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Published: December 10th 2006
When I traveled in Europe in 1995/96, Prague was THE place to go. Everyone was talking about how amazing (and cheap - a common backpackers obsession) it was. Unfortunately, I did not make it there during that trip but, now, almost 10 years later, I have rectified that situation. (Yes Jonno, it was a dream of mine to go to Prague.) Prague was the chosen destination for the 'now I have a job, I'd better go on another trip to make sure I have taken advantage of my time off'
I was a bit worried that it would be disappointing - after all, it's been a long time and a lot could have changed. However, I need not have worried; Prague is still amazing (even if it was better 11 years ago). That may also have something to do with the fact that I was there during the week, and so missed out on the weekend crush and, most importantly, the hoards of Brits who apparently head across for hen and stag nights because flights and beer are so cheap! To give you an idea, pint of beer is often less that $2AUD. Even better, Czech beer is great
- it is, after all, the home of Budweiser (the real stuff - not the copycat US kind!), Pilsner Urquell, and Staropramen (one of my new usuals at pubs in the UK).
One fab thing about Prague is the way the ‘touristy’ area is so compact and easy to walk around - with no worries of getting lost. Spent a lot of time just wandering the winding streets, seeing what there is to see. It really is the city of 1000 spires - they are everywhere - makes the city skyline look amazing!
The bridges over the Vltava are beautiful. During the day the famous Charles Bridge (Karluv most) is very busy with vendors and tourists, but it clears out in the evening. It must be nearly impossible to move in summer (no wonder it is such a haven for pickpockets). Checked out the castle, which is the largest medieval castle in Europe. This is partly because there are many different buildings (all in differing styles as they were created and modified from the 9th to the 16th century) joined to create ‘one’ building. There is even a (much more modern and quite incongruous) link into the St.
and the tourists gathered for the 'show'.
Vitus cathedral, which was begun in the 13th century. The cathedral actually took 600 years to finish - and for quite awhile was only half done - with a false wall. In fact - it is still not finished - there are quite a few statues in the façade missing.
*Went on a walking tour of the city, where they talked about the myths and legends surrounding the city, which was fascinating.
*Checked out a micro brewery (there are heaps in Prague) where I tried champagne beer!
* Wandered around the shops of Wenceslas Sq - named after St Wenceslas of Christmas carol fame.
* Walked down Golden Lane, where Kafka lived (disappointing - now filled with crap tourist shops).
* Wandered along the riverfront, admiring the view and taking WAY too many photos.
* Checked (Czeched? no - that pun is too lame even for me!) out the Astronomical clock - a cool clock that shows not only the time, but the season, time of sunrise, the movement of the planets and the signs of the zodiac. Every hour there is a display where the figures move (slightly) which is not all that interesting - apart
That's the castle and St Vitus cathedral on the hilltop.
from the end, where there is meant to be a fanfare of trumpets or something, but all that comes out is a very tired sounding ‘parp’ at which everyone laughs and goes ‘is that it?’.
* Tried absinthe. It was a complicated procedure, involving a spoonful of absinthe and sugar held above the glass of absinthe. You then add cinnamon and set fire to the spoonful, quickly stirring it into the absinthe in the glass. Let me tell you, if that improves he flavour - I'd hate to try it without it! I have since found out that many people dilute it with water, and I now know why (although apparently, the Czech version of absinth is also particularly bitter). Although it has been portrayed as an addictive drug, which gives you hallucinations - I had no visions, and won't be hurrying to try it again!
One thing I noticed about the Czech is that they really like their meat. On every street corner you can buy ‘hot dogs’ Czech style - with a range of bratwurst sausages and gluwein. Obviously, I did not try the former! More to my taste was the pork knuckle which was also sold
everywhere …. 1kg - yes - I had to try that!!! Interestingly, despite the apparent love of meat, in the goulash (a Czech traditional dish), there seemed to be lots of sauce and not much meat. Dumplings are also part of many Czech meals - so very hearty all round.
On the Wednesday, went on a day trip to Cesky Krumlov - a medieval town about 3 hours from Prague, beautifully situated in a tight curve of the river Vltava, so that it is nearly surrounded by water. It is a real fairytale village, with a fortress; narrow, cobblestoned and traffic free streets; and a bear pit in the moat around the castle, with an actual bear in it!!! Despite my non-existent Czech, managed to locate and catch the local bus to Cesky Krumlov and make a booking for the last bus home at 5.30pm. Spent a very pleasant day wandering around, climbing the castle tower, admiring the blue skies and generally having a great time.
By the time 5pm came around it was dark and I was ready to head back to Prague, so I headed to the bus stop to wait for the bus. I waited,
and waited, and waited. Although the bus stop was at the main bus station, you could not say that the facilities were great. In fact, there was no shelter of any kind so we were just waiting in the open in the cold and dark. Now I won’t say I was the coldest I have ever been in my life (Stonehenge still retains that honour) but I was extremely
cold. The worst part is - how long do you invest in waiting for the last bus? A good question. In the end, I waited until to two Czech people at the bus stop left (a good guide, even though they were not local to Cesky Krumlov), about one hour. While waiting, I got talking to some of the other tourists - two Japanese girls with very little English, a Brazilian woman with excellent English and a Spanish couple, with whom I was able to have a pretty good conversation, half in English and half translated by the Brazilian woman. Once we gave up on the bus, we went back into town in search of either another way back to Prague or accommodation for the night (no easy feat as the
Me at the castle wall
Tan - that titanium jacket has been great!!
tourist office was closed by then). We found a pension where the owner was really helpful. Turned out we could spend 5 hours on various trains and buses (with some very tight connections that we might miss), stay overnight and get a 5am bus (for which we’d have to buy a replacement ticket), or pay a mate of the pension owner to drive us to Prague in a mini-van. While the mini-van option was significantly more expensive than the bus ticket (1000 Czech crowns - $60AUD, compared to 180 Czech crowns - $11AUD) in the scheme of things, it was not expensive at all - esp as the guy was doing an unplanned 5 hour round trip!). After a quick consult, we all piled in the mini-van and made it back to Prague at about 10pm. Next day managed to get a refund for unused bus ticket (after a small dispute with salesperson), but no explanation for non-arrival of bus.
Was sad to be heading back to London - but the waiting in the cold was not over. My flight was delayed, so by the time I arrived at Gatwick, the tubes had stopped running. So I caught the
Gatwick express to town and then waited in the cold for a bus back home. Seemed like the bus took ages to come (and it was 1 am), but by the time I started thinking of getting a cab, I had invested so much time in waiting, I thought the bus must surely come any minute!! (Also - I don’t yet have a firm handle on the cost of London cabs, except that they are very expensive and I do not yet have any pounds coming into my bank account!) At least this time I was able to purchase some hot chips while I waiting!!!
All in all, however, Prague is amazing, and I would not hesitate to go back.
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