Sunday, May 23, 2010

Prague = Perfection

Well after weeks of the most unpleasant weather ever, we finally had a beautiful weekend in one of Europe's most beautiful cities--Prague!! When we were planning our intinerary for this trip, Cam originally wasn't so keen on going to Prague, but now having been, he said that it's his favorite city that we have been to so far. I think it's tied with Paris for me, but it's definitely on my top 5 list of places I've ever been to! We had an amazing time, it's just a gorgeous city!!

We took the train from Berlin to Prague on Friday morning, and we passed through a lot of beautiful scenery on the way. We took the subway from the train station to our hostel, which was a little more confusing than some of the other cities as there was less English, but we managed to figure it out. The city seemed fairly busy, and I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that people here in Europe had Monday off, so it seemed like a lot of people were in Prague for the long weekend. After checking in to our hostel, we headed to the Old Town Square in the center of town to see the heart of the city. After getting some giant bratwursts from a vendor in the center of the square, we watched the large Astromonical Clock chime on the hour. It's cool because at the top of the hour, the clock is animated and you see all the 12 apostles appear, and it's just a neat thing to watch. I mean, it's not super high tech or amazing, but considering the fact the clock dates back to the early 1400's, it is pretty incredible. That's the great thing about Prague, it has so much beautiful medieval architecture, and the city was basically spared from the destruction that took place in so much of Europe during WWII, so it's extremely well-preserved. When you are walking around, you really feel like you're in a fairy tale! The Czech Republic is also very famous for it's beer, so since the weather was nice, we spent part of the afternoon sitting at an outdoor cafe trying some Czech beer, as well as trying out some of the delicious pastries the vendors on the square were selling. (I just love how they put Nutella on EVERYTHING in Europe, because Nutella on anything is amazing!) We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the city and just exploring the areas around the Old Town Square and Wencelas Square. Even though the city of Prague is fairly large, we basically stayed in the historical center of town, or the area known as Praha 1, and it was great because everything in this area was really walkable. We had heard that going to a classical music concert in Prague was a great thing to do, so spur of the moment, we got some tickets for that evening for one of the many classical concerts held around the city. The one we saw featured the Czech Chamber Orchestra playing a variety of pieces from composers like Mozart, Vivaldi, and Dvorak. The concert was held on the steps inside the beautiful National Museum, and it was a really cool experience. The only problem was that both Cam and I were having a little bit of a problem staying awake, as we had gotten up really early that morning to catch our train, and classical music is just so soothing...After the concert we had dinner at this local Czech place near our hostel called The Ropemaker's Wife, and we really enjoyed it.

Saturday morning, we were planning on doing a walking tour of the city, but when we looked out the window, the weather looked rainy and overcast. I was about to lose it because I just couldn't take the thought of another city having terrible weather! We begrudingly put on our raincoats and headed out to do the walking tour anyway, trying not to let the weather dampen our spirits. We went on one of the free walking tours from the company New Europe, and our tour guide, James, was from Ireland and boy was he a hoot! He was very energetic with lots of funny and interesting stories about the city. Prague has a very long history full of legends, so I think that going on the walking tour was a great way to see the city and get a lot of information that we wouldn't have heard otherwise. The walking tour lasted about 3.5 hours, and during that time we were able to see the majority of the sights in the different sections on the east side of the Vltava river including, Old Town Square, Wencelas Square, and the Jewish Quarter. The Jewish Quarter was particularly interesting because it has had quite a long history, and it is home to Europe's oldest synagogue. During our walking tour, something wonderful happened--the sun came out! And it didn't just come out, it got hot. Really hot. And being that it was cold and rainy when we left our hostel, Cam and I weren't really dressed for the heat. Actually, I was wearing jeans and a cardigan...with a (basically) see through white tank top underneath. Sitting in the sun during our tour, I was blistering hot that I had to take my sweater off, but I kept awkwardly trying to tie my cardigan around my shoulders to keep my bra from showing through my shirt, go me. I was just so irritated because I had brought so many dresses and non-see through tank tops and other warm weather clothing on this trip, and luck would have it that on the first day of nice weather we get, I'm not wearing any of them! Oh well...After our morning walking tour finished, our tour guide said that he was doing another tour right after that which would cover the other side of the river, the Castle Quarter, home to Prague's beautiful castle. Cam and I decided to pay to go on this castle walking tour, and we were so glad we did!! The other side of the river was much less touristy, and it was extremely picturesque. We saw both the Lesser Quarter, an area near the castle where people used to live that provided services for those living in the castle, and then we also saw the Castle Quarter itself, which was just gorgeous. During this second walking tour, we saw the John Lennon Wall, this wall of graffiti that people made in memorial to John Lennon's death. During Communism, the government tried to get rid of it several times, but people kept painting it, and are still adding to it today. Another fun thing we saw on our Castle Tour was the monastery near the castle; this monastery still brews their own beer, and we got to try some which was really cool. Our last stop on the tour was the castle itself; the castle grounds themselves are very beautiful, and I think it's cool that they are so accessible and open to the public even though they still house the Czech government today. The castle serves as the home of the Czech president, and the flag that was flying while we were there meant he was in the castle, however, we didn't see him during tour! The last stop on our tour was a beautiful overlook point near the castle that gave us a breathtaking view of the city. After our tour group left, Cam and I decided to stay up there and get a glass of wine at an outdoor cafe near the castle so we could keep enjoying the beautiful view and the amazing weather! It was awesome to just sit, relax, and enjoy the scenery and each other's company. While this trip hasn't exactly always been glamorous (staying in hostels, riding on crowded subways, schelping our backpacks from city to city, etc), sitting on that terrace, drinking wine and enjoying the view made it all worth it and felt so very European :) Later that night, based on the recommendation of our tour guide, we took the subway out to the edge of the city to check out the annual Prague Beer Festival. Our tour guide said it was basically like Prague's version of Oktoberfest, and it was...except since it was out in these huge tents in a field at the edge of town, we kind of felt like we were at a county fair. It was a great way to get out of the touristy city center, and to feel more like a local! All the waitresses were dressed up in these traditional Czech outfits, and a ton of different Czech breweries had beer there. We had a really fun night sampling Czech beer (including a 19% alc porter that was amazing!) and eating Czech food. Some of the other people that were in our tour group during the day were at the festival as well, so we ended up sitting with them, and we had a great time hanging out!

After a few weeks of traveling, Cam and I have tried to get in to a little bit of a rhythm where we do a lot of sight-seeing when we first get to a city, then that way we have the last day to go back to the areas we liked and just relax. For our last day in Prague, we decided to head back across the river to spend some more time in the Castle Quarter. Even though we saw a lot of it during our tour, we weren't able to go in places like the Castle church. So we walked back across the river, and our first stop was a beautiful park that had another nice overlook point of the city. (Prague is hilly, so there are ton of places to get great views!) We had lunch at a great restaurant near the monastery (recommended by Rick Steves of course), that served traditional Czech food and had more amazing views of Prague. After lunch, we headed to the castle, and were able to see the inside of the beautiful church right in the center of the grounds, St. Vitus. Similar to the day before, the weather started out overcast, but ended up beautiful and sunny! Later that afternoon, we ended up heading to the other side of the castle and walking all the way up this huge hill where we were able to just sit in the grass and relax. On top of the hill was this tower that looks a lot like the Eiffel Tower, except there are no lines to go up to the top of it! Cam and I decided to climb to the top to get yet another gorgeous view of this amazing city! When we got back to our hostel that night, we heard a ton of commotion outside our window. People were cheering and parading through the streets, and at first we didn't understand what was going on, but someone told us that the Czech hockey team had just won the World Championship. We figured that the celebration would be over quickly, but people were seriously in the streets for hours and the noise level was incredible.

Overall, our weekend in Prague was simply amazing, and if you are planning a trip to Europe, make sure to visit this breathtaking city!! :)

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