September 25, 2017
To get from Salzburg to Prague, Czech Republic we had one hell of a time. Months ago we had already booked a flight from Salzburg to London then to France for a housesitting assignment. Unfortunately, the assignment got canceled and we were left with non-refundable tickets to London. Because of this, we had to fly halfway across Europe back to the UK, then fly back the direction we came ending up just an hour flight away from where we left. The entire trip taking more than 6 hours. This all wouldn’t have been that big of a deal if we hadn’t been left with only an hour between flights.
Since we were on Ryanair which evidently runs on a different time schedule than the rest of the world, we left the tarmac 20 minutes late and subsequently landed 20 minutes late. We had to go through customs then back through security to get to our gate. By the time we got through security, it was already the same time as the departure time on our ticket but, we knew how late our Ryanair flight left the first time so we decided to give it a go and again sprinted through the entire airport to our gate.
The first time running through an airport was bad, but this time was pure panic. Not to mention we had to run twice the distance. I like to consider myself at least somewhat decently in shape but with 50 extra pounds on my back, by the end of our run, I was completely exhausted. Somehow, however, we made it. The attendant at the gate told us we literally had less than 10 seconds until they were going to close the gate. Wow! The next almost 2-hour flight was spent in complete misery as all three of us were drenched in sweat and rapidly stinking up the plane.
Still, we made it, so after we were each able to take some long relaxing showers, we did some research on somewhere to eat nearby and ended up at a brewery call Hells Bells Rockin’ Pub. Logan got a giant pork knuckle that was drenched in dark beer and was the size of a baby, while Lauren and I each got delicious bacon burgers that were as big as our heads. We washed our delicious meals down with several beers for each of us.
When we got the tabs and did the math to see how many American dollars it cost we were astounded. Logan’s meal which anywhere in the US would have been an easy 20-25$ ended up being less than 10$, and mine and Lauren’s burgers were less than 8$ each when they would be probably be 13-15$ at home. And the beers? Half a liter for 1.50$ each! The week before, we were paying for beer in Germany that cost more than twice as much! We knew right then and there that we were going to love our time in Prague.
September 26, 2017
The next day we actually got to see Prague in the light and boy did it add up to all the compliments we had heard regarding its beauty. Virtually undamaged during World War 2, the cities architecture is an eclectic mix of all the architectural eras through which it survived. The skyline is packed full of green copper domes, gothic spires and millions upon millions of red-orange terracotta roof tiles. These features and the buildings throughout the city that are painted in every color imaginable make Prague beautiful.
As beautiful as it is, however, there is a certain edginess to the city that may either turn you off of the city or make you love it even more. It is a far cry from the clean straight-edged feeling you get while in Munich to something more distinctly Eastern European more akin to the Russia or East Germany you would see in the movies. This probably owing to the fact that it was under Communist rule up until 1989. The amount of graffiti painted on the walls in Prague is astronomical if that gives you a better feel of the place. Still, I would call Prague nothing short of beautiful in spite of that fact.
That first day in the city consisted of what our plans usually do on the first day of the city, which is getting a feel of the city and its people. Prague was no different for us knowing that we would be there for a long enough time that we felt no desire to rush. We walked toward the city center first, stopping to get some homemade potato chips at a nearby vendor, before heading off into whatever direction tickled our fancy.
The first thing we stumbled upon in the city is called the Powder Tower, a 15th-century building that used to serve as one of original 13 gates into the city. The tower itself was supposed to be the original entrance to the city but the idea was scrapped and it was turned into a gunpowder storehouse, hence it’s name. The outside of the building matched its name – being unusually sooty and dark looking – giving it its ominous look in the center of the city.
Later in the day, we went to the Petřín Lookout Tower which is essentially a smaller replica of the Eiffel Tower that sits atop Prague’s highest hill in the city and allows you to see the city sprawled out below you in all of its glory. It is quite the view if you are able to make your way up there.
On our way up to the lookout tower, we found an odd scene as we watched a man not too much older than me hop off his longboard and climb a random tree and proceed to vigorously shake it until all of its contents fell off the tree and unto the ground. He then came down the tree and started collecting what had fallen. After picking a couple up, Logan and I smashed together two of the pieces to find that they were, in fact, walnuts. For future reference, walnuts straight off the tree taste nothing like dried walnuts. Consider yourself warned.
September 27, 2017
The next day we did some more sightseeing of the city. One of the biggest attractions in the city is the Charles Bridge that spans over the Vltava river and dates all the way back to 1357. Lining both sides of the bridge are 30 different statues of various saints. The bridge has always been important in the city for being the only way in which one could get from the Old Town of Prague to Prague Castle. Looking out from the bridge, one is able to get a fantastic view of Prague and some of its beautiful architecture.
Leaving the bridge, we did more sightseeing. Another attraction to Prague, like the Glockenspiel in Munich is an astronomical clock that every hour chimes as a parade of the Apostles march by. The dated performance was not the most exciting thing to watch in the world seeing as it was installed more than 200 years ago, but knowing that the clock itself is more than 600 years old and is in itself very interesting to look at makes it worthwhile to see, if it the very least to be able to say you did.
After seeing the astronomical clock, since we did not have any plans until the next day to see Prague castle, we somehow find out about a nearby “ice pub” in the city. Basically, an ice pub is a bar that is held at a freezing temperature – in this case around 19 degrees Fahrenheit – that you go into and have a drink out of a cup made out of ice and just hang out for a little bit until you are so cold you have to leave. There are chairs in the bar that you can sit on as well and everything there is made of ice. They give you a little coat to wear and some gloves. It’s interesting since it’s not something you see very often but at the same time a pretty worthless experience. Not to mention it was pretty damn cold. Oh well, we had fun.
From that bar, we eventually ended up at another bar near our Airbnb. It was most definitely a local bar as the clientele were all of the older age and quite obviously frequented the bar. The bartender was also older and looked foreboding from the second we walked in, his eyes narrowed at our small group of young, obviously non-Czech tourists. Despite his glare, he had a great sense of humor that transcended the language barrier. That and the beers which cost us only 1.22$ each – and explains why the Czech Republic drinks more beer per capita than any other nation in the world – let us fall in love with this little local bar. From there on out we affectionately called it “our bar” for our entire time in the city.
September 28, 2017
That Thursday we got a late start knowing we had already seen all the big tourist destinations in the city. The only exception was the castle which we had already had plans on going to see the next day. Before lunch, we went back out to the city to shop around trying to find a specific tourist gift for a friend. We found it across the street from a street-performer holding a hefty yellow python on his shoulders (think Brittany Spears at the 2001 VMAs).
Afterwards, Lauren went home since she had to work and Logan and I, after some research, went to the Josefov region of the city. Josefov is the Jewish ghetto of Prague located smack dab in the middle of the Old Town. The Jewish quarter is home to one of the oldest surviving Jewish cemeteries which is also the largest in Europe as well as the Old-New Synagogue which is the oldest preserved synagogue in Central Europe. Seeing the entire Jewish quarter was a very interesting look into an oft-overlooked culture that I had never gotten a really in-depth look into and I am glad I was able to experience it.
Continuing our practice of doing whatever came to mind first, Logan and I decided why not visit the Czech Beer Museum because that’s what the Czech Republic is well-known for, but not because I love beer or anything like that. Strictly academic. It was a small museum but very interesting in that it was centered around the history and current production of beer throughout the Czech Republic. One thing we learned during the tour that we had noticed throughout our visit to Prague was that the beer is purposely poured with extra foam. We learned that this was because many Czech people believe that extra foam allows one to experience both the sweet taste of the foam and the bitter flavor of the beer better.
After the tour, we were able to taste test 4 full beers which came along with the price of the ticket. Whereas most of the beer we had drunk up to that point was mass produced and not particularly tasty, the beers we had were from small local breweries and had much more complex flavors that made them delicious.
September 29, 2017
The next morning I got up early and went on a run at the park in which our Airbnb was situated next to. This normally wouldn’t be something I would mention but as I ran I started noticing signs about the park and looking to find a good running route, I stopped to read one. As it turns out, the park is actually a sort of Prague Central Park that I learned actually originated as a game reserve all the way back in the 13th century! I think it is one of the most special things about Europe being able to stumble upon these places with so much history. You really never know on any given day while exploring a city what unique locales you might find yourself next to.
Another interesting cultural thing I noticed while at the park, something that Lauren and Logan both agreed with me on, was that there was a very high dog to human ratio in Prague. More interestingly, I would say probably 90% of the dogs we saw were not on leashes. Most would walk next to their owners or a little in front of them, stopping to turn around when they got too far ahead. I think that that is a really weird and interesting difference from dogs in the United States which have to be kept close by with leashes way more often than not.
After rallying the troops, we left to go visit the Prague Castle – the largest ancient castle in the world dating from all the way back to the 9th century. The castle is the residence of the president of the Czech Republic and over time has been the home for kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors, and the president of Czechoslovakia. The castle is situated atop one of the many hills around the city and is only accessible by climbing what felt like a thousand steps up to the front entrance, leaving us all winded.
On the castle grounds is the gorgeous St. Vitus Cathedral which contains the tombs of many Bohemian kings and Holy Roman emperors. The gothic cathedral is enormous and has many beautiful ornamentations and stain glass windows. It was a beautiful sight to see, though unfortunately it was positively packed with tourists and we decided to leave much quicker than we would have liked given the choice. Regardless, I’m glad we were able to experience it.
After leaving the castle, Lauren, unfortunately, had to go home to work but Logan and I decided to go to the Prague Zoo since I had heard it was one of the best in the world. I had the bright idea to walk there and it actually took us more than 30 minutes to get there but props to Logan for being a trooper and not complaining. We were tired and it was late in the day so we sort of rushed through the zoo but given the time and without having to deal with the swarms of kids I think the general layout of the zoo was really cool, especially how they made up for lack of land area by utilizing vertical space.
There were two more interesting cultural differences I noticed at the zoo. Firstly, you are allowed to bring dogs to the zoo which I thought would be dangerous since it might startle some animals. However, there was a lot there so it must be pretty common practice.
Secondly, the barriers between us and the animals were virtually non-existent in a lot of places. One could easily have jumped the barrier to play with the zebras without much physical exertion. It was a little strange coming from a country that is ultra-protective when it comes to these types of things, especially with the whole Harambe fiasco. Another example of this, we walked into a little fruit bat exhibit while there and there was nothing separating us and these bats. I, for one, was a little unnerved as I watched several bats perform fly-bys within inches of my face. It was definitely a surreal experience.
September 30, 2017
Our last day in our beloved Prague was not exceptionally busy as we knew we would have to get up for our flight to Brussels at 3:30 the next morning.
We would be remiss if we didn’t visit an actual brewery in a city so well-known for its beer so we made our way to a microbrewery in town called Pivovarsky Dum. They had some interesting beers that we tried which included banana, coffee, and sour cherry flavored beers. The banana beer was delicious and one of the few of its type that I have ever had, while the coffee beer was unique from the coffee flavored beer we have in the states as it’s flavor was actually more akin to a cappuccino flavor rather than a black coffee taste common in most beers of its type. I was pleasantly surprised. Lauren had the sour cherry beer which interestingly enough was served with an actual cherry floating in it. Neither of us had ever seen that before.
Before heading back to a quiet night back at our Airbnb, we made a brief stop at a local flea market we had passed earlier. I was a little surprised by how cool some of the objects on sale were, including many communist artifacts. Since we do not have a ton of budget for these types of things, however, we left empty-handed.
We wanted to relax for the rest of the night so we opted to order a pizza and watch a movie before going to bed to get up early the next day. For some reason, we bought a 60cm pizza. For 3 people. It was the largest of the 4 sizes available when we ordered and I’m not sure if it was just plain laziness or stupidity, but it was not until we were halfway to go pick up the pizza when it hit me that this damn pizza was going to be a whole 2 feet in diameter. I have to say I felt as dumb as I must have looked carrying a pizza that gigantic the whole way home. At least making a metric mistake and getting more pizza is not the biggest mistake you can make while converting between systems but I still hope it doesn’t get me into trouble at a later date.
All-in-all, I think I can speak for both Lauren and Logan when I say that Prague met and exceeded all of the original expectations I had for the city. Beautiful architecture, fantastic people, delicious food, and a wonderfully low cost of living makes for a really good mix and Prague has it all. I never once felt unsafe or that my lack of the Czech language – a notoriously difficult language to learn – affected my trip in the slightest. I would definitely love to make it back there sometime in the future. Thank you for reading this enormous post!
Next up to bat…Belgium!