The plan was to wake up nice and early and head to the Prague Castle but that didn’t quite happen… Instead, we slept until around 11am and when we finally got up, had only an hour before having to check out of the hotel room. So, we showered, packed up and checked out of the hotel room. Leaving our bags with the concierge, we headed into the beautiful, 18 degree weather (Celsius for those wondering!) and to the Amstel metro station.
It was a short metro ride to Mustek where we switched trains and headed toward Hrandajic station. We got out and made our way to the Prague Castle entrance. It`s not easy navigating maps when you’re in a country like the Czech Republic. The reason is because the signs here are not in English at all – and I don`t just mean the street signs. There are touristy signs that point you in the right direction of the touristy spots and in most other cities, they are English. Here, they are written solely in Czech which makes it very difficult to follow them.
In any case, we found the Prague Castle entrance and looking up, realized it was a bit of a hike to the top… So, we put our head down and started walking up the hill (mountain?) Along the way, we realized something of great importance… To our left-hand side was an amazing view of the Prague skyline. Up until this point, if I’m being honest, other than the one beautiful spot in Prague, I didn’t find myself too impressed… In fact, I couldn’t wait to get out of the city. Now, seeing the panoramic view of the city and seeing it’s grandeur was totally impressive and I realized why it made its way onto our travel map.
View from the Prague Castle.
View from the Prague Castle.
Once we got to the top, we stopped in at a cafe to have a quick coffee and rest our weary legs. It’s hard work being both a backpacker and now a mountain (hill?) climber! We headed back out into the beautiful Prague sunshine and wandered around the Prague Castle grounds. Now, let me tell you about the Prague Castle… It’s not your typical castle. This isn’t just one building with some gardens, etc. this is an entire village. It has your typical castle like walls but it houses a palace, two churches, gardens and many other buildings. I’ll link to the history of the Prague Castle so you can read more but it’s simply stunning.
Prague Castle interior.
Our first stop after buying a ticket was to St. George’s Basilica. This is a smaller church on the grounds that has amazing ceilings painted in the 16th century. The church itself is smaller than I expected inside but it still holds such beauty and depth. The Gothic age that was present when the Prague Castle was built is definitely present here. The detail and richness is present while there is still an overall feeling of masculinity and strength.
St. George’s Basilica
Our second stop was to the Royal Palace and it was beautiful. The first room you walk into is this gorgeous banquet hall. The ceilings and walls were my favourite part. The stone is carved into these curvy lines and they interweave one another like nothing I’ve ever seen. There are gorgeous, black Gothic chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and the floors are made of gorgeous wood – original and still in fabulous condition.
Inside of the Royal Palace, you will also find other interesting rooms. There is a chapel, the throne room and a few other rooms that didn’t contain much except some period furniture and period clothing. It was still amazing to walk through there. This castle reminded me a lot of the Boleyn time whereas the previous castle we saw was very Queen Elizabeth-esque. I know those both aren’t appropriate terms to describe eras but you gotta work with what you know!
Outside of the Royal Palace, we then made our way to the St. Visus Cathedral and stood in the really, really long line-up. This is one of “the” things to see when you come to Prague I suppose and you can tell – people really were excited to get inside and explore. Standing in line, we were actually behind two other young women who were traveling. They had out their Europe? Let’s Go! book and they were talking about Austria… Maybe they too were headed there next! Outside of the Church, you can begin to take in its Gothic gloriousness as you glance up toward the sky… The view is just breathtaking.
Beautiful Gothic Church inside of Prague Castle.
Inside, you walk into the main area of the Church and are met with a beautiful altar with the most splendid stained glass set in behind it. It’s really a lot to take in so you just have to stand there for a moment and really, do a 360 turn to see it all. Along both the left and right hand side of the Church, there are little compartments and inside each compartment is an altar, more than likely for a particular upper class family or for a member of the Church, and more beautiful stained glass. Each set of stained glass tells a story and it’s impressive to just stand back and take each one in.
Although most of the vaults were closed due to “technical difficulties”, the Church itself was worth the fifteen minute wait. It was gorgeous. One neat thing that happened when we were there was one group of people that were in a tour started singing a beautiful song in a different language. They all just started, sang their song (which echoed so beautifully through the Church that I had to stop and listen… and of course, it almost brought me to tears) and then moved on like nothing magical just happened.
Outside of the Church, we headed out of the Prague Castle grounds and back toward the metro station. Before we did that, we went toward the river so we could get a view of the city from the water and a view of St. Charles’ bridge. Snapping a few shots and taking in the water was a nice break after the long, downhill climb we did.
View of the water and across the river near Prague Castle.
The story after Prague Castle is not as exciting… We hopped on the metro (we were pros now), went to our hotel, had a quick bite to eat (I had lasagna and Trina had penne pasta – much better than the previous night’s dinner) and then it was backpack time! We headed back to the metro (you do a lot of back and forth traveling when you’ve got a backpack as you want as little time carrying it as possible!), to the rail station and then to the platform for our train.
Now, here I am sitting on the train to Austria, Vienna. It’s dark as the sun has set already and we’re on a train that has mini-compartments. We’re sitting in one with a guy who speaks English, he’s young – probably around my age – and he’s sleeping. Otherwise, it’s just Trina and I and while I type away on my computer, logging in the day’s activities, she’s reading the book I recommended to her – The Alchemist.
She’s reading me some of her favourite quotes as she reads and I can’t help but stop, in this moment, to realize how amazing it is to be able to look out the window, into the dark night, and know that on this Saturday I am traveling between the Czech Republic and Austria. Both were unknown to me before and one still is but I am blessed to have this opportunity and I am certainly not taking that for granted.
As I sit and write this, at night in the smoky hotel lounge area, I can’t help but have the words ring through my head – I don’t really like Prague. I know first impressions aren’t everything but are welcoming into this city was not a fabulous one.
We arrived in Prague after a four hour train ride from Berlin, Germany. Before I just say “four hour train ride from Berlin”, you need to first know that this was the BEST train ride we’ve had thus far. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking… Here are just a few shots from the train.
Budapest anyone? We were going to Praha - other way of saying Prague.
The start of the beautiful mountains on our way to Prague in the Czech Republic.
A beautiful river town along the way… My parents would love this.
Can you say beautiful? The photo doesn’t do it justice.
When we arrived, we headed out of the train station and grabbed some metro tickets. Now, a tip for the fellow traveler… The Czech has their own currency. It’s called Czech Crowns. When you get to the CZ, there are money exchange booths that you can use to trade in your Euros (or any other kind of currency I am sure) for Crowns. I don’t remember exactly what the currency is but for 100 Euros, we got around 2,100 Crowns. Now, it sounds like a lot but one soda here is around 100 Crowns usually. So, your money doesn’t go super far.
I’m assuming this says Welcome to Prague? Praha = Prague over here.
After obtaining a map from the girl at the information desk who pointed us in the direction of the proper metro station we wanted, we took it and then came up to street level. The only thing is… we had no idea where we were going. We couldn’t find our hotel or the street that our hotel was located at on the map. So, we had no reference points at all. Luckily, or so we thought, there were two police officers at the top of the subway stairs.
We jokingly called this the escalator to heaven… It was really, really long.
One tip before I continue – when in Prague (and most other European cities) validate your subway ticket after you purchase it. There are little yellow stands everywhere that you insert your ticket into to have it validated (you’ll hear a little printing / stamping noise when you insert it). If you don’t, you can end up paying a fine and that is not fun at all! Luckily, we found out about validating tickets right away (in Paris) but here in Prague, the metro police actually do stand at the top of escalators and near exits making sure that your ticket is indeed validated.
So, back to the police officers. It turns out, not even they know the streets in Prague very well as they had no idea where our hotel was or how to get us there. So, foregoing what they said, we went to street level and I connected a few dots on our map. Turns out though that the map the woman gave us back at information didn’t even show our hotel on it! Our hotel was a tiny bit further to the West than the map showed. After a quick stop at the HSCB bank we were standing at to get directions, we knew where we were going and found our hotel quickly afterward.
Our hotel has a cable car that takes people to the Executive Floor… Weird huh? The hotel’s Executive Floor is over a mountain!!
A super lame circus near our hotel… I would not bring my children here! It was so rough looking…
Oh, before I forget as well, there was blood in the subway station down one of the walls… I’m not talking about just a teeny bit of blood either – a lot of blood and at the bottom of this blood streaked wall was a plate of cleaned to the bone (really…) chicken bones and other unnamely food items. I can’t begin to tell you how disgusting it was! Also, there were young kids everywhere (couples) making out… In the most elaborate display of affection possible.
Ok, so a check-in at the hotel was next and that went smooth and easy (much like the rest of our stays) and after getting into our room, we decided to hit the streets for some sightseeing before dark. Our first stop after checking in was to the Old Town and Old Jewish Quarter.
Me (Erin Blaskie) in Prague, CZ.
To be completely honest, without referencing my Europe book, I really have no idea where we went while we were sightseeing. We saw a lot of things and a lot of beautiful architecture but due to the signs all being in Czech, I really have no idea what it was we were seeing. However, that being said, you’ll forgive my ignorance here as I do tell you about the feeling of the areas we did see.
A beautiful street in Old Quarter.
The first area we went to was this pretty gate area that led you into a maze of streets that were lined with shops, etc. In here, we heard the sound of drums and singing and people marching. My first thought was protest and I quickly grabbed Trina and began to walk the other way until I realized the crowd was really only five people… They were wearing robes and singing songs while walking and beating on hand drums. The display was actually quite interesting and as we learned later on too, not uncommon.
A marching band… of a different sort!
One of the things we saw was the Prague Historic Museum which was a gorgeous building at the end of a shopping street. The street we were on was lined with restaurants and casinos and stores. At one end was the Museum and at the other end was this kind of square that featured a stage and a woman performing Fever in English to a packed crowd. Here, we got Gelato so that we’d have a reference point for when we were in Italy having some of the best Gelato in the world (or so I hope – my fingers are crossed!)
The Prague Natural History Museum (I think…)
After that area, we went in search of the most famous sight in that area of Prague. I’ll have to fill in what it was afterward because again, the lack of English on the tourist signs made me forget / not know the names of everything I was seeing! We found it and walked into the center of this giant square. It felt similar to Grand Place in Brussels but had a much different feel. Brussels was harsher and more masculine whereas this architecture was beautiful and feminine. Very quaint and elegant. There were coffee shops, horse and buggy rides, outdoor restaurants and more. The feeling here was one of festivity and exuberance.
Pretty street in Prague, CZ.
The town square (I think) in Prague, CZ.
There was one weird part though of this beautiful square. In front of the Church in the square, there was an Amnesty International demonstration happening where there were three people standing in a row (or was it four… see photo!) with black hoods over their heads and nooses around their necks. There was one regularly clothed girl with a loud speaker talking about how the government should abolish the death penalty and that it’s cruel to use the death penalty on other human beings. It was an odd display and not one that I particularly enjoyed. However, we still got photos!
Amnesty International protest - trying to get the death penalty abolished.
Leaving that area to go in search of the Jewish Synagogue and the Jewish cemetery, we walked down a street that I like to call Prague’s Fifth Avenue. Here, the streets were lined with Louis Vuitton, Valentino, Galliano… just to name a few. It was as though I had died and gone to heaven (even though I’ve been on many streets like this, it was nice to see it somewhere so foreign!) Trina had never seen a Louis Vuitton up close nor had she been in their stores so I grabbed her arm and led her inside. I’m hoping I can label-was her mind… haha
What I called “Fifth Avenue” in Prague…
By this time, it was starting to get dark so when we got to the Jewish Synagogue, we realized that we weren’t going to probably be able to go in let alone see much outside. We did however find the Jewish Cemetary which is uber-creepy at night. The cemetery features over 12,000 headstones in a one acre area. How the people are buried there, I haven’t got a clue… Maybe they start really, really far down in the ground and just sort of layer people? Eww.
Anyway, the cool part about being in this area at dark is that to your right, you can see the Prague Castle on the top of a hill, all lit up and looking very majestic and very grand. It was a gorgeous sight and really made us excited to have that on our agenda for today.
The Prague Castle from the Jewish Synagogue / Cemetery area.
We headed back to the hotel, did a quick Internet purchase and then went to the Zlaty for dinner. On our way there, we were walking down the hill from our hotel and through this tunnel-like thing that housed all of the buses. There were these two guys there, in their late thirties approximately, who decided that it would be hilarious to talk to us (we ignored them as we didn’t understand them) and then pretend to chase us. We ran like the wind, scared absolutely out of our minds, until we heard them laughing… We did NOT find it at all funny and luckily, it wasn’t far until we were back on a well lit, normal street. Needless to say, we chose to go around the super long way to the hotel from that point forward.
The Zlaty Klas… a disgusting restaurant!
Quick side story… When we were in Berlin, we were in the elevator headed up to our room to prep our bags to check out. We were talking about going to the Czech Republic and I said to Trina, “I wonder if the food is any good there?” and this woman, also riding the elevator with us, looked at us, laughed a little and shook her head no. At the time, I wondered why she laughed and felt the need to divulge this to us but after what I’m about to tell you, you’ll see why (because I certainly understood!)
Ok, so at the Zlaty. First things first, they don’t sit you at a table the way they do here. In fact, you’re pretty much on your own to wander around and look for a table. So, we did and found a table that was at first connected to this group of people. Luckily, the two seats on the end weren’t taken so we took them. Our waitress then came over and pulled the tables apart leaving Trina sitting in front of air instead of the table… I was on a bench seat so I didn’t suffer the same fate but it was funny – they certainly aren’t delicate here…
So, we look at the menu which was, no joke, at least 200 menu items on it, and pick out the one called “Traditional Czech Meal” because we figured (a) why not try something that is traditional and (b) it had dumplings in it and yummy! We also ordered some fried mushrooms with garlic bread to start. So, first meal arrives (mushrooms) and the thing is a plate of brown muck with some mushrooms mixed in with hard bread on the side and a bit of salad. The taste was a mixture between vinegar and gravy… It was disgusting and made me feel like I was eating sludge instead of food.
Second meal, the traditional Czech meal, came to our table and it literally looked like a plate of gravy with plain ol’ hunks of white bread, chunks of whatever meat they didn’t use in other dishes and these things that I suppose were supposed to be the dumplings? Anyhow, the taste was bland and disgusting and with every bite, I just wanted to vomit. Needless to say, we didn’t finish it. I wish I had my camera because a photo of that food was definitely needed to illustrate the disgustingness of it all.
Ok, so after dinner, we headed out of the restaurant / pub smelling wonderfully like smoke (ick – they are still allowed to smoke here in all public buildings… It’s disgusting and my throat and eyes were both burning by the time we left) and went back to our hotel room to do some e-mails, a bit of work and get some sleep. I hadn’t slept the night before so sleep was definitely welcome and needed.