August 25th 2011
Finally having only booked this trip on August 2nd, am ready again to go travelling Leaving Cambridge it was raining so no trouble leaving there! The train was late which was good news for me as there was no way I was going to have time to buy my ticket and get the train, as it was i even had enough time to nip into WHSmiths and get some snacks for the train
The sun had decided to come out when got into London, took less than 5 minutes to get myself and my bag down to the Piccadilly line to get the tube to Heathrow, the first train was going to Uxbridge, but fortunately the 2nd train was headed for Terminals 1,2,3 and 5, exactly where I needed to go! Had never been to Terminal 5 on the underground before, had been 3 years previously before the Terminal even opened for one of the try out events, but the underground station hadn’t been completed then. I’d also never seen T5 as an operational terminal, apart from the shops it hasn’t changed much. Check in was smooth as only needed to pick up my boarding pass and drop off the bag having used online check in the day before, met a family from Washington DC on their way home in the queue for bag drop, can’t quite believe that its nearly 2 months since we were there Security was fairly speedy thankfully and had a nice hour to browse the shops and find something to drink before the gate was due to be given. Had a small panic when discovered my camera wasn’t in my handbag, was all prepared to buy myself a new digital camera when thought it would be wise to check my backpack, nicely snuggled in the front pocket in the main compartment was the missing camera, so glad to see it! Had to wait a while for the gate, but thankfully no delay!
Left on time, smooth flight, drink and snack given free, only bad part of the flight was getting earache on the descent, hurt much more badly than normal, I hadn’t been affected at all on my last flight so it definitely wasn’t welcome the guy next to me was also suffering and was very sympathetic, he said he’d had it just as bad on his first flight from Ottawa, at least I just had the one flight to deal with!
Felt absolutely shattered by the time the plane landed, reminded me why i’m not a fan of flying short haul, not because i don’t like flying or would rather spend 3 days travelling all the time but because the flight is too short to be able to relax, anything over 5 hours suits me fine
Getting off the plane took longer than I expected, although thankfully the walk to baggage claim was fairly short, was impressed to see a Gruffalo Trunki on the walk through, previously apart from my daughter’s I’d only seen them for sale. Baggage claim wasn’t terribly quick either, but had time to check for directions to where i’m staying, luckily my bag appeared fairly quickly and I was able to head outside to find the bus i had a little confusion trying to work out which ticket I needed so figured I’d just wait for the bus and sort it then, of course they didn’t have any change and neither did I but the driver just said to leave it which was nice. The bus to the metro took longer than I was anticipating but as I wasn’t in any sort of rush to get anywhere it didn’t matter; the metro rides were much quicker and the directions given correctly!
The only problem i had with trying to find the hostel i was staying at was that I was expecting something a little more obvious so the first time i missed it completely and only when I got to the river that I realised that I must have gone too far so had to retrace my steps, thankfully I found it this time! Staying at Prague’s Down Town International Hostel, plenty of places to eat even if they appear fairly commercial (e.g. the kfc half a block down) but for tonight it doesn’t matter, i feel more shattered from losing one hour than I did arriving into Heathrow off a 10 hour flight from LAX a month ago..
Was able to settle into the hostel quite quickly, had opted to share a dorm, with 9 beds then pay lots extra for just 4 beds, 5 nights for £81 is fairly decent, however that doesn’t include breakfast which is an additional £3 a day which is much better than a lot of places i’ve visited in Europe.
I sadly have to admit that KFC and a chocolate bar won out as far as food is concerned but once have had a decent night’s sleep will be in a far better shape to go and experience local culture tomorrow
Friday 26th August
Woke up at about 7 but then drowsed until my alarm went off at 9, it had been fairly busy the night before so I hadn’t fallen asleep until nearly midnight, but slept really well despite it being at least 22 degrees Celsius and no air conditioning
Opted to eat breakfast at the hostel, 70CZK for Sausage/Egg and unlimited bread, cheese, jam and fruit was well worth it and it set me up for the day. I had thought about the free tours but wasn’t sure about doing walking tours in the heat. Temperatures reached a lovely 100F but thankfully no humidity. Got outside the hostel and there was a tour guide from the free tours www.discover-prague.com so decided on the spot that the tour would most likely be worth it and if for any reason it wasn’t then i wouldn’t have paid for it. Included in the tour was the Old Time Square & Astronomical Clock, Church of our Lady before Tyn, New Town and Wencleslas Square, Art Nouveau Municipal House, Prague Castle and St Vitus’ Cathedral (from across the river), Jewish Quarter & Old New Synagogue, St Nicolas Church, Jan Hus Station, Charles Bridge, Estates Theatre and the Powder Tower, as well as other places, very fast paced for 2 and a half hours but much more worth it than getting lost and also i found out lots of interesting information about Prague’s history which I wouldn’t have found out otherwise
After the tour I realised that because I’d eaten so much for breakfast I didn’t really need much lunch, but found somewhere selling watermelon ice cream, which suited me just fine, I had planned afterwards to go see the Castle on my own but discover-prague were offering tours for 250CZK so realised that after walking round the Jewish quarter twice by mistake trying to find the river that I’d be better off joining the tour! The tour was however really worth it, and i’m really glad i made the decision to take it, despite of course by that point it was really hot and water does not stay cold for that long Really enjoyed the Imperial Gardens, amazed that they weren’t busier but apparently a lot of people miss them because they go straight up to the Castle which is fair enough, if I’d gone alone I probably would have ended up missing them also. Another advantage of walking round the back was getting to see lots of fabulous views of Prague without having lots of people trying to see the same view at the same time! Climbing up and down various hillsides was an adventure but a little more shade would have been much better!
Really enjoyed seeing the Castle and St Vitus’ Cathedral, fabulous architecture and loved seeing the stained glass windows, didn’t climb the tower but still enjoyed the experience.
That pretty much ended the tour but was definitely worth taking it as i definitely wouldn’t have learned so much about Prague’s History from the guidebook and met some lovely people at the same time We were lucky that because of weather it wasn’t that crowded up at the castle, the guide reckoned that it was perhaps only a quarter as busy as it normally is, so even though it was perhaps a bit hot for so much walking i’m glad I wasn’t there on a normal day!
By the time the tour finished was definitely in need of something to eat, after climbing down the many steps (am so glad took the tram up!) i found somewhere selling hot sausages for 40CZK, was absolutely massive, no idea of the type, they were quite spicy but was really good.
Walked back to the hostel, getting a little lost on the way, thought about going to a concert as cheap tickets were on offer to listen to Mozart but after such a long day all i wanted was to get back to the hostel, freshen up and relax so regretfully went on. I did however find a supermarket so was able to pick up fruit, cheese and crackers at lovely low prices, which will make it much easier tomorrow.
Back at the hostel, was able to grab a couple of hours relaxing and then was asked if i wanted to go on a night time tour of Prague, was absolutely shattered but i figured that it would likely be really warm out but hopefully with a breeze and with rain and cooler temperatures due it could be the nicest time of my vacation to enjoy Prague at night
Was definitely worth making the effort, even though it was yet another tour on foot, we passed by the ‘Ginger and Fred’ building, lovely to actually see it, need to go back in daylight however as my camera rarely likes to get decent photos at night unless everything’s lit up :/ Did however get some good photos of the river all lit up from the top of a hill, we went and had a look at the church of St Vitus’ which was interesting having already seen the Cathedral, was nice again being with other people. I like travelling alone but in the evenings it can be a bit lonely especially when everyone else you see is travelling with friends/partners. I never thought I’d be in a children’s playground at 10.30 at night in Prague, especially as i’m not travelling with my daughter!
Got back to the hostel around 11.30pm, much better use of such a lovely warm evening than going to bed and sleeping!
Saturday 27th August
The plan for the day was to get up nice and early and go and visit Theresienstadt. I got up about 8 which wasn’t quite as early as I’d planned and once I was ready and breakfasted it was already after 10 but decided I might as well still go, as long as I could get there by midday I’d still get a fairly good day.
Had to take the metro with one change and a bus to get there, the bus took about an hour and cost 80CKZ which seemed fairly reasonable.
The bus stopped right outside The Small Fortress so it was easier to go and see that first. Was really chilling going in, although as the temperature had dropped as promised it definitely wasn’t warm but there was definitely something more than that. I got the student rate ticket which cost me 150CZK (adult 200CZK) to be able to take photos I had to pay 50CZK, i decided it was worth it and duly paid up. My knowledge of The Small Fortress is even more limited than my knowledge of the Ghetto itself so I found it really interesting; because of it being summer hours I had more time than I’d been expecting to look round and so was able to look round the Small Fortress thoroughly. Getting to the Ghetto was a completely different kettle of fish and I understand now why people opt to take tours. Even with the map finding the Ghetto Museum was a lot more awkward than I was expecting.
Once I found the museum it was much better, they scanned my ticket and informed me that no photography is allowed which was fairly disappointing but never mind. The exhibition was really good; perhaps the saddest part was the downstairs room with all the names of the children who perished in Theresienstadt, but I learnt an awful lot not just about Theresienstadt but about the death camps of Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor.
From the Ghetto Museum I walked down to the Magdeburg Barracks where on display were compositions, art and literature that people had composed/painted/drawn/written during their time in Terezίn and also information on the composers/artists/writers themselves and their ultimate fate.
After the barracks I walked down to where the former railway tracks ran into Terezίn bringing in detainees and then taking them on to camps in the East. Part of the tracks and also the siding where the trains stopped has been preserved and the holding barracks where prisoners would have passed through on their way to the East is still there. More of the train track still exists but the bulk of it appears to have gone where there is now a road.
By then it had started raining in earnest, I’d seen signs to the crematorium which is closed on Saturdays but thought it would be worth a look even though I’d be unable to go inside. After 1942 nobody was buried in the ghetto they were all cremated. Surrounding the crematorium however there are hundreds of gravestones, with numbers on them, unfortunately all the signs were in Czech so i was unable to read them, also there was a huge Menorah but no inscription. At the far end of the cemetery were memorials to people who’d died in Terezίn, put up by relations when there was much more freedom about what memorials could be placed there. Originally they’d been placed among the graves but later moved
Between those graves and the Menorah were graves of Russian POWS who’d died in World War One.
I got lost walking out because I forgot I’d walked down the entire length of the Cemetery and so went for the nearest exit, the rain was much heavier by then and getting out onto the main road and realising what I’d done was a real annoyance because I then had to walk the entire way back.
Finally found a bus stop only to discover that thanks to going the wrong way in the Cemetery and having to walk carefully because of how heavy the rain was I’d gone and missed the last bus back to Prague, I’d checked the bus times on arrival in Terezίn but only now did I realise that I’d been reading the times for buses going the opposite way, by that time of course I was cold, absolutely soaked and 49km away from where I wanted to be, thankfully I’d seen signs for a hotel and could now only pray that they spoke English and that i could get a taxi, if not to Prague then hopefully to the nearest train station.
Thankfully the hotel was open, they spoke English and were able to call me a taxi, asking where I wanted to go caused some problems as my map was close to disintegrating and I didn’t have the address written down :/ when the taxi arrived however he insisted on money upfront for Prague (1450 CZK) which I didn’t have so the nearest train station it was, much cheaper at 150CZK, thankfully i only had to wait a couple of minutes for a train and within an hour was back in Prague where thankfully it had stopped raining!
Very interesting day extremely glad i visited Terezίn but was very glad to get back to the Hostel and into dry clothing. Tomorrow is definitely going to be a rest day although I may still go and visit the former Jewish Quarter depending on the weather
Sunday 29th August
Woke up at 9, was still tired so let myself go back to sleep and didn’t wake up till 11, here’s guessing when i’m in Bristol next weekend I won’t be allowed such a long lie in by my little girl!
Of course was far too late for breakfast but had some cheese and fruit and that kept me going till got ready and went out to find some lunch. Had decided that as the weather was nice again and because I was well rested that it would be a good afternoon to visit the Jewish Quarter and so have lunch on the way. I purchased a combined ticket for 320CZK (adult rate 400CZK) that allowed me to visit all the six sites managed by the Jewish Museum and also entrance to the Old-New Synagogue. The most interesting of the four Synagogues I visited was the Pinkas Synagogue whose walls have the names of the 80,000 odd Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust inscribed on. Upstairs in the same synagogue is a permanent exhibition of paintings done by children while they were in Terezίn, the majority of whom perished and would otherwise most sadly have been forgotten. The quality of the drawings was amazing it made it all much sadder and far more real.
I got back to the hostel to find that there was a night time tour to the Castle on offer; even though I’d taken a tour in the day time i knew this tour would be all on foot which would mean seeing more of Prague than before and also i thought it would be pretty cool to see it all at night!
Tour set off around 8.30pm and we got back to the hostel at 12.15am, an absolutely brilliant tour and it was free! Am glad i took the other tour because it meant i got to see the Castle from two different perspectives plus it’s nice to see places in both daylight and at night not to mention I got to meet more lovely people! Highlights included the Golden Lane where Franz Kafka lived and all the interesting snippets of history that were shared by our guide! The quiz with chocolate as prizes at the end was also good!!
Last day tomorrow sadly I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see the Crematorium at Terezίn because they don’t open on Saturday’s and also because of the rain I missed seeing the memorial by the river of the spot where the Nazi’s threw in the ashes of 22,000 people, tempted to go back but its hard enough to visit somewhere like that once let alone twice so will see, hopefully tomorrow I’ll get to sample lots and lots of traditional Czech food, as so far on this trip I have sadly sampled very little.
Monday 29th August
Got up at 9, decided not to have breakfast at the hostel and instead had crackers cheese and fruit while on the way to see The Dancing House in broad daylight, got some pretty good photos and the weather was delightful which made for a good start to the day!
I then walked down to Prague’s Hard Rock Cafe, was dismayed by the prices as t-shirts there were even more expensive than London. I got a t-shirt for my daughter but had to pass on one for me as really couldn’t justify spending the money.
After that I couldn’t really think of anything else in Prague that i really wanted to see so decided that if i was going to feel depressed anywhere I might as well go back to Terezίn and see the places that I didn’t get to see on Saturday. Also that way I’d get to experience it from two very different perspectives, what with today being warm and sunny unlike Saturday when it was cold and chucking it down with rain.
With that decision made, i caught the metro and then got the bus, arriving at Terezίn just before 1pm. I decided this time that i would visit the Ghetto first and then would only visit the Small Fortress if I actually had time. I made sure this time that i knew the bus times back before I went anywhere!
On the way to The Ghetto I walked down the river to where the memorial is at the spot where the ashes of 22,000 Jews were thrown in, in 1944, it is really poignant and its good that the spot is marked.
I stopped at the Ghetto Museum after that where I had another look at the ‘Children’s Room’ before making enquiries about what time they were showing the propaganda film of Theresienstadt in English, with half an hour to wait i skimmed the exhibition upstairs and then went downstairs into the cinema, only to find that it was the same film that I’d seen in the Small Fortress on Saturday, but never mind, if i hadn’t have chosen to view the film then I wouldn’t have found the exhibition next to it which I hadn’t seen on Saturday and which i found really interesting.
I purchased a couple of books on Terezίn from the shop and then walked down to the Magdeburg Barracks, had another look at the exhibition downstairs but didn’t go upstairs again as I found that to sad the first time and I knew there was still a fair amount I wanted to see.
I walked down the train tracks first and got better photos of the siding where the trains came in and then went out from again and also the holding barracks. I then walked down to the crematorium which was open today; at either ends of the crematorium is an exhibition about dying, death, burial and cremation in the ghetto, with the crematorium ovens in between.
I then visited the Mortuary, the funeral rooms and the Columbary, I had visited the Columbary on Saturday, in there is mainly plaques put up by relations and different countries to commemorate those who died. The most poignant one i saw was of a little boy who was born 1941 in Kamp Westerbork and died 1944 in Auschwitz, just over 3 years old and he never knew freedom. During the occupation urns containing ashes were stored in the Columbary, today it is set up as it would have been during the occupation, with urns stored on shelves.
There are two funeral rooms, a Jewish one and a Christian one. Here was where people could say a final goodbye to their loved ones before they were taken to be cremated.
I was running rather short on time after that so walked back to the Small Fortress, i met a couple from the US on the way back and the woman’s mother had survived Auschwitz so that was pretty interesting. They didn’t know much about Terezίn and its purpose so i was glad to share what information i know with them, they agreed that the Ghetto is not easy to navigate, even with the map, I’m glad that I’m not the only one who found it awkward!
I had enough time to view the Terezίn National Cemetery and also to have a look at an exhibition on Litomĕřice concentration camp before going back to the bus stop, fortunately there was a bus due with 15 minutes so I didn’t have long to wait.
Got back to Prague and to the hostel by 6.30 which gave enough time to freshen up before the evening’s activities started which for tonight was making potato pancakes! Was great fun, first preparing the ingredients including grating potatoes and then cooking and eating the pancakes, washing up wasn’t quite so fun but it all has to be done! Got to meet lots of new people including a big group from London, was the most English people had met since arriving in Prague, the majority of people have met on this trip have been American and Canadian with a few Australians. Have also met people from China, Japan and the Philippines as well as from all over Europe
As it was only 9pm by the time eating and washing up had been done with I decided to go and take a last walk around Prague, went and had a last look at the Dancing House, then walked down to the Charles Bridge and crossed it there and back again across the river, think the best views i’ve seen in Prague have been from the river! Found somewhere selling watermelon ice cream and then walked down to the Jewish Quarter and was able to get some photographs of the Synagogues as well as seeing Franz Kafka’s house again. From there i walked to the Old Square and got a ring of bread that had been cooked over a fire and then dipped in sugar and vanilla, it was very tasty but unfortunately I can’t remember what it was called. On the way back i checked what time the supermarket was due to open in the morning, they were selling Milka Chocolate for half price, at a guess it’d be cheaper to buy it before I leave rather than waiting till the airport!
Bit sad coming back to the hostel and realising that it’s my final night here, have had a really good time, it’s definitely the friendliest hostel i’ve ever stayed at. If you’re looking for an inexpensive place to stay in Prague then the International Hostel Downtown is ideal, it’s centrally located and is suitable for people of all ages.
Tuesday 30th August
Got up nice and early on my last day, i wasn’t the only one departing so there was already a lot of activity in the dorm room. I went down to the supermarket at 7.30 and stocked up on Milka Chocolate and Tuc Biscuits, was a nice morning but not as warm as the last two days, but then i guess it was still fairly early
I decided on having breakfast as then I won’t have to worry so much about buying food on the way to the airport, gave me the opportunity to say goodbye to people that have spent much of my time in Prague with and wish people safe travels, most of the people i met are on trips in Europe with more travel to go, I go away again on Friday but its only Tuesday and i’m only going to Bristol
Checkout was nice and simple, as was the metro and the bus, nice quick check in at the airport except next to the BA check in desks was a queue for the airline next to BA, it took a few minutes to realise that I didn’t need to queue! Duty Free seems to have increased in price so apart from a t-shirt for 279CZK which is cheaper than some I saw in Prague last night, i’ve purchased very little. The sunshine from this morning seems to have disappeared; hopefully I’ll find it again in London!
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August 25th 2011