Czeching out Prague

Jun 29th, 2007, 12:00 AM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 24
Czeching out Prague

Sorry for the cheesy title...

THE CHARACTERS: Middle-aged Mom (M) and Dad (D); twenty-something Brother (B); and late-teenaged Me.

THE STATS: We've done most of Western Europe, South Africa, and Greece, and this trip to Prague came at the tail end of our 18 days in Egypt and Turkey... so we brought our trusty Rick Steves' Prague & the Czech Republic, a Czech phrasebook, a hotel reservation, and our bags. We figured we could get by - no guides - and we did!

THE STORY
DAY 1: We arrived at the airport, went through customs, and picked up our bags. We had carefully memorized Czech phrases so we could get taxis but it turns out all the cabbies spoke English... the ride to our hotel, Hotel Paris near the Municipal House, was a fixed rate ofa bout 600Kc.
The hotel was pleasant art-nouveau. Our 3rd-floor rooms were high-ceilinged with large checkered-tile-floor bathrooms, comfy beds, huge windows, and flat screen TVs. We were really happy with the rooms, except for the fact that you have to pay an ungodly $14/hr for internet service! Also, breakfast was not included (and was expensive).
We relaxed for a while in our rooms and finally decided to venture out in search of dinner. We wandered for about an hour - no one could make a decision of whether we wanted a pub or Italian or whatever else - but finally ended up in a delicious French-ish restaurant on Havelska street (off of the Old Town Square) next to Restaurante Kogo (I did not get the name). Upstairs was a wine bar, and the lower level - where we were seated - was decorated with fun art and cool brick walls. We had a relaxing time, then returned to the hotel.

DAY 2: Mid-morning we hit Prague's Jewish Quarter. In accordance with Rick Steves' sage advice, we bought tickets at the Maisel Synagogue (very interesting), then moved on to the baroque opulence of the Spanish Synagogue - we were impressed that synagogues like this even existed, since American synagogues are just plain contemporary buildings. It started to rain soon after we arrived, so we ducked into Kolkovna (a loud, wood-y, pub-y place) for a great lunch. M and I hung around and had the BEST pear strudel and coffee while B and D ran back to the hotel to get umbrellas.
Next up was the Pinkas Synagogue with all the names of Holocaust victims... a striking testament to the numbers lost. Also the children's drawings were moving.
We moved on to the graveyard, with the crooked gravestones all tumbled ramshackle on top of one another. In the rainy gloomy it was a particularly contemplative moment. The nearby Ceremonial Hall was OK.
We bought separate tickets for the Old-New Synagogue and sat for several minutes, contemplating five-ribbed vaulting and the resilience of the Jewish people.
In the evening we walked to Ristorante Kogo in the mall on Na Prikope. It was cold outside, but the food was excellent and our Italian cravings were well satisfied.

DAY 3: We woke, ate breakfast in the hotel's restaurant, and finallly headed off towards the Castle Quarter around 11:30. First we walked to Old Town Square and window-shopped our way down Karlova. The Charles Bridge was a clogged artery of tourists, caricature artists, and musicians. We left the bridge at Kampa Island and from there walked to Wallenstein Garden/Palace. The peacocks were fun to see; the weird stone wall was futuristically creepy; and the palace was a good introduction to Czech nobility. The inner rooms were interesting, though not inspiring. The garden itself, though basic, was clean and peaceful. Unfortunately the WC required payment.
We ate lunch at a Rick Steves place called __________. The salads were lousy but the view of Prague was excellent.
From there we checked out the Strahov Monastery. Our time was limited so we only bought the tickets for the library, which was worth it to see... D liked the impressive insect collection; there was even a static electricity machine.
Next up was St. Vitus Cathedral. What an awe-inspiring feat of architecture! The Gothic exterior is ominous, but the interior is clean in comparison; the stained-glass windows are the spotlights here. The Mucha window in particular was absolutely superb. Unfortunately the cathedral was packed even though it was 4:30, and that admittedly detracted from the experience.
The Old Royal Palace is around the corner to the left of the Cathedral (we didn't know that so it took us a while to find it). The Main Hall was big but other than that the rooms were underwhelming.
We took Nerudove out of the Castle Quarter, onto the mobbed Charles Bridge, and back to the hotel.
It was M and D's anniversary so we had a lovely dinner at Le Perle de Prague, the restaurant on the top floor of the Dancing House, a crazy modern building that people say looks like Fred and Ginger. The food was fancy but delicious.
The taxi ride back to our hotel was 200Kc.

DAY 4: We caught the 9:30 bus to Terezin from the Florenc station. Tickets were confusing - turns out you just buy them from the bus drivers as you board. The bus was completely full, and not just with tourists. The drive was a fast 1 hour.
At the Terezin stop it is a 10 minute walk to the left along the near-empty town to the Museum. There we watched an informative (but at times cheesy) movie about the ghetto and the camp. The museum exhibit itself was well-researched and nicely displayed, but it was information overload.
We continued on to the Madgeburg barracks, which was just 2 rooms set up to look like barracks rooms.
The far-away funerary hall was an interesting brick bunker-like structure though not completely well-explained. The even-further-away crematorium was, of course, dreadfully fascinating.
The walk back to the Small Fortress was long and hot. Inside the Small Fortress it seemed just like a tourist center with a cafe and everything. We checked out an austere barrack and the scary confines of the prison block cells - a 9x6ft cell, a high barred window, a cot, and a toilet seat.
We ran to catch the 1:15 bus back to Prague but missed it. A salesperson at a souvenir stand called us a cab and we rode to nearby Litomerice. There we had lunch at the Salva Guarda Hotel (it was basic but good) and decided to find out the bus schedule before checking out the town... but it took us all of our remaining time to find someone and ask around since the bus left at 4, so unfortunately we did not see much of the little town.
The bus ride back was packed full and hot and stuffy (I suggest always carrying a water bottle). We were dropped off at Holesovice station and took a taxi back to the hotel... but the cabbie was not completely honest (the meter was ticking constantly) and we paid about 500Kc, a total rip-off.
For dinner we decided to try popular Kampa Park on the Vltava River near the Charles Bridge. We had a really great evening - the view was marvelous and the food was excellent. In the chocolate fondant dessert, the accompanying ice cream was wrapped in edible gold foil!!

DAY 5: Today was our shopping day. We started out at a small boutique right across from our hotel near the chocolate shop Gold Pralines (which has fabulous chocolate), then went on to Na Prikope. The nearby Mucha Museum was a highlight... don't miss the film on Alfons Mucha, a visionary and huge contributor to Czech society.
For lunch we stopped at one of the fast-food-like cafes near Wenceslas Square, which all serve boring basics.
After a quick Zara and Adidas (beautiful store) visit, we did some cross-navigation on our way to Karlova... and came across the most amazing ice cream in town, Cream 'n' Dream. The pistachio tastes like real roasted pistachios... the banana was a dead ringer for the real fruit... it was heaven in a cup (or cone). I even got raspberry and mango sorbet for an on-the-road treat, which was just fantastic.
After a pit stop at Gold Pralines, we headed back to the hotel.
For dinner we decided to return to Kolkovna since it was a great place for beer and Czech food. We ordered the mixed grill and ribs, both of which were fabulous. Four of us could easily have feasted on just the mixed grill. After another perfect pear strudel, we called it a night and went to pack up.

DAY 6: We said goodbye to this beautiful city in the morning as we took off from Prague's aiport!

THE END

We had a fabulous time in Prague. We may not have seen all the sights, climbed all the clock tours, or visited all the museums, but we didn't find this necessary. We also didn't need to use the Metro or tram system and a guide would have been cumbersome to our spontaneous (and sometimes slow) approach to sightseeing. And we didn't need our Czech phrasebook, either.

Bon voyage to all!
emerald013 is offline  
Jun 29th, 2007, 05:56 AM
  #2  
ira
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 74,118
Thanks for sharing, E.

It brought back lovely memories.

ira is online now  
Jun 29th, 2007, 06:07 AM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Mar 2006
Posts: 135
Emerald, you're lucky you caught a bus back to Prague from Terezin! When we were got to Terezin we carefully (or so we thought) checked the return bus times, not realizing that the busses stopped running much earlier on Sundays!

Our day in Terezin was pretty powerful, made especially more so by the rain, fog, and general feeling of gloom that surrounded the town. When we went to leave we finally realized we had missed the last bus and we ran into a museum to find out what our options were. The guy behind the reception desk told us we could either walk back to Prague (ummm...no thanks!) or take a cab into the next town (maybe Litomerice?) and from there take a train back into Prague. We chose to take the train option and by the time we got into the next town it was completely dark and foggy and there was NO ONE around - there weren't even any lights on in any buildings anywhere. It was the creepiest experience of my life. Eventually the train came (3 hours late) and we got back to Prague...good to know not everyone has this much difficulty with a simple day-trip!
Erin464 is offline  
Jul 4th, 2007, 04:13 PM
  #4  
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Erin464-
When we were in Munich a few years ago we visited Dachau. It was raining and no one was around, allowing the austerity of the camp (the remaining empty barrack, the simple crematorium), the bleak environment, and the wet, muddy gravel grounds to transform into a place of misery. Going to Terezin on a bright, sunny day with lots of tourists (and many loud American teenagers on Euro-trips) took away from the emotional impact that it should have made.
About the bus - we were very, very lucky with what happened. It took us about 2 or 3 hours of staring at the bus schedule and looking for help in the empty train and bus stations of Litomerice before passengers started arriving and we were able to ask and receive information from one guy. It is unfortunate that they don't make the schedules easier to understand, or help more readily available. I'm so sorry about your experience!
emerald013 is offline  
Jul 5th, 2007, 04:38 AM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Mar 2006
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Emerald, interesting about your experience with Dachau - ours was the exact oposite. Whereas we visited Terezin on a cold and rainy day, our visit to Dachau was on an almost unbearably hot and sunny day with hundreds of tourists everywhere. Needless to say it was not as powerful an experience as Terezin. When its such a beautiful day it is unfortunately sometimes hard to imagine the attrocities the occured there.

As for our missing the bus, well, live and learn I guess - we can chalk that one up to a travel learning experience
Erin464 is offline  
Jul 5th, 2007, 08:53 AM
  #6  
jgg
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 2,683
Emerald - thank you so much for your informative report. We are considering a trip to Prague. Your family's travel style seems similar to ours - some late starts, a day set aside for shopping, and on the hunt for good ice cream!!

I saw on another thread you mentioned that your parents never planned "chid-friendly" activities, but always allowed you to be part of the planning process. We are doing the same, and my 15 yo daughter plays a major part in researching places to stay and putting together our itinerary.

At 16, you sound very mature, well travelled and I wish you the best on your future travels and plans. Thanks again for the informative trip report.
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