Thursday 31 July 2014

European Adventure: Day Three - Prague, Czech Republic

This morning we planned to be out by 7:30 but I delayed that a bit by being so tried! Brian actually got up at 3am but I stayed in bed until 7:10. Dad was up earlier, went for a walk and had breakfast, then Brian went for breakfast so we left the hotel at 8am. There had been some rain last night and the forecast called for a chance of showers. As such it was a very cool and overcast day - probably one I could have gotten away with wearing jeans and a sweater rather then capris. But the breeze was nice as it never got too hot, even on those rare moments the sun peaked through. 

We walked up to the Old Town Square and to the Astronomical Tower - which was beautiful. You can take tours of the inside and get photos from the top, but they didn't open until 9:00am so we figured we could do it later. But the amount of detail and workmanship that went into the clock is amazing. All of Prague is stunning - very old, but beautiful building line the streets, and there are these cute little side streets and alley ways everywhere. The cobblestones are a bit hard to walk on with my foot so sore, but I am managing. I did have to stop and take off the tensor bandage today - it was making the pain worse. I was trying to think of what place Prague reminds me of in Europe, but I couldn't. There are similar features to parts of England, France and Ireland but it really is it's own place. Dad never had a huge desire to come here but he's happy I picked it because it's a place worth seeing. 

We stopped at a Starbucks for Brian and I to get our elixir of life and for me to get something for breakfast. The Starbucks was great - friendly, English speaking staff and some really different drinks and pastries. I was unadventurous and stuck with my chai latte and croissant which  were delicious. It was expensive though - for two drinks and the pastry it was 14.00 CAD! It made me wish I had mom's magic Starbucks card! ;) 

Dad and Brian had seen a brochure about a Cold War/ Communism tour which took you down to a bunker below the city and went into detail on the this period in history as it related to Prague. That tour wasn't something I was interested in - just like the Toy Museum that I wanted to see wasn't their thing. So we decided to spilt up (Nanny don't be worried! The fact that this post is up and posted means it turned out fine!) We found a hop-on hop-off bus tour that left from the town square and bought 48 hour passes. Their tour started in the square and my toy museum was along the route. The plan was I would take the bus to Prague Castle (where the museum was) while they did their tour and then they would meet me at the castle in the afternoon. The hop-on bus couldn't come into the Old Town square so the first part was a 20 minute walking tour which took us to the bus. This was great because while we had seen some of these buildings yesterday in our wandering, we didn't know the history or details. This tour gave me the chance to learn about certain buildings and areas. 

(Outdoor market) 

One of the sights we saw yesterday was the Powder Gate - which we passed today. This tower was built in 1475 by King Vladislav II Jagiello to replace one of the original Old Town gates where some of the kings and royalty were living. They only stayed in the area for a few years though as the religious fighting worsened and Old Town became unsafe. This was when they moved back to Prague Castle. We also walked past an opera house which is gorgeous. It's styled after early 1900's Paris and many movies are filmed there when they are set in that time period. 
(Powder gate) 

The bus was parked a few blocks from the train station and was about half full. As with all City Sightseeing Buses there were headphones with tourist information in various languages. We drove out of Old Town and into Mala Strana which is the "little quarter". I think the three of us are doing the bus again tomorrow so we may stop there then. 

I got off at the 4th stop which was Prague Castle. I had read in Fodors that exploring the grounds and gardens of the castle is worth it, but the actual castle tour/admission is not. The castle is set up that you can enter the inner walls where there are many other museums, shops and caf├ęs without admission, but can't get inside the actual castle or churches without a ticket. The Toy Musuem was located at the very far end if the castle grounds (the opposite end from where the bus dropped me off at). 

( main entrance to the castle) 

It took about 25 minutes to walk through the grounds, but I was stopping and taking photos. The Guinness book of records lists Prague Castle as the largest ancient castle in the world. It dates back to the 9th century and is still the official residence and office of the President of the Czech Republic. 

One of the most impressive sights was St. Vitus Cathedral which is a massive, gothic structure located in the middle of the castle grounds. I read it is worth seeing, but you need the Prague Castle ticket to get all the way inside. I was able to get into the entrance - this allowed me to at least see inside and it was amazing. The inside was just as impressive as the outside with high ceilings, gorgeous stained windows, and a grand alter way at the front. There seemed to be a lot of other areas inside (ones you needed a ticket to see) but I'm glad I got to at least go in. 

The Toy Museum is in one of the castle buildings, in the former Supreme Burgrave’s House. It is the second largest Toy Museum in the world and consists of two floors with seven rooms of toys from all around the world. They have toys from Ancient Greece, and from all century's and decades including traditional and non-traditional toys, toy cars, planes, motorcycles, figures, dolls and stuffed animals. There was even an entire floor dedicated to Barbies! 

I am so glad I decided to see this! It was fantastic! There were 70 stairs to get up to the entrance which had my foot screaming at me, but it was worth it. (The fact that my foot is still killing me after almost 2 weeks is annoying). 

The toys displayed were organized by type, and their collection was massive. There wasn't much history and information provided - just a few notecards with a sentence or two explaining the origin/history or brand of a specific one. I was amazed at how much history there was in some of the toys - especially the trains and army figures. One display had an alien toy released during one the wars where aliens are envisioned as pink beings holding weapons. 


There were some crazy toys from the 50's that were mechanical and featured people doing things like seeing and drawing. One of them was called "the alcoholic" and he smoke and drank - with the card explaining that real smoke came out the end of the cigarette! Definitely not a toy you would see today! 

There were a lot of dolls ranging from the first ones made out of wax going into porcelain styles that are popular today. It was fun to see just how much the faces and clothing of the dolls has changed over the years. There were a few displays of stuffed animals - mostly just teddy bears some of which were from FAO Swartz. They did have a few displays on the origin of Christmas celebrations and Christmas trees which I of course found fascinating. Near these were Christmas Toys throughout time that included ornaments (which included creepy face ones!) and Santa's/Snowmen. 

The top floor was  devoted to Barbie and I was in heaven! I spent almost 45 minutes examining the Barbies and taking insane amounts of photos. I loved seeing the change in styles and clothing and was amazed at some of the Barbies - such as the pregnant one, and the 90210, Westlife and NKOTB ones! There was even a Brittney Spears one! Some of the dolls and clothes were similar to ones I had, but the whole experience made me want to A. Buy old Barbies on ebay and B. play with Barbies! 

There were some pop-culture items like Star Wars toys, and action figures - some of which Brian said he had had after looking at the photos. I wouldn't say I learned much from the museum but I loved every second of it! I would recommend that attraction to people of all ages! 

After leaving I went to the other entrance and got some amazing photos of Prague - people were pushing and shoving and the area was crowded but the views were breathtaking. There were a ton of viewpoints but I could only see the ones elevated by concrete steps - being a castle the walls are a bit higher then my 5'0! 

I walked back up the hill and stopped at a Christmas Shop which was really cute! I bought an adorable ornament that said "Praha" and was in the shape of a suitcase. Brian and I have started collecting Christmas ornaments on our travels! 

There was still time before Brian and Dad were scheduled to meet me, so I stopped for a drink at a outdoor cafe. It was a bit chilly so I ordered a hot chocolate which was delicious (being spiked with amaretto didn't hurt!) which warmed me up. Dad and Brian's tour ended at 12:30 so I turned on my data in order to iMessage them - and nothing. I also tried the walkie talkies and still nothing. From 12:30-1:30 I killed time wandering around the expansive castle grounds. Finally I used FaceTime and got ahold of them - their tour had just ended. We made plans to meet at the castle which was probably silly considering it has so many entrances! I started walking toward where I had come in and ended up at the whole new entrance - which I  assumed was the main one. I opted to stay here as I saw some taxi's and figured this is where they would be dropped off. The initial plan was for them to walk or take the hop-on bus but based on the time we decided a taxi would be best. My guess was correct and a few minutes later my walkie-talkie rang and I saw them heading toward me. 

They spent about 30 minutes wandering through the castle grounds and cathedral taking photos and seeing the main sights I pointed out. Then we walked over to the castle gardens were we had lunch at an outdoor cafe. It was starting to warm up and the sun was out so it was lovely. I tried a traditional dish which was like a potato pancake served with apple sauerkraut and it was yummy. We decided to take a cab back to the hotel afterward and headed to the main gates. Once outside dad walked over to the row of cabs and told the driver our hotel. Thankfully he didn't know where it was because I realized it was an unauthorized cab. Authorized cabs have the company name on the front, whereas many cabs in the city are just cars painted yellow with a taxi sign affixed to the top. The guide book and airport cautioned travellers to stay away from them as they have ridiculous rates. We managed to order a cab using a taxi commonly website and were picked up within minutes. Dad and Brian realized they must have used an unauthorized cab to get there earlier as the rate back to the hotel ended up being much less then they had paid for their shorter trip to the castle. 

(The unauthorized cabs in the background) 

Dad and I Face Timed mom for a few then Brian came to get me. The hotel had left a note in our room that we needed to move due to a plumbing issue. To make up for the inconvenience of having to repack and move everything they upgraded us to a much nicer room. We had been in a small double before where we were tripping over each other but the new room is large and spacious with a nicer view 

We all spent some time relaxing and resting in our rooms and met down in the lobby at 7:30 for our Medieval Tavern experience I had booked tickets for. I had first heard of this place from @OMGFacts on Twitter, when they posted a photo of the inside. It looked really cool, so I did some research and found what I hoped was the right place. When booking I couldn't tell if there were two Medieval Taverns in Prague, or two different ways to buy tickets. I went with the site I could actually understand and hoped for the best. (It was cool inside but not the one that I had seen a photo of!) 

The evening included a 5 course traditional Czech meal, wine/beer, and Medieval themed entertainment. Going into it I wasn't sure what to expect. Dinner consisted of Cheese mousse and fresh bread, followed by traditional pancakes filled with spinach and garlic. That was served with southern-Czech Kuba which is a pearl barley baked with mushrooms and garlic. This was followed by (what was supposed to be) boneless pork roasted in black beer with fried potatoes  (it ended up being a shank), and then some traditional brewer's style beef goulash which was served with bread dumplings. Desert consisted of a selection of homemade cakes.

The entertainment included a historical show and spanned the whole evening. There were performers like swordsmen, jugglers, and dancers who were all dressed in costumes from the Middle Ages. The tavern had a very Medieval atmosphere with candles everywhere, stone walls and wood features. There were iron and metal weapons hanging down and the whole look was really interesting. There were only a few single groups like us - the bulk belonged to a bus tour. Their meal was a bit different then ours, but I can't tell which one would have been better. 

The food was decent - the bread was tasty and Dad liked the cheese thing that you spread on top (Brian and I didn't). I loved the potato thing and the barely dish was excellent. The pork was incredibly fatty so I didn't eat much if that, but the need goulash was delicious! Desert was a bit if a disappointment (some strange mini-pastry) but the evening was worth it. 

The staff were friendly but there was a bit of a language barrier, and the entertainment was enjoyable. Some of the things got a bit repetitive (like the two running around after each other) but the music and dancers were awesome. At the end they brought out the dancers who now had some sort of fire with them - that was pretty cool!  

Overall I would recommend the tavern as a fun way to spend a night but it's not something I would do again. Still it was different and much better then similar dinner show entertainment I have been to in Scotland and Ireland.

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