Sunday, August 05, 2007

Prague, Prag, Praha, Praag, Praga...

9 comments
Learning the word for Prague in nearly every European language was a pretty easy task. Just look around any cafe at the book titles that the tourists at every table are holding. The variety is huge!

We hopped on the Bayern-Boehmen (Bavaria-Bohemia) Express at Cham and this time found seats for the ride to Prague. The train isn't really much of an express, it's actually a regional style of train that just happens to not make many stops. It's certainly no ICE.

We arrived in Prague in late afternoon. The train station was a complete assault on the senses, especially after two days out in the middle of nowhere! There were people with enormous backpacks everywhere, people approaching us to try to get us to stay at their hotel/hostel/whatever, a constant stream of unintelligible overhead announcements. There were little to no signs in English, low ceilings and weird lighting. First we couldn't find an ATM, so we gave in to getting ripped off by the currency exchange counter. Then we couldn't find the way out of the damn place!

In the end it probably took us at least an hour after getting off the train to find our hostel, where Nathan & Michelle were waiting, having flown in from Munich earlier. We went out to explore, but got caught in a cold rain. We ducked into a brewery that billed itself as the smallest in Prague and all had a beer, then decided to head back out, only to be rained on some more. We wound through the streets having no idea where we were, then ended up escaping the rain in a crappy, expensive Italian restaurant. We didn't know yet at the time how close we were to the most major tourist routes, or what kind of prices to expect in Prague, so we paid way too much for really lackluster food. Lesson: it pays to have a clue. Afterward, we headed back out and the rain had finally ceased, so we stopped looking for places to hide and started really looking at the surroundings instead.

I really didn't do much research before going, so I didn't know what kind of things to expect or where to expect them, so it was really a jaw-dropping moment to pop out of a crowded tourist-filled narrow street and suddenly see, across the river, an enormous cathedral on a hill. I pretty much suck at describing what this was like, so I will stop now...

That same night we found a bar not far from our hostel which had beer for only 18 crowns...approximately 70 EUR cents. It wasn't even a divey bar. It was totally fine. An equivalent beer at the shitty Italian restaurant earlier had been 65 crowns! I've never seen a city with such a wide price gradient. Nathan and Michelle did the American rite of passage of drinking absinthe in Europe, and couldn't stand it. Michelle ended up ordering a 7up and diluting it out so she could finish.

The next morning we found a bakery and picked up food for the day. Most pastries were under a Euro! A croissant was 7 crowns. Later in the day, in the heart of the tourist zone, I saw a croissant for 49 crowns. Unbelievable. After the bakery we headed off to the cathedral - part of Prague Castle. The lines were crazy and the entrance prices were a little steep - not reaching the horrific London fees, but still a bit of a shocker especially compared to the rest of the costs in Prague. (I mean, everything costs a damn fortune in London so it's just expected.) Hint if you go to the Prague Castle: The restroom that is in the garden, on the river side of the castle, is freaking awesome. Brand new, has soap, has towels, has really private toilets, has hot water.... after dealing with a lot of public and hostel restrooms in various towns over the previous days this was heaven.

We visited parts of the castle until ready to collapse. I think we missed the Picture Gallery only. Almost everything was worth buying the "long tour" ticket, with the exception of our last stop, something called the "Golden Walk" or some such. According to the castle brochure it really is an old street where castle employees used to live. It has a very fake, Disneyland feel to it. You must have a ticket to get in, but the whole street is full of typical tourist stores selling 9-dollar bars of super-smelly soap and such. The other part of the area was a small turret with some torture instruments inside, which is better than the street, but overall the area just left a bad taste in my mouth and I was sorry it was the last thing we saw.

We followed up the castle with beer and dinner at U Fleku, some brewery/restaurant that was recommended in both our German and Nathan and Michelle's English travel guides. Here the food was much better and cheaper than at the Italian place the previous night, though they tried to con us into purchasing things we didn't order, including some kind of cinnamon apertif. I didn't take it, and no one else was going to either, until finally the three of them just felt too much pressure to not do it. (Yeah, I'm a total skinflint...) It was a bit pricey later when we found out the price of it. Afterward we checked out some black theater, which was recommended to us by a German friend, and got some beverages.

On our last full day, we visited the Jewish Quarter, Prague's other major attraction. It was just as expensive as the Castle - actually it may have ended up being more. It was over 10 EUR a person just to go into the tiny Old-New Synagogue, then we were not allowed to take photos inside. I got one anyway...for the price, I felt I should some kind of memory of going into the place, and without a photo I probably wouldn't. It was an additional approximately 10 EUR to visit all remaining open museums, synagogues, and memorials. This was worth it for the Spanish Synagogue (again no photos - and here, I got caught by a cute old guy and felt really bad), the Holocaust memorial in the Pinkas Synagogue, and the amazing, piled-up old graveyard. The place was, again, jam-packed with tourists. We got lunch nearby at another overpriced place (though the lunch "menu" - a preselected set of appetizer, entree, and dessert - was relatively cheap) that was so-so. The garlic spread they brought out with bread was really awesome, though.

After seeing the rest of the Jewish Quarter and wandering along the river for an hour or two, we had supper at Cafe Slavia. The food was great and only around 6 EUR for each of us! There was definitely some a reverse correlation going on at the places we ate between the price and quality of the food. Afterward we went back to the first brewery we visited when we got to Prague to bookend the whole trip with their good beer. The next day, it was back to the Bayern-Boehmen express, and Michelle and Nathan went off to Amsterdam. (We were stuck in a compartment with a couple that couldn't keep their hands off each other - all the way to Nuernberg. The joys of the DB.)

Praha Jul 07


I'm pretty much ready to move to Prague...with the one complication of the seemingly impossible Czech langauge. So cheap! So beautiful! Everyone should go!

9 comments:

  1. I went to Prague for the first (and so far only time) about five years ago. Seeing your pictures really brought it back. I was there in November, and it was bitingly cold, so I alternated walking around the city with coffee breaks in cafes.

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  2. I would like to go to Prague one day. Perhaps next year. They have told me wonderful things about the city. Beautiful pictures!

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  3. Life would not be so fun if you had all the answers at hand before jumping in ... 75 cent for a beer seems like a good way to jump in at any rate. Makes me want to re-visit Praha in the coming months.

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  4. I haven't seen them all but Prague is my favorite European city so far. I felt somehow very comfortable there and spent the best New Years of my life there. No tourists to speak of that time of year either. Fantastic city!

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  5. Mary: I bet there were at least fewer tourists at that time of year! :) Best thing about winter travel!

    La Delirante: You should definitely go while you are in Europe!

    Mike B: Yes, you are quite right about that...I actually tried to avoid finding out too much about it so I could really get the feeling of it for myself....don't want spoilers, you know ;) Still, I'm glad that next time I'll know how to go straight to the cheaper beer!

    Michelle: It really does feel welcoming!

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  6. Great review, Cami!
    Prague was super fun to visit with you guys! : )

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  7. Prague is my favorite city. I visited it once and now I feel that I miss it and want to see it again. I had much impressions after my previous visit, though I know that I wasn't in all interesting places.

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  8. Prague, the Golden City, is a city that buzzes and hums with modern life, our comfortable and well appointed apartments are the ideal base from which to enjoy this incredible city.

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