They say Prague is a dream. And I decided to live out this dream in the peak July season of 2016. I took a Flixbus from Messe Nord, Berlin towards Prague. Following a 4.5 hour journey, passing through the Saxon Switzerland and Bohemian Switzerland National parks, I reached the Praha Florenc bus terminal.
Tip: If you are traveling in Europe, Flixbus offers one of the cheapest bus services in the area.
So what’s the first thing one does on getting to Prague? Head to the old town! For once, I decided that I would publicly declare myself as a tourist. I got this huge map of Prague. I must admit that I have absolutely horrible map reading skills paired up with an inability to fold it all together. So the map was a hassle after all. In the end, I decided to simply walk in the west direction, hoping to eventually hit the old town. Halfway through my journey, I met Amanda, a lovely Czech-Canadian local guide offering a free walking tour of Prague (Discover Prague Tours). I pounced on the opportunity.
While waiting for the tour to start, I and Amanda had lots to talk about. As she hailed from Toronto, and I had lived in Waterloo earlier (an hour ride from Toronto), we instantly got to our favorite topic. For all people who have lived or are living in Canada, we all have that one favorite topic: the weather! Trust me, we can talk hours and hours about it.
The free walking tour was fantastic! Being a history grad, Amanda went through a thousand years of history just under 2 hours. That’s just how I would want my history classes to be at school. We went through the old town, old town square, astronomical clock, Jewish quarter and much more. We walked past streets from the medieval era with preserved old buildings and cobblestone streets, listening to stories, while imagining the series of events that had happened on the very ground we stood on. I won’t go into too much history to spoil it for you but I would wholeheartedly recommend the free tour.
Here are a few pictures I took during the tour.
After the tour, I dropped my bags at my accommodation. Sticking to my hostel rules, I got a girl’s dorm bed at Hostel Kaiser. The hostel was clean and tidy with brand new fittings. The location was pretty central too. However, I was a bit unlucky with the room location. As the room was facing a noisy road, I had troubles sleeping in that night. Ear plugs would have been a boon!
Having dropped my bags, I went back to have lunch at a restaurant at the old town square. I was lucky enough to witness a parade with horses, carriages, and people dressed up like royals. I ain’t sure what the parade was called but I took some pics.
Tip: As the old town square is always super crowded with tourists, it’s the favorite spot for pickpockets. So guard your bags and wallets!
I was starving and was yet to decide on a place to eat. So I browsed on Foursquare and discovered Mincovna, a Czech cuisine restaurant situated right at the town square. Mincovna means “Mint”. The restaurant actually sits in place of an old mint. I ordered Goulash, a traditional east European soup. It was absolutely delicious. I would definitely recommend Mincovna.
Now that my tummy was full, I decided to finally check out the most famous tourist attraction in Prague: The Charles Bridge. Oh, what a mistake that was! I was at the right place but at the wrong time. The bridge was super crowded – like can’t-see-my-feet-on-the-ground crowded! The crowd moved at a snail pace making it impossible for me to wade past them. I couldn’t experience the place as I wanted to. I somehow made it past the bridge. My initial plan was to see the bridge, snap a few pictures and head towards the Prague Castle. However, I was so discouraged by the overcrowded scenario that I decided to skip the castle for that day and meandered in the local old town streets below it.
Among the endless small streets, I stumbled on a precious wonder: The John Lennon Wall (Wall of Free World). This wall is decorated with a myriad of Grafitti accompanied with “mostly” peaceful messages and phrases from the Beatles songs. I stood there for about 30 mins, reading the wonderful things people had to say about the world. To add to the vibe of the place, a local singer stood in the center of it all and sang “Imagine” by John Lennon.
For all John Lennon fans, I even spotted a cute John Lennon pub!
With the song on my brain, I walked back to the hostel, passing through the lesser famous yet equally wonderful bridge, running parallel with its famous counterpart, The Charles Bridge.
The last thing I remember from that evening was some handy advice given by a gentleman at a store on how to recognize the water kinds based on their color codes. An extremely helpful piece of info in Europe, as it’s easy to get lost the store’s mineral water lanes while wondering which one out of a zillion varieties, is the normal water 😀 . By the way, blue stands for non-carbonated and red stands for carbonated for a start. You can thank me later!
Next day, I woke up early in the morning and went for The Charles Bridge. And this time, it was the right place and the perfect moment! The bridge was deserted. Built in the Gothic style, over the Vlatava river, under the reign of Charles IV, the bridge is a masterpiece. I took numerous pictures and admired the thirty awe-inspiring baroque statues that guarded the bridge like guards. Once past the bridge, I made my way to the largest castle complex in the world, The Prague Castle.
It took a 20 min inclined walk, a couple of wrongly taken paths and a rigorous prodding with Google maps, to finally reach the castle complex. The complex is free to roam for visitors however the inner museums and exhibitions charge a fee. The complex is beautiful with well-tended gardens and buildings built in various architectural styles. This is mainly due to the fact that even though the initial build of the castle started around 880, many buildings have been built and added over time. Thus, making it the largest castle complex in the world. The castle is currently the official residence of the President of Czech Republic. It also holds a huge Gothic style church in the middle. Here are a few snaps I clicked.
On my way back, I crossed The Charles Bridge again, stopped at an elegant, 100-year-old Cafè Louvre for an extremely filling Czech breakfast and a delicious Apple Meringue Pie.
Post breakfast, I took a long stroll on the banks of river Vltava, this time in the opposite direction, away from the famous bridge. A few meters ahead, there it stood – that strange I-don’t-know-what building: the Dancing House. It’s unique and striking design stood out in the historic architectural surroundings. I totally fail to describe this masterpiece, so here’s a pic.
I was in a mood to hike and had heard about Petřín hill. With Google maps as my faithful friend, I eventually struggled to find the entry point for the hike but after a few wrong navigations, I was on the right path. The hike wasn’t hard. The hill was only about 130m above the river bank. However, the cobblestone trails wound around the hill, with natural flora gradually flaunting their early autumn colors.
It took me about 20 mins to get to the top, and a second to get mesmerized by thousands of beautiful roses at the rose garden.
There’s a lot of stuff one can do on Petřín hill. From finding your way through a Mirror Maze to getting to the top of the Petřín tower to enjoy a bird’s eye view of Prague. I chose to wander in the gardens while enjoying a complete view of the city. As I looked out at the orange rooftops, a picturesque city slowly bustling into life, watching it all from the top, made the time stop for just that moment. I had dreamt of seeing Prague since a long time, and there it was – nestled on the banks of River Vlatava.
I ended my trip with a delicious lunch at a Mexican restaurant called Cantina. Yup, Mexican food in the Czech Republic. I’m always up for crazy food choices 😀 . Nevertheless, Cantina is highly recommended!
So here’s my two cents about Prague:
Prague is an experience. You surely can’t experience this city by checking out a few tourist attractions. Explore the old town and get lost the winding inner streets: that’s the way to go. Prague is an extremely walkable city. I walked a lot on this trip, never took a single transit. Well, as they say, the world is best explored on foot! As I visited Prague in the peak July season, beating out the crowds was quite a challenge. My advice would be to keep the extremely touristy attractions for early mornings and explore the old streets during the day. This city is immersed in so much history, that you can never get enough of it. In short, Prague is indeed a dream.
And I got the chance to live it.