Prague

Trip Start Jun 27, 2006
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Trip End Mar 28, 2007


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Monday, October 16, 2006

Oliver, my roommate, was going to join us in Prague, so I booked an apartment here even before I left Boston. He changed his mind, so Paul and I had the "Castle View Apartment" all to ourselves. We had a perfect view of the famous Prague Castle. We also had the great view of Vtlava River and a few bridges that link the medieval castle district and Little Quarter on the left bank and the Old Town and New Town on the right.

The apartment is very nice - the nicest since I started travelling. Its kitchen is fully equipped. I finally had home cooked meals again! I spent many hours at the dining table balancing my checkbooks and reviewing my credit card statements - all of which was brought by Paul.

Prague (population 1.2M) was my favorite city when I backpacked in Europe some 14 years ago. It was not damaged at all during the world wars. All the buildings in the center of the city were intact. Back then, it was a real challenge for me to travel around. Nobody, including the information center staff, seemed to understand English. This time around, a lot of locals spoke English, and there are many ex-pats from English speaking countries. Needless to say, the price had gone way up. Thankfully, the charm of the city remains. I still think it is the most beautiful city that I have visited in Europe.

We spent a whole day strolling around the Prague Castle (Prazsky hrad) (the biggest castle complex in the world according to the Guiness Book of Records). St. Vitus Cathedral is located in the center of the complex. Construction of this French Gothic structure started in 1344, but was finally completed in 1929. The stained-glass windows are especially impressive. To get a great view over the city, we climbed the 287 steps of the cathedral's Great Tower.

Downhill from the castle is Mala Stranas, Little Quarter. We visited St. Nicholas Church.

We had Malaysian/Indonesian dinner around here. The food didn't meet my expectation. But I also didn't realize that it was run by local Czech.

The Old Town Square is in the middle of the Stare Mesto (Old Town). We climbed up to the top of the clock tower of the Old Town Hall. It was fun to look down on the crowds gathered at the square to watch the astronomical clock, which springs to life on the hour with its parade of apostles and a bell ringing skeleton.

We attended a performance by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra at the Rudolfinum. I quite enjoyed it. I heard someone snored - how shameful! Only after the event, I learned that it was Paul (who sat behind me).

Nove Mesto (New Town) is really not all that new. It was founded in 1348.

We woke up early one morning to stroll across the Charles Bridge (Karluv Most) before the crowds arrive. The bridge was built in 1357, and was the only bridge in Prague until the middle of 19th century. There are 30 statutes (including Christ on the Cross) on the 2 sides of this pedestrian bridge.

All public transportation system in Prague (as well as most European cities that I visted) is based on honest system. We are supposed to have a validated ticker or pass when riding the bus, trolley bus, tram (all of which have validation machines on board) and metro. The metro doesn't even have gates or turnstiles. There are validation machines near/at the entrances. I was asked twice by the plain cloth transit police to show my validated pass. We are also supposed to have a child ticket if we carry a big pack.

We befriended the landlord of the apartment, an American, who took us to a club outside of the city center. Paul had 3 shots of Abstinth (70% proof), which is illegal in US. He tried to bring a bottle of the alcohol back to US, which I found out later, was confiscated in transit in Switzerland.

I am grateful that Paul took back the huge backpack, along with some of my extra clothing, used travel guidebooks and my souvenirs (one teaspoon from each country). I now have a much smaller and lighter pack. I can't wait to get on a bus.

We stayed in Prague for 6 nights - the longest that I stayed at any one place.

It was very nice to see Paul, who will meet me again in Thailand in Jan. Anyone else wants to join me? I will be in Asia from Nov to Feb, Australia in March and Africa in April to July.
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