Monday, July 22, 2013

A blog about Prague

Prague has been on the top of my to-visit list since the very beginning.  I hear nothing but good things from those who have visited, and the venerable Rick Steves calls it eastern Europe's best destination.  Source (by the way the article in this link is the best article on Europe you'll ever read.)

And I'll spoil the surprise right here to say the city delivered, and I have to say it's one of the best cities I've had the privilege to visit.   I had made it the requisite stop when planning the trip with friends.  All other cities considered (we had decided on Munich which was previously posted) were just convenient to get to or from Prague.  I'm going to spin this post slightly differently than Munich and focus on some more experiences rather than make sure I label all the buildings correctly.  I was really fascinated by the history of the Czech Republic, and it's one that I'm still reading bits here and there as I try to understand all the changes that the country has seen.  It's been eye-opening for sure.

Everyone at Prague's castle

We emerged from our 6 hr train ride into Praha hl. n. on June 25th feeling well-rested and ready to take on the city.  The rain was drizzly, not terrible but the temperature was plummeting for late June.  We decided to just wander for a bit, not sure what else to do with ourselves.

The first thing I noticed as  we entered Wenceslas square (the location of our apartment) was the architecture.  A lot of the buildings are Art Nouveau, as it's called (I really struggled spelling that correctly), but I'm a fan.

The original Czech Budwiser

Art Nouveau to the max

Cold and wet on the streets

The National museum is under reconstruction until 2015

Doug got some proper attire for the weather.  With his classic Adidas jacket, he easily fits in with the eastern Europeans.

We found a gift shop and took some nice pics of the couples.

Oh wait, I got the wrong idea.

I had a tasting shot of absinthe at a liquor store.  The next day the shop was boarded up.
We all feel we know each other a bit better after the sex machines museum.  Mankind has certainly been creative over the last few hundred years to assemble the contraptions we saw.  Patent numbers were studiously placed above each exhibit.  It was a bit awkward when on the next day, our tour guide asked what museums we had already been to...

In the city of many spires - old town square, astronomical clock, etc

I wanted to taste the old Praha ham, but we'd always walk by a vendor at inconvenient times

Back at our flat - holds 8!  One bathroom with two sinks and a bidet.  So technically it could accomodate 4 at once, but it never came to that...
That evening we found the Tesco to get some groceries for breakfast and snacks, then just ordered some carry-out pizza (or as I recently find myself calling it - "take-away").   We had a good time staying up late catching up on life in Indy in our common room.

The next morning we had booked a private half-day tour with Gabriela from Praguewalker.   The company is highly recommended (Thanks Steve).  Our group was big enough to make a private guide very worthwhile.  Since we were all pretty oblivious to Prague's history, we requested the basics.

We started out again at Wenceslas Square, and our guide gave some details about the importance of the square through various points in history, with some very dramatic events in the last 80 years -  there were demonstrations here by Nazi's, it was the location of the Prague Uprising, a student self-immolated in 1969 to protest Soviet occupation, and hundreds of thousands gathered here for the Velvet Revolution in 1989.

Side note, reading about self-immolation (setting oneself on fire), I found out a German WWII Nazi soldier self-immolated in 1995 in Munich at the location of the Beer Hall Putsch to protest slander of German soldiers.  Crazy stuff.

We then took a tram to Prague's castle.

Guard at the castle

After I took this picture, disaster struck.  My camera battery died!  And I didn't bring the charger cable, as I've never had a trip that lasted longer than my camera.  I think we snapped too many in Munich.  The rest of these are iPhone-sourced.

Outside the front entrance to the Castle - homes of politicians.  A long time ago the location of your house meant a lot about your political status.

Front gate to the Castle - from what I gather, the hub of the Czech government.  Similar to Wawel Castle in Krakow, it's not really a castle, but a large grouping of buildings within a walled area.  This is not what castles looked like in the Colorform medieval pack I had fond memories of.

We're in the main square and I believe these buildings house offices of parliament, or similar.

Close up view of the cathedral at Prague's castle - Saint Vitus.  It is totally Gothic.

Here it is from far away across the gorge - once you get in the castle, the cathedral views are lost.

One thing I noticed right away was the wide color range of the stained glass windows, not very Gothic at all.  Our tour guide explained that the glass art are quite new, from 1930s I think.

Renovations underway

A sea of red roofs from our viewpoint at the edge of the castle

Some fun pieces of modern sculpture litter the city of Prague, thanks to a fascinating Czech artist David Černý.   Here two guys pee in a pool the shape of the Czech republic, beats Brussels' Mannequin Pis.

Love locks on a bridge
The tour guide gave lots of examples of the devastating 2002 flood.  Here we are near the Charles Bridge by the edge of the Vltava river.  The water line is pretty clear above my head.  The damage to buildings by the river was severe.

It was a cold day for late June, and there were threats of rain, but fortunately it held out for us.  Our tour guide leads us over the Charles bridge with all the statues.

The river at the appropriate height as we cross the bridge

This is the Saint John of Nepomuk.  Because of the 5 star halo above his head, he is the patron saint of and AA hotel ratings

Kerry and I with a good view of the Charles Bridge

Weather recording station at Prague's Clementinum college.  They've been recording weather here continuously since 1775, but I'm pretty sure this station is more modern.

We saw even more architecture and shared a lot history than I'm sharing here.  I really soaked it all in.  I didn't even get to the whole Jewish quarter.  After we wrapped up, we got some lunch at a local joint by the hotel, recommended by our guide.   It was only about 4 dollars a person for a huge meal (Prague is still pretty inexpensive compared to most European cities), but we got in line for our goulash and half our group disappeared to get something more faMiliar. 

Afterwards some of our group got a workout in at CrossFit Prague - Lauren is in the Games starting this week, so training is crucial!  It's fun visiting different gyms - this one was in the lowest level of a big building, and made do with much less than other gyms I've been in.  The local members were friendly - it's a popular gym for drop-in visitors, and they enjoy having the diversity I guess.

Chris, Lauren (Games-bound athlete), Kerry, me, and Vic burning off some goulash and lager calories.

We had booked dinner at a nice Prague cuisine restaurant, and everyone found something that they liked.  Excellent experience.  Contact me if you're in need of the details, I give it 5 saintly stars.

Views of the castle and cathedral at night after dinner

Pretty little dolly

We visited the Communist museum on the next day.  Really cool exhibits that stepped through history from Nazi through Soviet occupation to the Velvet revolution.  Posters, pictures, knick-knacks, and examples of life during this time were really fascinating.  I took a few pictures.

Hitler at Prague Castle

This ridiculously large monument to Stalin was torn down.  You can still visit the foundation on the top of a hill outside the city.

Prague was not always pretty.  A lot of renovation was done very recently

Mock up of a Soviet interrogation room

Spy camera gun

Picture of Wenceslas square during the Velvet revolution

I just reviewed Steve's blog and we took a lot of the same pictures!  So view his link (at the top of this blog) for more thorough details.  After this museum trip we split off.  Some went to work out again, others went for a rest, and others (including Kerry and I) kept on exploring.

On the way back we stumbled upon a firefighter ladder climb race.  Pretty cool I thought:

We found a buyer of the horse lamp from Brussels!  We're in a mall in Prague.  Doug and Tara will be happy to know this.

I don't remember why we went in the pet shop in the mall

Cool exhibit at the mall's currency exchange 

Why did we go in the mall?  There were supposed to be ancient ruins on display.  We found them.

A 12th century palace was uncovered during construction of the Palladium mall, so they made these historical exhibits on the lower level.  Not very exciting.

Time for a beer at the Beer museum!  This is a thick booklet of all the beers on tap.
I would have liked to stop at the Gastronomy museum, but no time.  Whew, the museums get specific here!

Here the ladies are riding a giant baby sculpture, courtesy once again to David Černý 

Not sure which is weirder...

Jeremy and I letting loose at the Lennon wall, from the 80's it has been a graffiti outlet for students upset with communism.

A further out view of the famous bridge and the edge of old town

Earned another beer break back at the flat.  I'm utilizing my souvenir from Munich - a stein topper for bottles
Car elevator for underground parking.  And I thought the UK didn't have enough parking space!

We went for a nice Italian meal that night.  It was good, but in a more touristy area.  Last night at the Czech restaurant we spent the equivalent of $10/bottle of wine.  Here it was $40!

Well it's time to wrap it up and say our goodbyes.  The next morning we left bright and early, as it goes sometimes, departure day had the best weather of the visit.  I cooked the last of my sausages for breakfast and we made our way to the train station to catch the express bus to the airport.  But that bus was packed full and only running every half hour, so the back up plan was back to Wenceslas square to take the metro to another bus stop which has a normal city bus going to the airport.  That worked much better, even with the extra change.  We sent a message back to our friends with the pro tip, since they were heading back to London later.

We flew Jet2 for this leg, and it said on the boarding pass to have the passport details verified at the check-in desk.  "OK, like Ryanair" I thought.  Oh well, better get in the baggage check line.  We were pretty much last in line, finally get to the front, and the attendant had no idea what he was supposed to do.  I ended up forcing him to write "OK" and sign his name, although he was adamant that we didn't have to do anything besides go to the gate.  I wasn't taking any chances of being returned out through security.

Of course, we get to the gate and hand our boarding pass to the same guy...


  1. Looked like a fun trip with a big group, great memories with the other couples. You gotta love the good food trips. Who picked more souvenirs at the Sex Museum gift shop, your or Kerry? ;) Enjoy your last couple of weeks.