Apologies for the lapse in blog posts! I was away from my computer with Lightroom and iPhoto for the last week, so I was unable to post anything new, but now that I’m back and settled, we can dive right back into my summer Eurotrip of 2015, and today we head to Prague, the Czech Republic!
After a busy day of traveling (we took a train from London to Paris and then flew out of Charles de Gaulle Airport to Prague), we arrived at Praha late at night. A man from the hotel picked us up, and we cruised through the modern city of Prague that resembled any American suburb complete with Mickey D’s and fluorescent-lighted gas stations. One of the first things I noticed in Prague was that the cars were built like American cars with the steering wheel on the left side of the car and driving on the right side of the road, which was quite a relief after the confusion in London. I guess Britain is too hipster for right-hand traffic.
As we crossed the Vltava River to Old Town, the modernity fell away and we found ourselves in a quaint little town with narrow cobblestone roads and bustling bars. It was a Friday night, and the little city was alive. Even when we sought dinner at 11 PM, the streets were spilling with Czech youth en route to the nearest bar or club. The Czech Republic takes the throne for beer consumption per capita, beating the next place (Austria) by forty liters, and we didn’t doubt it when we saw a group of men enjoying some beers for breakfast the next morning. We had a late dinner at a South American restaurant called La Casa Argentina, and it was absolutely incredible. I ordered some sort of curry chicken dish that enchanted my taste buds. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures, but believe me when I say it was heavenly. Full of delicious Argentinian food, we headed back to the hotel for a warm slumber, ready to explore the city the next morning.
Our morning — and the following few mornings — started off with breakfast in the hotel’s dining room. There was a colorful plethora of fruit, meats, cheeses, pastries, and so I gorged myself on fruit salad and pain au chocolat. Yum!
We had a walking tour scheduled in Old Town Square, so after breakfast, we headed there. It was a beautiful square surrounded by colorful pastel buildings and gothic buildings, inky turrets cutting high into the sky. As it was still morning, street vendors were just setting up, displaying little trinkets and souvenirs and firing up the grills for sausages and sauerkraut. However, the beauty of the square was marred by what looked like concert setup, posters advertising the Mattoni Koktejl Festival.
In the center of the square, we met our tour guide, a Belarusian named Katerina. She was hilarious as she started the tour with a quick history of the Czech Republic, including its former pen-stealing president, another president who often appears in public drunk and swaying, and that one time a Czech artist erected a large statue of an extended middle finger facing the latter president. She explained that Czech people often liked to make fun of themselves.
However, as we walked through the Jewish quarter, it became apparent that their history is not all fun and jokes. The Czech Republic — then Czechoslovakia— was a sacrificial lamb “given” to Nazi Germany by British Prime Minister Chamberlain to appease Hitler. What the British call the Munich Agreement, the Czechs call the Munich Betrayal. The Jewish Quarter of Prague survived the Nazi occupation during World War II, as Hitler wanted to preserve it as a “Museum of an Extinct Race,” so there are many Jewish artifacts there, but its inhabitants were not so lucky. Katerina told us that the graveyards of the Jewish Quarter were so crowded that they had to stack bodies on top of each other, which was heartbreaking to hear and then see.
At the end of the war, Czechoslovakia was liberated by the Red Army, but that was simply the start of another terrible chapter in Czech history. Oppressed by the Soviet Communist regime, the Czech people grew to hate their once-allies, and we were surprised to hear from the Czech man that drove us back to the airport that he hates the Russians (who he called “barbars”) even more than he hates the Nazis.
With the fall of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia finally found their freedom and a few years later, peacefully separated into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. I found all this history particularly interesting as I had just learned about it in my online World History course, but I think that’s enough history for today, don’t you?
Today, Prague seems to be thriving. Its love for music is evident with the plethora of concert posters plastered all over the city, although, sadly, we did not attend any. I would have loved to see the inside of the Estates Theatre, where Mozart premiered Don Giovanni. It’s the only theatre still standing where Mozart performed. We did often pass by the Rudolfinum, though, and it’s beautiful outside, with statues of famous composers skirting the roof. And Czech people don’t just love classical music — they are huge fans of The Rolling Stones, who paid for the lighting at Prague Castle.
Fun fact: During the Nazi occupation of Prague, Mendelssohn’s statue was ordered to be removed, because of his Jewish background, but the two workers had no idea what Mendelssohn looked like. So, they measured all the noses of the statues, and assuming that the largest nose belonged to Jewish Mendelssohn, took down that statue. Turns out that the statue they took down was actually Richard Wagner, Hitler’s favorite composer. The two workers went into hiding after that careless mistake, and having survived the war, apparently wrote a book about this story, although I can’t find any such book.
In front of the Rodolfinum, there is also a large plot of gravel/sand, and we had the opportunity to observe some interesting sand art.
After the tour ended, we headed back to Old Town Square, which was bustling with activity. There, we observed the famous Prague astronomical clock, which Katerina called “the second most overrated tourist sight in Europe after the Mona Lisa.” Having seen both, I would say the clock should be number one. At the top of the hour, hoards of tourists gather to watch a rather lame twenty-second “show” with a few animated figures shaking back and forth. The disappointment of tourists who had waited just to see this display was more entertaining than the actual clock.
We crossed the famous Charles Bridge, which was absolutely crawling with tourists, to get to Prague Castle on the other side of the river, but when we finally trekked up there, we sadly learned that it was closed. But no matter! The next day we woke up bright and early so we could start on our journey early, and ascended the castle once more. It took awhile to get to the top (again), but it was well worth it for the incredible views.
The highlight of the castle was Saint Vitus Cathedral, which is as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside (as sappy as that sounds). The cathedral was lit by sunlight filtering through dozens of intricate stained glass windows of every color, and the effect was dazzling. Each window was unique in scene and color, and the detail was incredible.
On the outside, Saint Vitus Cathedral is a gothic architecture-lover’s paradise, flying buttresses and all. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
After taking about a thousand pictures of the castle, we headed back down to Old Town, a route we had become fairly accustomed to by then. There, we discovered that the Mattoni Koktejl Festival we had seen posters for the other day was happening tonight. As we didn’t have any other plans, we decided there was no harm in checking it out, so at 8 PM, we headed out to the first summer music festival of the summer… in Prague! How many people can say that? We arrived relatively early, so we got pretty good standing room in front of the stage. At first it seemed like we were pretty far back, but an hour later, the entire square was packed and we were glad we got there early.
Of course, we couldn’t understand a word, but it was still incredible. There’s something about the collective fervor and excitement of concerts that I adore. The bands were, for the most part, very catchy and upbeat, and although we couldn’t sing along, we could still dance along. All in all, it was a great time!
We stayed for a couple hours, and extricated ourselves from the crowd at around 11 PM. Before heading back to the hotel, we bought a few delicious mocktails (made from Mittoni mineral water) and a trdelnik. What is a trdelnik, you may ask? ONLY THE BEST DESSERT EVER. Unfortunately, due to an incident in Paris (ooh, foreshadowing), I don’t have a picture of my own trdelnik, but here’s one courtesy of Google Images.
The trdelnik is a Slovak pastry similar to a churro… but better! The dough is wrapped around a rotating stick, put over an open fire, then sprinkled with generous amounts of cinnamon sugar. We got Nutella on the inside of ours, and it was delectable. Crunchy and sweet on the outside and nice and soft on the inside… I’m drooling just thinking about it. If you ever find yourself in Prague, make sure you treat yourself to a trdelnik (or ten) — you won’t regret it! There’s many street vendors selling them everywhere; they’re not hard to find. Mm… what I would give to have another.
Anyway.. we returned to the hotel with Czech music humming in our ears and our stomachs full of cinnamon goodness. While a pop music festival may not be on the top of the List of Things to do in Prague, I was so glad we went. It was such an interesting and unique experience, and we had the opportunity to glimpse into Czech Republic pop culture, blending in with the locals. It was an unforgettable night.
On the morning of our last day in Prague, we hit up the Petřín Lookout Tower for “the best view of Prague.” The tower itself strongly resembles the Eiffel Tower, although it’s much shorter, which was good for us, since we climbed the stairs all the way to the top. Two hundred and ninety nine steps later, we reached the top and were treated to a stunning view of Prague. This vantage point was even better than the view from Prague Castle, because it included the castle itself. Prague is truly beautiful from far way with red roofs spreading for miles. It was also cool to see the Charles River splitting the city into two. Needless to say, we went a little camera crazy.
Although it seems like a small city, from up high, we could see how vast the city of Prague really is, and it was breathtaking. We lingered for awhile, reluctant to say goodbye to the view and climb down 299 steps.
Once we were back on the ground, we headed to the John Lennon Wall, which is a wall covered with John Lennon- and Beatles-inspired graffiti. Apparently the Czech people love the Beatles as much as they love the Rolling Stones. Although some people don’t view graffiti as legitimate art, I love it as a form of expression. I love the constant change of graffiti, with new layers sprayed over the old, growing naturally. I see it as a meeting of history and progress. To some, graffiti may be vandalism, but there is nothing destructive about the Lennon Wall. Filled with creative poems and flowers and the choice location of many musicians, it’s the epitome of peace.
Plus, it’s, ya know, pretty. I’m a huge fan of the colorful, vibrant, oversaturated aesthetic.
And with Lennon’s preachings of love and peace resonating in our hearts, we leave Prague. Next stop: Paris. Until then, na shledanou (that means goodbye in Czech)!