We’ve been in Prague for the past five days! Prague is possibly the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen – but I’m pretty sure I didn’t encounter any Czechs while I was there. It’s a very expensive city to live in and it seems populated by mostly ex-pats, diplomats and politicians. And the tourists – even at the end of October, the city is full of tourists and sometimes you can barely move there are so many around – I can’t even imagine it in the summer!
When we first arrived in the city, with no map and only basic directions to our hostel of course we got lost. We managed (barely) to set off in the right direction and find our way into the Old Town but then we took one wrong street after another trying to figure out what ‘walk past the New Yorker” meant. Eventually we found a street map (and our hostel) and checked into our twelve person dorm. Yes, it was a huge number of people. We dropped our stuff at the hostel and headed out to explore Old Town Square, one of the most beautiful areas of Prague before finding a restaurant (that was a little pricy but delicious). We ordered and received a huge amount of food, so the price was worth it because we got lunch the next day as well! We ended up with roast duck, roast pork, sausage, sauerkraut, and three types of dumplings!
The next day we got up fairly early and crept around like mice trying to avoid waking our dorm mates who were out very late partying the night before! We proceeded over the Charles Bridge (the prettiest one in Prague) to the castle district. Charles Bridge is bounded by two enormous gates and then decorated with a couple dozen statues of saints and other icons. It’s full of tourists with a fair sprinkling of musicians and artists trying to earn some money through performance, portraits or the various wares they sold. Past Charles Bridge we didn’t really know where we were going so we headed up – castles are usually on hills – and low and behold we came across a few tour groups, a mass of people waiting in lines and the castle. Skipping the lines to enter the art gallery and palace complex, we made our way to St Vitus Cathedral and waited in the short line to enter the magnificent nave. It’s a stunning church and its prized possessions are the grave of St Wenceslas and apparently his preserved arm. A little creepy, but many churches have such relics.
After the cathedral we wandered the castle grounds and found the parliament building complete with a hundred Mercedes Benz all with a different flag (we wondered what important meeting was going on that day!) Later we found another church, the castle towers and a museum of old toys before wandering out onto the castle terraces for spectacular views of the city. We took a different exit out of the castle and got a little lost, but that was lucky for us as we soon found ourselves in the botanical gardens where we observed a hawk show and wandered among the pretty trees with informative placards until we came upon the summer palace, another gorgeous piece of Prague’s architecture.
While we were wandering back to our hostel that afternoon we sampled hot wine (which is sold like hot chocolate from road side stands). It turned out to be quite tasty! We had lunch (leftovers) and then gelato! Ice cream is so cheap here and there are so many interesting flavours – I had apricot. We then wandered over to the chocolate museum (a recommendation from a friend in Berlin) and while the museum wasn’t overly exciting, the candy store attached to it was amazing. Every couple hours they have candy making demonstrations, which involved two large guys rolling out huge logs of syrup and shaping it into little fruit shapes before pulling and chopping it so you get little hard candies. It was fascinating to watch – and of course we bought a bag!
That night we went to a play with a friend we’d made in the hostel. The play was at the Black Light Theatre and was a version of Alice in Wonderland. It was performed almost entirely in the dark with black and florescent lights to emphasize the action – pretty trippy! It was also the strangest Alice in Wonderland I’ve ever seen. The first act was pretty normal with Alice going through the pains of growing up, having nightmares and feeling lonely as well as making new friends and experiencing the wonderment of new discoveries. In the second act however, Alice appeared to be very grown up as she got it on with the White Rabbit and had a baby… Nothing like any Alice I’ve seen before!
The next day we took a day trip outside the city to Kutna Hora, a little town with a spectacular bone ossuary. We wandered into a cathedral first and were amazed that we were allowed to wander almost anywhere, including up to the very top balconies. The ossuary itself is hard to describe. We knew going in that it was decorated with forty thousand sets of human remains, but I couldn’t really fathom that until I walked in. There are bones everywhere. Not just stacked bones, bones used to make candelabras and wall hangings and parts of altars. It’s very odd to see human remains used in that way. We wandered around the rest of the town for awhile, taking in the beautiful autumn colours before heading back to Prague where we visited the sex museum. It’s a funny little museum filled with oddities from the Victorian Era and such, before heading out to the largest club in central Europe that night for a sort of Halloween celebration. I didn’t particularly appreciate that in Prague everyone still smokes in clubs – the heat plus the smoke plus the sweat made for a lovely aroma. Pure Calvin Klein!
Our last full day in Prague we wandered around Old Town, looking at things we’d missed the first time and we decided that since it was lovely and sunny out that afternoon we’d head up the clock tower for a view of city. We bought tickets and on our way up we ran into a friend from the hostel rushing down the stairs to see the figures in the clock move from behind the clock surface. We decided to join him and rushed headlong down the stairs to the clock face where we had to buy a ticket for a little less than one euro to see the clock move. It was very cool, but lasted a little over five minutes, so we decided to head back up the tower. All of a sudden the woman watching us herded us out of the room and into another where we met a guide and were taken on a tour of the city hall cellars (which at one point had actually been at street level). The whole city was raised a story over a period of eighty years to deal with flooding issues. It was a fantastic history lesson and very cool to see some beautiful old buildings – including the mosaic room. This room is almost entirely covered with mosaics depicting Czech life and nationalism. When the Nazis invaded the mayor decided to plaster over the mosaic to protect it, which was done in less than two days and then the whole thing was uncovered after the war ended. Finally we managed to make our way up the tower just before sunset to see some spectacular views before heading back to the hostel for one more sleep. On to Bratislava!