If you are just five-and-twenty,
With industry, hope, and an aim;
Though the latitude’s rather uncertain,
And the longitude also is vague,
The persons I pity who know not the City,
The beautiful City of Prague!
– Jeffery Prowse
Prague…great city, I must say. I don’t think I’ll be traveling anywhere else before I leave London for the U.S. (sad, yes, but the dissertation needs to be completed) so I’m glad we were able to squeeze in this last minute trip to Prague. We only bought our tickets and booked our accommodation a week before we went. We ended up flying CSA (Czech Airlines) which was actually quite nice, as it has been a few months since I’ve flown a “real” airline (you know, with free drinks and some legroom).
We ended up staying at “Guesthouse Dream” which sounds like some posh nightclub, but in reality it was a guesthouse that this Czech guy, Leo, rents out to tourists. That’s one of the things I love about Central/Eastern Europe – all these enterprising people have taken it upon themselves to buy property around their flats, fix it up, and rent it to tourists for great prices. God bless ’em! Leo, by the way, is awesome and picked us up from the airport (he was holding a sign that said “FINCHER”…hilarious). On the way to his flat, he told us a lot about himself, his family, and Prague…when I mentioned I was from California, he said that his daughter did a high school exchange program in California…in Irvine of all places! He told us about a trip he took across the United States in the early 1980s. Could you imagine traveling across the U.S. by train and car, barely speaking any English, and yet managing to see places as diverse as New York City, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Los Angeles? It must have been quite an experience. I later asked him what he had to go through to be able to take the trip to the U.S., as he was still living under a Communist regime in the early 1980s. He said that he applied for permission to take the trip FIVE YEARS before he actually was allowed to go, and that none of his family members could take the trip with him in order to guarantee that he wouldn’t just stay in the U.S. After he returned to Czechoslovakia, the secret police made him answer a ton of questions regarding what he did in the U.S. Needless to say, I will never complain about long lines at passport control EVER AGAIN!
Anyways, Guesthouse Dream was really, really nice…we had our own guesthouse…it was huge! And with satellite TV! Granted almost every channel was in German, but still, pretty cool. If you ever go to Prague and need a place to stay, I highly recommend booking with Leo. It’s in a really quiet neighborhood, with the tram stop to the city center right in front of the flat. He also has an adorable Dalmation, and if you need to check your e-mail, you are free to use his computer. He gave us a map of Prague, recommended some places to check out, and off we went!
The first thing we saw in Prague was Prague Castle, which is supposedly the biggest castle in the world. Inside this castle is this beautiful building, the Saint Vitus Cathedral:
And the guards look so happy to be there:
Next, we saw Charles Bridge, which is a very, very, very well-known bridge. This, of course, means that unless you wake up very, very early, you will find yourself fighting through a crowd of tourists so you can make you way towards the other end of the bridge.
Yep, that’s Charles Bridge. The sides are dotted with various statues, most of which are religious in nature:
The next sight we saw was Old Town Square:
This is a statue of Jan Hus
This square is also where the famous Prague Astronomical Clock is located:
Every hour, this clock puts on a little show for all the tourists called “The Walk of the Apostles.” The travel guidebooks really build it up and say it’s not to be missed, so we hung around for a few minutes so we could see the next “showing.” Well, it was quite disappointing, actually. Like “Eh…that’s it?” A lot of the tourists that had waited a while to see it actually started booing!
We also saw Wenceslas Square, which is not really a square at all, but rather a very long boulevard:
Those of you who took Eastern European history/politics classes should recognize this place – it’s where a student, Jan Palach, set himself on fire to protest the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. These days, it is a huge commercial area, mostly filled with department stores, tacky souvenir shops, and restaurants.
While in Prague, we took a boat trip down the Vltava River. Our boat was the “Jazz Boat”, but oddly enough there wasn’t any jazz music. Weird:
View of Prague Castle:
Of course, we did a bit of souvenir shopping while we were in Prague. I must say, I was quite shocked to see such a large amount of Russian souvenirs. I could have sworn I was back at Moscow’s Izmailovsky souvenir market! Russian Matryoshka dolls, fake fur hats with Soviet insignia, McLenin shirts! EVERYWHERE! I found it a bit ironic, in fact, that most of the t-shirts for sale said CCCP or had a hammer and sickle design on them. I could easily see why they would still sell those in Moscow and St. Pete, but in Prague? Come on, 1968…throw out the Soviet oppressors (souvenirs)! Oh well, at least they had hand-carved Russian Santas for sale, which my mom absolutely loves, so I was able to pick her up a few of those for her collection without having to actually fly to Russia.
We also went into a liquor store there (not like a convenience store, but a nice, actual, fancy liquor store). We were drawn to the huge display of bottles of green liquid, otherwise known as absinthe, which, as you all known, is banned from the United States. We browsed through the various absinthe bottles for a few minutes, wondering what the hell the difference is between the types, when a salesman asked us if we would like to try some.
He had bottles and bottles of liquor on a huge table, in case you wanted to try anything before buying. He took out a little plastic cup, and poured a bit of absinthe in it so we could each try it, and then explained that you usually don’t drink it straight (it’s a long drawn out process involving water, special spoons, sugar cubes, fire, and more than likely some sort of voodoo dance) but nevertheless this would help us distinguish the various types of absinthe. So I slowly sipped my absinthe from the plastic cup…and…
GAHHHHHHHHHHHH TASTES LIKE MOUTHWASH!
I suppose it tastes a lot better when you drink it with the water and sugar, but I’ll stick to the Czech beer for now.
Czech beer, by the way, is outstanding, and very, very cheap. We would usually get a half-liter for 50p! (Less that $1) I’ve heard from a few people that it used to be a lot cheaper, but still, I’m more than happy to pay 50p for a half-liter of Pilsner or Budwesier (no, not American Budweiser…Czech Budweiser!)
Czech food is also pretty good, although very heavy – goulash, dumplings, random pieces of meat sitting in some cream sauce/cranberry/whip cream concoction. Great prices, though…we would usually end up paying around 6 quid each ($12) for beer, bread, soup, main course, dumplings, dumplings, and more dumplings, and dessert…and actually, you could get it for even less if you eat at some restaurants that are “off the beaten track.” Still, try getting a full meal for 6 quid in London! Not gonna happen.
As for the language, we didn’t have any problems, as everyone we ran into spoke English. I used some Czech (the sentence was very similar to what you would say in Russian) at the post office to ask for stamps, but the lady just replied “I speak English.” Same with the waiters, bartenders, kiosk saleswoman, metro employee, tram driver…all spoke English. Now, on the one hand, the fact that we didn’t have any difficulty communicating with anyone is a good thing. On the other hand, though, I’m a big proponent of having to put some “work” into your traveling. That is, you should at least attempt the local language, even if that means you are only armed with a ridiculously thin phrasebook. It makes for some good stories, like when you had to argue with the angry babushka manning the fruit and veggie stand in Moscow, or when you tried to explain to the Bosnian taxi driver that you wanted to go across the border to Montenegro.
But that’s just me, and I suppose I’m a bit crazy when it comes to some things.
Also, on our last day in Prague we went to the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp, but that excursion deserves its own post, so I will have that up in a few days.