Friday, August 1, 2014

60 Hours in Prague

Overlooking the Charles Bridge and Castle
over morning coffee
Imagine me, if you will: an 18-year-old, first semester of college in Boulder, Colorado. The class is Ancient World Literature. The professor tells us that in Prague, Czech Republic, instead of asking what you do for a living, people ask you what book you are reading when you are introduced.

I am hooked. I decide immediately that I must go to this city. I did not yet put two and two together with Franz Kafka, with Central Europe, with the Charles Bridge with 30 statues. I decided one day I must visit, and I was not disappointed.

How Long: I spent three days in the Czech Republic, two of these in Prague. This was NOT enough time, for me, at least.

Overall Impressions: I loved this city. It felt intimate, beautiful, gritty and fascinating. I was consistently inspired, engaged and excited to see more. With so many winding alleyways leading into courtyards full of delicious foods or to new figures watching the streets from afar, there was so much to keep my imagination busy the whole time. I could feel the touch of artists, scientists, revolutionaries and dictators here.

What I did: My friends who live in Amberg, Germany and I drove to Prague, which allowed us to stop in Pilsen (Plzeň), the city where lager beer – Pilsner – was first invited in 1842. It was a rainy Sunday and the town was deserted, but you can still visit the Pilsner Brewery, get a tour, buy a t-shirt or drink a half-Euro beer in the beer garden. We wanted to do the tour but because it was Sunday, the only English tour started too late for us – we had to make it to the airport to pick up our friend Jezelle, who’s been traveling in Spain, France and Italy. Jezelle and I are spending a week together, visiting Prague and Vienna before I head south and she goes back north. For any beer aficionado, I would absolutely recommend Pilsen, which is an easy day drip from Prague.   

The Pilsner brewery, Czech Republic.
In Prague we did the Sandeman’s NewEurope Free Walking Tour, which helped orient us and gave us a glimpse into the hundreds of years of history there. We learned about what the cracks in the side of the building here were (the places the executioners would sharpen their knives) and saw some of the newest, strangest artwork the city has to offer (a statue of two men looking at each other, peeing the shape of the Czech Republic, as well as a huge woman whom you can climb inside of and recreate the experience of being in the womb.)
The beautiful Astrological Clock

Note: If you go to Prague get the full story and imagery of why the Astrological Clock is made the way it is. It was apparently named the 2nd Most Overrated Tourist Attraction in Europe (after the Mona Lisa, which I can see) and I find this to be a horrible offense! There is perhaps not as much excitement in the movements of the figures on the hour, but when you know the story of who they are, what they represent and how scientific this clock is, you will see it for the work of art that it was made to be, not overrated at all.

This tour also provided an excellent overall history of Prague, from the time of St. Wenceslas, to the lives of the Jewish citizens before and throughout WWII to the modern Velvet Revolution when the Czechs liberated themselves from the Soviet Union.

Jezelle and I walked across the Charles Bridge, admiring the 30 statues there and touching the statue of the priest who refused to tell the King what the Queen had confessed and was thrown into the river. You touch this statue if you wish to return to Prague one day. We then climbed the hill to the Prague Castel and bought tickets to see the Cathedral, Golden Lane and Royal Palace. Probably the most interesting was the Golden Lane, where there was a very cool exhibit on ancient military and torture, as well as recreated houses of all the kinds of people who lived in the castle throughout the years, from guards and herbalists to Franz Kafka and a fortune teller who predicted the German’s overthrow after WWII and was killed for it.

Charles Bridge, with Prague Castle in the background
We also wandered into a Thai massage place and had tiny fish eat the dead skin from out feet, as well as snack on a lot of Turkish street food and good beer. It was a great overview of everything, but not enough to really dig my fingers in at all.

Where I stayed: We had an all-female dorm in the Sokolska Youth Hostel. This was about a 7 minute walk to the top of Wenceslas Square and about 15 minutes from the center of Old Town. For $16 a night, not a bad deal. It was muggy in the rooms, but it was a clean, quiet and secure hostel. Nothing great, nothing horrible.  

Gregor, Jezelle and I: drinking beer from California
to the Czech Republic!
What I ate: Prague has a lot of goulash, meat and dumplings. Their tradition cuisine consists of many kinds of pig meat and bread, with lots of beer flowing. It’s such an international city, we found some great food of all kinds, including really good coffee at a café by the river on our final morning. On the last night, we walked across the river to Letná Beer Garden, where you can see the whole city while you sip your cheap, delicious beer.

Total Costs: They say in Prague beer is cheaper than water, and I’m pretty sure this is true! The beer and wine is flowing cheaply (just a little more than a Euro for a pint of Pilsen or any other local brews, typically) and the food is also cheap; less than $10 for a great risotto at a relatively fancy restaurant.

Along with paying on $16 for the hostel and about $7 for a student pass into the Castle, it was a really affordable city to be in, all around.

What I wish I known: All I wish was that I had stayed longer. I really felt like Prague was the first city I’ve been to on this Euro-Trip that I could see myself living in, or staying in for a period of time in order to let myself soak everything in better. I would also have stayed in a hostel closer to the Old Town Center, and I would have given myself more time to see some of the cities and Bohemian countryside around Prague, including the Terezin Concentration Camp and Kutná Hora, a nearby town. 

From the top of the city. 

In the center of Old Town Square, the Church of Our Lady Before Time.

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