Posted by: Michelle | June 23, 2012

I Heart Prague

Virtually every city in the world sells tee shirts and oodles of other paraphernalia from key chains to bags to lanyards that proclaim “I “heart” [insert heart graphic here] wherever you are at. Some go as far as to use the three letter airport code (SYD for Sydney for example). Personally, no city has ever moved me enough to make such a declaration. But I do “heart” Prague, even if I did not purchase any tacky souvenirs.

I had high expectations for Prague based on endorsements from many friends. I’m happy to say Prague did not disappoint in anyway. We landed at the airport on the outskirts of town mid morning and hopped in a cab to head into the city. Shortly, we were in Mala Strana an area of the Old Town, just below Prague Castle. The narrow cobblestone street led up a hill to the Hotel Golden Star, a unique hotel situated just below Prague Castle. Despite the early flight from Amsterdam to Prague the day after Queen’s Day I was anxious to explore. Best of all, the sun was out and it was warm. Even though it wasn’t quite noon, I was feeling the effects of an early flight after a full day of walking in Amsterdam. Lunch sounded like a good idea. But then we are back to the what to eat that’s not fries or pizza, a continuing saga for those who don’t have a wide palette. This was easily solved when we spotted a French cafe that served baguettes. Just slap a little jambon and fromage on it and I’m a happy camper (in other words, ham and cheese). Boring for some, but it works for me. This and a coke (with ice) gives me the energy to start exploring. We started down the hill and happened upon a church, St. Nicholas, a roman catholic church. Granted, I’m not a religious person but I do enjoy the architecture and beauty of churches. This particular Baroque church was completed in 1735. There was a nominal fee to go inside. I wandered upstairs to take in the view and leaned over a railing to take a photo. As I stood up, my bag got caught on a pedestal, causing a huge racket. Suddenly there was a guard behind me looking rather stern as I sheepishly slunk away mumbling an apology. I could feel his eyes on me as I continued to walk around so I thought it was best to move on. Back outside, it had really begun to heat up and I had to remind myself not to complain about the heat after freezing in Amsterdam. We proceeded to wander around Mala Stran (Lesser Town). We happened upon a unique gift shop called Blue, which we would end up visiting multiple times. Eventually, we made our way to Charles Bridge, a pedestrian thoroughfare crossing the Vltava River over to Old Town. The 13th century bridge is full of vendors selling souvenirs, artists and musicians. There are multiple statues, all in need a good cleaning on both sides of the bridge representing various historical figures (mostly religious). In fact, several had lines of faithful catholic parishioners rubbing said statues, saying a prayer, no doubt looking for some kind of blessing that will enrich their life.

Because the day was so warm, I opted for an evening shower. This, as you know, can be an experience in itself and I was not disappointed. First, the shower was at least a foot high so it was a rather large step up. The shower itself was probably 3’ by 3’ with two sliding doors that met in the corner and did not provide a good seal (can you see the handwriting on the wall?). I turned on the two faucets and waited for the water to be not too hot or too cold. Once the temperature was just right, I decided I needed more water pressure so I slowly turned up the faucet and without warning the shower head that was pointed downward turned full force aimed squarely at my face before jettisoning over my head hitting the wall, towel rack and pretty much everything else in the bathroom soaking everything but me. I let out a squeal and turned it off. Score one for Murphy and the shower. I proceed to turn the water back on, slowly which meant the shower head drooped against the wall (not very contusive for showering purposes) or aimed squarely above me if turned on too high. This was a battle of wills with the shower winning. So do I hug the wall and have ¼ of my body under the water or do I hold the blasted thing and try to wash my hair and shave my legs with one hand. Dang those Europeans and their handheld shower heads. I haven’t been that frustrated taking a shower since… well, the last time I was in Europe. Too bad you can’t take one with you but I assume they wouldn’t let you on the plane. And if you are thinking that is part of the adventure of travelling you’d be right, but it doesn’t make it any more fun. Just wet.

The next day, we signed up for a 6 hour walking tour around the city. Our group consisted of three married couples and Aliena and I. It was an interesting group – one from the UK (retired), one from Canada (owners of a Bed and Breakfast) and a doctor and his wife from Dubai. The woman from Dubai wore high heels (ha ha! I typed “hells” and realized this was truly a Freudian slip), tight jeans and long sleeves. She didn’t seem miserable but I was just looking at her. It was hot and we walked several miles. I would have been sitting on the ground in a puddle of sweat and tears if it were me. We started at Old Town Square, walked through the Jewish Ghetto, saw many a churches, had lunch in a medieval dungeon, went up to Prague Castle, meandered back through Lesser Town back across Charles Bridge ending up where we started. Exhausting as the day was, we headed out again to meet Aliena’s cousin who lives in Prague. He took us to a rooftop bar overlooking the city. Of course the rain soon materialized and we were seated a table without a cover. Nothing like slamming a drink down and running for cover (I did pause to take the most gorgeous picture of a double rainbow over the city)! Of course, the rain was over by the time we took the lift down and headed down the street to a local pizzeria. Afterwards we enjoyed a leisurely stroll back to our hotel on the other side of the river. The humid evening and clouds made the Old Town Square look like the Forum shops at the Caesar’s in Las Vegas but I was happy to know that I was in Prague and not a stuffy casino. The castle was stunning at night and despite multiple attempts, I could not capture its beauty.

We were departing the next afternoon for Berlin (via Amsterdam) and I was exhausted. It was tempting to sleep in and find a café to hang out in but I convinced myself that I needed to make the most of my visit so I headed out early, including a walk downhill to Starbucks and back up again to do some more exploring beyond the castle. I found another church – Loreta. I paid the small entry fee and an additional €6 to take pictures. The cashier handed me a lanyard to wear indicating I paid the photo fee. Not that it mattered. Almost everyone I saw had a camera and took many snapshots yet I was the only one who appeared to pay for the privilege. One woman in particularly, made a big to-do about making the sign of the cross and kneeling in the chapels, yet had no problem breaking the rules by taking pictures. I must admit I enjoyed getting in several of her shots. I find it completely frustrating when some people feel that they are exempt from the rules and basically do whatever they feel like doing. These are the same people who don’t turn off their electronics before take-off and… well, I won’t go there.

Despite the fact it took me several weeks to finish this blog (I actually started whilst I was in Germany), it in no way reflects how I felt about Prague. I’ll always remember what a beautiful city it is and count it among my all-time favorite places.

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