OUR PRAGUE TRIP DEPARTURE
Our excursion into the wonderful Czech Republic began with an eight hour trip from Atlanta on March 3, 2005. We had a 4:35 pm flight on Lufthansa, so we made sure that we got there in plenty of time to park at one of the park and ride lots and to get through all of the various and sundry security checkpoints. I was really impressed with the A340 airbus that we flew on…it was much more comfortable than the one we flew on last year to Rome.
The flight crew would not stop doting on us! We were served refreshments, then dinner, then refreshments again, then juices/milk for breakfast, then breakfast! I managed to watch Finding Neverland and Shall we dance as the in-flight movie offering. All in all, I was very pleased with the service. We booked our trip via www.nordiquetours.com.
We arrived in Frankfurt around 7:20 am the next day and had to catch the skyline train to the other terminal to switch planes. We were at our departure gate all of five minutes before they called us to transfer via a bus to our plane to Prague. We got a late start because the plane had to be de-iced. It was snowing not only in Frankfurt, but in Prague as well. Nevertheless, we only arrived about 5 minutes late at 9:25 am.
It was a relatively smooth process to get through immigration. As we left the baggage area to search for our ride from Prague Airport shuttle, I was upset to see that no one was holding a sign with my name on it (later I realized that I had not called 24 hrs. ahead to confirm….DUH!). After hanging around just in case they were running late, I decided to go to the nearby ATM and get some cash so that I could find an alternate ride to the hotel.
I withdrew 4,000 Czech korunas which was the equivalent of $196.00 and headed over to the kiosk on the other side of the small airport to find a shuttle. Luckily Cedaz Transportation (firstname.lastname@example.org) had a shuttle immediately available for 480 korunas which covered me and my daughter.
Before long, we were on our way to our hotel, The Waldstein Hotel which was tucked right off of Valdstejnske namesti. We checked in and were shown to our room. We were assigned the deluxe suite in their Annex (or apartment suites). I was happy to get that as they had adjoining kitchenettes. The rooms were adequate. The toilet was off of the kitchenette, there were two bedrooms and a tub and shower was on the opposite end. The furniture was all antique. There was no room safe in the apartment…only in the hotel rooms.
To avoid jet lag, we asked the receptionist where the metro was and how to get to the Charles Bridge. As luck would have it, we were about five minutes from either going in opposite directions. If you steered to the right on Valdstejnske namesti, you would end up at the Malostranska metro station. Their metro system was as user friendly as the Paris metro. If you turned left, you would end up on the little square where you could take one of the trams. Make another left and keep straight you would end up at Charles Bridge.
On the way to the bridge we decided to try our first Czech meal. We stopped at a pub located in a hotel on nearby Tomasska street called U Schnellu. I ordered beef goulash (the servings were small though) with potato pancakes and my daughter ordered the same. The price was extremely cheap along with two sodas the price was a little over 12.00 for both of us!
The Charles Bridge was magical…it was as if we were crossing through a time barrier. Prague has such architectural beauty and is easily the most beautiful city that I’ve ever seen. We walked the length of the bridge, taking care to admire the Vltava River and the work of the hopeful artists lined along the bridge selling their wares then walked back toward the hotel. We made a few pit stops at the many souvenir shops and decided to stop at the Bio-Market grocery store to pick up a few items for the fridge.
On the way back we discovered a Jazz restaurant called Por Favore (also on Tomasska Street) that offered free internet access. We were able to log on with very little problem except the keyboard had a slightly different layout. After awhile, we decided to go back to the hotel. We weren’t feeling that great, so we decided to go back to the hotel. I was fighting a cold and my daughter still hadn’t gotten over hers the week before. So, rest was definitely in order!
DAYS TWO & THREE
The next day (Saturday), we got up around 9:30 am to get breakfast at the hotel. The breakfast was a nice array of ham and cheese slices, assorted breads, scrambled eggs, smoked sausages, fruit cocktail, yogurt, fresh crudités, orange juice and coffee. We made a mental note to make sure that we never missed breakfast! lol
We had contemplated taking a hop on hop off bus tour, but decided against it after we figured the city was small enough for us to investigate on our own via the suggested walking tours that we found on www.frommers.com. We had already made plans to visit the Jewish Quarter (Josefov), Old Town (Stare Mesto) & New Town (Nove Mesto) and Lesser Town (Mala Strana-our home base) on succeeding days.
So, after perusing some of the pamphlets in the reception area, we decided to visit Vysherad in New Town after reading about the legend of Princess Libuse who was widely considered to be the mother of the Czech nation. We took the metro to the Vysherad stop and had a short walk to what was essentially a large park surrounding the 10th century Vysherad Castle, St. Paul’s cathedral and the National cemetery. With all of the historical significance of this area aside, I must say that one of the most striking aspects of Vysherad is the breathtaking panoramic view of Prague and the Vltava River that you can witness from a hillside west of the Cathedral.
We took the metro back to the hotel, but decided on a whim to take the #22 tram from the Little Quarter Square in Mala Strana to TESCO, a variety store to see if we could find some goodies to bring home. Once you cross the bridge, Tesco is the second stop on that route. On the way back, we found an American Pub (whose name escapes me now) on Mostecka Street in Mala Strana and decided to have dinner there….for some reason, we never really got to experience a lot of Czech cuisine during our visit here.
After spending the day in non-stop snow showers we decided to put off visiting the Jewish quarter the next day. Although we had been advised that Sunday was the best time to visit, we reasoned that we had better take the time to recuperate if we wanted to be well enough to survive the rest of the trip. On Sunday, we stayed in comforted by the abundance of cold medication, orange juice and groceries at our disposal.
Monday morning, we arose bright and early and headed out after breakfast to the Metro. Our goal was to visit the Jewish Quarter and Old Town since they were essentially in the same area. Our first stop was Namesti Republicky…as soon as you walked up the steps to street level; you are greeted by the very ornate “Municipal House”. This Art Noveau masterpiece was built in the early 20th century and is where the Prague symphony performs.
Walking ahead, we made our way past other notable structures such as the House of the Black Mother, the Powder Tower and eventually to the Old Town Square where you can find St. Nicholas’ Church and Kinsky Palace. To the west of the Church was the birthplace of the writer Franz Kafka. In the center of the town square (right next to the tourist bureau) was the Astronomical Clock. We had just missed the ‘show’ by 10 minutes, so we decided to wander around the square for another 50 minutes until we could come back and videotape the event.
Every hour on the hour, a skeleton figure that is located right next to the top clock (with the astronomical signs placed on top of it) pulls a cord that opens the two top windows that is located on either side of the statue above the clocks. For a few seconds, the twelve apostles paraded pass in front of those windows as if to say hello.
Later, we began our excursion into the Jewish Quarter where we visited the Maisel and Pinkas synagogues. We actually walked back to our hotel from the Jewish Quarter…it was a short walk to the Charles Bridge and our hotel was on the other side of it. We decided to have a late lunch at Por Favore where I ordered a large portion of Grilled salmon rolled in sesame seed on a bed of freshly steamed spinach and a side of steak fries au gratin and my daughter ordered Chicken Noodles…….which we thought would be a soup which would be great for her cold….but it was a huge bowl of a bed of noodles topped off with what appeared to be a whole chicken! roflol! We each had apple strudel as desert and sodas. The cost for everything including tip was $27.00!!! After that meal, we seriously doubted that we could make room for dinner and we were right!
Tuesday Morning we decided to visit the Globe Café and Bookstore because we had heard very good things about the café from the people on various travel boards. We were not disappointed; there were quite a few Americans there milling about reading books, surfing the internet, engaging in compelling conversations or just doing as we did: enjoying their lunch. I ordered a chicken BLT sandwich and a coke and my daughter ordered an amazing hamburger sandwich that was slathered with sauce, mushrooms, onions and bacon with a side of potato salad and a sprite.
Our order cost about 17.00. After taking a few pics, we said our goodbyes and headed on to Wenceslas square. We had taken the #22 tram to get to the café and we decided to go back on it to get closer to the Metro. Little did we know that the Metro stop, MUSTEK was right beyond where we got off in the first place…actually on the same block, so we decided to take the train there.
Once we arrived at Wenceslas Square, we decided to do a little window shopping on this Czech version of Rodeo Drive. There were a lot of high end shops there along with the ubiquitous McDonald’s in the center of it all. Aside from the Charles Bridge area, it was the most congested. We continued our walk until we got to Panska Street where we made a right to go to the Mucha Museum a couple of blocks ahead.
We were bowled over by the talent of this great man. I’d always been a major fan of the impressionist movement…now I must count Art Noveau as a favorite too. Alfons Mucha led a very interesting life and died tragically, but his talent was undeniable. I found their website here, I’m sure that you’ll enjoy it: http://www.mucha.cz/index.phtml?S=home&Lang=EN
He designed the front of the Municipal House and some of the windows in St. Vitus’s cathedral and we were lucky enough to purchase some lithographs before we left Prague. We are forever changed by the experience. Alas, our colds were kicking back up, so we decided to do the unforgivable….we got a couple of sandwiches at Mickey D’s, loaded up on meds and went back to the hotel to go to bed.
Sadly, this was to be our last full day in Prague. Our flight leaves early the next morning at 6:55 am and there could be a delay as it has snowed heavily once again last night. Our plan of attack is to visit the Prague Castle complex including St. Vitus’s Cathedral. We caught the #22 (you can catch the 23 also in the same spot as well) going opposite the way we’d traveled before up the steep hill to the castle.
We ascended upon the Castle gates and were greeted by two guards on either side. They were unflinching and were careful to look ahead without making eye contact with the large crowd coming toward them. Being totally lost, we simply followed the crowd to the main office where we paid $31.00 (total) to visit the complex; there was an additional fee (1.31) for being allowed to take pictures…non flash pictures, that is.
In all honesty, it’s not worth the money! There were very few places that required you to have a ticket. If we had not been able to see these places we wouldn’t have missed much. You still got to see everything else that mattered. However, you would have to probably pay the 31.00 in order to pay the extra fee that would allow you to take photos. And taking photos is a MUST!
Did that make sense? lol
We got wonderful pics of St. Vitus’s stained glass, its ornate confessional booth and pews, it was a mystical blend of Gothic and art Noveau. All in all, we had a wonderful time in Prague and hope to someday be fortunate enough to visit again. We were very grateful to see everything that we had planned to see despite our sickness and our lack of trip cancellation insurance. lol