Prague

Trip Start Jun 08, 2012
1
12
18
Trip End Jul 24, 2012


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, Bohemia,
Saturday, June 23, 2012

The jump from Copenhagen to Prague has to be the most drastic of any on our trip. While Copenhagen was clean, modern, efficient and expensive, Prague is expansive, historic, and a little rough around the edges. Probably the biggest difference is the residents. It wasn't uncommon to see men in Copenhagen wearing designer suits on bicycles. In Prague, it seemed like everyone picked out their outfits by being blindfolded at Goodwill. For the US equivalent, check out this website.

The city of Prague is roughly the same size as Copenhagen but is more spread out and feels twice as large. Prague is also the first city we encountered any hills in since Paris, though I'm sure we will see plenty of "hills" in Austria and Switzerland. Prague is a very historic city, and remarkably well preserved considering all the wars and conflicts that have taken place in Central Europe. The city is somewhat of a bridge between Eastern and Western Europe, and the lingering effects of Communism can still be felt.

In Copenhagen, when reserving our night train to Prague, we decided to get the 4 bed cabin. We got lucky because no one else booked the other two beds. We spread out, set up the table, played cards and ate dinner in comfort. When we got to Prague, we headed straight toward our hostel on the east end of town. We booked hostels in Prague and Vienna because we are only spending a couple days in each. We had been camping for almost two weeks, and sleeping indoors is a nice break.

Our hostel was cleverly named the Czech Inn, and provided a much more social atmosphere than our last hostel in London. It seemed like 90% of the guests were native English speakers, mostly Americans, Canadians, Australians, and British, whereas the campgrounds are mostly mainland Europeans. Prague is also regarded as somewhat of a party city, and many of our roommates were taking advantage of the nightlife. While it might seem annoying to share a room with people coming and going at all hours, it worked surprisingly well. They left around the time we went to bed, and came back in when we were waking up.

The most noticeable difference in Prague is that the dollar goes much, much further. We felt a little like the group in the movie Eurotrip, when they arrive in Eastern Europe and book a luxury hotel for a handful of change. In Copenhagen, a meal would cost around 150 Danish Kroners, and a Prague meal set us back 150 Czech Korunas. Though they sound the same, that's roughly $25 and $7.50, respectively. Not only were the meals a quarter the price, they were much heartier. It seems like Czech Republic is a meat and potatoes type country. We ate very well, and didn't have to worry about our budget. We were surprised at the first restaurant by the huge portions. We had grown accustomed to eating smaller meals throughout the day, but in Prague, it seems like every meal is a feast. At one restaurant, we thought we were ordering goulash, and at 180CZK ($9), it seemed like a good deal. But when they started bringing the food out, we realized it was a three course meal with potato soup, goulash, and gelato style ice cream for dessert. The Czech have definitely had the best food so far.

The Czech Republic is well known for its beers. While not as famous or specialized as Belgium, the Czechs produce a wide variety of quality beers. Again the prices were great; We could sit down at a restaurant or beer garden and get a good pint for 25-30 CZK or $1.25 to $1.50. Needless to say, we sampled more beers here than anywhere else.

I wanted to stay longer, but Amanda would be the first to tell you that she didn't like Prague initially. Coming from Denmark, it is quite a culture shock. Prague is a nice city, but it is rougher around the edges than any place we have been to so far. When we were out of the tourist districts, the sidewalks were uneven and rough, the was more graffiti, the people had worse haircuts and even worse taste in fashion. The public transport is functional, but not fancy. We bought passes, but never had to scan them or show them to anyone. The buildings are all either historic or remnants of the Communist era. I say this gives the city a different character, and Amanda agreed with me by the end of our stay. After some adjusting, she enjoyed Prague too.

Prague has a surprising number of great sights and attractions to not be a mega city. We first visited the Old Town Square, which is the historic commercial nexus of the city. Now the streets that radiate out are all modern shopping streets, and it is a nice walking area. On the square is the famous Astronomical Clock. At every hour, a crowd gathers around, points their cameras upwards, and waits for the little show. We were on the square twice and managed to narrowly miss it. Our fellow hostelers informed us that we weren't missing much though. Apparently some elaborate cuckoo clock contraption pops out and winds around the clock.

Prague Center is split by the Vltava river. Old Town Square is on the east bank, while Prague Castle and Lesser town are on the west bank. On our second day we explored the castle, which is supposedly the largest castle complex in the world. I believe it, because we could have probably spent all day there. Though it is less like what we think of as a castle, and more like a walled city on a hill The castle provides great panoramic views over the city, and has its own cathedral in the center. St. Vitus Cathedral is just as impressive as Notre Dame in my opinion, and the wait was 0 minutes vs Notre Dame's 2 hours (and we were there on a weekend). Below the castle and along the river is Lesser Town. Lesser town is the newer part of the city (it's only about 600 years old). There are many old shops, streets and churches here, but the most interesting sight is the Lennon Wall. Somewhat of a public memorial to John Lennon, the wall is a huge, ever-changing graffiti mural. Most of the "art" is dated, and all the dates I saw was within the past week.

Prague was great, and I wish we had another day or so. We got a good feel for the city, and we will have to come back to see the rest. Next stop Vienna!
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