Friday, August 30, 2013

Prague: Czech Beer, Charles Bridge, Castles and Citadels

Touristy Information:
  • Always find the Tourist Information (TI) Centers when you get to any city. They are extremely helpful (Budapest being an exception, more about it in my Budapest post) and are kind enough to provide us with information about the city, give us the city map, and also provide us with information about the easiest mode of transport to get around the place. I have noticed that most countries in Europe (which ever I have been to till now) understand the importance of tourism, that they have the kindest and the most helpful people sitting in these centers to help us out. Anyways I am digressing!!!
  • Prague Travel Card provides you the best deal to get around Prague. You can get it at the TI in the airport and this would be valid for Trams, Buses and Metro. It's valid for either 24hrs/48hrs and believe me, its the best deal you can get. A city map and a travel card and you are all set to see Prague.
  • Travel Guides (my recommendations are Rick Steves or Lonely Planet), don't ever underestimate the power of a travel guide. It's your next best companion (would have said the best companion but I don't think my financial benefactor and lifetime companion would like that too much and I need to bank on him for my other travel plans). The guide can 
    • Saves you from starvation - Lokal in Prague has the best mashed potatoes and fried cheese, non-vegetarians will obviously not be disappointed either and the beer keeps flowing.
    • Saves you from audio guides ($$$$) - self guided tours and walking tours, especially in Rick Steves books are really really awesome. Believe me! My cynical "don't-trust-anyone/anything" husband fell so much in love with Rick Steve's book that by the end of the trip he was quoting Rick for every single thing.
    • Saves you from missing out places that ought not to be missed
    • Finally, saves you from embarrassing yourself - the guide provides you with background information about etiquette and culture about the place.
Our Prague Story
This is just the part one of our Prague story, there is another part called "Prague in 3 hours" which would come later. To give some background, we had planned our Eastern European trip such that we fly in and out of Prague and then travel to the rest of the places using our East European Railway Pass which is valid for 5 days travel within a month. It is quite comfortable to go for the pass if you are the type of person who wakes up in the morning and decides you are going off-track today. In this case, you don't have to worry about tickets, just find the train that takes you where you want to go and get on it. That is exactly what we did! Anyways, getting back to my Prague story...

We reached Prague in the afternoon around 4:30pm and got ourselves oriented with the city with the help of the local TI. City map - check; 48 hrs Travel Card - check; route to our hotel (The Charles hotel) - check! Getting to the city from the airport was pretty straight forward, take bus 119 to Dejvicka and from there we had to take the metro A to Malostranska. Our hotel was very close to the Charles Bridge and Malostranska, but we didn't know that then. So took the Tram X22 which took us to the next street (yeah very funny... haha :P) from where we walked to our Hotel. 

I should really be getting to the photographs now... 

After checking in, we freshened up and made a quick plan to cover some of the major sights of Prague - The Charles Bridge, Old Town and the Astronomical Clock, then find Lokal (the restaurant that I have been yapping about) and then get back. So the next set of photographs are all in that order.

Malostranska - Waiting for the tram to take us to the next street :D

Just as we step out of our Hotel we are here, what you see at the end is the beginning of the Charles Bridge
A small canal- view from the Charles Bridge

The Charles Bridge
It is one of the major sights in Prague, as you walk along the Charles Bridge, or maybe I should say swim your way through the crowds, you get spectacular 360 degree view of Prague. The bridge as such is quite a sight, cobbled road and sculptures on either side. It is a very lively place and there are people playing jazz music or only the violin. So its pretty romantic in the evening, with the sun setting and the soft music playing in the background, the river snaking its way and the lights of the city glittering.
View from Charles Bridge

View from Charles Bridge - other side

The Old Town
The name says it all, the good old charmer! Every city in Europe seems to have a place like this which is the heart of the city. Where friends gather to catch up over wine/beer/coffee, family get together and watch the kids play, tourists haunt it and street performers make most of their money here. The best part is the later it gets, the more livelier it gets.

In Prague, the old town is even more special than the other cities, because of its Astronomical Clock. According to Lonely Planet and also the internet, the creator of the Astronomical Clock was blinded so that he will not be able to create anything similar to this one. Every 1 hour the small idols in the clock come out and do its thing.
Tip: Try to be there atleast 15 minutes before so that you can find a nice spot to view it. It gets pretty crowded, so do watch out for pick pockets!
Astronomical Clock
Street Performers - Old Town

Old Town - Another view

Lokal and Beer etiquette in Czech
Entering Lokal is like entering into another world. A very unassuming place and we had a very hard time finding it. It is well hidden and with all the construction work, it was quite difficult to find it. But when you step in, you are transported to Old Prague. There are about 150 tables (yup its all numbered) and every single table is occupied. It seems, it is not new for strangers to share a table. Luckily, we did manage to get our own table. Also there is a Beer etiquette.

Beer etiquette tip 1: You sit down and take out a beer mat and place it on the table. This is an indication that you need a beer, and then the beer serving continues. 

The waiter would appear from no where with beer mugs, even before you realize that the beer mugs are almost empty.

Beer etiquette tip 2: You do not pour the new beer on top of your remaining old beer, this is considered unruly!

Signalling the waiter is sure to get you ignored (courtesy: Lonely Planet). The best way to tell him/her that you are done is:

Beer etiquette tip 3: Place the Beer mat on top of your mug indicating that you are done! 

After dinner, we walked around a bit and ended up again at the Old Town's Square. The place was still alive and the icing on the cake was the wonderful fireworks that started suddenly. It went on for almost half an hour. After watching the fireworks we back tracked towards Charles Bridge and back to the Hotel and called it a night.
An nothing like seeing the fireworks at night, the atmosphere is electric... The entire old town completely alive!

Night View from Charles Bridge - Hand held shot

The next day we wanted to go cover the other major sights, the Prague Castle, Vysehrad, Petrin and Winceslas Square.
Sculptures on Charles Bridge - as we walked towards the Tram stop to get to Vysehrad

King Charles, on whom the bridge was named
We wanted to finish Vysehrad first since its quite away from the main city. Vysehrad proved to be a very evasive place... we went all around it but couldn't find the place. The mistake was taking the tram, if any of you planning to go there, please take the Metro (but trying to find it from the metro station too is quite tricky... more about it in my later post "Prague in 3 hours"). As we were struggling to find this place, my dear husband got call from work and so we had to get back to the hotel. On our way back, what we saw is what comes next!

With office work all done, we decided to continue our exploration. Next stop, Prague Castle!
View of the Prague city from the Castle
The Royal Guard

St Vitus Cathedral

St George's Cathedral
View of Prague from the Castle
After walking around the grounds of the Castle (unfortunately we were late and it was all closed so we had to see it from outside), we wandered into the vineyard next to it and at the cafe had the famous "HOT" wine. My first ever "hot wine". A steaming cup of hot wine with spices, never have I had something like that before.
A cup of hot wine with a wedge of lemon

We then climbed down and got to Malostranska and walked along the bridge. The sun had started to set and the Charles bridge was bustling with life. We stopped to take a few more photographs, the lighting was brilliant and I really loved it!

View of the Prague Castle with the sun setting behind it
From here, we walked towards the Winceslas Square, crossing our favorite part of the city, the Old Town, again.

Winceslas Square is the other face of Prague. Night life is redefined here with its Casinos and Strip Clubs. Not really my cup of tea! So after roaming around for sometime we decided to get back and get ready for our next stop.

Prague is truly a party place, with its Beer, night clubs and various Squares for people to get together. The food is hearty and the people are lovely.

Day or Night there is always a charm in this city! The castles and the churches and the domes visible all around you, bright and shiny. Take a walk along the river in the evening, listen to the live performers, hold hands (though most of the time I was holding my camera's strap than my husband's hand), and relax! And that's what Prague is all about!

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