We were to travel to Prague from Berlin by train. As we stood on the platform my fella revealed that we didn’t have reserved seating but assured me that it would be no big deal. As we elbowed our way on to the train it appeared that this my be a bit of a big deal. Carnage exploded around us as ticket wielding international travellers convened upon one carriage to fight over the few seats that appeared vacant. Huge rucksacks, suitcases and podgy tourists made life difficult for everyone and ensured our journey started out with not a little consternation. We hung around, a little lost in the melee, and found ourselves next to two Americans who were unappealing travel companions, their conversation went a little like this
” what are you reading?”
“something about a strange dog at night.”
“Oh, is it a novel?”
” I don’t know, what’s a novel? WHATS A NOVEL?” This question from a grown man who’d made his way across the world to end up on a train in Berlin. He didn’t know what a novel was! There was no way on earth I was prepared to travel through Europe sat next to an idiot.
Fortunately I didn’t have to, as we scurried through the crowds (if one can scurry lugging two huge bags) and found a couple of empty seats in a quieter carriage further up the train. We zipped along the Danube into Central Europe, admiring the breathtaking scenery the whole way. We finally arrived in the chaos that was Prague train station- a confusing underground lair of platforms and walkways and when we eventually emerged into the open it felt like we had done so on the wrong side of town as the streets were full of alcoholics, junkies and generally dodgy looking folk. My fella kept me a step ahead of him at all times so he could keep a constant eye on me. It was uncomfortable and a bit scary. It was trying to rain and we didn’t really have a clue where we were going. The street signs in unfamiliar letters, the footpaths were uneven and the suitcase lumbered across the pavement. We had huge notes of new money- our familiarization with the euro obsolete as we tried to buy metro tickets with Czech money in denominations we hadn’t quite got our head around yet.
The mizzle continued as we wandered up and down the road our hostel was on- the road leading to Charles Bridge, and so in essence, spent twenty minutes on the most crowded, cobbled street in Central Europe in a desperate search for our accommodation. Eventually we hit lucky and checked in to a metal gated, house music pumping, questionably staffed hostel. I was not in a good mood.
Thankfully my opinion of Prague was immediately changed, as Michel, our super friendly (and ex drug lord) hostel owner put all my fears to rest. He turned the music down, loaded us up with free coffee and water and promised us free ghost tours and other such wonderful goodies. When we re-emerged from the hostel, it was with a much more optimistic outlook. The buildings were stunningly beautiful and the beer promisingly cheap. Tourists surged along the pavements and crowded beneath the astronomical clock, but we didn’t mind.
As in most of the cities we visited, we signed up for a free walking tour of the city. Our guide was fantastic and the mishmash of history and facts that she told us of the home of beer drinking was fantastic. We learnt fascinating things like:
– the Czech language is so inherently tricky even natives need speech therapy to be able to pronounce words
– the country that is now the Czech Republic has changed hands, and been reshaped so many times that an 87 year old woman who has lived in the same house her entire life has been a resident of EIGHT countries without ever moving.
– the astronomical clock is over 600 years old and is still accurate for both the time, the position of the moon and the zodiac.
– the Feast of Stephen (off of Good King Wenslas last looked out on….) was held in Prague
– the Rolling Stones provided the illumination of Prague castle
-the holocaust memorial in Berlin is based on the thousands of higigleyd pigidley tombstones in the Jewish ghetto
– Prague is home to the oldest synagogue in Central Europe
– it’s the beer drinking capital of the world
– the castle was in construction between 870- 1979 and is the largest castle complex in the world
– they have really good honey cake! It’s called Medovik, check out my recipe for it!
Prague is magical. It’s streets cross cross across the city, spanning culture and history and all the while being beautiful and enchanting.
The city us overlooked by the castle, a toy town campus that gives spectacular views of the picturesque town. We hiked up there twice in one day to make the most of the sunlight that deigned to show up in our last few hours. It’s romantic, small enough to walk everywhere, but big enough to get lost in. It is full of incredible history and wonderful architecture. I whole heartedly recommend a trip to everyone. Despite our misgivings on arrival I felt safe and comfortable the whole time. Though technically a city, Prague almost has a village feel- with pretty alleyways, and lovely little bookshops. Yes it is touristy- streets lined with tacky gift shops selling beer glasess and magnets and dodgy looking blokes offering to take you to a “titty bar” Or flog you some drugs, but these encounters are few and far between, and somewhat humorously set against the fairy tale backdrop of pretty blue buildings.
The city is quiet, it’s cobble stone streets too narrow and ascew for traffic and industry. Prague spoilt me for Vienna, which was our next stop on the trip. Compared to the dolls house prettiness of the Czech capital Vienna seemed loud, obnoxious and unwelcoming. Prague however, was a wonderful little jaunt.