It was the right decision to rest an extra night in Dresden. It’s now week 25, and our bodies are starting to really feel exhausted. We can’t continue the way we were at the start of the holiday anymore.
It wasn’t far to drive this morning, but we decided against taking any extra detours, and stuck to the motorway for the entire journey. It was surprisingly hilly near the German/Czech border making progress all that more difficult for Gunter. It’s been wonderfully easy driving the past month or so since leaving Norway, but that’s all changing quite quickly. The trade off is that the scenery is far more enjoyable than constant flat agricultural lands.
Much like Berlin and Dresden before it, I’d visited Prague back in 2003. Risa had also visited previously while she was living in London way back before we met. We both loved it then, so looked forward to another treat this time.
By chance we ended up at the wrong campsite, Autocamp Hajek, which happened to be half the price of the one we intended on staying at. We just wanted somewhere safe to park our van, so this crowded backyard was just fine. It was also an easy tram ride into town. Sorry, it should have been an easy tram ride into town, but we got impatient, and ended up changing trams, catching a metro, and then walking for some time to get into the old town.
Before starting our sightseeing, we opted for some lunch at Lokál Dlouhááá (yes, that’s it’s name). It’s a modern beer-hall, with simple hearty meals. I grabbed the two ‘special’ dishes, which included a thick slab of deep-fried cheese, as well as some nice sausages. The cheese was incredible – for the first four-or-five bites, then it started to feel a little like cheese-flavoured chewing gum, and the final half was unnecessary. Risa’s goulash was pretty good, as were the deserts. It was a success – even if it wasn’t much food for nearly €25.
It was a short walk until we were in the main market square and surrounded by beautiful old buildings. It was a lot busier than either of us remembered, even though we’d both been here around the same time of year. There seemed to have been an explosion of souvenir and other gift shops since the early-mid 2000s, but maybe Prague was still a little under the radar back then.
There were some major renovations taking place on the Astronomical Clock. We were nearby at the turn of an hour, but didn’t see any of the little characters come out to dance/perform. Still, the square as a whole is gorgeous. I’d forgotten just how large the area is. The only real solid detail that I remembered were the cobblestones – and seeing women in stilettos gracefully/miraculously walking over them.
We roughly made our way towards Charles Bridge, passing through more exquisite courtyards.
I’d never really understood the hype of Charles Bridge, but thought I’d missed something last time. Again, I don’t really see what is so amazing about the bridge that makes it the number one attraction in town. Though, it was a little hard to see the bridge for the river of tourists.
The views of the area from the bridge was probably more amazing than the bridge itself, with the waterfront just south of the bridge particularly stunning.
Of course, so was the view up towards the Castle Hill and the stunning gothic cathedral.
The buildings and the views continue to wow as we puffed and panted our way up to the summit of the hill. The main street was still lined with souvenir shop after souvenir shop. I’m still not sure how there is enough people buying souvenirs for them to be able to remain in business – they are all mostly selling the same stuff anyway.
We passed through security and made our way around the cathedral. It was as amazing as I’d remembered. There is something that really appeals to me about this church, with the external ribbing, the hundreds of blackened spires, and the abundance of gargoyles and other creatures. We just sat and stared up at in awe.
It looked so different from different angles, almost appearing to be a different building.
The exhibits were closed for the day, so we were able to walk into the Golden Lane without needing tickets (which we bought and didn’t use tomorrow anyway). It almost felt comical, rather than historical, like it should belong in Disneyland or some other theme park.
There were some great views to be had of the town from up here, too. I remember making the trek to the giant metronome last time, but we opted to give it a miss as we were happy enough with the views from here.
Returning back to the old town from one of the bridges parallel to Charles Bridge allowed us to see it in its entirety. It was a little prettier from back here, but still it seemed like a non-descript bridge, with a huge collection of sculptures – and some fantastic towers at either end.
The light was rapidly fading. Rather than continue to walk around in the dark, we grabbed a quick kebab and returned to our camp. It should have been a simple journey home, but required us changing trams twice due to them ending prematurely – we only had to travel 5 stops. There was also a huge concert taking place in an arena between the old town and us, and we could still hear the techno from our campsite. I wasn’t sure if the rave was going to last all night, but by 11PM, it’d finished – maybe a little optimistic for an all-night rave on a Sunday.
We thought about doing a walking tour, but ended up being a little too slow getting started to make it in time. Instead we decided to return to the Prague Castle area.
But first, we stopped for a feed. You’d be forgiven for thinking we don’t eat breakfast. We do, but for some reason we get hungry as soon as we leave the car. We walked past a super local delicatessen and saw people eating from small plastic plates, so we thought we’d give it a try. We had no idea what we were ordering, or even how to order, other than helplessly pointing and gesturing. Risa saw one other customer get some kind of tongue in a bowl of soup, and was happy with that – I took the easy option and went for roast chicken, plus some other random deep-fried things (which turned out to be seafood). It cost a grand total of less than €3.
We powered back across Charles Bridge, which was just as busy as yesterday, and then trudged back up the hill, past the same endless trail of souvenir shops. We got the minimum ticket that would allow us inside the cathedral, which also included tickets for the castle, as well as an old chapel. While we were approaching the entrance of the cathedral, we overheard an English tour, with the guide explaining that the architects brilliantly managed to sneak a sculpture of themselves into the façade. It remains, though they were punished for the act.
It turned out that we didn’t need to buy a ticket to see inside the church – you can enter as far as the pews for free, but the ticket allows you to walk freely throughout. I also paid for a ‘license’ to take photos, but I question how many others have.
The interior was enormous, and surprisingly light. But, it’s the stained glass windows that make this exceptional. I don’t remember seeing others as beautiful as this. They are works of art – and some are by celebrated artist Mucha.
Also inside the cathedral was the sarcophagus that is borderline offensive in its use of precious metals – supposedly using several tonnes of pure silver. It was pretty, so I guess money well spent.
As we were preparing to leave, the sun suddenly burst through the clouds, and the interior of the cathedral began to glow in glorious hues thanks to the stained glass windows – though, not quite as epic as the colour from La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.
The minimum ticket included entry to the castle, so we quickly passed through. The rooms that were open to public were exceptional – though barren.
Out of curiosity we swung past the John Lennon wall, which started as a place of political protest. Now, it’s just a wall filled with uninspired graffiti, and groups taking selfies in front of it. There were a few terrible pieces by some Australians amongst the tags and other scrawl.
I finally decided to try the cinnamon scrolls that are roasting on just about every corner in town. I’d had a generic mass produced one in Bardejov with friends, but this was the real deal – and much, much tastier. But, it’s pretty much what it looks like – a thin cake with a heap of cinnamon sugar.
We’d pretty much exhausted the list of things we wanted to see. Risa went to see the Mucha Gallery while I got a much overdue haircut – and the less said about the results the better, as his claim to understanding English was either false, or he liked to ignore my requests. The gallery was near Wenceslas Square, and it was like we’d found a completely new part of town to explore. The enormous open space must have stretched for several hundred meters up the hill and was fronted on both sides by some of the most beautiful modern buildings in town – if you consider modern anything less than around 100 years old. There was so much character here, and a completely different feel to the Old Town.
The sun had set again, and our feet and stomachs were complaining. We grabbed another kebab, which was once again fantastic.
We also found ourselves in a giant children’s store. It felt like something from Home Alone, or Big – though, sadly no giant keyboard floor mats.
We returned to spend a second and final night at Autocamp Hajek, slept a deep sleep that only comes from exhaustion and satisfaction of a great time spent in Prague. We both agreed that it’s still a beautiful city, but tourism has definitely caught up and changed it somewhat.