So much history.
Our arrival in Prague was not without a bit of drama, that being a luggage mishap in Vancouver. We walked on the Departure Bay ferry and then had coffee with Doug's sister Sydney at Starbucks downtown Vancouver. Our flight was not for a few more hours so we had time to catch up with her. On the walk to the skytrain my beautiful little carry on bag fell apart. The pull up handle fell off. There was no way to fix it, perhaps in a luggage shop but the chance of one being in downtown Vancouver was pretty slim.
As we were standing outside the 'Bay' I dragged Syd and Doug to the luggage department to find another bag. I was overtired, it was past my daily nap time and when I am tired I make bad decisions and panic. Both of these happened, and on a grand scale. I was darting from bag to bag with the help of Doug and Syd as well as this poor employee who kept bringing me bags to try. My clothes and items were all over the floor of the store as I would try to fit everything into another 20 inch carry on. It seems the one I had was very generous in size.
In the end I left with a 24 inch very expensive, boring black suitcase. Somehow my dress sandles got left behind I discovered later. They are probably inside one of the suitcases that got put back on the shelf.
The flight on Briish Airways to London was very pleasant, we had a five hour lay over in London and then continued on to Prague.
It is always such a relief to me when I see my baggage arrive at my destination, and ours were the first ones on the carousel and in one piece as well. We were then thrilled to see a fellow standing with a sign that had my name on it, our transfer to the city. It was now 10PM local time and although we did sleep a bit on the flight we were tired.
We were taken to our home for the next 6 days, a one bedroom apartment in the centre, walking distance to pretty much everything we want to see. It is large, has great curved lines in the ceilings and we are very pleased with it. After unpacking our bags we crashed into bed and slept until 7 the next morning which was great.
DAY 1. Prague is amazing! I think it is my new favourite place that we have been to. There does not seem to be much damage to the buildings from the wars as there are many Baroque buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries most in pastel shades. The narrow, winding roads and sidewalks are all various types of cobblestones. Very few cars are in the old part of Prague which is a good thing as there are many, many tourists and locals walking on the streets as well as the very narrow sidewalks. The cobble stones are easy to walk on, quite even in height.
A five minute walk takes us to the main square which is where everyone ends up. It is PACKED with tourists. I can only imagine how busy it must be in the summer months. I had found a walking tour on Trip Advisor that we wanted to take so we signed up for the 11AM tour. As we had not had our coffee yet we found a small cafe on the square to wait the 1/2 hour out. Two small cups of 1/2 full coffee arrived for 160 koruna, or $8. Yikes!
Prague is expensive, but the cafes on the square are outrageous. It was good coffee however.
The square is packed with tourists, to the point where you can barley move. Hundreds of different coloured umbrellas are pointing in the air
with guides leading their flock to the next statue or building where they all hang on every word of the leader. French, Italian, German, Czech are all heard speaking about the same monument at the same time. Crazy.
Our guide was a very charming and witty young Australian man, who lives in Prague with his Czech wife. Our 2 hour tour was busy but very informative about the buildings, history and people of Prague and the Czech Republic. There were 21 in our little group from places such as England, Italy, Brazil, Israel and Australia.
The weather was perfect, overcast but comfortable. At the end of the two hours we felt a couple of drops of rain. We were back at the main square and although I knew that the prices would be crazy I was too tired to hunt for a place for lunch so we ate at a covered sidewalk cafe. The food was good and five minutes after we sat down the skies opened. We timed that well.
Raincoats and umbrellas were in our packs which we put on and made our way back to the apartment. We both slept for a couple of hours and woke at 6PM. During our tour we passed a Spanish Synagogue that was advertising a concert at 7PM tonight so we decided to go and dashed out to find it again. The rain had stopped and it was a pleasant walk. Prague must be an easy city to get around as we have not gotten lost yet. There are so many tiny little streets going right and left but for some reason easy enough to remember.
We joined about 25 other concert goers in the large, very ornate and beautiful synagogue. A few minutes after we sat down a string quintet walked onto the pulpit area and played a few old classics which included Motzart . The acoustics were amazing and we were all spell bound. A few times during the hour long recital a woman would come out and sing opera. Evita, songs from Bolero and some more modern musicals were chosen. Her voice was flawless and overall the concert did not disapoint.
Our guide had told us of a resteraunt/bar close by that had the best beer in the world I think he claimed. Prague is known for it's great beer and as you know Doug and I don't drink but felt we had to try this. The bar was called 'Locale' and the beer, made on site, can not be older than 3 days as they do not use any perservatives. We heard that the beer consumption in Prague is the largest in the world as well, so the three day rule is probably not an issue. We stood at the front for a while, the place was packed, and finally a fellow said to us
"go find a seat"
We walked through this massive long narrow room with tables on both sides, filled mostly with young people. There was a soccar match on the big screen in each section, Czech versus someone else, and there would be bouts of cheering now and then. We finally found a small table and sat down to oder a small beer each as well as a bit of food. I had pickeled camanbert cheese as it was the only thing on the menu I could eat. Doug had a plate of sausages.
The beer was great. Mild, no after taste and very refreshing. I don't really like beer but this was very good. Afterwards we slowly walked back to our apartment past the many shops selling amazing brightly colored Italian leather purses, Bohemian crystal, Swarovski crystal jewelry and Czech crystal jewelrey. There may have to be some shopping time I am thinking.
DAY 2. I woke at 7AM and was hoping to get to the Charles bridge at sunrise, but slept in. We threw on our clothes and made our way to the famous bridge before the throngs of tourists arrived. A foot passenger bridge only now, the bridge is from the 15th century and lined with statues on both sides. We slowly walked to the other side of the Vitava river along with a few dozen other early risers. Joggers, locals going to work and a few tourists like us snapping photos in the morning light.
We were now in search of breakfast but because it was early few places, other than McDonalds and Starbucks, were open. We finally found this charming little cafe and sat down to have a delicious meal and extremely small but strong coffee.
Grocery stores seem non existant. Vegetables do not seem too prevalent on the menus, nor do fruit. On the walk back towards the bridge we came across a 7-11 type store and they did have a few bananas and oranges. I went to pay with my VIsa and on the second try the woman says
"you have not any money here"
Well I knew I did, especially $5, so when I got back to our apartment I called home on Skype and sure enough there was a message from VISA to call them. Someone, in Canada, had tried to put though a charge for $750 for sunglasses to a BC company the day prior. Good on Visa to figure out this was not my pattern. I only buy drugstore sunglasses for under $20.
Well this means that my card is cancelled now.....great! I have an extra which is good, but I wonder how that happened?
Slowly making our way back across the bridge we see that the vendors have arrived and setting up their kiosks selling paintings, jewelry and crafts. The tour groups with Mary Poppins in the lead are coming towards us.
It was noon when we arrived back at our home and we both went back to sleep until 3PM and then set out once again, this time to a museum of decoration. There were fashion pieces including jewelry, clothing and shoes from as far back as the 1800s as well as clocks watches and dishes from as early as the 15th century. It was a small but interesting hour and 1/2.
As we wander the streets it is hard not to notice how many young people there are, lots of couples pushing very expensive baby buggies, all very good looking and fit. I am not sure how though, there is a pastry shop at every turn. Gorgeous buns, breads and sugary goods tempting you with the amazing smell as you walk by. And hand made Gelato and Ice cream every few blocks. I did indulge in gelato tonight. The cones are only around 2 tablespoons of gelato however, so not toooo many calories.
Dinner tonight was at a typical Czech restaurant. I had the eggplant with tomatoes and goat cheese which was nice and Doug ordered the Farmers platter which was every kind of meat you can imagine, pig, beef all surrounding an entire small duck in the centre of the plate. Vegetables as I say are non existent unless you specifically order some but there are not many on the menu. A couple from California sat beside us and we had an enjoyable conversation. They are starting a Rick Steeves tour tomorrow going to many of the places we are going to. The man ordered a Czech specality , Pigs Knee. It arrives with nothing but the huge piece of pork, the size of a small child covering his plate. The vegetarian in me is looking for my 'happy place' as I am seeing and smelling this meat all around me. I concentrate on my plate of eggplant and keep myself from gagging.
We pass through the market on the way home and it is just as busy at night with the many buskers performing everything from bagpipes to strings to medieval instruments as well as dancers and other performers. I wanted to get some pictures of the bridge at night but without a tripod they did not turn out. Again it was a madhouse of people. Don't these people ever stay home?
Most people who live in Prague seem fairly affluent. The cars are all newer BMWs, VWs, and Mercedes. We have seen perhaps a dozen or so people begging, all men. They go to the edge of the sidewalk, or road, and kneel down with their arms outstreched with a cup or hat, and head down. Almost the downward dog yoga position. They stay like that for hours. If you put a coin in the cup it is like they are awoken from a trance and don't look up but say
"Dekuji" (thank you)
I am like a crow sometimes, I see something shiny and I must go investigate. The walk home was spent darting in and out of shops selling stunning amber in the regular orange color but blue and greens as well. I found an gorgeous pair of square blue ones that she said because I was from Canada she would give me the best price....:} I will sleep on it.
DAY 3. Lazy morning. Hung out in the apartment until 10:45 and after having our breakfast of instant oatmeal, bananas and tea went out in search of coffee. A few blocks away is another museum which we venture to. This one is an old Baroque stately home in need of repair. The rooms are all empty but there are descriptions of what would have been in the rooms. It must have been very grand indeed.
The fouth floor houses a temporary modern art exibit. Lumps of wet grey cement were dropped onto a board and then pieces of film and pencils were stuck into it. Boring and bland in my opinion but I am sure some must find it inspiring. Not me, I lasted five minutes. I don't think that the female guard liked it either as she gave me a knowing smile as I went out to wait for Doug.
Doug continued walking around while I went back for my afternoon sleep. FIrst I put on a wash. We have a tiny little washing machine in our apartment so I filled it full of our dirty clothes, and went to sleep.
A few hours later it was still going, and going and going. We had to leave for the concert so I just turned it off and decided to deal with it later.
We had purchesed tickets to a concert at the palace tonight and hoped to get there early to see some of the grounds and rooms first. The palace is overlooking the city and has a wonderful view of the tiled red roofed city below.
The cathedral was massive and very impressive. The crowds were manageable at this time of day and quite pleasant. Our concert was in the old convent, St. George's Basillica. A stone church dating from the 10th century it had beautiul frescoes still visible on the walls and ceilings. Doug and I took our seats in the front row and the string quintet played Mozart, Vivaldi, Pachelbel as well as others. As the night before a female opera singer would come out periodically to sing. The accoustics were extraordinary and the hour long concert passed far too quickly.
The rain started again as we walked down the many steps to the city below. Crossing the bridge got us back into old town where we were in search of a vegetarian Indian restaurant that we had heard of, Beas. Through some back alleys, tunnels and side streets we finally find it to discover that they were closing in 15 minutes. It was a self serve buffet style and most items were already finiished. We were so hungry that we just filled our plates with the rice and dal and few vegetables that were left and enjoyed our meal. A balance out to last night's carnivorous feast.
We came across a travel agency in one of the alleyways on our journey back to the room. After some conversation with her we decided to book an afternoon tour to a small medieval town a few hours from Prague on the day we leave for Krakow. We need to check out of our room at 10AM but our train is not until 10PM so this will work out well.
Back at the apartment I turned the washing machine back on and did some reading. A hour later it is still rinsing. There is a manual for everything in this apartment right down to the toaster, but not the washing machine. I googled the manual and still couldn't figure it out. We called the guy from reception who came up right away. He was about 20 years old and he couldn't figure it out so he called someone and they talked in Czech for a while
and 'voila' the machine drained out the water and stopped.
I took out the clothes and they are dripping wet. We had to wring them all out and hang them around the apartment to dry, which will take around a week in this weather.
Day 4. The clothes are still wet. Tuned the fan on them to hopefully speed things up. After breakfast at home we are in search of coffee again. There is no such thing as a 'coffee pot' here, it is all americanos. I need to get used to the small cups , half full. I suppose that they are doing me a favour however as it is very strong coffee.
Tomorrow we leave by the train so decided to do a dry run today and walk across Prague to check out the station and make sure our tickets were good. . The main train station is massive, it looks like Metrotown Mall inside with the many stores and cafes inside. We checked with the fellow at the station that our internet paper confirmations were acceptable for tickets tomorrow, I did not want a repeat of Russia.
Yes ,they are good.
Doug wanted to go for lunch and I wanted to go shopping so we split up. I braved the metro, changing once and then transferring to the tram and made it back to our place. It was at that point that I saw some shiny things in a window and needed to investigate. I ended up buying a Swarovski crystal necklace and earrings that were made here in the Czech Republic.
On the way home I came across an outdoor market with many stalls selling trinkets and fruiit. For $12 I bought two bananas and a small basket of berries. Now I know why I don't see too much fruit.
After a rest we headed to another vegetarian restaurant down a dark alley that was recommended by our guide. The atmosphere and food were fantastic, although we were clearly the oldest in the place. It was packed with young 20 somethings and many languages heard around us. Feeling wonderfully full on great fresh food we walked for a couple of hours exploring more of the old town. I would still be out there wandering if it were not for Doug. He had a much better sense of direction than I did today.
Tomorrow we will take a half day trip to a small town and then leave Prague for an overnight train to Krakow Poland. We really enjoyed our stay here and highly recommend to anyone who is thinking about Eastern Europe.