What a good job Justin did with the booking of our second city break! Through LastMinute.com (no this isn’t a sponsored post, although we’re open to offers) we got the flights to Prague (and back again, he remembered the return half of the ticket this time) and a four-star central hotel for three nights, at a very reasonable rate. After this sort of luxury it would be hard to go back to the 12-person hostel dorms we were staying in a mere 3 years ago (at 11 euro a night it was almost worth the constant disruption and lack of privacy – almost…) I think we stayed in practically the only modern building in central Prague, except for the other notable exception, Frank Gehry’s Dancing Building – apparently based on Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in motion. I wonder how famous I’d have to be to get away with that sort of justification?
It was cold in Prague, colder than London, however not as cold as I was fearing. I think it was between 2-10 degrees, and at night there was an added wind-chill factor. Justin, the great layer-hater, was forced to purchase a coat on our first morning in Prague, fortunately our hotel was right next door to a rather stylish clothes shop, so he got out of it with minimal fuss and pain and now looks very suave indeed. I’m trusting that he will put up a photo of himself in the coat for you all.
The food options were somewhat limited for a vegetarian, let alone for someone attempting to be vegan, with great Czech classics including roasted pork knee and pork cheeks featuring highly on the menus. If you’re crazy enough to not want meat there was the option of fried cheese – give me a salad any day. Strangely there were a great many Italian restaurants in Prague, so I ate a lot of pasta, rounded off on the last night by a trusty falafel with sauerkraut, the only one in Prague I think. At the first pasta restaurant we tried I ordered gnocchi with roasted vegetables in spicy sauce, of which only the gnocci was an accurate description, as the zucchini was boiled, and floated in the most mild tomato sauce imaginable. The second place was much better, although my Penne all’Arrabiata (so named in the Italian language section of the menu) had the intriguing English translation of Angry Penne in the bar menu, and Penne Enraged in the table menu. While tasty, the chilli level was not quite as advertised, my verdict was more like Slightly Irritated Penne.
The streets of Prague were fantastic, narrow, winding, cobbled, etc, just like a European city centre should be. The buildings are all very ornate and detailed, with sculptures, paintings, engravings (called sgrafito I think) all over the place. It was such a pretty city you just want to take it home in your pocket. The autumn colours were all out in force, with an amazing spectrum of deep reds through bright oranges and bronze to yellow and bright green. Really lovely.
But oh so touristy!
The Charles Bridge which is a beautiful old bridge with statues along it, was absolutely packed full of tourists, stalls, tourists, buskers, painters and tourists etc all the time – the guide books recommend going there at dawn to experience it without hoardes of people (dawn? like that was going to happen!). I imagine the locals would avoid it like the plague. We did however hear some amazing buskers on the last evening – two blind women who had a little keyboard set up, were singing what I imagine was traditional Czech music, some fast and folky, some slow and haunting, but they had amazingly pure voices and it was quite a lovely experience. Another great experience of the bridge was when we went to the next bridge over, down to the large island halfway across, covered with autumn trees and populated only by a handful of local fishermen, and with a great view of the rest of humanity in their ugly european fur coats shuffling and posing and photographing their way across the Charles Bridge.
So, the sights of Prague. Well, the biggest and best would have to be the Castle. We spent a whole day in the castle complex which is enormous, seeing the main castle building including the great hall and a number of smaller rooms, with some books on display dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries. Amazing. The Basilica of St George was fantastic, it was also founded in the 10th/11th century, and the St Vitus Cathedral was huge and awe-inspiring. The basilica was quite plain inside, although there were hints of remnant wall and ceiling paintings so I imagine it was originally quite decorated. The Golden Lane, originally workers cottages, are now tourist shops (interestingly you have to buy a ticket to get in there to shop) however the upper level was a long corridor full of displays of wonderful old suits of armour, ancient helmets some dating from Roman times, some fascinating mediaeval clothes, and some instruments of torture which I did not look at for long (I’m fine with skeletons but don’t really like reminders of humanity’s inhumanity). The sheer number of tourists there was incredible, and it was quite a challenge to get into as many attractions as possible with minimal time spent in queues. We accepted the challenge, and did rather well, including avoiding around 45 minutes in the entry courtyard by finding the back entrance into another ticket office, and timing our entry into the St Vitus Cathedral to perfection by joining a much diminished queue just before last admittance time.
Seeing a city from an elevated prospect is always a must, so we spent a lot of time climbing. The castle is on top of a hill with lots of stairs and we did that twice, there’s a lovely even taller hill next to the castle one, topped with a monastery and covered with lovely autumn trees so we climbed that and took the funicular railway down (wrong way round I think), we climbed the bell tower of the St Nicholas church at dusk, and we took a tour up the astronomical observatory tower on the Klementinum library (telescopes, the Prague meridien, plus more lovely ancient books!).
The most bizarre part of our stay was attending a marionette concert. I originally wanted to see a classical music concert but the plethora of tourist shops selling marionette puppets convinced us that it must be a local speciality, so we booked ourselves into The Marriage of Figaro performed by a combination of stick puppets and string puppets. I didn’t think of it beforehand, but an opera is kind of a strange thing to be performed by puppets that have no facial movement whatsoever. Fortunately it was an Italian opera, so could rely on lots of gesticulation. I think I enjoyed it, although I’m still not entirely sure.
Unfortunately travel took up lots of time – granted Europe’s a lot closer now, but it still took around 7 hours door to door which when done in the middle of the day tends to chew up valuable holiday time. Still better than 36 hours though! So we might consider taking less trips for longer in future. Already thinking about the next one… Bye for now.