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Our Trip Around the World , Part 6 - 3 Cities: Prague, Helsinki and Tallinn

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Our Trip Around the World , Part 6 - 3 Cities: Prague, Helsinki and Tallinn

Old Apr 4th, 2020, 07:07 AM
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Our Trip Around the World , Part 6 - 3 Cities: Prague, Helsinki and Tallinn

For our 50th wedding anniversary, my husband, Steve, and I decided that we would celebrate in a big way with a trip around the world. Our itinerary is outlined in its entirety under the Travel Tips and Trip Ideas forum. Our adventure started on March 2nd of last year, and lasted almost 6 weeks. It was an amazing trip!

ON TO EUROPE

Leaving Qatar, we reflected on how new and exotic that Middle Eastern country had seemed to us. It was wonderful, but so very different, culturally and aesthetically, from other places we have visited. Now, however, we were headed to Europe, where we have traveled so many times before, and where, by now, we feel so comfortable. Loving the ambiance of European countries, we are equally happy walking the streets of Paris or picnicking in the Italian countryside. In fact, we are happy anyplace where we can enjoy charming old architecture, lovely scenery, bustling markets, and the little cafes that always provide us with endless people-watching opportunities. So we have often visited Europe, but we have never been to the Czech Republic, Finland or Estonia. Prague, with its reputation as one of Europe's most beautiful cities, had been on our list for awhile. Finland had a special place in our hearts because of a chance encounter, years before in Croatia, with a Finnish family who became friends after we spent some time together, waiting for a train. And Estonia? It is only a few hours by ferry from Helsinki, so why not visit?

OUR VISIT TO PRAGUE

The city of Prague, as its reputation attests, was a feast for the eyes. Building after building was decorated with elaborate statuary and stonework, and all were festooned like wedding cakes with limestone garlands and colorful trim. Every street we walked down was lined with photo-worthy architecture, featuring fancy entryways or rooftops trimmed with statues of gods and goddesses, cherubs and demons. Our necks were constantly craned upward as we strolled along. We had to take turns looking where we were going, in order to avoid stepping in the street by mistake. Our apartment, in one of these buildings, was a joy! As I have said before, views are a prime consideration when I'm booking lodgings, and the view from this place was fabulous. The apartment was on the 7th floor, in a building directly across the street from the Vitava River. Looking out one of the multiple windows to the left, we could see the famous "Dancing House" a few blocks away. A tall, onion domed tower was straight across from us, as was Slavonic Island, which featured a large playground often teeming with children on those warm spring afternoons. I loved watching the kids at play. Looking down the river to the right, we could see the multiple buildings of Prague Castle on a distant hill. The National Theater was not too far down the street from us, as was another island, where one afternoon we rented a paddleboat. It is probably clear by now that, along with special views, this apartment had a really good location with easy access to the sights of Prague which we would be visiting over the next three days.

After dinner, that first evening in our apartment, the lights on the hill across the river began to come on in the twilight, twinkling like bulbs on a Christmas tree. On the wide avenue below us, and on the bridges up and down the river, elegant street lamps flickered on. Each and every buildings was lit up in some manner as darkness fell, and every bit of ornamentation adorning those buildings was dramatized by the lights and the shadows. The massive castle complex on the hill was bathed in light, and glowed like a bit of heaven above the city. Sitting by one of the apartment windows, I could have watched the beautiful scene spread out before me for hours. I know I've used the phrase before, to describe other night time displays, but I need to use it again. Simply magical!
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Old Apr 4th, 2020, 08:49 AM
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Signing on for the next leg.
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Old Apr 4th, 2020, 10:06 AM
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Wow -- that apartment sounds . . . I'll use your word - "magical"
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Old Apr 4th, 2020, 10:54 AM
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So glad you are really relaxing and taking it all in.

Along for the ride!!
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Old Apr 4th, 2020, 12:45 PM
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Chasing you around the Forum!
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Old Apr 4th, 2020, 06:17 PM
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Looking forward to more about Prague. I have a trip booked there in September, but of course there's an excellent chance that I'll have to cancel. I hope to reschedule it for later.
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Old Apr 5th, 2020, 12:04 PM
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SusanP, I hope you do make it to Prague sooner or later. And thanks, everyone, for following along. Special thanks to thursdaysd for providing the link from my last report!

OUR FIRST DAY IN PRAGUE

Prague has an extensive public transportation service, and we noticed that one or two tram lines passed frequently back and forth, along the boulevard below our apartment windows. Steve did some research online and soon decided that we should purchase a 3 day pass, which would allow us to travel by tram around the city fairly easily. The tricky part was figuring out where to buy the passes. We walked from our apartment to the nearest Metro Station, thinking that might be the best place to purchase tickets. However, except for a clerk in a tobacco shop, there was not a soul to be seen in the dark, dank underground station. Hoping the tobacco shop clerk might be able to point us in the right direction, Steve politely greeted her and asked about tram tickets. She scowled and turned her back on him. The next person we found to ask was equally rude. Wow. We had been completely spoiled up to now on this trip, and until this point had not encountered anyone who wasn't completely friendly and welcoming. But we had noticed the day before, while shopping for groceries, that our fellow shoppers looked grim and were rather aggressive as they pushed their carts down the supermarket aisles. We read later that this negative attitude is a hold over from the dark days of communism and is gradually fading away. Not everyone we encountered in Prague was rude. In fact, some of the people we dealt with were very nice, and if occasionally they were unpleasant, we tried not to take it personally.

Eventually we did find the proper place to purchase our 3 day pass, which we realized needed to be validated the first time we boarded a tram. Before long, we spotted a tram heading in the direction we wanted to travel, and hopped on. Almost immediately, we inserted our tickets into the on board ticket validation machine, as we knew we should do. Unfortunately, it didn't take us long to realize that we had inserted both our cards into the machine backwards, and as a result the all important date stamp was almost illegible. Darn it! Would we be risking a hefty fine if we were stopped by the transit police and they saw that our tickets were stamped backwards? We had read reports that those transit policemen could be pretty tough, but there was no one we could ask about the poor state of our tickets' validation stamp and whether or not it would pass inspection. Finally, we decided to take our chances, and thankfully, we ended up using those passes every day without incident.

Our first tram ride took us to the Charles Bridge, which of course is one of the premier sights in Prague. We had been warned that the bridge, and the area around it, could be very crowded and it was. This was only the 2nd of April and there were tourists everywhere. What must it be like at the height of the summer season? But even with all the other jostling sightseers, we were glad to be there. The bridge was certainly picturesque, with wonderful fairytale towers at either end, and lots of statuary along both sides. Connecting the Old Town on one side to Mala Strana on the other, this bridge, we learned, was the only means of crossing the Vltava River until 1841. From the middle, we could enjoy the views in either direction. When we crossed to the Mala Strana side, we noticed a little shop tucked in next to bridge on the right, where a young woman was rolling dough around a rod which she then baked over an open grill. The finished product resembled a rather bulky ice cream cone, and sure enough, we saw we could purchase one filled with either ice cream or whipped cream with strawberries. A savory version, with sausage and cabbage or tomato and mozzarella, was also available. These pastries, called trdlo, are a traditional street food in Prague and we had to try one. Sharing a cone filled with ice cream, we were a little disappointed in its bread like consistency. I think we had expected it to be crispier. But I imagine the savory versions, which might be more like sandwiches, would really be good. I wished we had been able to try one for lunch sometime.

After walking back over the bridge, we set out by tram to find the Old Town Square. We first came upon the famous Astronomical Clock, which was quite impressive with its enormous dials and mechanical statues, especially the bell-ringing skeleton. We didn't stick around long enough, though, to see it all in action, as the surrounding area was completely jammed with people. We wandered around the Old Town Square for a while, but most of it was obstructed by paraphernalia being set up for some sort of Easter festivities. A stage was partially assembled and several market booths were in various stages of completion. It looked like it might be days before the whole thing was put together. Finally, we left the square, taking another tram to a busy shopping street where we had discovered a basement level supermarket the day before. Wanting to create a Czech style meal for dinner, we purchased sausages and bread dumplings, and some other supplies, to take back to our apartment. Unfortunately, when the time came for us to cook the dumplings, we couldn't translate the instructions on the package. Somehow, though, the dumplings turned out fine, and the sausages were delicious. Along with beer and some wine, we had a lovely Czechoslovakian meal, and enjoyed another evening watching the lights appear outside our apartment windows.

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Old Apr 5th, 2020, 02:08 PM
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Where was the hard-to-find proper place to buy the tram pass?
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Old Apr 5th, 2020, 03:27 PM
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Prague has been overrun with tourists for years - it was already unpleasant back in 2004 when I was there. Perhaps it has soured the inhabitants, it would me.
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Old Apr 6th, 2020, 01:43 AM
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Sorry to hear of the rude behavior you encountered. No excuses for that really.

When we were touring the Hermitage in SBP we encountered similar folks with dour dispositions. They would scowl at us and say "don't touch" and that was about it. Our guide said they were wives of former members of the party who had to go to work when Communism dissolved. I don't know. Perhaps so. In any case we still joke about them. .

Being grim and Communist seems to go together.

Keep it coming!
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Old Apr 6th, 2020, 05:36 AM
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We were in Prague just a couple months ago, late January and early February. I was stunned at how many people were there for it being off season. Based upon that, you could not pay me to go during the summer or Christmas market times! I did enjoy the city, and did not come across any rude locals, which of course was nice. The only thing negative thing, besides the crowds, was that one restaurant our waiter was pretty curt and said "the tip is not included". Not a good way to endear a customer. We were able to mostly avoid the crowds by heading out early in the morning to the busiest places, like my photos on another thread show. That was wonderful and made up for the midday crowds.
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Old Apr 6th, 2020, 11:16 AM
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>the tip is not included<
We get that frequently - I remember specifically Ukraine, Germany, UK as examples. So much for wait staff being paid a living wage overseas.

I'm enjoying your TR very much, Candace. I now have to look up your previous installments. Do you have a listing for this magical apartment?
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Old Apr 6th, 2020, 01:12 PM
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SusanP, try as I might, I couldn't exactly remember where we finally did buy our tram passes. Thankfully, my husband has a better memory than I do when it comes to some things. He says that we bought them at a little shop on the street not far from our apartment. A search online shows tram tickets are available at newsstands, snack shops, newspaper kiosks, and hotels, plus at Metro stations, so they aren't that difficult to find after all. Just avoid the gloomy underground areas where we first went searching for our tickets, and you should be fine.

Thursdaysd, you have a good point. Dealing with mobs of tourists would sour me, too. Especially as some of those tourists appear to be pretty boorish themselves. And jacketwatch, "dour" is the perfect word to describe the outlook of some of those unhappy people we encountered.

mms, your pictures of Prague are lovely, and the sights you photographed seem to be quite crowd-free. I had read that the best way to avoid the crowds in Prague was to get an early start in the morning, but somehow we never managed it. We loved Prague and were thankful to have the chance to visit such a beautiful city. Because it is so beautiful, much of the world wants the same opportunity to see it and enjoy it as we did, I guess. Consequently, it is overrun with mobs of tourists. The problem, of course, is not unique to Prague. We encountered overwhelming crowds in Taormina in Sicily, on the streets of the Higashiyama District in Kyoto, plus in that city which is always the glaring example of overcrowding by tourists: Venice. What's the solution? I have no answer to that really tough question.

OUR VISIT TO PRAGUE - DAY 2

Our plan for our second day in Prague was to visit Prague Castle, and we hoped to get an early start, for a change, in order to beat the crowds. Unfortunately, we were not early enough to avoid some pretty good sized lines. While planning our visit, Steve had researched the tram routes and, as recommended by some posters, we stayed on the tram til the last stop above the castle, so that we could walk downhill to the entrance. After some thought, we purchased the mid-range tickets, which provided us entry to half the venues in the castle complex. The complex is huge, encompassing palaces, ecclesiastical buildings, offices, fortifications and more. These tickets were valid for two days, so we decided a good plan would be to spend the morning touring the main castle plus the Golden Lane, saving the next day for the cathedral and whatever else looked interesting. We were part of a line of visitors that snaked along a path through various parts of the castle, moving together pretty briskly in the beginning, but thinning out as we proceeded higher up into the building. Even though the line of tourists moved right along, we had plenty of time to contemplate several interesting furnishings in some of the castle's chambers. I was especially taken with a large ceramic stove, tiled in intricate green panels, in one of the rooms. The attractive ceiling of another room I liked was covered with round medallions, all painted in deep red, brown and ivory patterns and all labelled with fancy calligraphies. Steve was intrigued by some of the huge and heavy doors that sported gigantic decorative silver hinges and matching latches. My favorite piece, however, was an elaborate book cupboard with a pair of doors open to reveal a collection of lovely volumes. Each of the multicolored books was numbered, with spines illustrated with stylized flowers or foliage, or clouds, or even a rainbow. I love old books and these were the ultimate old books.

We left the castle to wander down to the Golden Lane, a street of small dwellings built in the 16th century. Originally meant to provide housing for servants or defenders of the castle, goldsmiths eventually lived in some of the little houses, thus the name Golden Lane. The street was definitely charming and a few of the little places were decorated for Easter, with wreaths of Easter eggs, pastel ribbons and springtime flowers. But the crowds were thickening as we walked on down this pretty lane, and we felt, after awhile, that we had seen enough here for one day, as we were planning to return the next morning. We found it was easy to locate a tram outside the castle walls, and we were soon heading back to our apartment, after stopping at a bakery to pick up sandwiches for lunch. After a leisurely lunch break and a restful hour or so, we thought we would rent a paddleboat and spend some time on the river. What a pleasant way to enjoy a lovely afternoon in Prague.
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Old Apr 6th, 2020, 02:28 PM
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Candace--You are correct, we were up and out early each morning. Usually be 7am or so. It was so nice to have the square almost entirely to ourselves! Same with the Charles Bridge. I was surprised at how many visitors there were in Prague for that time of year. We had just come from Dresden and there was hardly anyone there. It was like Prague at 7am, but for middle of the day there. I just figured Prague would be about the same, and it certainly was not We never took a tram in Prague, just used our feet. The Golden Lane was a nice stroll I bet at Easter it was beautiful!
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Old Apr 7th, 2020, 06:54 AM
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reading along and enjoying
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Old Apr 7th, 2020, 06:56 AM
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it might be helpful if you told ud which exact apartments you are renting and from what site.
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Old Apr 7th, 2020, 10:28 AM
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Very good.

IIRC Venice cracked down on tourists milling about and congregating. I read a story about a German couple who were fined for brewing their own coffee while taking a break. They were backpackers too and the fine for them was steep. it would be steep for many I think.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/trave...ee/1796966001/
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Old Apr 7th, 2020, 12:10 PM
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mms, I wish, like you, we had gotten out earlier in the morning. That is probably the only way to beat the crowds in Prague.

trophywife007 and rhkkm, our apartment in Prague was an Airbnb listing. If you google Airbnb Riverside apartment with castle view Prague, the listing comes right up. It was hosted by Ondrej & Tereza. We never met Tereza, but Ondrej was very pleasant. I did make one mistake when describing the apartment. It is on the 4th floor, not the 7th. And there is a small elevator.

Jacketwatch, that was a pretty expensive cup of coffee! What were they thinking?

DAY 2 IN PRAGUE - Continued

It was a lovely afternoon for a paddle boat ride on the Vltava River. The sun was out, and although the wind was brisk, it was not too chilly. The boat rental dock on Slavonic Island near our apartment was staffed by a pleasant, friendly woman, and her companion, a big old black Labrador retriever, who was just as friendly as she was. She had boats of various types and sizes to rent, and we soon chose a little two-seater, hopped aboard, and were on our way. Only a short section of the river was open for paddle boats, but that was fine with us. Our seventy year old (plus) legs wouldn't want to take us too far, anyway. From the river, we could view the castle complex and the Charles Bridge from a completely different perspective. Plus out on the water, there were no crowds, although a pair of ducks paddling nearby kept us company for a little while. Later on, a large and majestic swan honored us with her presence briefly, coming close enough to our boat to check us out, before gliding gracefully away. By the time our hour of rental time was up, our legs were weary and we gratefully maneuvered our small craft back to the dock. Our little outing on the Vltava River in Prague had been fun, and we were glad we had attempted it, but thankfully, it was only a short walk back to our apartment, because we were a bit worn out. We were looking forward now to a quiet evening, with another good home cooked Czech dinner, and another chance to enjoy the pretty views at night from our windows.
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Old Apr 7th, 2020, 05:42 PM
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Very good, relaxing day.

Word to the wise. Be careful around swans. Despite their gentle image they can be aggressive.


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Old Apr 8th, 2020, 01:01 PM
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DAY 3 IN PRAGUE

As planned, we returned to Prague Castle the next morning, using the second day of our two-day ticket in order to tour the sumptuous interior of the St. Vitus Cathedral. By the time we got there, unfortunately, it was obvious that we hadn't gotten an early enough start. The cathedral was packed with tourists and it was difficult to take in much of what we were seeing, with a mob of people jostling around us, all struggling for the best view of the tomb of St. Wenceslas or the sarcophagus of Charles IV. At one point, however, I was dazzled by the morning sun streaming through the tall stained glass windows, illuminating the surrounding stone walls and pillars with a dappled haze of colored light that was delightful. Even among a crowd of tourists, it was still possible to experience a spiritual moment in such a beautiful building, I thought. Leaving the cathedral, we entered the Basilica of St. George, a calmer, more primitive, ecclesiastical building that didn't take us much time to wander through. Soon, we were leaving the castle complex altogether, and walking down hill through the Mala Strana district. It was another pleasant, sunny day, and we took our time strolling through this pretty area, visiting a few of the interesting little shops. We found some unique wooden Christmas ornaments for the grandkids and resisted the urge to buy anything for ourselves. By the time we reached the bottom of the hill, we were ready for lunch, and luckily found an atmospheric place with good food. I'm sorry, but the name is lost to us. Steve ordered goulash with bread dumplings, and I had cabbage soup in a bread bowl. We both enjoyed our meal, and Steve, who had a well placed seat near the bar, enjoyed watching the barman filling mugs with foaming beer from the tap. The beer of choice here was Pilsner Urquell, which Steve thought was great!

After returning to our apartment and resting for awhile, we decided to explore the nearby Kampa Island area and visit the famous Lennon Wall. Kampa Island Park was a pleasant place to wander around, without too many people. A small stream flowed through it on its way down to the river, powering a few antique waterwheels which added to the rustic atmosphere. Eventually, we found a cafe with outside tables, perfect for drinking a beer or glass of wine while watching the world go by. We hadn't yet found the Lennon Wall, but our waiter kindly pointed us in the right direction. The spontaneous and innovative tribute in rainbow colored graffiti was started in the 1980's by eager fans and has grown ever larger over the years. It was a fun sight to see. Lennon, I'm sure, would be proud.

Leaving Lennon's Wall, we made our way back to the apartment, where we cooked our final Czech dinner and watched the lights come on outside our windows for the last time, as the day faded away. The next morning, we would be on our way to Finland!
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