As you may have guessed from the title of this entry, Sebastien and I spent the weekend in Prague. About a month ago we decided we should go somewhere new just for the heck of it, seeing as it is so cheap to travel within Europe. I had heard great recommendations about Prague, and we were able to get a great deal since we booked it so far ahead of time (and didn’t mind super early/late travel times).
We woke up bright and early on Friday morning, and headed to Berlin Hauptbahnhof for our 7am departure by train. I love traveling by train; it’s quick and comfortable, and you have a chance to see amazing scenery along the way. This was my first time on a train with those little seat chambers like what they have in Harry Potter, and I thought of all sorts of quotes from the first movie to reenact for poor Sebastien. My favourite was when a man with a trolley slid the door open and asked if we wanted anything, and I thought of “Anything from the trolley, dears?” along with chocolate frogs and Bertie Bott’s every flavour beans. However, we stuck with muggle food, and within 5 hours we arrived at our destination!
Sebastien had found a hotel that was a few minutes walk both from the train station and the bus station from which we would leave on Sunday. We didn’t pack too heavily, so the walk from the train to the hotel was pretty painless (although Seb was carrying the bag, so maybe he figures it was a heavy bag after all).
We checked in and dropped off our bags, and were ready to go out and begin seeing the city by noon. We quickly found a bank and picked up some koruna, which is the Czech currency. That was probably the biggest adjustment we had to make during our time in Prague – we were holding 1000 koruna bills in our hands, and it was not worth a ton of money! 2800 koruna equals about 104 euros, or 156 dollars. When we went by restaurants to try and see the price range, it was hard to take it seriously when it was dealing with such huge numbers. At the restaurant in our hotel, they had a menu showing prices of chicken breast for 240 Kc and steak for 520 Kc. We eventually got the hang of it, but it was fun to see such huge numbers! In any case, here are a few pictures of where we first walked through. If I recall correctly, this is where the Concert Hall was located, as well as either a Ballet Hall or else an Opera. Sad to say we didn’t see the inside of either, as you can tell! But they were gorgeous buildings.
We hadn’t made a lot of definite plans for the first day, so we began by wandering through the Old Town part of Prague. We soon reached a big, open square, where there impressive buildings, including a church and a clock tower that displayed astronomical progressions. This is a major tourist area, and it was quite crowded. Based on the amount of people, Sebastien and I are scared to think how full it must be during the tourist months, if it was as busy as it is in the middle of February! In this square there were also a few extremely talented street performers. I imagine performers must have to get special permission to play in that square, because they draw huge crowds in that specific area.
We knew that at the top of the hour, something special would happen on the astrological clock, but we didn’t know what would actually take place. While we didn’t get to see the top of the hour on the first day, we came back later and were able to see it twice during our trip. You could tell it was approaching the top of the hour when the crowd in front of it got exceptionally large. The clock was adorned with a lot of figures, and on the top of the hour a little figure of a skeleton would ring a bell, and then two windows right above the clock face would open, and little saint figures would rotate within view. The other figurines by the skeleton would also move for a while. Once the windows had closed again, the golden rooster would crow, and then a trumpeter from the highest part of the tower would play a short melody, and afterwards wave at the crowd below as they applauded. It was pretty cool! I wish the top of the hour was such an exciting event everywhere. Maybe I should get Sebastien to bring out his trumpet and play for me at the top of every hour from now on. I’ll try and put up a few pictures of the event here, but of course it’s not the same as if you see it in action.
I’m sorry my picture of the top of the tower is sideways, but the point is that the trumpeter was all the way up there.
Anyways, back to the first day. We walked as far as the Charles Bridge, but didn’t go across it because that was a large part of our plan for the next day. We then went on a hunt for one of the large historic libraries we had wanted to see while in Prague. It took us a while to track it down, but soon we were inside a building and had signed up for the next tour of “Klementinum.” The tour comprised of the Mirror Chapel, Astronomical Tower, and Baroque Library Hall. While the library was the part of the tour I was most looking forward to, the other aspects were definitely worth seeing as well. We began in the Mirror Chapel, which had mirrors in the ceiling that reflected the star-tiled floor, as a way of imitating the sky. It also had a set of mirrors at the front of the room, and when you looked into one side it make it seem like they were infinite.
As the tour progressed from there, we saw various astronomical artifacts throughout the tour. Our tour guide spoke English with a very heavy accent, so we could understand part of what she said but not all of it. She often threw in a German translation for what was going on – we had a few experiences on our trip where the locals spoke better German than they did English.
On about the third floor, we reached the Baroque Library Hall. We could only stand in the doorway and take a good look from that viewpoint, but it was absolutely amazing. There were globes of all sorts along the center of the hall, including astronomical patterns as well as geographical data. A section of the books were missing, since they are currently in Germany having the pages copied digitally. There were books of all sorts of languages in the room, but unfortunately I don’t really remember the rest of the trivia since I was too busy staring in awe to listen to the tour guide. Here’s one photo of the Chapel of Mirrors, and another of the Library.
The dark spots on the ceiling in the first picture are the mirrors. As you can tell, both places have amazing artwork on the ceilings! I ended up buying a poster of the library, for 50 Kc – or about 2 euros. It suffered a little damage coming back to Berlin, but hopefully it will still be worthy to hang on a wall when I’m an awesome librarian student nerd next year.
After the Library, we travelled all the way up the tower to the top. The stairs near the top were wooden and quite uneven, which made everybody just a little more careful about climbing them! But we soon got to the top, and were in a small room with large doors, which is where astronomers would do the majority of their observing. You could walk out of these doors though and be on a balcony surrounding the tower and from here we got an absolutely gorgeous view of the city.
The tour guide kindly took our photo, and we learned the Czech word for thank you: dekuji. We never did really learn any other words, but we were able to thank the tour guide and use the word occasionally.
We then found a place to rest our feet and enjoy an early dinner. Sebastien had noticed a place proclaiming to have beer that cost 35 Kc, which is about 1.30 euros. Needless to say, that was our place of choice! Seb had a goulash, while I ate a beef and potato dumpling dish covered in a traditional Czech sauce. It was all very delicious, and coincidentally enough, the Olympic game between Canada and the US was on TV! We took our time with the food, and ordered dessert, and enjoyed watching the game as it unfolded. At the end of it all, we paid about 700 Kc. Biggest bill I’ve ever gotten? Not really sure!
Throughout the day, it was interesting to see what types of stores are emphasized in Prague. There were several alcohol shops that put an emphasis on Absinth – there was one that claimed to be an Absinth museum, and served such specialties as Absinth ice cream. Seb and I never checked any of these out, but I had no idea it was such a big deal there. There were also two museums of “Medieval Torture Instruments” which had gory displays in the windows and the sounds of recorded screams coming from inside. Seb and I didn’t exactly feel the need to check these out either! The two places we did check out though were the marionette shops and the crystal stores. We went into one marionette shop, and there were tons of detailed marionettes and other handmade toys. The one we went into had a cute display in the window, where there were four marionettes set up on a sort of carousel where they would walk around.
There were tons of these small shops everywhere. There were also a lot of shops selling crystals – there were at least two Swarovski Crystal stores between our hotel and the Charles Bridge, and there were a lot more of different brands everywhere. I had no idea that crystals were such a big thing in Prague! We went into Swarovski because I love collecting their crystal animals, and wanted to see what outrageous prices they had for everything (thanks to the change in currency). There were a lot of digits involved!
The walk back to the hotel was of course a scenic one, and we got a good night’s rest to prepare us for the next day’s adventures.
We awoke bright and early the next day to a lovely, sunny sky. After our complimentary breakfast at the hotel, we headed straight for Charles Bridge. The many vendors that set up their carts along the bridge were just starting to put their paintings and jewelry on display, and I, of course, took a million photos.
In a few of the pictures posted above, you can perhaps see a large castle in the distance on the right side, with a green roof. This is where we climbed to next! Sebastien’s guidebook said to avoid going there in the morning because that was when it was most full with tour busses, but thankfully for us it was bearable since it isn’t exactly tourist season. The stairs we climbed led us fairly close to the cathedral at the top of the hill, and after passing through “guarded” gates, we were able to take a peek inside the cathedral.
The sun was coming through the stained-glass windows at the perfect angle, so it was much more gorgeous than I can portray in the picture. We wandered around the area a bit more, and there were historic royal quarters involved, but since we weren’t prepared to take a tour we meandered back into the street. The area at the top of the hill was a lot more populated with houses and restaurants than we had expected, and we slowly made our way towards the old Monastery that had a library within the grounds. When we got there, the library was closed for a lunch hour, so we decided to sit outside at a nearby brewery and take a break. We sat at a long bench, and eventually a middle-aged couple sat beside us since the place was quite full. We got talking, and quickly found out that the couple came from Glasgow, Scotland. When I told them I’m from Canada, they mentioned that they had family out there – one of their siblings had moved there and was living with their family in Vancouver. To make the whole thing a very small-world experience, their niece and nephew played bagpipes and drums with the SFU pipeband, and we have a few friends in common. I swear, Canada isn’t so small that we usually have those experiences, but the bagpiping world is!
We eventually bid our new friends adieu, and headed back to the library. The writing on the building said that it dated back to the 1200s. There were two separate libraries: one was two stories tall, and was themed with a warm brown colour (sorry for the terrible description, but I’m sure if I said something like “mahogany” it would be totally wrong). There was then a long hallway that was lined with ancient manuscripts, as well as unique book bindings. This led to another library, which was only one level high but was no less impressive with artwork and rows upon rows of books from the ceiling to the floor.
The air coming from each of the libraries was cool, in order to preserve the books. I think that was a big part of why we weren’t all allowed to browse around the library too. These were absolutely amazing to see, although I have to say that I’m looking forward to when I am working in a functional library, where I can put information to use and physically take books off the shelves.
Anyways! Once we were done looking around, we headed back outside. The hill we had climbed extended a long way, and we walked towards a building that was apparently built shortly after the Eiffel tower. There was of course an amazing view from the top of the hill, although we didn’t bother to climb the tower itself. After we admired it all for a while, we slowly walked back down the hill on a scenic route. Eventually we ended up back at the bridge we had crossed early that morning, which by this time was quite crowded.
Once we were back in the Old Town area, we grabbed a quick snack – light, fluffy dough wrapped in a circle and dusted with sugar and cinnamon. Smelled amazing, and was pretty tasty too! We then headed back to the hotel to start getting ready for our night out at Europe’s biggest night club!
When we were all ready for dinner, a man at the front desk in our hotel recommended a good restaurant. It was about ten steps from the hotel, and it was indeed a great choice. After that, we headed to the club!
Above are a few photos of it from the outside during the day, but of course you can’t really get a sense of what it was like from that. I didn’t actually bring my camera or phone with me into the club, so I will just have to describe it a bit for you.
The club was absolutely amazing. We entered the coat check on the first floor, and there was a long hallway where you could then enter a staircase or else keep going straight and enter the ice bar. We never did try out the ice bar, but it’s basically a really cold room where everything is made of ice – or at least I assume that’s the case. But back to the staircase. We first took it down a set of stairs, which led to a fairly small dance floor. The ceiling was clear, and you could see the people walking through the coat check above us. The music seemed to be pretty standard and recent, but we didn’t stay there very long. We got back into the staircase and went up two flights of stairs (so one above the coat check). There, they had lots of modern songs with a slightly lowered dance floor below the DJ. The theme of this floor seemed to be lasers, since there were a fair amount of them everywhere. You could then walk down a narrow hallway which was where the bathrooms were located, and on the other side of the hallway was a bar area and a bunch of chairs where you could relax. The floor plan of every floor was the same: a dancing area with the DJ, a narrow hallway with the bathrooms, then a bar and an area to sit. Each one was differently themed though. The next floor up had a lot of 80s music, and there were pictures of Elvis and Marilyn Munroe everywhere. We stayed enough to hear a bit of Grease and “Video Killed the Radio Star” before we explored further. The next floor up had lots of modern music (without many “remixes” though) and in front of the DJ’s podium there was a scantily-clad lady dancing for all she was worth. The other dancers were all below, and I think she was there as an ice breaker for shy people. The next level up had a live saxophone and drummer playing solos along with the music. The dancing was a bit more old-fashioned there, although the floor never seemed to get very busy. We had a lot of fun exploring each floor, and all of the decorations and displays within the club were extremely impressive. We found beer that cost about 1 euro or so, which is pretty darn amazing considering the fact that clubs usually overcharge on beverages. When one floor got a bit too crowded, we would just check out another. We ended up leaving at about 3am, and it was a short walk back to the hotel (much shorter of a distance than when I was living in Victoria!) All in all, I’m extremely happy we checked it out!
The next day, we began by seeking out the City Hall from which people were first defenestrated. For those of you who are curious, “defenestrate” means to throw someone out of a window. Apparently this was first done in Prague, and led to a 15 year war. We weren’t positive if we found the right building in the end, because there were very few markers to indicate that this is where it happened, but here’s a picture of the place we think it was.
On the way there, we walked along a very famous and expensive shopping strip, where all the most popular stores are. We meant to also walk by the hotel from which a few superstars have been kicked out, but we never really located it. Unfortunately, I was absolutely no help at finding anything on this day – two days of walking everywhere followed by a late night made me into a bit of a zombie!
After our defenestration quest, we walked along a park until we found the “Dancing House”. The building itself isn’t used for dancing or anything like that, but from the outside it looks as if the whole building is dancing.
From there, we walked along the Moldau river. We were a fair ways away from the Charles Bridge, but we passed several bridges (meant for cars instead of just people) as we approached it.
We eventually arrived at the Charles Bridge, and once again admired the night club from the outside. It’s apparently open every night of the week from 9 to 5am – you can tell that there are no houses nearby for them to disturb! After that, we headed towards the Spanish Synagogue and Jewish Graveyard, but didn’t actually go inside or get a decent look. And so, we headed to our favourite brewery for some lunch, just in time to watch the Canadians take on Sweden in the Gold Medal Olympic game! It felt pretty cool to be watching the game from such a unique place, but it also made it feel extremely strange when we won and no one else in the brewery took any notice. I made sure to make a bit of noise though!
By the time the game was over, we had a bit more time to kill until we went to the bus station. We stopped inside a candy store where they were making hard candies from scratch, which was pretty cool to see. It was a bit like watching the chefs in Disneyland make caramel apples, except I’m pretty sure the ones in Disneyland had much more traditional hairstyles.
We then went into the strip mall we had noticed earlier, and spent our remaining few koruna on ice cream cones. By then, it was sadly time to say goodbye to Prague, and ride the bus home. It was sad to have to say goodbye, but that’s always a sign of a great trip!
And so concludes the tale of our adventure in Prague. I’m sorry that I ended up writing so much text, but I hope you enjoyed the pictures in any case! For this weekend, we don’t have a lot of big things planned – I’m enjoying getting to relax a bit! I hope you all have a terrific weekend!