Backpacking through Europe: Prague

We're riding comfortably in a Railjet car to Vienna right now, eating honey greek yogurt and drinking a chunky fruit smoothie from yesterday's farmers market, and I'm trying to find the words to describe Prague. I could simply tell you that I loved it, but that doesn't even properly express the depth of my feelings. All I can say is that if Keith had suggested we sell our house in Austin, postpone our east coast move, and find a tiny apartment in Prague to rent for the next six months or so, I would have heartily accepted the proposal. I don't know what our source of income would have been during that time, but all I know is I would have picnicked in a different park every weekend, taken day trips to various European towns, and learned a few more Czech words (other than just hello). Daydreams aside, I enjoyed this portion of our trip much more than I expected. After Budapest, I got a little nervous that all the big European cities might start to look the same. And that since we're moving to a very big city in the next two months, perhaps we should have enjoyed some small town living a little longer. All I can say is thank you to everyone that commented on a Facebook status I posted more than a year ago and recommended Prague, and a huge thanks to my friend Vanessa who shared a lengthy email with tips on the area - all of which we used and loved!

We arrived in the city late afternoon on April 8 and stumbled down the cobbled streets to our hotel for the first night, the Design Metropol. The modern furnished and small red-carpeted rooms weren't as nice as some of the other places we have stayed so far, but thankfully it was only for one night and included a large breakfast. The hotel was situated on a lively, shop-lined street just south of old town and a few blocks from our AirBNB apartment for the next few days. We were originally supposed to take an overnight train from Budapest and arrive on the morning of the 9th, but I'm so glad we came in during the previous day instead. After we checked in and bundled up (we came in one day after a random April blizzard), we spent the next few hours walking through old town and across the Charles Bridge into the castle quarter. I now believe that you should see every city for the first time at night. The stars were out, there were less people (and no Segway tours), and the churches were all dimly lit by streetlight. It was breathtaking and I started to feel the first pangs of new love. 

After a hearty hotel breakfast on the 9th, we dropped off our bags with our nicest AirBNB host yet, and spent the rest of the day in old town and the castle quarter. We lit a prayer candle in every church we passed, ate pastries from street vendors, visited the Lennon Wall and sang Beatles songs the rest of the day, saw the Astronomical Clock toll at noon and death reminded us to cherish every hour, and touched the base of St. John statue for good luck and a return to Prague. Just beneath the main hill of the castle, there is a long park and trail that winds through trees and under bridges. We spent a little less than a hour enjoying a break from the throngs of tourists before a Czech police officer, with a big gun and German Shepherd, informed us the park was closed. The castle and palace tour also closed earlier than we expected, so we returned early the following morning in an attempt to beat some of the tour groups there. We missed some of the mass crowds, and our favorite part of the tour was of St. Vitus Cathedral, which we may have decided we enjoyed even more than Notre Dame (is that blasphemous?). From the castle, we headed uphill again and enjoyed a hearty lunch and tasty beer at the Strahov Monastery. There was some famous person or politician there, because the place was swarming with bodyguards in crisp suits and police officers at every turn. We're convinced it may have been the Czech President, especially since he lives on the nearby palace grounds! 

We tried to enjoy as much of local culture and cuisine as possible, so Keith insisted on going to an absinthe bar one of the nights we were there. We read an online post that said Prague absinthe tastes like burnt tires, so Keith actually wound up ordering a glass of Swiss absinthe, recommended by the server, that tasted subtly of black licorice and other spices. I've had absinthe previously, but I took one sip and let Keith enjoy the rest of it. The next evening, our local entertainment was attending a Rick Steves recommended Black Light Theater in old town. The show, Aspects of Alice, was a mix of black lights, neon colors, strange images and film, and a very loose storyline of a dying girl's final journey through Prague. It was the perfect blend of quirkiness and we loved it! Aside from the monastery day, our favorite meal was at a local Czech restaurant both Rick Steves and our AirBNB host recommended. It was just down the block from our apartment rental, on the southern outskirts of old town, and I'd be lying if I didn't admit we enjoyed it so much that we actually ate there two nights in a row! It's lively, an enormous cavernous space with indoor and outdoor seating, brews their own refreshing, crisp beer and serves delicious, enormous portions. Thank goodness we averaged 10 miles every day we were here! 

Our last full day in Prague, the sun came out, and we started the gorgeous morning at the busiest farmers market I've ever been to, sampling a variety of locally made wines, pastries, jams and cheeses. We bought an entire jug of a locally made Cabernet for $3 and it paired nicely with our picnic lunch of salami, swiss, a baguette and fresh fruit. Prague has endless numbers of amazing parks! We picnicked on a small island just south of the Charles Bridge, then Keith napped briefly on a park bench while I people watched and daydreamed about living abroad. After our lunch, we peaked into the National Theatre, admired the Dancing House, walked along the river, and explored the Jewish Quarter. After we saw the old new synagogue and Jewish cemetery, we crossed a bridge north of old town, and stumbled up and down more cobbled streets to the MUCHA museum where we saw the giant Slavic paintings of Alphonse Mucha. After marveling at the largest artwork either of us had ever seen, we spent the rest of the late afternoon strolling through one long park on the western part of the city, just north of the castle, and then ended our final evening in Prague pushing our way through the swarms of people across Charles Bridge one last time. We ended the trip where we first started to fall in love with the city, and swore we'd come back some day. 

We're currently crossing over a small stream and past rolling hills, so I'm going to spend the rest of this train ride staring out the window. As we've now been living out of backpacks for a little over two weeks, I've got some fun tips to share and hope to get a different type of travel-themed post up while we're in Austria. In the meantime, I'll be singing songs from the Sound of Music for the next few days!