Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Prague Post

As most of you probably already know, I visited Prague Friday night through Sunday night.  I traveled by bus through the Student Agency for about 8 euros.  This was quite a good deal as the bus had leather seats, entertainment center, and free hot drinks.  Upon arrival I found my GPS was being unreliable, leading me in all the wrong places including Wencenlas Square but I found my way eventually.  I stayed in a hostel in old town, just a short walk from the Astronomical Clock.  This also turned out to be a good choice as the facilities were clean, bright, and they served breakfast (cereal and coffee).  The desk attendant was also very helpful and friendly.  I stayed in an 8 bed room and initially only shared it with 3 Canadian girls touring Europe.  They were very friendly and we ended up going out to try Czech beers and absinthe.  In terms of the hype, absinthe didn't live up to its mythical status and was more of just a hard liquor.  The bar was probably more interesting, or at least had interesting wildlife.  Either way it was an experience I can say I had.

Saturday morning I woke up as early as I could to go out and photograph.  I can honestly say I haven't felt so excited to compose photographs for years.  Everything was ornate, and you could track the history according to its architecture:  medival/gothic, renaissance, baroque, classical, modern.  The best part was, at least initially, the streets were empty.  Wait that wasn't the best part.

Dvorak walking into the music hall

The best part was when I made my way to the Vtlava River and I saw the morning sun hit St Vitus Cathedral and Prague Castle across the river on the hill.  That was breathtaking and although it was a shame that more people weren't up and awake to see it, I was glad it was nearly only myself out by the river.  I walked across the river on Charles Bridge and tried to find decent compositions, but at this point the light was harsh and it was difficult to get a decent exposure.  

I walked through the next former independent town of Prague and found a church I had not read about with a Baroque-style dome; the door was open so I walked in.  WOW.  There was a 50czk admission which included photography privileges and I was more than happy to pay it.  There wasn't a wall, ceiling or floor that wasn't gorgeous.  The church was The Church of Our Lady Victorious and it dates back to the 1500's.  I was literally in awe.  This is definitely a place to visit, and it wasn't crowded like St Vitus was.  

Afterward I walked up the hill to Prague Castle, but I was surprised to find that the cathedral wasn't in sight when I got to the top.  Prague Castle is large enough that it obstructs even the highest points of the cathedral.  I took a few shots of the exterior and interior of St Vitus but didn't pay for admission for full access because at this point it was extremely crowded.  Instead I paid the 150czk admission to the Baroque style bell tower.  By far this was the most exercise I would get during the trip.  287 steps and 90 meters later I was at the top and was rewarded with a spectacular view of the city.  

St Vitus Cathedral.  Like something out of the Lord of the Rings

Only go to the top if you aren't claustrophobic and are willing to get a serious workout

That's Charles Bridge.  The statues are worth stopping and appreciating

Got lunch at a restaurant across the square from Prague Castle and found it mostly deserted.  I wish I knew what it was called but the food and drink was excellent.  After lunch I watched the changing of the guards and started back down the hill.  Stopped by the John Lennon wall then walked down to a park off the river to relax, take in the view and hopefully get some more decent shots.  I eventually made my way back to the hostel and took a brief nap before going out with the Canadians.
John Lennon wall.

Prague has some nice parks to sit and rest or have a picnic.

Sunday I woke up early and checked out of the hostel and again walked through old town.  This time I decided to check out a green area just East of the Prague Castle area.  I found a massive park with walking paths, monuments, and more great views.

The park sits on a hill that overlooks the river and most of the old towns of Prague.  At the base of the hill is a monument to the victims of communism.  It was creepy.  

I hiked up the hill until I was sufficiently satisfied with my altitude, took shots, then moved up higher.  At the top is a chapel and an observation tower.  Following the theme of going to high places to take photos, I paid to walk to the top of the tower.  The view was nice, however wasn't worth the price of admission for photographers because the deck at the top is enclosed with plexiglass, reducing the contrast and creating glare in many cases.  I walked down the hill slightly and found an outdoor restaurant with an excellent view and tried "fried block of cheese."  Afterwards I ended up sitting on a bench and just looking at the city and people/dog watching (the Czechs love dogs).  At this point I was killing time and didn't want to spend any more money for a weekend trip so I wandered a bit more before I boarded the bus again.  Watched Canada v. Sweden in a bar with a beer and mostly just hung out.  The bus back was dissapointing as the 1730 bus was overbooked and they had to use 2 buses.  My bus did not have any of the luxuries of the other one, including a decent suspension, making the ride horrible over what seemed like a rally course between Prague and Brno.

Tips for Prague:
  • Get up early to see things before the crowds get there
  • Stay downtown so everything is within walking distance
  • Closed toed shoes
  • Keep your head on a swivel at night.  Drunk drivers and drunk stag parties are everywhere
  • Don't pay more than 35czk for 0.3L of beer.  Its gouging otherwise.
  • Read about the sites in the city beforehand so there's no need for reading when you get there and you can just soak it up

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