Easter weekend is a four-day weekend here, because the Friday before and the Monday after are public holidays in Bavaria and much of Europe. Not wanting to waste a long weekend, I went to Prague.
Some notes before the pictures and story:
- The Hotel Victoria is pretty convenient to the tram lines, and the room was surprisingly nice for the low rates.
- Never again will I use an ALEX (Arriva Länderbahn Express) train to go anywhere. It was not a happy experience, either to or from Prague. We were treated like cattle on the way there. Give me a DB train any day.
- Inside Prague, where tourism is huge, we didn’t have any trouble even though neither of us speak Czech. There was plenty of English. Except on the aforementioned ALEX trains.
- The entire weekend, from rail to hotel to food and attractions, was actually very affordable. I just wish the weather had been a little bit better…
- While there are thirty-four pictures in this post, there are over 240 in my SmugMug gallery from Prague. Feel free to click through that if you like.
On with the pictures and story!
This is Jenny. She was my traveling companion for the weekend.
Our “direct” train from Regensburg to the Praha Hl.n (main train station) was not direct. It was also packed to the gills. We went the first three-fourths of the trip in a freezing cold area between two train cars, and spent the last fourth after changing trains at Pilzen standing, because they had to put us on another train for some reason. There were not enough seats for all of these people by a long shot. I will never take Alex trains again if I have any other option. Even a horse-drawn wagon would have been more comfortable than this, I suspect.
Amusing sidebar: When we had to change trains in Pilzen, the rail employee told a woman near us in Czech. That woman told Jenny in German. Jenny then explained it to me in English. Polyglot telephone for the win!
Finally, we arrived in Prague, known locally as Praha.
The first thing I saw when we walked out of the main train station was a giant sculpture of… Woodrow Wilson?!
It turns out they put this statue up in September of 2011– It is one of the few statues of an American president on non-US soil. Apparently, Woodrow Wilson is a pretty big deal in the Czech Republic because he backed their independence after World War I.
The local currency is the Crown, and the numbers are hard to get used to… for example, I got a bottle of water for 17 crown, and my steak at dinner on Saturday night was over 400 crown. This is an assortment of bills and the coin is a 50 crown piece.
To give you an idea of how crazy the inflation is here, I changed 100 Euro to the Czech crown when we arrived, and was given just over 1900 Crown for it. And that was with an 18% fee on the transaction.
A random restaurant near the hotel had window displays of Duff Beer. I want to taste it, but never got around to it. I tried Czech cuisine for dinner on Friday night. The restaurant where we ate had a green pilsner beer specially for Easter. I’m not really sure what the significance is.
The Žižkov Television Tower was near the hotel. It was lit up all pretty-like at night. There was an observation deck that you could visit, but it was currently undergoing renovations, so the place was in rough shape. Wires and ductwork were hanging from the ceiling, the lights were out… it was kind of unreal how creepy the place was. I half expected to be attacked by a xenomorph while we were in the observation deck.
Sculptures of climbing babies by Czech artist David Černý are permanently installed on the tower. Also kind of creepy, actually.
On Saturday, we started the day by going to Petrin Hill. The tram system in Prague is pretty outstanding, and it got us around quite nicely.
Our tram ticket was part of the Prague Integrated Transport (PID) system, which meant that when we got to Petrin Hill, we could use the same ticket for the Funicular, which is basically a cable car that goes up a hill- it’s on a track, but it’s pulled by a cable. I was on something similar at Victoria Peak in Hong Kong back in 2008.
Once we got to the top of the hill, we went to the Petrin Lookout Tower, the Rozhledna. The tower, which strongly resembles the Eiffel Tower in Paris, can be climbed for a small fee. There are lookout decks at the top and in the middle.
Fun fact: Despite the fact that the tower is considerably shorter than the Eiffel Tower, it actually has a higher altitude than the Eiffel because it’s on top of a very large hill.
That altitude makes for some fantastic views, though. The first picture shows Charles Bridge connecting the town across the Moldau river. You can see the spires of the buildings in the Old Town Square in the background, but it wasn’t a very clear morning.
The second picture shows Prague Castle. Reportedly, this is the largest ancient castle in the world.
Bonus artsy shot – From the middle observation deck, with a blurred out spyglass in the foreground. Because I thought it was nifty.
While walking around, we saw a lot of Segway tour groups. I wish I’d done this; I’ve always wanted to try a Segway. Also, Prague was much more hilly than I expected- lots of climbing was done over this weekend.
These poor guys have what I consider to be one of the worst jobs on the planet- they have to stand there and basically not do anything while hundreds of tourists wander past, stand next to them for photographs, and so forth. This guy didn’t move the entire time we were standing there.
This was a common sight, by the way- me trying to figure out with the map where to go next.
In front of the castle guards, musicians gathered in the square.
Bonus artsy shot– Musicians in black and white!
From the giant hill climbing exercise that was the Castle, we went to Charles Bridge. It was full of street musicians, people selling things, artists, and so forth. This guy was painting the city in a nifty hat.
Next up: Old Town Square. Except we got kind of turned around, which resulted in this action:
While I’m on the topic of being lost- in the Czech Republic, I had no data on my cell phone, so the mapping stuff wasn’t very helpful. What was helpful was this: The compass app. This, used with the map, helped us find our way around the city despite the vaguely unhelpful signs pointing to the various things that tourists like to see.
Eventually, we did find Old Town Square, including the Astronomical Clock.
Also in the Square- lots of vendors selling Trdelník, a traditional (and delicious) sweet pastry.
There were a lot of other events in the Square at the same time. There was some sort of baton twirling competition, and a parade from one of the nearby churches. For some odd reason, there was also an Easter Tree. I’ve seen this a little bit in Germany, and I still don’t get it.
I think this sign means that you must have a hula hoop to cross the street for the next five meters.
I also had the chance to try a dark beer called Budvar, which is brewed by Budweiser, but isn’t really Budweiser. In most European countries American Budweiser is not labelled as Budweiser but as Bud, and the name Budweiser refers to the original Czech beer, Budweiser Budvar. There have been lawsuits and different holders to the Budweiser name and it’s all very complicated. According to the Internets, they market this in the US as Czechvar. All I know for certain is that this was pretty tasty.
There are also a bunch of very old Jewish synagogues and cemetaries around Prague in different locations. Some are set up as museums, but they weren’t open because of Passover, which happens to fall on the same weekend as Easter this year. I still got some pictures from the outside.
One of the last places we went before leaving the city was Wenceslas Square. We’d passed it a few times before Sunday, and cheerfully referred to it as the Horse’s Ass Street because we always saw this statue from the rear until this point.
It was about this time that it started to SNOW, so we killed some of our remaining time before the train out of Prague in a comfortable Starbucks, where we could derive amusement out of watching people trying to figure out how to open the bathroom door. No, seriously, this was hilarity incarnate.