Prague: Pretty and Pretty Odd

If I learned anything from my trip to Prague, it’s that weird things happen in Prague. I’m not going to list them all right now, because that’s no fun. You’ll have to read about the normal things I did as well to hear about the weird things.

Before we even left Budapest though, things got interesting. On the way to the bus station with my travel companions, Alyssa and Anum, we encountered the end of a Hungarian soccer game. As we were leaving the metro, floods of people were trying to enter while cheering “Magyarország!” (“Hungary” in Hungarian) and drunkenly waving flags; it was like being a salmon swimming upstream. As we waited for the late bus to arrive we gawked at all the cute Hungarian guys walking by and wondered where they’d been this whole time we’d been in Budapest so far. We quickly decided that we needed to attend a game soon.

The bus eventually arrived and we set off on our seven hour overnight journey to the Czech Republic. After semi-successfully attempting to sleep while sitting upright for the whole ride, we arrived to the Prague Florenc bus station at 6:45 am. Being frugalistas, we decided to take the metro to our hostel rather than take a taxi. Well, this took a while. First we got lost trying to find the metro, even though it was right next to the bus station. Then we found the ticket machine but it only took coins and we only had large bills. Then we tried to get change by buying a pastry from the bakery in the metro station. Anum and I got change, but they wouldn’t give Alyssa change (weird). So we went back up to the bus station to ask another bakery and a Burger King to give us change for our bills; the bakery gave me change but refused Alyssa again. We still didn’t have enough change for all of us, so we decided to try the convenience store. Turns out you could just buy metro tickets at the counter there… who knew.

After easily navigating the metro once we hopped on (even with a transfer… we are metro pros after living in Chicago), we got off at the station near our hostel. Now was the matter of walking to the hostel. After a little wandering in the wrong direction and asking a police officer for directions, we finally found our hostel. We dropped our bags off at Hostel Santini and set off for the Old Town Square. On the way there a woman literally stuck her tongue out at Alyssa… like I said, Prague is odd.

The St. Charles Bridge - you can see the Prague Castle in the distance as well
The St. Charles Bridge – you can see the Prague Castle in the distance as well

We looked for a some inexpensive brunch and settled on a James Bond themed cafe, aptly called Bond Cafe. It was actually pretty good and even had soy milk, which is hard to find at coffee shops in Europe. While waiting for our tour to start we saw a guy holding a sign for a mathematicians tour. No one showed up for his tour and he walked away quite dejectedly… it was a sad sight. Anyways, fueled by food we went on a free three hour walking tour of the Old Town, New Town, and the Jewish Quarter. Free three hour tour? Sound too good to be true? It kinda is. You just tip the guide at the end, which really is a good deal. But they know how to hook you in by telling you all about their other tours and events that cost money. We ended up buying a tour for the next day and a pub crawl for that night. But Prague is a fairly cheap city and the tour prices reflected that, so I can’t complain. Despite not dressing warm enough, the tour guide was great and I learned a lot about the history of the city.

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The huge statue at the center of Old Town Square

After the tour we stopped at a Czech place for lunch and got dumplings with meat and lemon cranberry sauce; sounds weird but I liked it. Then again, I like most food. I bought a Pilsner beer to drink because in Prague beer is cheaper than water. Also turns out that you can smoke in restaurants which was odd for us because in the US you can hardly smoke anywhere. As one of my friends put it recently, most Europeans didn’t get the memo that cigarettes can kill you. One nice thing about restaurants in Prague is that the service is better than Budapest and they are more willing to split checks. During our time in Prague, a waitress surprisingly asked how our meal was after we got our food; that doesn’t happen often in Europe.

After lunch we walked back to the Old Town Square to see the astronomical clock that chimes every hour and does a little thing where some figures move around and make some noises. A huge crowd gathers every hour even though it lasts about 30 seconds and is very underwhelming. But the clock is over 600 years old so you have to appreciate the historical value.

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The 600 year-old astronomical clock

Cold and tired from walking all day on little sleep we went back to the hostel for a quick nap. On the way back we noticed a woman peeing between two cars in the street… Prague, am I right? A quick note on the layout of Prague: I found it to be very similar to Budapest; two sides are separated by a river. The flat, busier side features the Old Town, New Town, and Jewish Quarter (like Pest in Budapest). The other side, featuring the Lesser Town (where our hostel was) is much hillier and more historical (like Buda in Budapest).

The hostel elevator was funny because it played odd elevator music, which seemed unnecessary for such a short building. We shared an eight person room with lockers for our bags; it was pretty nice and the beds were insanely comfy. After a very cold nap I asked the hostel receptionist Alfonso if it was possible to turn up the heat in the room. Alfonso informed me that Prague still runs on an old communist heating system where the city decides when to turn on the heat for the whole city. So basically there was nothing they could to about the temperature. This led me to do something I said I wouldn’t do while in Europe… I went to Starbucks. Cold, tired, frustrated by tiny ass coffee cups in Europe, and in need of some fall vibes (Europe doesn’t understand fall like America does), I ordered a pumpkin spice latte. It was just what I needed.

After that indulgence we went to Bar Bar, which is a restaurant recommended by a travel book I borrowed from a friend. I paid only $10 for some tea with huge chunks of fresh ginger and oranges, a mixed green salad, and a delicious duck crepe. After dinner my day was made when I saw someone fall off a Segway. There are Segways everywhere in Prague so watch where you are going or you might walk into one. Also, if you are a runner and think you might fit in a run while visiting Prague – forget about it. Every single street and sidewalk is cobblestone so you’d probably end up rolling your ankle.

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My duck crepe

Anyways, we spent the rest of the night on a pub crawl, which I won’t go into too many details about but let’s just say it was an interesting night. We met an Australian and some fellow Americans, one of which tried convincing us that he founded Yik Yak, which we later fact-checked and found to be false. It ended up being a fun yet exhausting night. Prague definitely has a good nightlife scene if that’s what you’re looking for.

We woke up in the morning after only a few hours of sleep and met our nice hostel roommates, two buddies traveling together, a German guy and a Finnish guy. We decided to walk around with them in the morning and saw the Strahov Monastery and some sights near the Charles Bridge. After coffee and pastries with them, we parted ways and met up for our tour of the Prague Castle area. It was another three hour walking tour involving the Prague Castle, St. Vitus Cathedral, watching the changing of the guards, and some nice views of the entire city. That day was even colder than the day before, so a hot chocolate break in the middle of the tour was much needed. The castle and cathedral were beautiful. We also saw a protestor who has been protesting every day outside the castle for 6 years.

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This man has been protesting here for over 2259 days straight
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St. Vitus Cathedral
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Me, Alyssa, and Anum at the view from the Prague Castle

After the tour we met up with our Australian friend from the day before for dinner. I tried Czech goulash, which is much different than Hungarian goulash. Hungarian goulash is more of a broth-like soup and Czech goulash is a thick sauce poured over big slices of dumplings. I also had mulled wine, which we frequently saw around Prague; it is hot spiced wine – 7/10 would recommend. The restaurant was right on the Old Town Square so we could see street performers while we ate outside. There are tons of street performers in Prague – some good and some plain old creepy. One guy was dressed as a baby in a stroller and made baby noises, which was the most degrading thing I have ever seen a grown man do to himself… I really didn’t like looking at that guy. I have a picture but I won’t post it on here because I don’t want to traumatize you all.

After dinner we met up with some of the Americans from the night before for Nutella filled chimney cakes. I call them chimney cakes because they have them in Hungary too but without Nutella. The Hungarian name is Kürtőskalács and the Czech name is Trdelník but they are literally the same thing. After that we walked across the Charles Bridge, which is very pretty in the evening before heading back to our hostel for the night.

Our last day in Prague may have been my favorite day even though it was the shortest. We checked out of our hostel then got brunch at a nearby café. I ordered the American breakfast which was honestly delicious, however in my defense it had potato pancakes which aren’t very American. We then set off to find the John Lennon wall, which proved hard to find but on the way we saw some giant baby sculptures… so success? Once we found the wall we took some pictures and I enjoyed the vibes provided by the guy playing guitar and singing Beatles songs of course. The story behind the wall is quite interesting because John Lennon never actually went to Prague during his lifetime. Rather, the wall has represented ideas of love and peace since the 80s when Czechoslovakia was under communist rule and is still constantly changing. It was also finally sunny outside; the last two days had been so cold and cloudy that the sun was an instant mood-booster. A jazz band playing near the end of the Charles Bridge provided some more good vibes so I started to dance in the street a little while Alyssa and Anum pretended not to know me.

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Me and a baby
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Locks near the John Lennon wall
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This kid was too cute not to take a picture of
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Anum, Alyssa, and I at the John Lennon wall

We walked back up to the Strahov Monastery we went to the day before, however this time we visited the library. The two rooms inside are stunning and worth the small entrance fee. Interestingly, the monastery has a brewery so I bought a bottle of beer to go and we headed back to our hostel to grab our bags. We took the metro to the bus station then hopped on the bus at 3:30 for our seven hour ride home. I lost my voice in Prague (literally), but gained some new friends and memories.

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The Strahov Library
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Another room of the Strahov Library

If history, beer, street performers, pubs, and an impossible language are your thing, then head on over to Prague. There is lots to see and lots of fun to be had in Prague, not to mention at a cheap price. As the Czech people say for both hello and goodbye, Ahoy!

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