their duties and gave us detailed descriptions and explanations for every question we had asked them. And, these questions ranged from the nationality and gender of the chef to metro tickets. Truly a wonderful place in a vivid street and a perfect ending stop for our Czech journey.
I’m getting a bit tired and am running out of words to describe just how much I LOVED Prague, so I’m going to go ahead and finish my post here.
Hope you’re having a wonderful time, my dear strangers, wherever you are. Beauty and magic can be found even in your own backyard. Travel, read, be kind to each other and, most importantly, be happy. See you when I see you.
Have a wonderful day, my dear strangers! 🙂