Prague, Czech Republic

Sunday the 5th I arrived at my much-anticipated destination of Prague, Czech Republic. I have heard great things about the place from everyone I know who has been there, and so I was very excited to finally get there and see what it was all about. I was a little scared though that it would not live up to the buildup, but I soon found out, it was worth every bit of the hype and it was incredible.

Just by chance I happened to be arriving in Prague the same day that President Obama was speaking. I didn’t get there until his speech was over, and if I wouldn’t have known he was there, I wouldn’t have been able to tell he was. I was surprised I didn’t see any t-shirts, signs, or people worshipping him. I did talk to a couple of Americans who attended his speech and they claimed that it was “amazing and moving…”

I arrived at the train station at about 5, took the metro two stops and I was pretty much at my hostel. I stayed at the Prague Square Hostel, obviously located in Prague Square, which is a great location and one of the best I’ve had so far. The hostel was pretty nice too, although I never really met or hung out with too many people from it. I was in a room with 3 crazy Spaniards who partied 24/7 and didn’t speak any English and then also a few weird girls too. So I dropped off my stuff and was off to explore the city.

I was staying right in the middle of Stare Mesto, or the Old Town and was a 30 second walk from the Staromestske Namesti and one of Prague’s most famous sites – The Astronomical Clock. This is where I first headed and I really enjoyed it. This spectacular square included the clock, a giant open-aired marketplace, a performance stage, the impressive gothic Tyn Church, and the Jan Hus Monument. I really liked this square and it was probably where I spent most of my time in Prague when I wasn’t exploring the other areas.

I spent a while in this square that first night in Prague and also got dinner here. I had an order of Potato Pancakes (not really like a pancake or a potato, but fried something with sauerkraut) that were excellent, and a Czech brew. I enjoyed this meal while watching an Easter performance on the stage in the square.

I then headed towards the River Vltava and the cities most famous structure; the Charles Bridge. This bridge links my Old Town side to the Castle districts of Hradcany (on the hill) and Mala Strana (little quarter). The bridge is like 700 years old and lined with brilliant statues, artists, performers and great views of the Prague Castle. Every time I crossed it (quite a few times) it was choked full with tourists, but I loved being on it.

After leisurely making my way across the Charles Bridge, I wandered around the Castle district side, but did not attempt to start climbing the hill; I was saving that for the next day. I then made my way back to my hostel for the night. As I have become accustomed to when I first arrive at a place, I wander around, get my bearings and a solid feel for the place.

The next day, Monday, was my only full day in Prague so I wanted take full advantage of it. I was up early, ate my free breakfast and was off to Staromestske Namesti. I had heard from all sorts of people how you have to see the Astronomical Clock on the hour. I missed it the night before, so I figured I would start my day off with this. It was made out to be a huge deal and event, and I thought it was going to be when I arrived to a large crowd gathered to watch it. It was neat, but not all that it was cracked up to be. The clock itself is really, really cool, but basically it just chimed and there was a mechanical performance by Jesus and the Apostles. So yeah, the clock was impressive, but the “performance” wasn’t quite what I thought it would be and is probably one of the most over-rated things I have seen. Glad I saw it though.

I then crossed over Charles Bridge on my way over to explore Prague Castle. It completely dominates the west side of the river and it is huge. I made my way up the hill to the Castle and then spent a while seeing every part of it. Also up there was St. Vitus’ Cathedral, which is the country’s largest church, which makes sense by simply looking at the sheer height of it. I waited in a decently long line to see inside yet another Cathedral. I have been to quite a number now, but I still am in absolute awe every time I set foot inside one. On one side of the Cathedral is the Old Royal Palace and on the other is St George’s Basilica, both impressive buildings.

After a while at the Castle I made my way down and went through Golden Lane, a blind and crowded alley of cool little cottages. From there I went south towards Mala Strana, the Little Quarter, where there is a cool little square that has a magnificent Baroque. I then went to Petrin Hill, a large park located on a hill obviously. At the top is Petrin Tower, which I had read has remarkable views of the city. There is a funicular railway (train car that takes you to the top) to get up to the tower, but I decided against paying for that and that I would hike up the very large hill and then pay to ride up the tower. It was getting pretty hot out, which meant I was getting pretty sweaty as I climbed the hill. Once I arrived at the top I realized that you don’t ride up the tower on any sort of elevator like I had thought, but instead climb a lot of stairs to it. So a couple hundred stairs and a bucket of sweat later I was at the top, and very glad I made the trek for the view was breathtaking. The city is amazing to look at from the streets and bridges, but so much better and far more spectacular from above.

After that I was in search of a much needed meal. I found two places in my book that looked good, and they both happened to be in the same area I was in and actually right next to each other. I got to them and decided which to eat at by the one that had the better-looking lunch special. I went with a place called Bar Bar, a cozy little cellar place, and had a good traditional Czech lunch combo of soup, gravy covered steak and a local beer.

I then crossed the Charles Bridge again and headed back towards my favorite place, Staromestske Namesti, and then onto Josefov. This is the Jewish quarter and I had a wander around it and the areas surrounding it. I continued to go through areas of the city I had not yet been to on my way south to Wenceslas Square. This is in Nove Mesto, or New Town, and it is the modern part of Prague. The Wenceslas Square isn’t really a square, but more of a long, gently sloping main street that leads up to the National Museum. It is has a rich history of political protest and there is a small memorial to the victims of Communism towards the end of it. One of these victims commemorated was a student who set himself on fire on that same spot in protest against Soviet occupation in 1969.

I then got to the National Museum at the end of the square, but had barely missed closing time at 6, but I was not too disappointed. Prague is basically a giant museum; there is really no need to go into any of them.

I then headed back to the Astronomical Clock after a while for the 7pm “show.” I was thinking maybe it would be better or different, but nope -same thing, same large crowd, and same applause at the end of it. But I am glad I went to it because here I recognized a guy’s shirt standing by me as Central College in Pella, Iowa. I gave him a nudge and starting talking to him, as well as the other guy and girl with him. The two guys both play football at Central and of course know Spencer Remick who I graduated with and who plays there. They also happened to be on Easter Break from studying abroad in Wales. Weird, but they were in some small northern Welsh town I have never even heard of.

The four of us stood talking at the clock for a while, and then all went to get dinner and sat and talked for a couple of hours. This was the first place where I really didn’t meet anyone at my hostel to hang out with, so it was nice to meet some Iowans to hang out with for the night. We then parted ways and I headed back to my hostel. I had planned on going on a bar crawl that night that people put on in each city for hostel backpackers, but I made a last minute decision not to and instead went with a new person from Penn St. who I just met in the hostel for a couple of drinks at the bar next to the hostel and made it an early night so I could get up early again.

The next morning, Tuesday, I got up nice and early so I could soak in 4 more hours of the city before catching my train. I basically just did the city again; including crossing the Charles Bridge a couple more times (couldn’t get enough of it), walking around the Castle, looking at a torture exhibit, and seeing as much of the rest of the city as I could. I arrived back at the Astronomical Clock with just enough time for lunch and another viewing of the hourly “show.” Once again it was the same thing, no new surprises. I don’t want to hate on the clock, because it is amazing, I guess I just thought it was supposed to be this big event every hour, which it didn’t really live up to.

After the Clock I grabbed lunch from the market there, I had this large fried bread thing, which was covered in garlic butter, ketchup and cheese that I kept seeing people get. I went back and forth about whether I thought it looked good or not, but after walking by and getting a big whiff of the garlicky goodness I had to get it. It was really good, and I’m sure really bad for my health, but I had walked miles upon miles in that city I’m sure, so it was ok. On my way to the train station I also picked up a Pancake Roll (a cinnamon crispy roll) with the rest of my Czech Crowns I had left.

Overall I absolutely loved Prague. I have probably said this before but this is my new favorite city. My sister had given me a good idea that in cities like this the best thing to do is just to get to the center and roam around, and in no place had this held truer than Prague. I just loved wandering around and taking in the sites. Like I said before, it was just like being in a giant museum. One reason for this to I guess would be that Prague was basically un-touched by both World Wars, so it did not have to rebuild anything, it is all original.

I then was off to Germany for the first time and to spend a couple of nights in Munich (which actually turned into 4 nights because I liked it so much).

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