When Ryanair emailed me with a seat sale from Dublin to Prague, I booked a return ticket for early December faster than you could say, “Czech out that price!”
All joking aside, I had visions of old world charm and culture enveloped in a blanket of powdery snow and twinkling lights. And let me tell you, this UNESCO World Heritage site didn’t disappoint.
As someone who locks their door promptly from the inside once home, the potential dangers of visiting the Czech Republic never crossed my mind. It was only after booking my four day, three night pre-Christmas escape that I heard warnings of pickpockets, passport theft and the like. Call me desensitised to the petty crimes of Europe but I tend to be guarded with my belongings on most days, despite flitting about on foot snapping candid photos of things that strike me.
It also helped that I planned on meeting my friend and former roommate from Canada upon arriving in Prague. She was taking a train from Berlin, as she had been living in Germany for the past year. She assured me we would be well prepared and my husband told me to just pretend I was on the Red Luas Line in Dublin. Ok, no he didn’t but I pretended anyway.
Now that you are no longer concerned with our safety, let’s get back to the majestic city that is Prague.
We arrived in the evening and checked into our accommodation at Hotel Elysee a stone’s throw from the imposing Wenceslas Square in the New Town. As one of the main centres of business there were plenty of shops, restaurants and bars nearby. There was even a small Christmas market set up in the centre of the main street, en route to the Old Town Square.
We spent the first night at the Restaurant Café Svatého Václava where we dined on traditional Czech goulash and sampled their Pilsner Urquell. Did you know the people of this Bohemian capital refer to their brews as ‘liquid bread’? Their love of a good pint also has their nation at the top of the worldwide list for beer consumption!
The exchange rate was 0.27CZK = €1 and I found many beers were under 0.50CZK. You can’t imagine how pleased I was with my budgeting skills! When it’s cheaper for a refreshing glass of locally brewed ale than an espresso, you know you’re going to have a great vacation.
Now what did we do besides tuck into hearty dishes and sip on cheap beer, you ask? We walked around the Old Town, shopped at the Christmas markets and took a trip to Prague Castle and the ‘Lesser Quarter’ of course. According to the Guinness Book of Records, it is the largest ancient castle in the world.
We bought a handy two-day pass in order to space out the anticipated onset of culture and pace ourselves for what would surely be a lot of ‘ooohs’ and ‘ahhhs’, accompanied by prime photo opportunities. In between breaking for Czech beers, pastries and hot chocolates.
Since I snapped so many pics along the way, let’s look through how we experienced Prague.
We walked across the Vltava river on the big Charles Bridge. At 600+ years old, it’s holding up pretty well. We often stopped to marvel at the 30 statues along the way, many of them covered with perching birds – I thought it added to the drama.
After multiple photo stops, some of which we were being nice tourists for and photographing other groups of foreigners on request, we arrived at the end of the bridge and entered the Lesser Town.
It’s a visual delight of rows upon rows of colourful antique, souvenir and trinket shops. Cars are squeezed along both sides of the road and the street itself creeps slightly uphill towards the castle. But don’t worry, those cute window displays and intricate mosaic tiled sidewalks are enough to distract you from your burning thighs. We stopped in for a snack at U Dvou slunců which is according to Google translate, named the ‘Two Suns Inn’ which dates back to the 17th century and is considered the oldest inn in the Lesser Town. Its’ walls were decorated with old armour and it was once the residence of Czech writer, Jan Neruda, for most of his life. Good food, cheap beer? Tick, tick. We finished up and went on our merry way.
Prague tip #1: remember to look down at the tiles, not because they are uneven like some of the cobblestone streets in Ireland’s tourist traps, oh no. They are lovely and flat and change so often, it’s basically a free treat.
Prague tip #2: Don’t stare at the ground so often that you miss the doors. I love me a good coloured Georgian Dublin door, a stained glass window detail or a cute letterbox but the Czech have taken it to another level. There are angelic faces adorning the tops of doors. Fancy wrought iron and silver door knockers and keyholes. Studded panels so shiny you’d swear they were just varnished yesterday. The overall detail on the buildings in Prague is something to be in awe of but those doors just make you want to knock. And be warmly welcomed in to explore. Don’t worry, we didn’t do it…that would be so un-Czech.
When I saw snow, I took a photo – it has a tendency to melt on the Emerald Isle and I needed my winter fix (only a Canadian would understand).
Then we hiked up what seemed like 500 stairs to gain access to the illustrious Prague Castle. For those who don’t like stairs, you can also walk up the adjacent street on an incline – we did that on one of the days and then took the stairs for a change of scenery.
How’s that for an entrance gate? Underneath these sword-fighting sculptures, soldiers were marching in the courtyard with their fur hats and bayonets. Our two-day ticket gave us access to the Old Royal Palace, the Story of Prague Castle and the Picture Gallery, Basilica of St. George, Treasury and South Tower of St. Vitus Cathedral and the Cathedral itself, Golden Lane, Rosenburg Palace and the Powder Tower. Phew! It cost a grand total of 250CZK. That’s under €10 for two days of solid history entertainment! Bring your walking shoes and you’ll be happy out.
We walked around the gaping rooms of St. Vitus Cathedral, the biggest church in the country. Here you will find the relics of Saint Wenceslas in the chapel of the same name. They also keep the Czech Crown Jewels locked away here, which go on public display once every eight years.
When you round the corner inside the Cathedral, you are met by the startling Royal Mausoleum with very detailed silver sculptures and marble effigies of Ferdinand I, his wife Anna Jagellonská and their son Maximilián II.
After exploring Prague Castle and the Lesser Quarter by day and by night, we made our way north of our hotel to the Old Town for more Christmas markets, tourist attractions and beer. But before leaving that side of the river, we popped into an old book shop. I bought a second-hand biography about Irish playwright Bernard Shaw and we discovered a book about Ottawa – where my friend and I once lived. Talk about serendipity!
Wait – did I tell you they have trams? Not only are the sidewalks cute, the transportation options are too. It’s a pedestrian’s dream city.
We stopped at the Old Town Hall and Astronomical Clock to try to interpret its’ meaning.
After a failed attempt, we went shopping for souvenirs.
I bought a few handmade wooden Christmas tree ornaments and gifts for family in Canada while sipping on mulled wine, then we headed to local brewpub, U Tří růží.
We spent the last day exploring the New Town east of our hotel and look what we found – more daytime Christmas markets! After purchasing last minute gifts, we went in search of a good coffee. Yes that’s right, four days in and we had our fill of Czech beer. I also had to get on a flight to Dublin that afternoon…not that it would have been much of a problem by the looks of some fellow passengers.
Let me leave you with a final feel-good photo from the Czech Republic. We found a lovely little two-storey coffee shop which proudly served the elusive flat white, Anonymous Coffee. I introduced my friend to her first barista coffee of the flat white variety and we played fetch with a local patron’s Boston Terrier while relaxing on their swinging bench seat. I’ve been wanting a dog for some time, love coffee (and swings), so this place was just the thing to top off our visit to Prague.
Yep, Euro trips, fancy buildings and cobblestone streets aside, it doesn’t take much to please this wandering expat!
Next up: another photo essay of our New Year’s trip to the artsy seaside city of Barcelona.