Czeching out Prague
Last weekend, an old uni friend, Anna, and I headed to Prague which, for both us, was the first time we’ve been to Eastern Europe. With my flight being only 55 minutes long and hers being just about 2 hours, I had an hour wait in the airport reading my newly purchased “Eastern Europe” phrase book by Lonely Planet (I braved to say Czech for “thank you” about 5 times during the weekend and always got either “you’re welcome” in English, or nothing. At least I tried!).
With pretty much every person around me speaking Czech, it was clear I was in a foreign country. I guess that does sound a little bit strange, but when you look on a map and notice that there are actually places in Germany more eastern than Prague, I wasn’t expecting a huge difference. It was also incredibly warm. By incredibly warm I mean around 15 degrees Celsius, but still – it isn’t what I was expecting.
When Anna finally arrived, in jumper, jeans and big boots, the first thing she exclaimed was: “Why is it so warm?!” – it seems she, too, wasn’t expecting the “heat”. After working out the travel ticket system (you apparently have to buy a ‘half ticket’ for any suitcases, which – as the name suggests – costs half the price of a normal ticket). We worked out it was around 50p, so we decided not to risk it and get one each, along with our actual ticket which cost around a pound.
After checking into our hotel, it was around 5pm, so we made our way to the river to see what we could find. Lo and behold – there were a few boats selling beer, food, and other delicious-looking things, so we decided on a Czech beer and a long chat, as it’s been a while since we last saw each other. After that, we went all-out tourist and made our way to a tourist square where big, burly men were trying to entice tourists to their restaurants. We didn’t need enticing as our stomachs were grumbling away, and we treated ourselves to a huge meat platter and a couple of beers each. In total, it cost us 18€ each. Not bad! We weren’t quite ready for bed just yet, so we had a beer at U Tří růží (in English “The Three Roses” – I think…) which brews its own beer. On the way back to the hotel, the heavens opened and we got truly drenched – not a good sign for the start of a 4-day city break!
On our first full day, Friday, we first headed to the old town to have a brief look around. We came across the astronomical clock, which we later found out is apparently the second most disappointing tourist attraction in Europe. Lovely! (Know what the first one apparently is?*) And, to be honest, on the hour and every hour there was a “show” and it really isn’t that impressive. We then made our way promptly to the west of the river (the city centre is on the east side). We went up to the castle and happened to find ourselves there three minutes before the changing of the guards ceremony took place. Though it was heaving with people and we couldn’t see a great deal, so we decided to go and visit the cathedral we could see standing behind the castle. Only, we couldn’t quite work out how to get there. A good hour-and-a-half later, after taking the long way round (though because of that we did see the royal gardens), we made it to the St. Vitus Cathedral which was pretty spectacular inside!
In the evening, we went on the app “Jodel”, which is basically the German version of “Yik Yak” where we asked for recommendations for a quiet beer, and a German guy, Felix, who is currently living in Prague, recommended U Flecků, which was pretty much very similar to a traditional German pub – every 5 minutes a guy came round asking if you want another beer, and another guy came round asking if you want a Schnapps. There were also some pretty delicious-looking food, but we decided against it as we’d already eaten (though on the way back to the hotel, Felix showed us a little pizza place – 1€ for a huge slice, and you can put as much as garlic oil on it as you want. We really stank the next day).
On Saturday we decided to go on a free walking tour, and after a mini panic (because Anna decided to wait until we got there at the tour starting time to announce the fact that you’re supposed to be at the meeting point 15 minutes before the tour starts…) we found the tour guide and began our tour. We did the tour with SANDEMANNs New Europe, and had a really nice girl as our tour guide who was from Prague, meaning she had lots of interesting stories from her childhood and her parents’ pasts. She also told us that around 70-80% of the population is atheist, which was a huge shock, yet a nice surprise. She also tried to get us to make the most difficult noise in the Czech language – say the ‘sh’ in ‘pleasure’ whilst rolling your ‘r’ like in Spanish. Apparently, not even all Czechs can do it, so it’s not the end of the world if you can’t either if you want to learn the language!
After the tour, it was around 2pm and the sun was shining down on us (despite us thinking that we were going to have rubbish weather), so we decided to go for another beer on the boat we went to on the first night, and then decide what we were going to do there. Well, 5 hours later, and about 6 beers later each, plus chicken skewers and pizza, we finally made the decision to leave the boat. The initial plan was to go on a pub crawl with an organised group, but seen as Sunday was going to be our last full day and that we shouldn’t really spend it hungover, we decided against it, and just went for a quiet drink in a bar we found towards the river. After that, on our way home, we decided to pig out (I blame the beer) on this ice cream donut thing that everybody was eating. We were told by our tour guide that it has only been popular for a few years in Prague and that it actually came from Hungary, but hey – we were happy and it was delicious!
On our last day, we had pretty much ticked everything off our list of things to see and do. We headed to the river again where part of the marathon was taking place, and after it happened yet again that we saw something, this time in the south of the city, where we wanted to go to but couldn’t quite work out how to get to it (was it just us or does Prague like to tease you like that?!), we finally made it there and had a nice view of the city.
After a stroll around and some lunch in a little cafe, and after the weather teased us with a bit of rain then bright sunshine again, we headed to the north of the river to a beer garden that we were told about by our tour guide. It’s called Letná Beer Garden and is found in, surprise surprise, the Letná park. We had an absolutely amazing view of the city from way up in the hills where the beer garden is located, and the beer cost just 1,80€ each!
After that, we took a stroll through the park, saw the metronome which is made to remind people of the times of communism in the country, and then we made our way down and found ourselves, again, on the boat. It was a really good boat! And if you’re interested, it’s called Lodeteria and was a really cool place to sit and enjoy the sun and a beer or two, with also the option to get some food. Afterwards, with it being our last night and us realising we were really under budget, we decided to go back to U Flecku and splash out on beers and traditional Czech food – Gulasch! Then, it was time to head back to our hotel, and we left the next day in the morning.
Generally, I was really impressed by Prague, yet I couldn’t help thinking, despite my first impressions in the airport, that it was pretty much like Germany, apart from the fact that they spoke Czech and not German. The traditional food was very similar (i.e. meat, meat, cabbage and meat), and in Prague they are apparently also big beer lovers, which you could tell straight away. It is technically in Eastern Europe, but I didn’t really get the feel of Eastern Europe – I haven’t been to Eastern Europe before, apart from Prague, as I mentioned above, but it definitely had a Western Europe feel to it.
The three full days we had were more than enough to see the main parts of the city, hence why we also managed a 5-hour sit-down on the boat drinking beer whilst still managing to see everything that we wanted to see! So Prague is definitely the perfect city for a short weekend break if you fancy doing a bit of exploring in Europe! I also took 300€ worth of Czech Koruna, and I ended up coming back with 150€ – we weren’t exactly spendthrifts during our trip, but we weren’t careful with our money, either. So go to Prague if you want a short, cheap weekend away! I’m happy to help with any other recommendations for a short weekend trip away, as the above was just a summary of our long weekend there.
*Apparently, the first most disappointing tourist attraction in Europe is the Mona Lisa. No surprises there, really!