|July 23, 2010
Today started off as another not very exciting day as we were taking the train to Prague, a journey of around 6 hours from Munich. After a nice breakfast at the hotel to finish our stay, we jumped on the bus to the train station, bought some sandwiches for lunch and got ourselves onto the train, avoiding as many of the Asian tourists as we could. We found a seat easily enough and were soon joined by three schoolboys who were part of a larger, noisier group of children going on some field trip. Apart from some high-pitched chatter in our compartment, the noise was nothing compared to the screaming girls in other places up and down our carriage and we were relieved when they all got off after an hour or so!
The journey itself after that was easy enough and we were soon in Prague and making the short walk to our hotel. We got checked in, found our room and started looking for places to get some cheap Czech beer and dinner later on.
We eventually settled on a bar called Kolkovna. We had got there quite early which was lucky as it was already getting busy and many tables were already reserved. We don’t usually take much notice of what day it is but today being a Friday meant the bars were certainly busier! We found a little table in the corner and I grabbed a nice, cold, refreshing litre of Pilsner Urquell and Elizabeth opted for the smaller version! We both decided to try some Czech food on our first night too so I had a beef steak with a creamy sauce complete with Carlsbad dumplings and bread and Elizabeth had goulash with potato pancakes and bread. The food was really nice but the lack of vegetables was a bit disconcerting. In fact, almost all the items on the menu seemed to lack veggies! We might be desperate for some vitamins by the time we leave here! As we were about to leave, the rain started pouring down and as it was dry when we left the hotel, we weren’t dressed for a monsoon rainstorm! This gave me good reason to enjoy my birthday with some more beer and Elizabeth tried the mixed dark and light beer, which she preferred to the regular lager. Suitably stuffed, we ventured out into the rain and hurried back, trying not to lose our footing on the slick cobblestones as both of us were only wearing flip-flops! We were relieved to get back safely even if we did resemble drowned rats!
July 24, 2010
We didn’t have a whole load of things to see and do in Prague and our list of things mostly included bars, pubs and brewhouses. As a result, we decided to try and add a couple of things in which we wouldn’t usually have bothered with.
The first of these was the Communism Museum, which actually turned out to be pretty good. Ironically situated above a McDonald’s and opposite some high-end shops in the main pedestrian area, the museum catalogued the history, growth and sudden decline of communism in the old Czechoslovakia. It went through the country’s troubled times during the World Wars including Hitler’s declaration that he was taking over the country. His words didn’t even seem to show that he was going to try; just that he was going to and the old Czech government seemed to just lie down and agree to a large extent. At the end of the war, it was the Russians who had come to the Czech aid and as a result, the government again bowed down to the pressure of another regime in another country, taking the Soviet stance on many issues and becoming a puppet for Moscow. It even detailed some attempts by the Czech government to change working conditions which led to the president being called to Moscow to explain his actions and, ultimately, changed his mind. Over the years, of course, things changed around the whole of Europe and as people got more power at the expense of their governments the Eastern countries saw an uprising by their people, mostly through peaceful marches abruptly halted by heavy-handed authorities. Just as Gorbachev came to power in Russia and the divide between East and West Germany was coming to an end, the Czechs had their own revolution, called the Velvet Revolution by the global media for the peacefulness of the civilian demonstrations. The range of memorabilia in there was really impressive and they had loads of statues and busts of Lenin, Stalin and Marx. It also told the story of a huge statue of Stalin which was built in the park overlooking the city – it took years to design, years to build (the constructor and designer were both dead by the time it was completed) and, by the time it was done, the revelations reached Czechoslovakia about Stalin’s crimes and the Czech government had to decide what to do – it took them about another 5 years to decide to destroy it and it was unceremoniously blown up!
After the museum we walked around and visited Wenceslas Square which had been the site of many of the peaceful demonstrations by the Czechs and just enjoyed the city. The buildings and architecture here are really interesting and almost every building is different from the next and has something worthwhile to stare upwards at. At one point I found myself taking pictures of one building while Elizabeth was pointing out another 4 or 5 that were just as impressive!
For lunch we decided the restaurants in the centre were too touristy and over-priced so we tried the food from one of the street carts. I had a large hot dog and Elizabeth had deep-fried cheese! They were surprisingly good although the test with street food is usually the next day consequences!
In the afternoon we walked around some more, grabbed a couple of postcards and a souvenir magnet before we headed around to the Mucha Museum. Mucha is a local artist who is known for his art nouveau posters and advertisements and although I had seen a lot of his paintings around the city, I wasn’t interested in visiting the museum. Elizabeth headed in and I went around the corner to the Koala Bar for a few beers while I waited. I’m sure the beer was much more fun, too and but the time she arrived back I was just starting my third beer, bought her one and it was still cheaper than the museum. Anyway, she said it was disappointing and I told her my beer was lovely! This time I tried the Staropramen beers and both the light and dark were really tasty.
Despite needing an evening nap, Elizabeth soon woke me up for dinner and we went to a bar called U Medvidku and had some more different beers. I tried the goulash which was really great but comprised of not much meat, quite a bit of sauce and about 10 slices of bread and various dumplings! Elizabeth, trying to avoid the bread feasts, went for a cheesy potato thing which turned out to be a massive bowl of potatoes covered in a cheesy sauce. Thankfully she had too much so I got to share!
July 25, 2010
Today we had a bit of a lazy morning. We’d eaten so much food and drank so much beer lately we were both feeling a bit over-indulged and sloth-like! We did finally get out and were greeted by grey skies and a little rain although we were lucky that for most of the day it stayed away. We walked all the way through the old town towards Charles Bridge and crossed it, along with hundreds of other tourists, before heading up the hill to the castle.
We had got some views of the bridge and the castle briefly yesterday and closer up they were both equally impressive. However, after a long walk up to the castle and at the ticket office, we were astounded by the entry costs. We knew the two main tickets were 350 Czk (about $18) or 250 Czk (about $13) each but we were then told there were not many signs around the buildings and that na audio guide would cost an extra 500 Czk (about $25). EACH! We decided to take the shorter tour ticket and forego the audio guide, taking our chances that they’d be something we could understand and read.
The castle buildings themselves were quite grand looking and they were everywhere – Prague Castle is apparently the largest castle complex in the world – although it was not at all what I had imagined. I had expected a fortified area, like you expect of a castle, with a lot of buildings in the central area. Most of the buildings here though were no different to those in the old town and the streets here looked no different. Our ticket did include entry into three different areas and none of them were very interesting.
The Old Royal Palace was first and while the inside of the building, particularly the ceiling, was impressive, the displays, exhibits and signs were not very interesting. The main room is called the Vladislav Hall and had an amazing, vaulted ceiling. It was funny seeing the English language signs though after the woman at the ticket office told us there wouldn’t be – talk about trying to flog the $25 audio guides to dumb tourists! I think even with or without the audio guides, we’d have been slightly disappointed.
Next up was the small St George’s Basilica. Again it was quite impressive outside but inside it was just another average looking church building. There wasn’t anything great of note here architecturally or historically.
Finally, the Rosenberg Palace and another bit of a disappointment. After entering a massive courtyard, you are met by an exhibit showing you how big and extensive the Palace is. We thought this might be a bit more promising but alas it was not to be. After shuffling you around about 5 different re-styled rooms, you were back in the courtyard and your tour was done. That was all we got for the price of our ticket and we were both very disappointed. Most of the castle grounds are free and as the exterior of the buildings were better than the interiors, we’d have been better off not paying anything and spending an hour walking around for free. We were able to go into the St Vitus Cathedral but the queue to get in was off-putting and we decided just to skip it and walk around some more of the area.
It wasn’t long though before our over-expanded stomachs were taking over our thought processes and so we decided to head for a bar a little bit away from the tourist areas. We saw a couple of bars, one near the castle and one near Charles’ Bridge, but they were really over-priced and didn’t even look that great! We found one we had seen in the guidebook and although we were wary (how far off the tourist trail can it be if Lonely Planet has been there?!) it turned out to be just as good and cheaper than many of the others we’d been in. The bar was called Pivovarsky Dum. It was quite an expensive lunch but given we had nothing else to do we decided to tuck into a few beers (I tried both the light and dark beers and Elizabeth had the light and tried a small wheat beer) along with some more yummy food – Elizabeth had vegetable risotto and I had a roast pork thing with more bread and dumplings, listed in the menu as Czech’s favourite dish number 1! Not content with being bloated by the first course, we decided to try a Czech speciality dessert – more dumplings! These ones were fruit filled and covered in a creamy, youghurty curd-like substance. The dumplings were really good but just a tad heavy after the beer and previous course! I’m amazed we haven’t seen more fat locals around!
We didn’t exactly excel ourselves in exercise or activities for the day after that (it was a late lunch though, I promise!) and after waddling back to the hotel in the rain we both settled in for a bit of a nap before eventually heading out for dinner. It was quite late and so we decided to just go to the bar near our hotel. It looked quite expensive inside but the menu seemed reasonable enough. I ordered roast lamb which they didn’t have so had to get skewered chicken and I was amazed when it came with vegetables! I hadn’t had more than a potato pancake for about a week and was amazed to see beans and corn and peppers on my plate… with a HUGE slab of chicken and a baked potato covered in sour cream! Obviously, it wouldn’t be a meal without a beer, too…
July 26, 2010
Today was even lazier than yesterday. We got out of bed just in time for breakfast before heading back to our room and lazing around until lunchtime! Even then, the extent of our trip out involved just a 10 minute walk, a large, unhealthy lunch, the obligatory beer and a 10 minute walk back! We had lunch at Pivovarsky Klub, the sister pub of the one we had lunch at yesterday. Here they claimed they had the widest selection of beers in the entire country and there certainly were a lot of beers on the menu from just about every European country. We stuck with the Czech beers though as these were much cheaper and just as tasty as many of the others on the menu and they hadn’t had to travel as far to get into our glasses! The food was equally good, too with Elizabeth going for Grandpa’s beans (a plate full of beans and chorizo-type sausage) and I had goulash, this time made from venison. We were getting much too used to large meals with beer here and we know it will have to stop when we get back to Germany and prices increase!
The afternoon was spent reading about Berlin and what we wanted to do there. There are a whole multitude of museums there and a variety of museum passes and special offers, including certain days when some museums are free. We wanted to make the most of this and get the best deal for us so we needed to spend some time, rather boringly, looking around on the internet.
We weren’t feeling at all hungry until quite late but we decided we would go back to the bar we had visited on our first night. The range of food on the menu was really good and we thought it would at least give us the chance to try something different and maybe get something a little healthier. We’ve both been feeling quite lethargic of late and I had originally started wondering if the appeal of travelling and living out of a suitcase was getting to me but now I just reckon it is the beer and heavy food! Anyway, the good thing about this bar was it at least gave us a chance to walk through the old town again and stretch our legs. Once there, the only table free was the same one we had on our first night and to create a more realistic déjà vu I immediately ordered a full litre of beer! That’s where the similarities ended though as Elizabeth went for a small dark beer. She wasn’t as keen on that but had liked the mixed beer she’d had before so I ended up pouring a load of mine into her glass to make her a mixed drink. I then ordered a mixed half litre for myself and we both merrily drunk our way through them! For stomach lining, we chose the Nosh, a Czech dish of sausages, bacon, green beans, mushrooms, potatoes, peppers and other things, all topped with melted cheese. It all sounded pretty healthy until the cheese, didn’t it? Regardless, it was excellent and probably the best meal I’ve had here in Prague and a fitting way to end our long weekend here.
I can certainly see why Prague appeals for long weekends as the drinking and bar culture, combined with great carbohydrate-packed food is ideal for a few days away but the things we have seen here (or at least, paid to see) have been disappointing and we could easily have saved money by just walking around the city and not actually going into any of the museums. Still, I’d love to come back here again in a larger group and make the most of the beer prices!