We kicked off our Summer 2013 holiday by visiting Prague – we had heard many good things about this city and were keen to see it for ourselves.
We arrived on an evening flight from Helsinki and caught the last “Airport Express Bus” into town (otherwise, if you arrive after 9:15, you can catch Bus 119 which goes to Metro line A – from there it is easy to navigate the city). We were glad to find our airbnb accommodation easily, and were soon settled in.
Day 1 Our first stop in Prague was to find supplies (especially morning coffee…) – the Palladium mall had everything we needed and was located only a few minutes from our accommodation. It was interesting to see what was available, and we grabbed a good number of interesting snacks to try out.
Then we headed out to explore the old town of Prague, first stopping by St James Church (more info here). It’s an interesting church well worth popping into, but it has strange hours so make sure that you are there are the correct time. Our Prague Royal Walk tour-guide (more about that later…) brought us past the church and pointed out the mummified arm hanging next to the church’s entrance – this apparently belonged to a thief who was trying to steal from the church but got caught by a statue of the Virgin Mary… If you have an interest in the history of science (particularly physics and astronomy), you can find an excellent guide pamphlet here.
Old Town Square was busy when we arrived there – lots of tourists, street performers and touts. It’s a nice place, but we didn’t want to spend too long amongst the throngs. Fortunately we didn’t have to wait long for the free walking tour of the old town that we were joining. The Prague Royal Walk Free Tour was a really great way to spend more of our first morning in the city – Ashley was an excellent guide and told us just enough about the history of Prague (and the Czech Republic). I’ll not recount the stories here, but can testify that the city has an amazing history – hearing Ashley talk about the Velvet Revolution while standing in Wenceslas Square really brought the events to life for me.
After a quick rest at our airbnb, we took a long walk to the Letná Beer Garden, via the bus terminal (to figure out how not to be late for an early morning bus connection on our last day). The views and the vibe at the beer garden and in the surrounding park were great, and we really enjoyed the nice warm weather (our first taste of warm weather this year!).
We then walked back to our accommodation and tried out two of the interesting dishes we’d bought at the store that morning – “knedliky plnene uzenym masem se zelim” and “bramborové šišky s mákem” (which is called mákos nudli in Hungary, I think). The former turned out to be potato dumplings stuffed with meat served with sauerkraut – quite nice, and I imagine would be much nicer freshly cooked. The latter was… very interesting! Bramborové šišky translates as “potato cones”, and is potato dumplings coated in sugar and poppy seeds, shaped to look like conifer cones. We couldn’t figure out if it was a desert or a main dish, and would be interested to know what the “correct” time is for eating these.
In part to walk off the “potato cones”, and in part to enjoy the excellent weather, we took an evening stroll through the old town. We ended up crossing the Charles Bridge – and in retrospect it was a really good time, because we later saw that during the day the bridge can be so crowded that pedestrians are pretty much queuing to cross it. We weren’t too impressed with the bridge… but if everyone else wants to spend their time there, then I don’t mind having less tourists in the rest of the city!
Day 2 We started the day by catching the Metro to Vyšerhad castle (Prague’s “other castle”). It was a nice area to stroll around, walking over and around the old castle walls (with amazing views of the city and the river). The Basilica of St Peter and St Paul was well worth a visit, and the adjacent cemetery contained some poignant and beautiful memorials. To was fun to sit quietly with an ice cream and watch some foreign university students busy with a discussion, and nice to have a lie-down in the shade after a picnic lunch.
And it was really nice to enjoy a nap in the shade!
That afternoon we visited Senate gardens – part of the Wallenstein Palace. This rather amazing garden was started in the early 1600’s and includes a long wall of dripstone (i.e. artificial stalactites) and a large dripstone cage for owls! At the other end of the gardens peacocks wander around a large pond and fountain, while the centre of the garden contains replicas of sculptures that were in the garden before being hauled off to Sweden during the Thirty Year War.
We then slogged up to Prague castle – felt like a long climb in hot weather, and taking the tram would have been a much better option. On that note, it is worth buying some extra transport tickets when you arrive in the city, since they are only sold at a few tram stops and you’ll need the correct coins (so buy tickets in advance at a Metro station). Things were closing up at the castle, so we didn’t stay there long, but instead went in search of supper. We searched high and low for another traditional cafeteria, only to find that it was closed evenings. But we only had to walk back to Wenceslas square to find a streetfood market – we enjoyed roast pork, halusky (potato with cabbage and bacon) and Bramboráky (deep fried potato pancakes with meat) with sauerkraut. A tasty way to end another good day.
Day 3 We started our third day in Prague by visiting a local farmers market – the fresh produce hall was great, but the rest of the market was pretty much like every other flea market. While that was a bit of a disappointment, having a coffee (well, actually a coffee, sachertorte, milkshake and a taste of a desert wine) at the Prague municipal house was the opposite – the Kavarna Obecni dum cafe is located in this lovely art nouveau cafe.
We then joined Discovery Prague Tours again – this time for a tour of the Prague Castle and the surrounding area. Our guide (another Ozzie) was not quite as good as Ashley had been two days earlier, but it was still interesting. Again we were unable to visit St. Vitus Cathedral due to another special event…
But we really enjoyed walking around the Royal gardens, adjacent to the castle. The gardens are quiet, green and beautiful – a good option if you are a bit tired of the crowds in the city.
We finished the day by trying a “tank” beer at Lokal – this is an unpasteurized beer that is kept fresh and hygienic by transporting and storing it in air-free tanks (explained here). And we grabbed a final snack at the Havelska Koruna cafeteria – a traditional dish of fried cheese (Smažený sýr) and a Czech pastry with lots of cream and chocolate.
Day 4 We had an early morning, dashing off to catch our bus to Vienna (with two minutes to spare… my timing was not great). We travelled with Student Agency bus service – the bus was very comfortable, with movies and free coffee (check them out if you are travelling in the Czech republic – despite their name they are open to all). We had a quick stop in Brno, and grabbed some last local snacks; Kofola and lázeňské oplatky (thin giant wafer biscuits).View of the Vltava from Vysherad Castle (looking to the south)