What we had directions to was the hotel from the tram station, not from the metro station, an accident that occurred when my mom printed a bunch of maps. Not that we knew that of course, so we tried to make them work, which it didn't of course. We wandered in the right general direction for a while and saw the bridge. We asked a guy that was selling something on the street where we should go and he was able to point us the rest of the way. Home sweet home...Charles Bridge Economic Hostel. Not having showered or freshened up since we left Phoenix, it would have been nice to check in and improve our appearance. The whole matted hair and red face look just wasn't working for me. But of course, we couldn't check in until 2pm and it was only noon. So our luggage stayed at the hotel while the 3 ladies desperately in need of personal hygiene attention burst out in full force onto the streets of Prague. Armed with a map and a camera, we walked to the Museum of Music.
Upon entering, we encountered a lady with another person, who we assumed also to be a lady (???), at the ticket desk. Trying to get the most out of our mostly worthless Prague Passports that we had purchased, we were able to get a discount at the museum through the quite
uncourteous ladies. An exasperated rolling of the eyes came from her when we tried to pay with a large bill...because obviously we had so
many options at the ATM that we should've had smaller bills. After no offer of helpful information from them, we proceeded upstairs to the exhibit. I started to take a picture of a crazy looking quarter tone piano that looked like 2 grand pianos stuck on top of each other with 3 keyboards. Now introducing...Museum Nazi #1! A man started yelling at me for taking pictures. Apparently you're allowed to take pictures...as long as you buy
a sticker that you wear that shows you bought permission. Paying extra to take pictures? Ridiculous. It was cheap enough that we did it anyways. Where do we buy this ticket, kind sir?
Well, all the way downstairs at the front desk of course. Not that those ladies could have told us while we were down there...definitely would have been too easy. My mom went down to buy the ticket while I proceeded to take pictures under the ever-so-watchful-laser-vision eyes of the Museum Nazi, after explaining to him that "Yes, really, you can stop yelling at me now because she just walked all the way back across the museum to buy it. You have a nice yelling voice but I think it's time to stop now. Ok, thanks!" There really was a quite fascinating assortment of old pianos. An old piano Mozart had played on when he visited Prague, one of Smetana's pianos, several giraffe pianos, some really ornately decorated pianos, etc. There was an exhibit for strings, winds, and harps as well. There was a double violin where there was a violin on both the front and back of the instrument. No idea how you play that. We closed the door behind us as we left as the sign on it said in English "Please--Closing the Doors." Ah yes, the museum was truly an experience of English grammar and Czech manners at its finest.
A short walk away was St. Nicholas Church. It was built throughout the first half of the 18th
century and holds an organ that Mozart played in 1787. The workers at the entrance looked at me like I was stupid when I asked if I needed a ticket. We did need tickets. Apparently I should have known that despite the fact that thousands of other European churches don't require tickets. Again, another glimpse of Czech courtesy. We battled a crowd of about 50 Italian kids to get in. Their teacher shouted out, "Tutti i ragazzi! Insieme!" as I was plastered to the wall of the entrance while the Italian mob passed by. Peeling myself from the wall, I entered the church. It was a beautiful church and we were even able to climb to the balcony to get a better view of the organ and to overlook the church.
Many things are poorly marked in Prague so after asking at a few places, we figured out where to get tram tickets. We took line 22 up to the castle and walked to it from the stop. We had a good view of part of the city as the castle was up on a hill. The pricing for the castle was mostly ridiculous, since our useless Prague Passport didn't cover it...not that I'm bitter about that...Prague Passport burning party anyone? Anyways, you had to pay extra for most things: if you wanted a ticket that included everything, if you wanted to take pictures, if you wanted an audio guide, if you wanted any sanity by the time you left, etc. The guy selling the audio guides even tried to bargain the price a little bit. "Bargain" is a code word for "rip off" in things like that. We only had 2 hours before it closed so we went with the short tour ticket + picture permission ticket (which none of the museum Nazis seemed to care about later anyways) + no audio guide. Student and senior tickets were half as much as the regular adults tickets so that helped a bit. The short tour ticket allowed us entrance to the Old Royal Palace and Basilica of St. George.
St. Vitus' Cathedral was already free but since the line was so long, we thought we'd come back to it. St. George's Basilica was built in the 900s and is the best preserved Romanesque church in Prague. The tomb of St. Ludmilla, the first female Christian martyr, is held there. The Old Royal Palace contained a large hall like a coronation room and a private cathedral attached to it. We were going to go to St. Vitus' Cathedral before leaving the entire palace grounds, but when we went back at 4:50, it was already closed. Not that anyone mentioned that it would be different than the 6:00 closing time of the castle grounds. We took some pictures of the front, and then tried to get into a Presidential Room which we heard was free that day. That was already closed too. Not that anyone had offered the information. Ah, the courtesy of the Czech. Overall, the Prague Castle was a nice visit, but nothing spectacular compared to other castles across Europe.
We bought tickets from a ticket machine that was mostly in Czech. After several tries and realizing we had the perfect amount of change (it only took coins), we had our tram tickets. The 3 of us--grungy, tired, and sore...do we get credit for the inner beauty we had left in us?--made our way back to the hotel and finally checked in. Surprisingly, the people at the desk were quite nice and the guy even took our luggage up to our room--on the 4th floor...with no elevator. I was glad not to carry those bags. Four flights of stairs was enough for my grandma so she didn't leave for the rest of the night. My mom and I got some water and bread (for peanutbutter sandwiches of course--my most important traveling food staple!) at the market whose selection was worse than what your food selection would be on an Atlanta to Prague Delta flight. We got some pizza at the nearby pizza shop and ate it in the room.
My mom and I, two American beauties that were well past 30 hours without a shower and a toothbrush and a bed, ventured out one last time for the evening. After a little searching, we
found the entrance to the funicular railway on Petřín Hill (which seemed more like an entrance to a warehouse for a drug bust) and made our way to the top of the hill. We wandered around until we found what we were looking for, the Observation Tower, which had been hidden behind some trees. It is an imitation Eiffel Tower built in 1891 and is a quarter of the size. There are 299 steps that went up the 200 foot tower. A grumpy lady took our tickets and shooed us up the staircase. Part of me wants to run up to hug one of these Czech people just to see what they would do with someone so friendly. 299 steps, freezing wind, one spiral staircase, and numb fingers...we made it. As evening began to set in, we had a great view of the city. It was definitely worth the trip up. Prague Castle, the river, and all of Prague was stretched out before us...beautiful. And a great way to end the day. Oh, and getting into a real bed that night didn't feel too shabby either.
Our hotel was nice--great location, under $100/night, 3 beds, private bathroom, kitchen, fridge, table, TV. The shower, well...tub...didn't have a shower curtain and the only way to shower yourself was to pick up the shower attachment and hold it yourself while trying to avoid spraying the entire bathroom. Needless to say, the entire process was closer to that of hosing off your dog in your backyard than actually any kind of bathing experience.
Refreshed from the so-called "bathing" on Sunday morning, and being a full-fledged coupon lady, I went down to the nearby Bohemia Bagel for breakfast where we each had a 20 Kc off coupon in that silly Prague Passport. Apparently all of the still empty tables were reserved for the hotel above, so we were forced to get our meal to go. We got a big bagel with eggs and cheese inside with hash browns and ate inside the McDonald's where my mom and grandma got coffee. It was all rather delicious and filling.
It was already a cold and brisk morning (Possibly reflective of the Czech attitude? But I wouldn't dare make that kind of judgment...would I...) as we started our day around Prague. We made our way across Charles Bridge, one of the most famous landmarks in Prague.
It is a very wide bridge lined with statues that's only used by pedestrians now. It had some great views of the river and city. After crossing to the east side of the river, we continued north to the Rudolfinum. It is one of the major concert venues in Prague, built in the late 1800s. It's a beautiful building and has a large Dvořák statue in front. The old Jewish quarter was nearby and we passed the Pinkas
Synagogue and the Klausen Synagogue. We got a quick glace into the Old Jewish Cemetery that was the only burial ground permitted to Jews for over 300 years. Gravestones are crammed in right next to each other--over 12,000 of them. Because they had to bury up to 12 people on top of each other, there are about 100,000 bodies there. We ran up an overlooking staircase to take a picture despite the scornful glance of the security guard. Another cheerful Czech citizen hard at work.
Old Town Square is one of the largest squares in Europe and in the middle is a giant monument to Jan Hus, the religious reformer that was burnt at the stake in 1415. On one corner of the square is the Old Town Hall, and on the edge is the Old Town Hall Clock. It's a giant clock tower with a clock built in 1490. No one wanted the clockmaker to reproduce it anywhere else so they blinded him.
Every hour when the clock chimes, figurines of the 12 apostles move around as part of the display. Joining the crowd of several hundred people, we stood transfixed as each apostle popped out as if we were children excited for a game of Peek-a-boo. The things tourists see. I asked the lady at the information center where to buy a ticket to get to the top, and while she would have much rather continued her conversation in Czech to her friend next to her, I ignored her dismissive attitude and squeezed the information out of her. They're about as willing to share information as Obama's transparent administration. We climbed to the top of the tower to what is probably the best view of Prague you can get. A 360 degree view from the center of the city looking out in all directions.
You can see the towers and castles in the distance as well as get really good pictures of all the red rooves of Prague. We got in a conversation with a Czech guy (or at least this is what happens when you leave Grandma next to an English-speaking trumpeter) that plays the trumpet in the tower and, having been to the States, he admitted the Czech people were very rude and gave us some tips. At least we weren't crazy by thinking people seemed so rude. The lift took us down and we continued on our walking tour.
Church of Our Lady Before Týn is on one side of the square with its huge steeples. The building started in 1365. We wandered on over to the Estates Theatre, where Mozart premiered his Don Giovanni
in 1787 while he conducted from the piano. That's pretty much like standing on holy ground. Down the street was the Powder Gate. There has been a gate there since the 11th century as one of the entrances to the old town. The tower that is there now was built in 1475. Behind it is the Municipal House, which is Prague's principal concert venue and was once the site of the King's Residence in the 1400s.
Next on the agenda was the Dvořák Museum and we planned to walk there. But apparently, Prague put "putting up street signs" on the bottom of its bucket list as it was nearly impossible to figure out what street we were on. Even with a semi-decent map we had to take a guess. Well, we guessed wrong. We headed north instead of east. When we realized we were headed in the wrong direction after about 10 minutes, we figured we would just take a metro there. But even a ride on the metro comes with its adventures.
The metro is really a nice system, and I would recommend it in any city. However, when traveling with a grandma in her seventies, precautions must be taken. Some of the metros are really quite far underground and the steep escalators are several stories tall. We encountered an escalator that was honestly quite off to the races, but my mom and I hopped on and started down while my grandma stood on top looking as if we were telling her to jump out of an airplane. Timing her step to the escalator was like an amateur playing DDR on expert. Wrong timing and you just don't score. In this case, when you don't score, you practically fall down an entire escalator. And while the dramatic end nearly occurred, the side railing saved her. Though she tripped, at least I didn't have to see my grandma do an entire gymnastics routine down a 100 foot escalator. Though she is probably scarred for life and deathly afraid of escalators now, we were then able to take the metro and make our way to the Dvořák Museum.
Upon arrival at the Dvořák Museum, a nice (yes...nice, and she was Czech!) lady at the ticket counter sold us tickets, and it was about 12:55. But that would be too easy if we went in and enjoyed the museum from there. She told us that they would be closing 1:30-2:00 for a lunch break, so we only had 35 minutes, but after the lunch she said, "Zen you come back. For all afternoon vith ticket. For free!" Well, that's nice except for the fact that we didn't want to wait around for half an hour while she took her lunch break. But she seemed pretty nice, so we thought we'd just try to see it all quickly before it closed at 1:30. There were a lot of pictures and things to read. Dvořák's writing desk, piano, violin, Bible, spectacles, and other objects were also there to see. I tried to see everything quickly and then go back to see what I
missed. At 1:25, I thought I'd spend the last 5 minutes back in the first room to read what I skipped. That's when the transformation happened. The nice lady that sold our tickets now turned into...*drum roll*...yet another Museum Nazi! She stopped me from going back into the first room and demanded I return the English guide I was holding. "Five minutes, just to see what I missed," I told her. "Not five minutes! Vun minute! I told you...museum close at 13:30!" "Yes, I know, but that is in five minutes." "Nooo," she continued in her Czech accent, "you must go and zen you come back!" My mom and grandma hadn't even come to the front yet so she still had people to wait on, but she was determined to not let me see anything in those few minutes. So as the rest of the people came to the front of the museum over the next 5 minutes, we stood there..."You don't close for a few minutes yet and it's just 10 feet away in that room." "No. You go now!" "But..." "Come back half hour!" And so we went, having spent the 5 minutes with her yelling at me rather than seeing the museum.
A short metro ride led us to the Vyšehrad Cemetery. We had to walk about 10-20 minutes on the outskirts of Vyšehrad to get to the cemetery, so my grandma decided to stay closer to the metro and wait for us. A small bench behind a wall covered in graffiti in a foreign country?
Yeah, sounds like a safe enough place to leave a grandmother. My mom and I walked to the cemetery that was founded in 1869 as the burial place for some of the country's most famous figures. We went to both Dvořák's and Smetana's graves. We quickly visited the large church there too before returning to the metro. When we approached, my grandma was not on the bench that we left her on. We thought about going to try to find her right away but thought, hey, we deserved a rest ourselves first too. Thankfully she had avoided getting kidnapped by a Czech mob and we found her trying to stay warm inside a station. "Now grandma, next time we say not to move from where we leave you..."
Another metro ride back to the Mustek station, and we had a string of good luck as far as being able to find street signs. We found Bethlehem Chapel, where Jan Hus preached in the early 1400s, and then continued on to the Smetana museum. The ticket lady wasn't at the ticket counter, but she left a sign, "I come at once. Thanks." English expressions in translation at
their finest. After we bought tickets, we went upstairs to the exhibition, and I, being tired of buying a special sticker each time I wanted to take pictures at a museum, decided to put on the same sticker I had at the last museum. After all, they all looked the same, maybe they were city wide? But of course, the Museum Nazi caught me. "You! No photos! One museum, one sticker!" Sticker reuse: fail. The museum had lots of photos and things to read. It also had Smetana's marriage certificate, drawings, spectacles, batons, piano, etc.
The Vltava River runs right through Prague and offers a beautiful stroll along the side of it. From the Smetana Museum, we walked south along the east side of the river for about half a mile. It was lined with trees and had a great view of the city. We passed the National Theatre and the Sitka Tower, eventually stopping at the Dancing House, a modern looking building in a twisted shape.
After a couple times walking back and forth on a street corner and asking some locals, we discovered the nearest metro stop and made our way back to Old Town. We tried a local treat: a trdelník. It was basically a hollow tube of dough in cinnamon sugar...kind of tasted like a pretzel. We ate it in Old Town Square where my entertainment was split between watching a concert playing famous American movie tunes in the square and watching a bum on the next bench fall asleep while his body slowly leaned more forward in an awkward head-hanging-down-by-the-hip position. In any case, both forms of entertainment were photographed by me.
We made our way back to our hotel by stopping to take a picture in another Church of St. Nicholas, getting a souvenir or two, buying some local pastries for breakfast, and crossing Charles Bridge for the last time. I was able to use the internet for half an hour for free at our hotel (yes, something free in Prague!) before heading to bed.
Having completed my time of Prague sight-seeing, here are a few things I learned:
1. Buy the Prague Card, not the Prague Passport.
2. Don't expect the people to be helpful or offer information, just be brave enough to keep asking questions. Beware of the museum Nazis!
3. Have several good detailed maps, because no one map of this particular city seems to have all the info you need.
4. Utilize the metro and tram system.
5. Be prepared for Prague to charge you for every little thing including going into churches and taking pictures at museums.
6. Staying near the Charles Bridge is an ideal location.
7. Getting great views of the city (river walk or climbing tower) is one of the best things to do.
8. The Prague Castle is somewhat overrated.
9. Have coins with you for transportation tickets or bathroom stops.
10. It's a darn pretty city!