Even more beautiful than I imagined.
Trip Start Sep 12, 2006
100Trip End Sep 08, 2008
After a few drinks with some of my students I met Chris and we got a train to Wroclaw. We had a few hours to fill in before our 2am bus to Prague, and I arranged for us to meet a few people through the hospitality club website for some drinks. It wasn't long before we had to find our bus though, and I slept for most of the journey, waking only when we crossed the Vltava River in Prague. I knew we'd arrived, as the apartment buildings lining the river were of the sort I'd only seen in movies. Even though it was still dark and only just gone 7am I was pretty excited to be there
We had a break to get our bearings and contact our host from hospitality club, Kamila, although she had already started work and couldn't meet us until after 6pm. I didn't particularly like the idea of wandering around Prague all day without showering and having had only four hours sleep on a bus, but I told myself to just be grateful I was even there. For all I'd heard Prague was one of the most beautiful cities on earth, so there was no point in complaining about trivial things.
Our bus stopped in the district of Ardel, in the south of the city, and we began by walking north to one of the cities most famous attractions, the Charles Bridge. Completed in the 14th century, the gothic bridge was lined with statues and was part of Prague's most famous king's (King Charles IV) plans for improving the city. I was pretty impressed with what I saw when we climbed the steps onto the almost deserted bridge just before 8am, but Chris was even more surprised. He'd been to Prague twice before, and said that in the summer time you couldn't move for all the tourists on the bridge. It had a remarkable atmosphere, with only a handful of people crossing it, and the scene became even better when the sun rose from behind the clouds, shining light on the huge castle on the western side of the river
We spent the next part of the morning wandering through the narrow cobblestone streets of the old town, and then into the more commercial part of the city near Wenceslas square. After a second breakfast we continued walking around before heading back to the Charles Bridge. By this time of day it was a very different scene, with tourists and souvenir vendors everywhere. Seeing the defensive tower on the eastern bank was open, we climbed to the top for an even better view over the city. Church towers rose above red tile roofed townhouses, not sky scrapers in this city. There was a photo opportunity everywhere I looked.
Feeling hungry, we crossed back over the bridge to the Mala Strana district, below the huge castle and imposing Church of St Nicholas. After making the most of the opportunity to grab some international cuisine for lunch we began to make our way up the hill to the castle. It was apparently the largest ancient castle in the world, however it didn't have the feel of what I imagined a castle to be. It was more a small town for nobles circling the giant St Vitus Cathedral, visible from almost every part of the city. The cathedral really was spectacular, even more so than the one I'd seen a few weeks earlier in Olomouc, and there was a fantastic view over the city from here
I really didn't expect us to find a host so close to Christmas, but even though she was busy with work and had plenty of Christmas shopping left to do, Kamila still offered to let us stay in her apartment for two nights. We went out with her, her sister and some of her friends that evening, and despite feeling really tired, it still turned out to be a great evening. I was in one of the most touristy cities in the world, but thanks to my favourite website I was able to meet a local who took us to a small restaurant away from the centre where I could try some Czech food at reasonable prices and talk about all things Czech.
The following morning was spent at Vysehrad, the location of one of the earliest settlements in Prague, in the 9th century. The huge Church of Saints Peter and Paul rose from the centre of the complex, still behind its original walls. There was a fantastic view over the Vltava River, and the trees and lack of people gave the place a nice ambience.
After grabbing a bite for lunch back in the old town, we wandered through the Jewish district and nearby streets for a while
Our final day in Prague was relatively laid back, beginning with a walk around the old town followed by a climb up the hill near the castle to Strahovska Zahrada. The views over Mala Strana and the castle from here were incredible, and after a delicious Indonesian lunch (oh how I'd been missing international cuisine in Opole) we slowly worked our way around to Petrin Hill, stopping along the way to take plenty of photos. Along the way we stumbled upon the 'Kingdom of Argondia,' a gallery of amazing surreal paintings and sculptures straight from another world. The artist, Reon Argondian, was very famous in Prague, although I had never heard of him before! It was by chance we found his small gallery in the woods below Petrin Hill, but I'm glad we did as it was a wonderful escape for an hour or so
It was a pretty hectic three days with little sleep, but I felt that I saw quite a lot of Prague given the short time I had. Thankfully, despite looming grey skies, we escaped the rain and had plenty of time to see the major tourist attractions (with the exception of a few museums) as well as a few alternative attractions. Kamila was a very hospitable host, and I'm really glad we had the opportunity to meet her at such a hectic time right before Christmas. For all I'd heard about Prague, I left the city with the same cherished memories as the hundreds of thousands who'd gone before me.