I took an overnight bus from Berlin to Prague, even though it was only about five hours, and arrived just before 5.00am. The directions that the hostel had given me from the bus station were the kind of directions that my mother would love – all landmark based with instructions like ‘turn left at the green building’ and ‘turn right at the yellow building with a brown base and a red roof’. While I would have preferred some useful directions ie. something with street names perhaps, I’m sure that these directions would still have been helpful – if it wasn’t so dark that everything around me was painted in shades of grey.
Luckily I was able to find the street the hostel was on in my under-used guidebook [with the help of the trusty torch app on my phone], and subsequently located my place of lodging without any real difficulty. Given my ridiculous arrival time of about 5.15am the poor guy unfortunate enough to be working the night shift was comfortably asleep on the couch when I rang the doorbell, and as my bed wasn’t available – as I completely expected, with check in being in the afternoon – he made me a cup of tea and I promptly fell asleep on the other couch. A surprise awaited me as I awoke – the familiar face of Kim, the lovely American girl I had met about six weeks earlier in Riga.
The couch had been surprisingly comfortable, and I caught up with Kim as they readied my bed – there had been an early checkout so they let me check in early. I discovered that there was an afternoon walking tour, and so settled into my latest temporary home before heading out for a free introduction to the wonderful city of Prague.
I’ll admit that at first, the girl taking the walking tour drove me absolutely mental, trying so hard to be funny that I wanted to strangle her. However, as the trip progressed she seemed to get a little less nervous and it actually turned out to be one of the best that I’ve done. Like basically all free walking tour guides she wasn’t a local, but she had certainly done her research and was a great source of information about the history of the city. I must give her credit for telling me of a bunch of places that had cider – not an easy beverage to find in the Czech Republic, where not drinking beer is a cardinal sin.
The tour started, of course, in the main square. The main square is lined with lovely old buildings with plenty of pointy spires, with statues and monuments and fountains, the part of the Old Town Hall that wasn’t destroyed, a bunch of trees, overpriced restaurants and food stands, almond vendors, horse-drawn carriages, ugly taxis, hordes of tourists and the occasional bemused local.
We shortly left the main square and meandered through the streets checking out various monuments and buildings and learning a bit about the history of the city. We saw Prague’s oldest theatre, where Mozart’s Don Giovanni premiered. Call me uncultured, but what I found most entertaining about the theatre was the statue out the front.
We wandered through the Jewish quarter, the beginning of which is presided over by a statue of Franz Kafka. I regret that during my time in Prague I didn’t make it to the Prague Jewish Museum and associated synagogues – as good a reason as any to revisit the city one day. We saw some churches, of course, and the tour ended at a nice spot with a great view of the castle – and some more statues.
The next day, I decided to start with by climbing the tower of the Old Town Hall to check out yet another old town from above. There’s a lift that goes up, however the line for the lift was pretty unappealing and so I actually chose to walk up the stairs instead.
Unbelievable, I know. The view from the top was incredible, once I managed to squeeze into a gap between everyone else crammed up there. It was so picturesque, despite the discomfort of being squished among dozens of sweaty bodies and squealing small children. I couldn’t help but think about how pretty it would be in winter, with all the red sloping roofs covered in crisp white snow.
I headed next to the Mucha Museum. The museum was interesting, with a short biographical film about the artist and a number of original sketches, paintings, photographs and lithographs. While of course most of the museum was dedicated to Alphonse Mucha’s famous art-nouveau posters of Sarah Bernhardt, as well as a number of his posters featuring soft Slavic beauties, it also contained a number of pieces of completely different styles, unrecognisable from his well-known graphic art. What I found quite disappointing about the museum was that it held no pieces, original or otherwise, of Mucha’s Slav Epic, to which he devoted years.
A group of us from the hostel decided to go out for dinner and find some typical Czech food. We’d had a recommendation for a place a few streets off the main square and thought it sounded good. As it turned out, the food was pretty disappointing for most of us. I had a beef goulash, which contained three chunks of pure gristle with nary a bit of actual meat in sight, with a side of dumplings. That was the real tragedy. I loved the dumplings in the Baltics and in Poland, and had assumed that Czech dumplings would be similar. They’re not. They are more like round doughy bread slices, an inch thick, and they were horrible. Everything about them was just wrong. I’d give my meal about a negative three out of ten, so it’s probably good for the restaurant that I can’t remember what it was called! However, the staff there were pretty helpful. My habit of fidgeting with my rings landed me in trouble when the one I bought in Morocco decided to slip off my finger and under the table. The two guys who came to dinner were crawling under the table looking for it, as was I, and we came to the conclusion that it must have fallen into the grate as it was nowhere to be seen.
I decided to write it off as lost, but a couple of the waiters saw us and came over to help. To open the grate, they had to move three tables and six benches. Luckily only our table was occupied; unfortunately they were medieval style tables that weighed an absolute tonne. Upon lifting up the grate it quickly became apparent that it hadn’t been opened since the dawn of time and it was full of lost things like hair barrettes, coins, elastic bands, bottle caps, small toys and a couple of earrings – as well as a whole lot of accumulated dust and dirt. However, after we pulled out all of the above and more, my ring was found. So despite that the food was a disaster, I still left them a healthy tip.
We wandered around and took some night shots before heading back to the hostel.