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Published: September 12th 2018
As it turned out, the departure from Vienna was a lot less painful than anticipated.
I had been terribly intimidated about my ability to find the right platform and the right train but, happily, it's a well organized machine if you only know how it works. Our helpful taxi driver explained it on the way to the station, and the well organized station was easy to navigate after that. First, 50 minutes before departure, the correct platform is shown in big screens like in an airport. You look for your train number and destination. Then, once you get to that platform there is a map showing you in which area of the platform your train compartment is going to be at. We were in first class, towards the front of the train, so we had to go to Area C in Platform 9. Piece of cake!
Once aboard the train, it was just a matter of relaxing and hoping the four hour ride would pass quickly. Again, the landscape was nothing particularly special. Some pretty areas, but mostly views of trashy back yards and plain old woody areas.
On our arrival in Prague we were robbed. Well, at
least that's what we were told afterwards.
We thought we did everything right. We walked through the door through which we could see a big TAXI sign, and there we approached the line of taxis, showed the address of our hotel and were shown an official looking card showing the price to the Historical Center so we paid it without a second thought. But we should have known since our driver looked EXACTLY like what a Russian Mafia guy should look like. Honestly, when we compared later on the amount of time it took to get to the hotel versus the amount of time it took to get to the airport, we knew that we had been told the truth. We got robbed.
Anyway, as previously, once we settled into the hotel, the Grand Majestic Plaza, we took off to explore Old Town. We arrived at the main Plaza just in time to see the famous astrological clock in action ... or so we thought. The clock is one of the many landmarks in Prague being restored in preparation for a century anniversary celebration in a couple of months. Not only wasn't it working, but it was mostly
covered by scaffolding and plastic. Darn!
Anyway, it took us no time at all to realize that our hopes that we had avoided the big tourist crowds of the season were in vain. The place is jammed packed with people of all nationalities. The plaza and the main streets leading towards Charles Bridge, specially Karlova, are reminiscent of Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras Day here in New Orleans. Some of the streets, specially Karlova, are lined with shops, restaurants, and pubs but at least they have adapted the shops to the buildings, not butchered them like Vienna has. The cobbled stone streets add to the appearance of a city from times long past.
We were told the crowds have gotten much worse in the last five years. The refugee situation of some of the nearby countries, as well as the acts of terrorism that some of those cities have been experiencing has led to an increase in popularity in Prague that, up to now, has been safe and refugee free.
To make matters worse about the crowds, the bridge is also lined with peddlers, performers, and even beggars. The beggars here adopt a praying position, head to
the ground, which is very disturbing. But nothing can take away from the amazing architecture, the statues on the bridge, and the spirals of St. Vitus Church crowning the hill across the river.
Prague is beautiful. No question about it.
That first night, we had tickets for a sunset cruise on the river. It was on a smaller boat that some of the other sightseeing boats and they promoted as a "Venice" type boat, and it was wonderful!
We took off shortly before 7 PM and were given a complimentary drink and a choice of snack. I chose beer and ice cream. We had an audio description of the buildings and their history, but later on our skipper started answering questions and telling us stories and we passed a very entertaining time in addition to the beautiful views. I highly recommend it. For one thing, these boats can enter the canal along the shore, which bigger boats cannot do! That was a treat.
On the skipper's recommendation, after the cruise we crossed the bridge into the much more quiet Mala Strana area in search of a restaurant for dinner. He told us, and he was right,
that away from the main street there are many good beer halls and restaurants away from the maddening crowd.
We meandered about and found one that was perfect. A courtyard surrounded by the main building, with enough people but still calm and relaxing. We ordered the ribs and potato pancakes and it was the best meal I had in Prague. That and a beer and it was a very pleasant walk back to the hotel, enjoying the diminished crowds on the bridge and the lack of peddlers along it.
Did I mention that beer is cheaper than water in Prague? True!
When we got to the central plaza, I fell in love! The Tyn Cathedral at night is a sight to behold, although it reminded me more of the castle of the wicked witch rather than a church.
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