Did someone replace Prague with Disneyland while I was asleep at the wheel? We arrived in the late afternoon and made it over to Charles Bridge that evening for our first view of the Prague Castle in all its glistening nighttime glory. That scene is straight out of a Disney movie. It is unreal and utterly romantic. I literally swooned.
The whole city kind of feels like a movie set to me. I mean, look at the town square.
It even has an astronomical clock. That sounds as movie-set-esque as possible, until you’re told that every hour on the hour it turns into a gigantic cuckoo clock. Are teacups and candlesticks going to start singing and dancing as well?
The incredible buildings don’t stop at the bridge and the town square; they are all over the city. And we know, because we took a (nerd alert!) Segway tour around the whole place!
I’m not going to lie, I was kind of nervous about riding the Segway at first. I got over the whole being embarrassed thing, because um, it’s actually insanely cool to ride this ingenious device. But, since (as is well documented on this blog) I am afraid of everything, I was afraid of hitting pedestrians and/or falling off this mysterious vehicle and onto the street thereby ending up with a cobblestone patterned face. But it was my lucky day, we were the only ones to show up for the tour and so we got a little private lesson on how not to injure oneself or others on a Segway, and guess what? I didn’t! Hooray! Also, it is so amazing to experience the world as a tall person for a day. The things you can see up there! 😉
Our mad Segway skills did not stop us, however, from wearing our helmets the entire time we were on the tour. Even when we parked the Segways to walk around. Bonus to sightseeing with helmets on: you can always find your partner in a crowd! We’re special, I know.
Our tour took us through most of Prague’s highlights. It was sort of the perfect way to explore a city for people like us who have a very short attention span when it comes to museums and churches and such. You just get there (fast), check it out, learn a tiny bit about it, and move on. I also highly recommend doing a Segway tour your first day in town. That way, you get your bearings and anything you really like and want to learn more about you can go back to and visit again.
One of the perks of doing the touristy stuff on Segway was cheating on the “walk” up to the castle. While we didn’t have much time to explore, we quickly went in to look at the church up close.
And the views from up there, and the nearby orchard/park, are wonderful.
Post-Segway tour we made it back to Malá Strana and entered the St. Nicholas church to check out the inside, and for good reason. Some ornate, pink and green marble Baroque-ness going on in there. Europe has got some seriously beautiful churches, does it not? I’ve been to church more in the last two months than my entire life before!
We also stopped to visit the Wallenstein Gardens, where the Czech Senate does its thing. They have a nice little spot there, loaded with bronze statues, a pond full of fish and surrounded by peacocks, all flanked by a view of the castle behind.
My favorite spot in Praha has to be the Lennon Wall. It is just so colorful and happy, and while I’m not sure if this is always the case or not, there was a guy playing covers of Beatles classics while we snapped our photos. And this little girl dancing along was maybe the cutest thing ever.
I really enjoyed reading a bunch of the notes people have left on the wall. There are all sorts of medium stuck up on there, often affixed by a band-aid.
The music scene in Prague is said to be legit so we spent a couple nights checking out a mix of the local concert offerings. One night we visited Reduta Jazz Club, where Billy Clinton himself once got up on stage and wailed on the sax. Juwana Jenkins sang some soul/rock and she was definitely an entertainer. Though we were really wowed by the fantastic harmonica player, Charlie Slavik.
To switch it up, we saw some classical music (organ/piano player, a violinist and two singers) the next night. We felt classy as hell ( 😉 ), and the venue was really lovely.
On the whole, I was a little un-into the Czech food, but I think this is largely because we’d been eating this hearty, meaty type of fare for so long by this point (German food and beer, then Prague for beef goulash, pork, bread dumplings, and more beer). That said, we did sample the trdelnik one evening. This is kind of like a heavy fried dough made on a burning hot rolling pin and then smeared with nutella. It’s as good as it sounds, and one is enough for a meal. Also, as our waiter not so subtly suggested the first evening, Pilsner Urquell may just be the best beer in the world. Ok, maybe that’s a stretch, but it’s really good.
Prague has a huge and fun Old Town and sports some very impressive buildings and views (such as Prague Castle from Charles Bridge). History, beer and music are top draws. I did not realize before visiting that Prague was once the capital of the Holy Roman Empire (under Charles IV). Nor that “New Town” was built in the 14th century.
If you have enough time for a day-trip or more, Český Krumlov comes highly recommended.
Czech’s currency is the koruna (aka crown), though you will often see prices quoted in Euros. At time of travel, 1 USD = 21.6 CZK.
Transportation: We arrived on a train from Berlin, disembarking at Prague’s main train station (Praha hlavní nádraží). Much of the ride offers charming countryside scenery, as the tracks run right along a river. We walked (or took a Segway) everywhere within the city. The public transit system has a good reputation and is not that expensive.
We departed on a Smart Wings flight to Paris. Our hotel charged CZK690 (a cab may be slightly cheaper, and one may take public transport) for the 20-30 minute drive to Vaclav Havel Airport, which is nice and has free WiFi. The plane said Czech Airlines on it, and it was a pleasant voyage.
Accommodation: We stayed at Hotel U Červené židle (aka Red Chair Hotel). The location is superb, very near to Old Town Square and the Charles Bridge. Our room was spacious and the staff were very helpful. It seems to me that you probably want to stay in Old Town or Lesser Town.
If you are looking for something more upscale, my Dad and Linda recently stayed at Mamaison Riverside and my in-laws stayed at The Emblem. The Four Seasons is near Charles Bridge with a view of Prague Castle, and the Mandarin Oriental is in Lesser Town.
Food and Drinks: The Czech Republic is famous for its beer, but we did not really bring our A-game. Our excuse is that we came from Oktoberfest plus a week with Jack, aka the beer pusher. There are the classic old brewers, plus allegedly a robust craft beer scene. I can say that we much prefer the Pilsner Urquell to the Budweiser Budvar. We found the food generally good, but not great. There is a lot of goulash, roast pork, cabbage, bread or potato dumplings, etc. In general, stews, roast meats and hearty food prevail. If you have a sweet tooth, the ubiquitous trdelnik (a cylindrical pastry) makes a nice snack or dessert.
Dinner at U Parlamentu was good, and a half liter of Pilsner is only CZK38. Lunch at Cafe Savoy was also good, and the interior is lovely. Pad thai at Siam Orchid was not cheap (CZK190), but it was large and tasty. Dinner at U Medvidku was disappointing. The service was lousy, it was smoky, they were out of Jenni’s top choice, and I thought it was a craft brewery but somehow at dinner I could order only Budweiser Budvar.
Some other places that were recommended include K The Two Brothers (Indian); Pivovarský Dům; Cafe Louvre.
Activities: The City Tour with Prague Segway Tours (CZK1490 each, three hours) was a nice way to get an overview of the major tourist attractions. We weren’t so impressed by our guide, but riding a Segway was fun and it was worthwhile. We saw a blues/rock show at Reduta Jazz Club (CZK320/ticket, purchased in advance at their ticket window). Juwana Jenkins was good, but Charlie Slavik on the harmonica was the highlight. We considered JazzDock or Jazz Boat for shows.
“Mozart in Old Prague” at the Klementinum Mirror Chapel was nice (CZK550/ticket, somehow arranged at the front desk of Eurostars Thalia). We would’ve liked to hear the Czech Philharmonic at the Rudolfinum, but opening night was the day we departed. The National Theatre and Smetana Hall at Municipal House are but two of the many other venues for classical, opera, etc. There are also regular performances in various churches.
We saw Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral up close, but we never entered. We did enter Our Lady of Victory Church (not that special unless you’re really into the baby Jesus statue) and St. Nicholas (CZK70), which is an impressive baroque construction. Wallenstein Garden is free and peaceful with nice views. Just don’t ingest hallucinogens before visiting or the dripstone wall may get you. But the peacocks might be neat.
Old Town Square is a must, with the Astronomical Clock, gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn, etc. Nearby is the Powder Tower, Republic Square (there was a small farmer’s market when we passed through on Wednesday) and the Municipal House (with an attractive Art Nouveau cafe and restaurant). The main square of New Town is Wenceslas Square.
The Lennon Wall made for an enjoyable quick stop. The old Jewish Quarter (Josefov) is a top attraction, though we just cruised through and did not make it to the museum. Our Segway guide said there is a pedestrian area with bars etc. along the Vltava River, I think it’s called Novoměstská náplavka or something like that.
September 28 – October 2, 2014 (Sunday-Thursday)