It’s been well over a week since my return from Europe but I have had no time to write anything since then – until today – what a gloomy day it is. The rain does not seem to take any notice that it’s supposed to be almost spring and the land is still completely sodden from the 8 weeks of more or less constant rain before.
I spend my last two days in Europe in the Golden City – Prague/Praha/Prag. I can’t remember when I’ve been there the last time – must have been at least 15 years ago and things have changed considerably since then. For starters – back then the second language spoken/written was German – now it is English. Even all the menu’s in Restaurants are bi-lingual – very handy!
The amount of tourists must have increased too as I can’t remember it being THAT crowded the last few times – although to be honest I think I never been there in Summer – clearly that does affect tourist numbers and after all – I was a tourist too.
The one thing that struck me this time around: the many statues & sculptures – there are statues everywhere – and I really mean it – house entrances are framed by them, balconies are held up by them and top of roofs with even more and then there are the ones on Charles Bridge and on any semi old building and to top it off within the churches and the Vitus Cathedral.
So if you are a sculptor or have an interest in them – Prague would be paradise for you. Than there is public transport – honestly – Auckland shame on you! Any European city can boost an efficient and affordable public transport system that combines not just buses but also trains and trams – Prague is no exception. I paid 110krona (EUR4.50) for a 24 hour ticket for the trams and buses and used it well.
In my eyes there is no need to pay for a hop on hop off bus or a guided trip around town when one is reasonable comfortable using public transport. I used Number 22 tram to get up to the Castle District (Hradcany) (saves the very steep climb) on two occasions.
Food is also one notable topic to talk about – number one rule in any tourist city – stay away from the tourist areas and it gets cheaper by the meter. Whilst on Wenzels Square the fried sausage was 75Kr a few meters further away it was only 50Kr – despite the fact that they short-changed me and I did not notice…so be careful with street vendors. However – generally the food is cheap and there is plenty of choice around – almost too much in fact.
Speaking of being careful – there is plenty of bad publicity about Prague when it comes to taxi’s and parking (if you drive there with your own car). It seems the one time a Taxi driver will NOT rip you off in some way is the exception and when it comes to parking on the street it is the same – it does happen that one parks early morning in a perfectly legal spot and when one comes back in the afternoon the wheel is clamped and a “no parking” sign has suddenly appeared.
I think this is why most hotels offer a transfer service and I made use of that as well – and it’s not overly expensive either – the trip to the Airport from my Hotel cost me NZ25 which I find reasonable for a private car – again try that Auckland.
My hotel (Design Hotel Elephant) was located opposite the main bus depot Florenc Square and so I just took the bus from Dresden to Prague (EUR24 – but it does get cheaper depending on time) and walked right across the road with my suitcase – storage no problem until check in, Staff speak English or German and the nearest tram stop is a mere 2 min away. The room was great and even by European standards very spacious and well priced – so I highly recommend that one – though I am not sure where the Elephant comes from…
When I arrived at midday the room was not ready so I went on a walk – first down to the River and along it past the old Convent of St Agnes of Bohemia (well worth a visit) and to the Old Synagogue, on to the Old Jewish Cemetery and finished back at the hotel. Except at the Convent everywhere else one had to line up and wait (and pay) to get in – a vast difference to last time I was there where we more or less just walked right in…
Once I checked into my room and had lunch I went out again – this time with the intention of walking over the Charles Bridge and on the way stop at the Town Hall and look at the Astronomical Clock. No, No, No – bad mistake – do not attempt to do this during the day at all! It’s not hundreds but thousands of people, shoving, pushing and generally trying to get a good photo in a place where one just can’t get a good photo with so many people around….
So I decided to walk to the tram stop and catch the tram up to the Castle and by then it was 4pm, I got off a stop early and walked through the wonderful gardens with great views over to the old castle walls. By the time I got to the Castle precinct itself there where no tour groups but still plenty of people around. I did go back the next morning in the hope to be the first in line at 9am… oh no again big mistake – they basically unload 30-40 buses at once – AT ONCE – and all these people want to get into the Cathedral first… imagine!
So I bought my Round A Ticket that got me into everything – and as I guessed correctly – not many people (and no tour groups) do that and so I was almost alone in the old castle and the “history of Prague castle” exhibition in the cellars – loved it.
Overall I would say Prague is well worth a second, third and fourth visit – if you have been in the past – go back and explore more. I would suggest to stay at least 3-5 days and make use of the early mornings and late afternoons to beat the crowds and use the public transport.
For those of you who have been at Leiston Abbey – there is a Premonstratensian Abbey in Prague too – Strahov Monastery and plenty of old 12th/13th century castles nearby (need a car).
The only let down was the airport – really only two food places that serve the same bad food.. heated up Panini everyone?
Other than that – I’ll be back for sure – especially since it is so close to my home town of Dresden and the bus only takes 2 hours.