After a long 7-hour train ride from Budapest that may have given us food poisoning, we finally arrived in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. Though it took a while, traveling by train was definitely worth it because we got to see the countryside and even passed through a new country, Slovakia. I kinda wish we’d fit some time into our train so we could’ve gotten off, but oh well. The Czech Republic would be my only new country that we were visiting, and my friend had just been and said it was awesome, so I was excited to get off the train and see what the city had to offer. We didn’t get in until around 8:30, so by the time we got to the hostel we just had time for dinner there before heading to bed.
Unfortunately, as seems to be a trend on my trips, the weather on our first day in Prague was pretty bad. We took a walking tour of the city through our hostel, but it soon began to downpour so we bought some cheap umbrellas from a nearby store before continuing on. Despite wanting to give up a few times, we didn’t let the weather stop us and walked through New Town to the Powder Tower, one of the original entrances to the city, near the Czech National Bank and apparently the film location for scenes from Vin Diesel’s XXX. Passing under Powder Tower brought us into Old Town, where we saw the Church of St. James, which apparently has a mummified arm of a would-be thief hanging from the ceiling, before heading into the main square of the district.
Other than for being the historical capital of Bohemia and the former Czechoslovakia, Prague is very famous for its very extensive historic center which escaped World War II without any major bombings, leaving the architecture and most of the buildings intact. When we got to Old Town Square, we were greeted by a huge Easter market that full of food and souvenirs that I know my mom would be jealous of granted how much she loved the Christmas markets we had visited before they dropped me off in Madrid. We also saw the Prague astronomical clock, a big tourist attraction shown by the huge crowd when we were there that is actually the oldest working astronomical clock in the world and features a moving “walk of the apostles” every hour. In the square we learned from our tour guide that Prague and the Czech Republic played very important roles in the Protestant Reformation and the Thirty Year’s War. It is because of this and their subjugation throughout history by many groups like the church, the Nazis and the Soviet Union that many people are atheist and the Czech Republic is one of the most liberal countries around. While they might not all agree with what you are or do, they’ll defend your right to do it as long as you’re not harming anyone else. Even still, he told us Czechs do have a long history of finding creative ways to harm adversaries in a disagreement, coining many words in their language like defenestration, which is the act of throwing someone out a window.
We walked from Old Town Square to the Jewish Quarter, the former Jewish ghetto that our friend Haley really wanted to visit. Prague’s Jewish area is one of the best preserved in all of Europe because Hitler wanted to preserve it as an “exotic museum of an extinct race” and sent many Jewish artifacts from across the continent there for storage. Definitely a little disturbing, but at least it helped maintain the area including some historical buildings like the Old New Synagogue and the Jewish Town Hall, which actually has two clocks, one in Roman numerals going “clockwise” and the other in Hebrew going “counterclockwise,” because the language is written from left-to-right. The quarter is also home to the Old Jewish Cemetery, which has graves 12 layers deep because they ran out of space.
I had to leave the tour right after we go to the Jewish quarter because I had an interview, but I went back to Old Town a little later with Haley and Ashley, where we had a chance to explore the Easter market a little more, taste some cool foods like trdelník, and go to the top of the church for a panoramic view of the city. On our way back to Old Town Square though, we had a strange freak hail storm where hail was falling from the sky while it was sunny out… it being passover at the time led Haley and I to deduce that this could mean nothing other than that the plagues were upon us all over again. Luckily, the sun came out pretty quickly again, though rain came and went for the rest of the day.
That night we pressed our luck even further by trying absinthe at a local bar that specializes in it. I think we might have already had some in Spain, since the drink was never banned in either Spain or in the Czech Republic, but it was an interesting experience nevertheless. We learned a bit about it and the differing levels of intensity and learned how to drink it. The proper way is to dissolve a sugar cube in the glass with some drops of water and then stir it, and they had a very interesting contraption designed just for this purpose. If you take it as a shot there’s a different way to prepare it that throws fire into the mix as well. I’m not sure if I’ll be having absinthe again any time soon, but it was definitely an interesting experience, even if we (luckily) didn’t end up hallucinating.
The next day we headed across the Charles Bridge to the other side of the river, by Prague Castle. This historic bridge is pretty famous for its 30 statues, some of which you’re supposed to rub for good fortune, and for its importance in connecting the castle with Old Town. On this side of the Vltava River we also saw the Lennon Wall, a continuously-changing wall filled with graffiti and Beatles lyrics that was used as a form of youth protest during the communist regime in Prague. After walking to the top of Petřín Hill, home to a bunch of parks and a lookout tower that looks a lot like the Eiffel tower, we reached an old monastery where the monks also brewed beer. We didn’t up trying any, but I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised that even the monks brew beer in the country with the highest beer consumption per capita in the world.
Besides packing and preparing to go our separate ways, the rest of that day was spent around the Prague Castle area, which is today not only the official residence of the Czech Republic’s President but also a huge complex of historical buildings, including the former royal castle itself and a bunch of churches. We were a little disappointed because we thought it would be a cool medieval castle to just wander around, but it was interesting nevertheless. Overall, we had a good trip to the Czech Republic where things were definitely cheaper, though the currency definitely gave us some problems like it did in Hungary and the language was similarly tough (luckily thank you was similar to the Polish word that I already knew, dziękuję!), and we were interestingly enough asked “smoking or non-smoking” when entering a restaurant. Next time though, I definitely want to visit the Eiffel Tower-wannabe in the park on Petřín Hill. 🙂