Tschechische Republik – Prag

It’s the weekend again, and this time I gathered a group of people bound for Prague, capital of the Czech Republic. After work on Friday, I took the metro to meet at someone else’s apartment, and soon after we were on the eastbound autobahn. Our drive over was relatively uneventful – we stopped at a classic European restaurant, McDonald’s, for a quick dinner. Before too long we were on the outskirts of the city, where we parked and caught an Uber into town.

We found our Airbnb that I had booked. It was a bit of a strange place, 8 beds spaced out in an attic apartment. The price was great though and the location was perfect for us, so I’d say it worked out well. One girl who was with us forgot to bring her passport and had some  issues checking into the room. Thankfully, we were able to convince the guard to let it slide and made our way up to the apartment. Shortly after, we headed out to a nearby bar to grab a quick drink – Prague is famous for its beer so I thought I’d give it a try. We drank and discussed a plan for the next day in a casual setting. The drinks were tasty and the highlight of the evening was when a stranger came up and wordlessly challenged me to an arm wrestling competition. I took him down, but I had the easier position (his arm was further extended) and he was very inebriated; I suspect he was stronger than he seemed. We didn’t stay out too late and got to bed around 1AM, plenty of time for a good night’s rest.

In the morning, our plan was to take a free guided walking tour of the main sights. We left the apartment just before 10:00 and grabbed breakfast at a nearby cafe. I had a croissant sandwich and some tasty hot chocolate which was rich and thick. Someone spilled their hot chocolate on their shirt when trying to snap a picture on their phone, but even after the fact he agreed the drink had been tasty.

Our tour was set to depart from the old town square. We arrived at our scheduled tour time only to find our spots had been given away. Apparently you need to show up early to notify them you’ll be taking your spot. As unfortunate as this was, the guides informed us that we would have a spot at noon, so we wandered around the square to kill an hour.

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The Church of Our Lady Before Tyn. The two towers represent Adam and Eve – Adam stands a bit wider on the right

The old town square was bustling with tourists and guides, food vendors, and the occasional street performer. We took an opportunity to grab some Kürtőskalács, which are not Czech but rather come from Hungary. They were spiral-cakes, with sweet dough coated in sugar and nuts. I liked the cake and didn’t mind too much that it wasn’t local, as the warm sugary flavor made up for it in the cold morning. We saw the famous Astronomical Clock, including a rather ssimple anamatronic show which is only cool when you frame it in the context of operating in the middle ages. Considering the clock’s age, however, the fact that craftsmen engineering working animated figures is impressive. We went up the clock tower at the town hall, which gave us a good vantage point to survey the city from. There we got a good look at the Church of Our Lady Before Týn standing over thee square.

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Our view from the town hall clock tower, overlooking the old town square
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Prague Castle stands sentinel in the distance, as seen from the town hall.
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The (still functioning) 15th century Astronomical Clock
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The clock mechanism shows a ton of information. Notice the partially-black ball, depicting the current phase of the moon.

After our short stay in the square, we went to wait for our tour guide (early this time!). Our guide was studying English and American literature, which I thought was in interesting choice for a Czech college student. Our tour group was pretty large, but I was glad to have some source of context and background for all the pretty sights we were seeing. We learned a bit about the history of the city, of the influence of the Nazi and Communist occupations and how the people resisted foreign rule. We learned of the peaceful “Velvet Revolution” and about how the architectural styles fit in with the time of construction.

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We visited the Jewish quarter, where we learned about the formation of the Jewish ghetto and about how the area is now a posh high-end living space with high rent and luxury retailers. Prague had a large Jewish population before WWII, so synagogues were abundant in this part of town.

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Beautiful ornamentation is common on the synagogues which seem to pop up on every corner
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A view of the Cathedral in Prague Castle from the river

Our tour concluded near the river which divides the city in half. We thanked our guide and made for the other side of town across one of the most beautiful bridges I have seen, Charles Bridge. Statues line the sides of the walkway, flanked on both sides by tall guard towers. The statues depict religious scenes and figures, and frame the artists and performers catering to the crowds. We took our time strolling across the bridge to take it all in. The statues were very intricate and detailed, but many were darkened from continuous exposure to the elements. At both ends of the bridge there are touristy areas with lots of dining, shopping, and bustling crowds. We didn’t linger too long at the far end of the bridge before we turned our attention toward the hilltop and Prague castle. Climbing through winding streets, we worked our way towards the entrance.

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The first tower we saw at Charles Bridge
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Some of the figures flanking the bridge

 

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At an overlook near the hilltop
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The gate to get in, flanked by guards around the clock

The castle sits atop a hill and the walk up affords good views of the city sprawling before it. We were in a bit of a hurry because we had been trying to arrive before 5PM when the cathedral closed. After our climb and a quick security check, the building we had seen all day in the distance, St. Vitus’ cathedral, stood before us. Unfortunately while we did arrive before 5PM, the last entry to the cathedral was at 4:40PM. We walked around the outside to take in the details – gargoyles, arched windows, and jagged spires framed an imposing figure. Gilding on one facade laid out a beautiful ornate scene.

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St. Vitus Cathedral
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Our group at the cathedral
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Charles Bridge from above

After exploring the castle grounds and some of the surrounding buildings, people wanted to grab some drinks at a place our tour guide had recommended. We Walked a short way over to a nearby monastery where monks brew beer on-site which they don’t sell anywhere else. The beer was delicious- I had a blueberry-infused Pilsner and a dark stout, both of which were excellent. Warm and content, the group agreed to stay for dinner. I ordered roast duck which was not fantastic, but the atmosphere, drinks, and live music more than made up for it. Dinner was served in a converted wine cellar. You could see the old vaulted brick arches overhead and the restaurant was calm with a violinist and guitarist taking requests.

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The cathedral lit up at night

After dinner, a few people in our group were pretty tired from all the walking we had done. With the sun having set while we ate, it was a little chillier now, so someone suggested we take an Uber back to the room. Everyone was on board with this till I suggested that a walk back at night would be a nice way to end the day, so two guys and I made our way back down the hill towards Charles Bridge.

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This statue points the way toward the castle

I liked seeing some of the sights lit up at night, and the nighttime hubbub was a good chance for people watching. It took us about 45 minutes to make the walk back to the Airbnb, but I’m glad we decided to take our time. After the walk, everyone hung out and played some cards before we went out for our nighttime activity. Normally I’m not one to like nightclubs, but this one had an 80s/90s music video party going on and was a ton of fun. Normally if I go out I don’t know most of the songs, but at this club I knew all the words while everyone else was a little lost.

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Around 2AM, we finally left the club and by now even I was tired out. Fortunately our room was a short 5-minute walk away, so before long I was sound asleep after a long day. There was still more I wanted to see in Prague, but I was satisfied with how the day went and excited for what was in store tomorrow. Until then,

Best wishes and safe travels everyone,

– Ben

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