It is impossible to miss the transition from neighboring Germany to Prague even in the darkness of the night. We were suddenly transported to a somewhat magical land, the kinds you only read about in fairytales, complete with cobbled streets, a hundred spires, Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance churches, the clip clop of horse hoofs and the criss cross network of trams.
As we rolled our suitcases down the cobbled streets, we found ourselves lost at 10:30 pm in a completely new city. In the hope of saving some money, we had decided to take the train instead of hailing a cab and in the process we had completely mixed up on the routes. The city bore a deserted look, thanks to the constant rains. I must admit the fear of getting mugged passed my brain a million times over. But we were lucky to meet two really kind people who showed us the way, even as sheer laziness and exhaustion of a long journey encouraged us to skip buying tram tickets. It went down in my diary as the first international law I had ever broken.
While in Prague its best to stay around Mala Strana. This district located on the west bank of the River Vltava is just a short walk from the Charles Bridge, the Prague Castle as well as the Old Town Square. I’d strongly recommend Hotel Waldstein, if you’re not looking to stay at a hostel and desire a budget accommodation at the same time(read my review http://goo.gl/oI7H6i).
The walk up to the Charles Bridge is filled with thai massage parlours , tacky souvenir shops selling magnets, over priced wooden puppets, and a number of cafes serving what could be any possible cuisine in the world. However keeping aside this touristy bit, once you arrive at the Charles Bridge, you realize that the hype surrounding it is very real. The Bridge in itself is bustling with hordes of people during the day, the ones holding selfie sticks are both amusing and annoying at the same time. One is never lucky enough to get a clear frame with the statues alone. To avoid crowds its best to visit early in the morning or later at night, as the moonlight lights up the statues and the entire town is illuminated.
A straight walk across the Charles Bridge leads you to the Old Town of Prague. The alleys that lead to the Old Town Square are lined up with shops. There are tiny designer boutiques, the usual souvenir shops and just as is the case with any town in the world today, shops that sell goods made in China. It is best to just avoid the pestering shopkeepers greeting you with a ‘Namaste’, and walk past them straight into the Old Town Square of Prague, which houses the Astronomical Clock Tower, the Jan Hus Memorial and the Tyn Cathedral. Do take the lift to the top of the Astronomical Clock Tower, which offers a panoramic view of Prague city. The fee to get to the top is about £4 and is worth every bit of it, particularly if it is a bright sunny day. The traditional red roofs of the houses are a sheer treat to the eye.
We never really got enough of walking across the Charles Bridge. We did not really count the number of times we walked across the bridge, but if I were taking a conservative estimate, I would put the number at 5. If you have time in hand, try climbing down the steps, which lead you underneath the bridge and you will come across a couple of tiny boutique shops with really interesting wares. On my way back after dinner, I picked up a warm Hagen Dazs cookie. The guy at the counter was generous enough to offer me the biggest one that was there on display. Yes, nothing particularly Czech about it, but, being a vegetarian allowed me only a few eating options to choose from, other than the regular Italian fare. Even though most websites and books do not describe the Czech people as a friendly lot, my experience in the limited time I spent in their capital city was just the opposite.
I spent the evening writing postcards to friends and family, even printed one of those touristy post cards at the photo booth at the Clock Tower, to send back home to my nephew. This is one activity that I enjoy most about travelling. I know my mother has stored every letter, every postcard I have written to her in the past.
The Prague post office is located right in the heart of Mala Strana. After a short trip to the Post Office post breakfast the next morning, we headed up straight to the Prague Castle. The Prague Castle is a scenic uphill walk, ending at the St Vitus Cathedral. The castle offers the most extensive view of Prague city. Avoid the people dressed in period costumes and move straight into the Cathedral. The stained glass windows and Gothic architecture will not disappoint one bit. It is best to visit the Prague Castle later in the afternoon with the crowds of enthusiastic tourists clearing up by then.
With a few hours to spare still, before I boarded the bus to Salzburg, I decided to visit the Kafka Museum, located at the foot of the Charles Bridge. I had never read any of Kafka’s works before this but I decided to visit it purely on the basis of a recommendation. I enjoyed the experience, precisely because I am a lover of old letters, records and I was at a point in my life where I identified much with what Kafka wrote about. The museum however is not for everyone. If you are not a person who enjoys going through old records or learning about people’s lives, you’d much rather enjoy a beer at one of the café’s around. The Kafka museum charges a fee. However, as is the case with all museums in Europe, a Student ID Card can get you a good discount.
The city of Prague is like a maze of sorts. My 36 hours there were not enough to experience or document some very essential bits of it. But, some things are better left for next time. Every street, every alley and every walk way in Prague leads somewhere. The one travel rule I’d ask everyone to reverse here is, to avoid using any guide maps. The best way to explore Prague is to venture out, talk to people, set your eye on someone and merely follow them around. That you will unravel some part of history in the process is guaranteed.