Friday 1 August 2014

European Adventure: Day Four - Prague

I didn't manage to fall asleep until almost 4:30 am so Friday felt like a super long day. Brian got up and left around 7:00 to visit the newer Jewish Cemetery where the author Kafka is buried. I vaguely remember him telling me he was leaving and that he would meet us at Starbucks for 9:00.

Dad and I left the hotel at 8:45 with the plan being to see the Astronomical Clock do it's "show" at 9:00. Of course we just hit the square when the bells started going and by the time we turned the corner it was over. Brian was there and assured us we hadn't missed anything (he found it boring) but it was still something I wanted to see. We had a quick coffee and croissant at Starbucks (seriously I have never had such amazing Chai Lattes before! That Starbucks was fantastic) and then we went into the Astronomical clock tower. For about $5.00 CAD you can ride an elevator to the top and see views of Prague. I am terrified of heights but had heard the view was amazing, so I did it. The elevator ride wasn't as high as it seemed and there were guardrails around the entire area, so I was fine. I am so glad I went as the views were incredible. To be able to look down and out at the city gives a whole new perspective on the beauty of Prague. 

We stayed up there for a bit admiring the views and walking around the perimeter taking photos. I realized it was 9:50 so I left first wanting to see the clock hit 10:00. I made it down just as it was starting and the crowds were gathering. The clock is over 600 years old and many legends surround it's history. Basically the clock hits on the hour, bells chime, music plays and "figures on the sides of the clock become animated and two windows open up to reveal 12 apostles greeting the city. On the sides of the clock you’ll see a skeleton ringing a bell, a Turk shaking his head, a miser with a purse full of money, and Vanity looking in a mirror. The whole performance ends with the crowing of a golden rooster and the ringing of the huge bell at the top of the tower." ( It was okay - I didn't notice the skeleton, Turk or Rooster from where I was standing so I obviously missed something! But thinking about how long ago this clock was built, long before technology and modern elements it is pretty amazing. And the fact that it's still here and working is equally great. So while I wasn't wowed per say, it's definitely something to see if ever in Prague.

There were two exhibits in Old Town Square that Brian wanted to see - a Salvatore Dali one and a Tim Burton one. I was somewhat interested in the Tim Burton one but figured it was easier to come back and do it later in the afternoon as Dad wasn't a interested. Plus there was a doll museum near by that boasted hundreds of Barbies and Monster High Dolls, so I figured I could hit that one while Brian did the Dali one.

We made our way to the hop-on bus and took that to the Strahov Monastery which was founded in 1143. It acted as a Monastery until the 1950's when communism began and was turned into a Memorial of National Literature. It was returned to the Premonstratensian order at the end of the 1980's and has been rebuilt/repaired over the years. Of course me being Chantal (aka a klutz) I fell right after getting out of the bus and scrapped up my leg pretty bad. This was met by concern by Brian and exasperation by Dad... Apparently I need to be more careful! Yes, because I go about my day purposely trying to injure myself! *eye roll*

We walked around the grounds and into the main building where Brian snuck a photo. It was very peaceful and beautiful up there - it offered some pretty views of Prague and is away from anything busy or noisy. There were only a few tourists, but also what seemed like locals sitting on the grounds reading or riding their bikes through. It reminded me a bit of the Monastery we saw in Greece, but a much more laid back one. Still as pretty as it was, the views couldn't compare to that in Meteora.

There has been a working brewery on the grounds since the 13th or 14th century which still remains. We heard good things about the brews from the bus guide so we decided to have a light snack at the brewery. We followed the signs up the hill to this old cellar which had been converted into a bar and restaurant called Pelko. Going down the stairs we found it was all made of stone and lit by candlelight and looked like a much fancier version of the venue we went to our Medieval Dinner at. Dad and I had Blueberry Beer (which was good) and Brian had a dark lager. We shared a platter of meats and cheeses and enjoyed some time there. Later when exploring the grounds further we saw another restaurant with beer - so I am not quite sure if we actually had the beer from the monastery!  But whatever we did have was great. 

We picked the bus back up and took it along the route where we passed a really old - and ugly - stadium. This was actually a stop because it was close to the observation tower but no one got off. The whole area looked run down and not a place I'd choose to tour. The bus made its way back into the city where we passed some beautiful homes. Apparently many of these are vacant or being rented to multiple families because they have price tags upwards of a million euro. Many people love living in Prague but can't always afford to own their homes, which is why so many buildings have been converted into apartments and rentals. If you are interested in moving to Prague keep in mind homes that have gardens or a view help rise the cost/value. The guide talked a bit about life for people of Prague and touched on the ways in which communism life effected them. Apparently the trend of going to the cottage and getting away to the country became popular at this time as a means for citizens to "temporarily escape" the realities of life. Taking up hobbies such as gardening was another means and both of these remain popular now. ( has some information on life in Prague during this time). 

I was happy that the bus route took us past what is known as the "Dancing House" or "Fred and Ginger" which had been on my list to see. It's this recent build from 1996 on a site that had been bombed in the 1940's. It was designed and built in a very unique style that gives the appearance of two people dancing. Apparently many locals were unhappy with the building because it is so drastically different then the surrounding architecture. It definitely does stick out like a sore thumb, but I loved how whimsy and fun it looked!

The three of us decided to get off at the last bus stop which was supposed to be 10 minutes from Wenceslaus Square. Because Prague is such an old city there are a lot of rules and regulations on tour buses, thus the sightseeing bus has some stupid drop off/pick up areas. The main pick up area (if you don't do the walking tour over) is in this industrial area behind the local train station, and this last stop was in front of the international train station. There was road work everywhere so the guide told us to go inside the station, down the stairs and out the other side. This train station is huge and confusing so that wasn't exactly helpful advice. We must have spent around 45 minutes trying to get to the other side. Now this did have one benefit, it gave a sense of the station which we are leaving from the next day. Up until then we had thought there was only one train station in town and that is where we were planning to head to... Thankfully we learned this is the one we needed to be at and got a crash course in the layout and amenities. 

We made our way to the square which was torture. By this point my foot was in agony and the cuts on my leg were stinging like crazy - plus we had planned a long walk in the evening through the old Jewish Quarter and over to Charles Bridge. So once we reached the main area Dad and I decided to head back. Brian didn't mind doing the exhibits alone so we got a cab and arranged to meet him back at the hotel. 

As soon as I got back I iced my foot and got my leg cleaned up. Thankfully we had packed the first aid kid on Brian's suggestion of "well... we are travelling with you..." I could have slept right then but knew if I did I wouldn't sleep again that night so I forced myself to stay awake by packing, reading and FaceTiming. The manager of the hotel came up to the room at one point to give us a fruit platter, some postcards and a note again apologizing for the room change and thanking us for our consideration. I was very impressed with the gesture - way to go Clarion Hotel Prague Old Town! 

Brian got back to the room at 6pm and looked exhausted seeing as he had been out walking since the early morning. He ended up getting turned around by bad directions and sent the opposite way to the New Town Square. That doubled his walk back to the Old Town Square. He enjoyed seeing the exhibits but didn't find them worth it for the price he paid. He couldn't take photos at the Tim Burton one and it was mainly sketches (but he still snuck some photos!) Still he's happy that he went. 

About an hour after Brian got back we left to visit the Jewish Quarter and the Charles Bridge. All the recommendations were to visit the Bridge at night, so we went to into the Jewish Quarter first. It wasn't too far from our hotel, but we hadn't gone that way before - it was a nice walk along the river.  This area of Prague was a very poor area for awhile as so many Jewish people died in WWII or didn't return to Prague. After that it became a ghetto with very few people living in the area. Within the last few years they revitalized it and now it has become a high end shopping sheet with stores like Louie Vuitton and Burberry. It's sort of strange as you walk because just a street over remains the original architecture and the old Jewish Cemetery, but then on the other side you have this street looking similar to Rodeo Dr or 5th Avenue. 

The Main Street of this area leads back into the Old Town Square. From there we walked back around (we didn't go the most direct route) and over to the bridge area. We went the wrong way first but got some great photos, and then walked back around to the entrance. It's a pedestrian bridge with vendors, artists and musicians lining it. It offered some incredible views of Prague and the sunset made it even prettier. We only walked about half way before turning back and wandering aimlessly to find something for dinner. At this point it was late and everyone was getting tired, hungry and cranky. We looked at a few places but Dad finally choose an Italian restaurant. Seriously we were in Prague for three dinners and two were Italian! At this point I banned anymore Italian food until Italy but I doubted that would last! It was a nice dinner - yummy mussels, and a delicious tomato soup. 

We walked back to the hotel and took some final photos of Prague. It wasn't until after midnight that I got to sleep as we had to pack for the next morning - a morning we had to be awake by 5:00am! 

Prague was lovely and has become one of my favorite cities, but I was exited to move on to Hungary the following day and the possible adventures that awaited us.

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