Important information that you need to know for this blog post. Firstly, it’s going to be a long read. Secondly, this is Maddie:
Photo is not to scale.
Maddie is one of my best friends from university and currently my favourite person because she is the first from England to visit me during my year abroad. Although I use visit in the broadest sense of the term, seeing as we actually met up in Prague. However, she is now in Ilmenau with me for a week, chipping in at the side lines with sarcastic comments about my blog writing skills. So the setting for this blog post is Prague in the Czech Republic, and the two main characters are the fabulous and ever modest Kat (aka me) and Maddie.
And so to begin. Ilmenau to Prague by train, which was my chosen method of travel, is about 7 hours, and because that sounded horrendous, I asked the lovely Manda (who you may remember from this blog post) if I could spend a night at hers in Dresden on the way to Prague. She said yes, and we spent a most excellent night watching Game of Thrones and eating pizza. Then on Tuesday 22nd October, I got on a train to Prague. The weather was beautiful as evidenced below by my terrible photography, but as soon as we crossed the Czech border, mist descended. Which was awesome, because that was kinda what I expected from the Czech Republic.
The Czech republic.
The first port of call when I arrived in Prague was an ATM as my bank in Ilmenau told me they didn’t exchange euros for Czech Koruna (or Corona as me and Maddie spent most of the time calling them) and that I should just get money out when I got there. Which was all well and good, until I had to buy a metro ticket and the machine did not take notes. So I ended up paying for a 30 corona drink with a 1000 corona note, which actually went better than I expected, before being able to brave the Prague metro and tram systems. Meanwhile, Maddie was merrily making her way to Prague by way of a plane and a taxi, having no problems whatsoever.
Our hostel was called Sir Toby’s, and despite the crumbly looking exterior, it was really decent inside. I’d never stayed in a hostel before, so didn’t really know what to expect, though the fact that hostels have to advertise the fact that they have hot showers is a little off putting. However, Sir Toby’s was great. We were in a 12 bed female only dorm, with shared bathroom facilities. There was also a pub and a kitchen downstairs, where, in the latter, we made cups of tea and fulfilled our national stereotype. Once we’d claimed beds and abandoned our luggage, we headed out into Prague.
I’d decided that having been on the tram for all of 5 minutes by myself that I knew all about the tram system. 15 minutes later and in the wrong part of town I was proved very wrong. We’d been aiming for the centre of town and instead ended up on a hill outside of the city centre, somewhere vaguely ish near Prague castle. We managed to wander back the direction the tram had come from and found ourselves on a hill, looking over the city.
From this high up Prague reminded me of Florence.
The view was breathtaking all the way down into the city, though we got highly distracted by the shops once we neared the centre. These shops included a shop selling absinthe ice cream, a shop selling gingerbread houses and a shop with a troll outside it. Turns out we’re very easily distracted. We ended up in a very touristy place for lunch, and while we did not have Czech food, we did have Czech beer, having being persuaded by the waiter’s excellent sales patter of ‘what do you want to drink? Beer? You should have beer.’
The beer was almost as big as Maddie.
Wandering through the town took us a long time because I kept stopping to take pictures of pretty buildings and Maddie kept stopping to take pictures of Starbucks. We found the Charles Bridge almost by accident and took a really long time to cross it because a) it’s really long b) there were lots of statues to take pictures of, and c) the birds that were perched on the heads of the statues greatly amused us. We ended up crossing the Charles Bridge many more times, but this first time definitely took the longest. Continuing on from the bridge we made our way in what we thought was the direction of the Old Town Square. Then, fearing we were lost, asked for directions, only to find it was round the next corner. The Old Town Square was huge and is home to one of Prague’s most famous attractions – the Astronomical Clock. It was beautiful and I have many pictures of it, as well as a video of the procession of the apostles that occurs every hour. We took the opportunity to sample some Czech food, which literally translates as spiralled potatoes. They were crisps on a stick. Delicious, but strange.
I’m on a bridge, Charlie!
The astronomical clock in all its beauty.
A fabulous photo of me and Maddie with the spiraly potatoes.
After crisps we then sampled hot chocolate which again was delicious, though it did not taste like hot chocolate. Wandering further through the town, we stumbled across the Powder Gate. The Powder Gate (or Powder Tower, according to Wikipedia) is one of the original city gates and was used to store gunpowder, hence the name. Maddie wins on this round, because I thought it meant face powder.
We headed to the ghost and legends of Prague Museum where we bought a joint ticket which meant we could go to the alchemy museum the next day. This will prove relevant (and hilarious) later, so remember this fact. The museum wasn’t massively scary although it turns out that Prague ghosts have really specific ways of being released from their ghost state. Also, I was kinda scared because I am a wuss but it was fine because Maddie (who is half my size) protected me. After our excursion to the realm of the supernatural, we headed to a restaurant for food. We had boar goulash and potato pancakes, which was super delicious, and made better by the shots of Becherovka that the waitress persuaded us to have. We also ended up with musical accompaniment, though we were both surprised when the lead violinist asked us if ‘the two beautiful ladies would like a song? Sorry, two beautiful girls.’ The two beautiful girls declined, but that pretty much made my evening.
Our second day began with pastries from the corner shop which were fantastic, and then we got on the right tram to Prague castle. After wandering through some very autumnal gardens with an amazing view over the city, we found the castle. The part that stands out is St Vitus’ Cathedral, which is very gothic and impressive, but the whole castle complex was cool.
St Vitus’ Cathedral within the castle complex.
Our tickets let us into St Vitus’ cathedral, St George’s basilica and Golden Lane. The cathedral was hugely impressive, especially the stained glass window designed by Alfons Mucha. There was also a huge, over the top, silver tomb of someone important, and I’ve come to the conclusion that when I die, that’s what I want. Nothing else will suffice. St George’s basilica was a little bit of a let down after the majesty of St Vitus’. Golden Lane, however, was really cool. It’s a lane of medieval houses, which are now shops. But we got to try firing a crossbow (I was a better shot than Maddie but neither of us managed to hit the target), and we found the house that Kafka lived in for 2 years, and got very excited about the display of armour.
After trying Grog, which I hadn’t realised existed outside of pirate books, we headed to a restaurant in the castle. We ordered soup in bread and potato with bacon, which were way better than they sounded. We sat outside despite the temperature dropping and got very excited about the fact that there were blankets that we could use. At one point we could hear ethereal music and it turned out to be a procession of singing nuns and believers, passing through the courtyard. I was pretty much ready to sleep by this point, but we continued onwards, making our way to the Alchemy Museum.
The potato and bacon thing.
Soup in bread – way more delicious than it sounds.
If you remember earlier, I said we’d bought a joint ticket to the Ghost Museum and the Alchemy Museum. Well, when we rocked up to the Alchemy Museum, the guy who’d been working at the Ghost Museum was now at the Alchemy Museum. He was a little standoffish, but I figured he didn’t like his job, or it had been a long day, or something. He explained that we could look round the two rooms next to entrance by ourselves, but he’d have to take us up to Kelly’s Tower in a bit. Which he did, along with a Czech family. He told us to read the boards about John Dee and Edward Kelly while he explained the history to the Czech family, as they had a little boy, who would never have read all that information. When he’d done and turned to us, he half-heartedly started to tell us about the alchemist John Dee, and how there’s a theory that Shakespere’s lost years were spent in Prague with Dee and Kelly. He then told us that if we ever went to London, that we could see a Shakespeare play in the Globe. We went ‘yes, we know,’ Maddie even going as far as to say she was from London. At which point his whole demeanour changed.
He’d thought we were American. Us. With Maddie who at her poshest sounds like the Queen, and me, who couldn’t get more Midlands if I tried. Soon as he found out we were English he was all smiles and jokes. And also commented that he thought we might not be American as we’d read all the information – apparently something American visitors never do.
The alchemy museum was really interesting. Apparently Rudolf II was very interested in alchemy, and as he resided in Prague, alchemists flocked to the city. Kelly’s Tower was set out as an alchemist’s workshop, which meant an awful lot of flasks and furnaces. We learnt that England has no trees because we used them all to build ships and that the royals name their children based on their astrological charts. Gotta say, I took this all with a pinch of a salt, mainly because I’m pretty sure England has trees. I mean, there were trees when I left… We ended our visit in the pub attached to the Museum, where we tried an Elixir. Which was pretty much a strong shot, served in a three pronged glass, alongside a glass of blackcurrant syrup.
Maddie was super impressed.
Following on from this we headed to the Reduta Jazz Club to book tickets for the next night, because high on our list of priorities was going to a jazz club. Tickets successfully booked, we made our way to a bar recommended by my guidebook, called Hemmingway. It was all dark leather and tea lights. It even had bar rules, which included not talking too loudly, not disturbing people you didn’t know, and if you wanted to buy someone a drink, you had to ask the bartender to find out if they were interested first. All in all, I felt massively underdressed but it was fantastic. We ordered absinthe, which came with a crystal canteen of water, and a sugar cube to be dissolved by the water into the absinthe. We also had a cocktail each, and as mine was tea flavoured it came in a tea cup with a cookie. Maddie was very jealous of my cookie, but her drink did come with a floppy disk coaster.
The awkward photo to end all awkward photos.
Much later and a little bit giggly, we headed back to the Old Town Square in search of food, and managed to find a restaurant we could afford that looked out at the astronomical clock, which did its hourly routine about ten minutes after we’d sat down.
The third day we ventured into the Jewish Quarter. We visited the Pinkas Synagogue, which is inscribed with the names of the Czech Jews who died during the Holocaust, the Old Jewish Cemetery, which undulates because they had to bury bodies on top of each other as they were only allowed to bury Jews in that one graveyard, and the Old-New Synagogue, which supposedly has a golem stored in the attic. We also visited the Ceremonial Hall, which explained the process of burial and mourning in the Jewish community. Amidst the solemnity of the visits, there was also a highly amusing moment where the lady on ticket duty tried to give us skull caps before realising we weren’t male.
The Jewish cemetery was beautiful, especially with the falling leaves.
After our cultural segment of the day, we headed to the Ice Pub Prague, which is, unsurprisingly, a bar made of ice. We got given ponchos and a free drink in an ice glass, and spent our half hour in there laughing at how ridiculous it was, given that they were blaring dance music but there were only four of us in there. Following our venture into the cold, we decided that food was very much the order of the day. We went to a restaurant called Lokal, which is modelled on an old beer hall and doesn’t have English on the menu. Thankfully, the waitress took pity on us and found English copies of the menu. With the food we ordered beer, but it turns out what we ordered was basically a pint that was mainly head – the idea being that you drink the whole thing very fast. Luckily, the bartender came over to explain and we swapped our order to a “normal” beer, and drank it far more leisurely. We also ordered raspberry soda which was the best drink I think I’ve ever had.
Me and Maddie all bundled up in our duvet like ponchos.
Meandering along the Charles Bridge for the millionth time was very pleasant, and then we went to the biggest English bookshop in Prague, because if there’s one shop you can’t keep me and Maddie out of, it’s an English bookshop. I ended up buying the second Game of Thrones book and Fantastic Mr Fox; the former for me, and the latter for the kids that I tutor. There was a surprisingly good collection of books there, and I think we both decided that we could definitely live in Prague, especially when we could still get English books easily.
For the first time, we went back to the hostel with every intention of going out again. We found Wenceslas Square by accident, and ended up in the worst restaurant of the holiday. The food was cold, and it took them forever to serve us. And then they were a little menacing about a tip. Needless to say, we were less than impressed, but when we got to the jazz club, our moods were greatly improved.
We’d dressed up as much as we could, because we felt it was appropriate. When we walked in, we did get some weird looks, but I think that was more to do with the fact that we’d booked seats and were under the age of fifty. Ah well. The band we saw was not the band that was meant to be there, but the one we saw were still really good. They were a John Coltrane tribute band, and compromised of two saxophones, a bass, a piano and a drum set. For the second half of the set, there was also a trumpet. It was just a lot of fun to sit in a jazz club, drinking cocktails, dressed in our finery.
Our journey back to the hostel was a little interesting, as we ended up having to get the night tram, which took a different route to the normal tram we’d got back every other night. It wasn’t until we ended up at the Prague’s second railway station that we realised we weren’t where we thought we were. Happily, as I’d looked at the directions to the hostel a million and one times on the way to Prague, I knew that you could walk to the hostel from the second railway station. Of course, we had to study the map quite hard to figure out where we were, but we made it. And quite easily as well. Go us and our Duke of Edinburgh training.
Our final day we used the metro for the first time and navigated it expertly, thanks to Maddie. Dropping off our suitcases at the railway station was an excellent idea, as dragging them round for the whole day would have been horrendous what with the crowds. We went to see the Lennon Wall, which, during the communist regime was a wall of graffiti against communism, and is now a mass of formless graffiti.
The John Lennon wall was hugely colourful.
We visited a pub for the last time, where I had dark beer, which was way better than light beer, and Maddie had hot honey brandy, which smelt like Christmas in a cup. The best thing about the pub was that the outside seats had fake fur pelts on them as well as blankets. We were definitely fans of the idea of sitting outside with blankets. Then as part of a tradition that I’m sure Dad will not be happy about, we added padlocks to the many adorning a bridge under the Charles Bridge.
So many padlocks.
Lunch was at an art nouveau esque café that we’d kept passing and remarked on more than once, where we had goulash for the last time, as well as cucumber lemonade for me. We then visited shops and spent the last of our money, before going into a church which we’d nicknamed the fairy tale towers, on account of how the spires looked at night.
One of my favourite things about Prague.
With an only an hour to go before we needed to head to the railway station, we sat in the Old Town Square with a cup of hot honey wine each, taking in the atmosphere. Not even the 7 hour long train journey that was facing us could stop us loving Prague.
I had a fabulous time in Prague. Obviously the company helped, but the city really is magical. It’s so beautiful, and as Maddie said, the person who came up with the idea of the dreaming spires of Oxford had never been to Prague. We’re also pretty sure that there’s something in the water, because there were so many musically talented buskers, in particular Jazz and Dixieland bands. I would go back in a heartbeat. I’d have no qualms about living there, in fact, by the end of the holiday we were prague-tically ready to move in. It was just amazing. There really aren’t enough adjectives to describe it. And I’m not sure my photographs do it justice.