(Originally posted on my old personal blog, Adventures with KHill!)
I went to Prague! It was very punny because Czech and Prague are just too easy to make all kinds of fun jokes with. Really though, I had such an awesome weekend and couldn’t be more thankful to start my summer in Europe this way! Now to recap.
Friday: Got up at an absurd hour (worth it) to get to the bus stop in time for my bus at 7. The bus ride was about 4.5 hours and I slept most of the way, then I was in the Czech Republic! At the bus station in Prague, I had a brief moment of “hmm, I’m alone for a few hours in a country where I speak literally none of the language” panic while I tried to figure out where to change money and buy a metro ticket, and then got a little lost trying to get to my hostel from the metro (turns out there were about 12 different metro exits at my particular station and I took the one furthest from the hostel). Once I was there, thanks to Google Maps offline – shoutout to Stephen for working there this summer! – I was able to easily check in, put my stuff away, and sit and hang out for a couple of minutes while informing everyone that I arrived safely. This was around 1 pm, and my friends I was meeting were ending a whirlwind tour from Poland to Vienna to Bratislava to Prague and wouldn’t be arriving until 8, so I decided at the last minute to hop on a free walking tour that was leaving from my hostel. This ended up being a great decision since instead of sitting in my hostel on my own all day, I was able to go out into Prague and see basically all the main sights in the old town area with a bunch of other English-speaking tourists. I met a couple of Canadian girls who I hung out with for most of the tour and into the evening. The tour was about 3 hours long and it was super hot and sunny outside but it was great to get oriented with the city and hear a ton of stories and history that I wouldn’t have otherwise known. I knew very little about Prague/Czech/Bohemian history prior to the tour and now I feel like I have a pretty good wealth of info. A couple of favorite tidbits: defenestration (throwing someone out a window) was a popular way to solve political/social problems in Prague…into the 20th century, and there was a flood a few years back in which an otter from the Prague Zoo was swept by the river all the way into Germany and he became a national story of hope until his death a few weeks later. Okay, those facts sound a lot darker typed out that way. I promise they were more funny/interesting on the tour. Besides weird stories, the tour showed me how ridiculously beautiful Prague is. Seriously, I had heard good reviews from friends who have visited, but it was maybe the most all-over beautiful city I’ve seen. Such gorgeous architecture from pretty much every different style/time period (including the occasional good ole communist concrete), a beautiful river with a castle up on the hill (largest castle in Europe! Maybe in the world, but I can’t remember). It was honestly like every corner we turned there was something even prettier than there was on the last corner. The tour was a good investment of three hours and a few dozen crowns as a tip for the tour guide. Side note: can we make tipping part of my tour guide job at school? That would be fun. After the tour, I went with the Canadians to dinner. Even though it was really hot, I ordered goulash and dumplings and it was SO GOOD. Shortly after that, I parted ways with the Canadians, most likely never to see them again. Odd four-hour friendship. I found my way back to the hostel, which wasn’t nearly as complicated as I had anticipated, and waited on my friends. They got a little lost on their way there as well but once they arrived it was SO SWEET to see them. I had only been out of the country for a week at this point but apart from a lot of my school friends for ~3 or so and it’s just crazy how nice it can be to see those loving, familiar faces. I almost had to keep pinching myself throughout the weekend because I was actually in Europe with a couple of my favorite people. Once they were there, we headed out to see the Charles Bridge and the castle lit up at night. My tour guide earlier in the day had recommended not going to Charles Bridge during the day time because it gets insanely crowded, and the next day we found out that he was right, so I’m glad we made our way there the first night. The view was incredible and it felt perfect outside - great end to the first day!
Saturday: We slept in til 9 or so since we had all had a long day Friday then got breakfast at the hostel. For anyone planning on going to Prague at any point, I highly recommend Hostel Downtown. Our room was on the sixth floor which meant the wifi didn’t really reach us up there, but we had the most AMAZING view of the whole city, including the castle. It was perfectly located in walking distance from everything we could want to see and they also had a rockin breakfast with eggs, mini pancakes, cereal, etc. After breakfast, we headed out for a full day of sightseeing. Since I’d been on the tour the day before and thanks to some helpful maps at the hostel, we figured out the route we would take throughout the day then did it at our own pace sans tour guide. First, we walked toward the dancing building. This one wasn’t on my tour so I really don’t know much about it, but it was cool looking and very different from all the buildings surrounding it. Then we crossed over the river and walked through a pretty riverside park heading toward the Lennon Wall. On the way, we noticed a bunch of people in paddle boats and made a mental note to do that when it was less hot. It took us a while to find the Lennon Wall, but once we got there we took in the cool/weird graffiti and took some pictures. There was a guy with a guitar there playing Beatles songs and the experience probably would have been a little underwhelming without him. I wonder if he just does that all the time, every day? He should be getting paid by the Lennon Wall curators. But there probably aren’t Lennon Wall curators since it’s just a wall with a bunch of graffiti? This place was also a mystery to me and I’m reminded now that I meant to look up more about why the Lennon Wall exists. Anywho, my contribution was a heart in which I wrote “Make cookies not war.” We then headed up the hill toward the castle. It was a really big hill and a really hot day. About halfway up, we saw the castle from pretty close and for a second stopped to say, “Hmm this seems like a good enough view…” but then our inner adventurers kicked in and we walked the rest of the way up steep cobblestone streets and stairs. Once at the top, we saw that it was more than worth the walk - the view of the city from the castle was incredible! One of the prettiest sights I’ve ever seen. I think this is where I became obsessed with Prague. We didn’t go in the castle but walked around its gardens for a bit, sat down, and took in the view. Absolutely wonderful. Then, we headed back down the hill and stopped in some souvenir shops along the way, where we got a great 3-for-100 crowns deal on some artwork (100 crowns is like…5 bucks). Walked across the next bridge over from the Charles Bridge which was completely uncrowded and broke out my friend’s selfie stick along the way. Selfie sticks are so hilarious to me. Using them may make you look like an obnoxious touristy fool…but they take great pictures. I am adding selfie sticks right below fanny packs on my list of extremely underrated travel accessories. We then walked through the Jewish Quarter which has a fascinating and sad history but is now one of the wealthiest, most beautiful parts of Prague. We stopped for some ice cream and I had a brief lapse of I’m-going-to-throw-up-right-now but fortunately recovered after sitting for a couple of minutes. It then started to rain a ton but we were prepared (me with my only-slightly-waterproof Transy rain pullover) and continued on to the Old Town Square. There, we took in all the pretty buildings and looked around at a little outdoor market place and a souvenir shop or two. Favorite finds of the day: little plush angels with nonsensical English sayings on them, i.e. “I want to you” and “I want uppy.” There were also ones that made sense but were still weird, like “You are a miracle.” A part of me wishes I had bought one. We also went to a chocolate factory/museum/store where the manager quickly fell in love with my friend and gave her heart shaped candy. That’s when we decided it was time to go elsewhere. We watched the astronomical clock do its little astronomical thang on the hour and it was mildly underwhelming but I still find the astronomical clock super impressive and fascinating, especially considering how old it is. It tells you what phase the moon is in AND what you should be doing with your crops at this point in the year! It’s like an olden-days Google with slightly more limited functions! Right after this, we met up with another one of our friends from school who is in Prague for the summer singing in an opera. We then waited around in the rain for another friend from the Poland study abroad program my friends are on. Once he got there, we took a Transy picture in the square because when else would we all be in Prague together? So so cool. We then went out to dinner at a Czech restaurant where the servers were slightly rude but I was told by my tour guide the previous day that that means they are authentic and not a tourist trap (darn my American customer service standards). I ate goulash again partially because I loved it the day before and partially because I know it’s safe from my food allergies. Favorite part of this dinner (besides the company, of course) was under the goulash on the menu there was this description that looked like a separately listed/priced menu item with the English translation just saying “With possibility of bringing bread - 150 CK.” In my tired, loopy state, this appeared to be the option of paying 150 crowns to maybe or maybe not have bread brought to you. It really meant the possibility of adding bread to your goulash, but the initial understanding was way funnier. After this, we walked to Wenceslas Square, the last main touristy place we hadn’t been, where our friend who is living in Prague introduced us all to the Trdelník. This sweet invention, pronounced almost like “turtleneck,” was basically dough wrapped around this skewer and then cooked over a fire and covered with cinnamon sugar. It gets cut off the skewer and served to you as a sugary little cylinder with the option of having the inside coated with nutella. Wow. Starting a petition to bring these to America when I get back. We ate them walking through Wenceslas Square, where we saw the largest equestrian statue in all of Europe (who thinks of measuring for these things?). Then, we parted ways with our friend who had to go to opera practice and went to a candy store because we hadn’t eaten enough sugar already that day. It was called Captain Candy and was just a room filled with big barrels or candy that you scoop out and then pay for the weight of your bag. Same concept as a store back home called Mast General Store but with less friendly people and no pets or pictures allowed. Anywho, spent too much on candy then parted ways with the other friend who wasn’t staying with us and headed back toward the hostel. We did a ton of walking this day so all of us were ready to turn in for the night. One of the best surprises was hearing fireworks just after sundown. I was sitting in the hostel lobby using wifi when I heard what I really hoped were not gunshots and ran up the stairs to the 6th floor to see if I had a chance of seeing them out my window. The part of this plan I did not really think through was running up 6 flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator. So I made it to my room and was panting an embarrassing amount, but alas! Fireworks! One of the most beautiful sights I have seen to date without a doubt. I know I’ve said that a few times in this post, but this time it is really real. I don’t have any good photographic evidence of it, but there were these beautiful gold fireworks in perfect view from our window, lighting up the city with the stunning Prague Castle in the background. It was like being at Disney’s Magic Kingdom but with a slightly more authentic castle (it almost pains me to say that because of how much I love Disney but I hope I can accurately convey how magical this experience was). The lesson I took away from this, besides not opting for the stairs when there is an elevator, is never to risk missing out on something really special in favor of precious wifi time or something else as trivial. If you hear the metaphorical fireworks, put down your technology and run up the metaphorical stairs instead. I hope I’ll never forget seeing that.
Sunday: We got up and checked out of our hostel, then put our luggage in storage and ate some breakfast before hitting the cobblestone streets once more with one mission in mind: paddle boats. It was perfectly cloudy but not raining, warm but not hot, and we weren’t missing out. We got a paddle boat for four and after figuring out how to seat the three of us so that the boat didn’t tip to one side (humorous), we were off. This was such a fun way to see the city on our last day. The views from the river were (shocking) so gorgeous and made for some great and hilarious selfie stick opportunities. Funny thing that happened - while using the selfie stick, we were reprimanded by the paddle boat patrol for nearly floating past the yellow “do not pass” buoys. The buoys are there to keep you from going over a waterfall a little bit down the river. We then started envisioning the headlines: “American girls tragically paddle boat over waterfall while taking selfies.” They could make a sad but powerful Lifetime movie about our lives as a representation of the carelessness of millenials. Anywho, I’m really glad we got to do this. We then walked around the city a little more and did some last minute shopping (surprise, surprise) for souvenirs. I got a mini astronomical clock that is an actual working clock that I look forward to hanging on my wall. We ate some snacks, including more Trdelník, and went back to the hostel to pick up our stuff before I said goodbyes and headed back to the bus station. It was such a perfect weekend and I’m so glad that my friends made it what it was! Prague impressed me more than I can really describe and I hope to go back with more friends and family someday. If you ever get the chance, GO.
I’m working on writing more about this week, but I may have to switch my day-to-day breakdowns into broader summaries…my brain is filled with German words and so much new information that it’s hard to remember everything! Until next time…