This morning we headed to Prague by train. We had originally wanted to drive but you cannot rent a car in Austria and drop it off in Czech Republic. You would have thought that would be possible since they are all part of the EU but after trying at least 6 rental car companies and getting the same story I gave up and we decided to do it by train instead.
The train trip takes just over 4 hours and we discovered later in the day (when we arrived in Prague) that Vienna was the first city to connect to Prague by train in 1870. The train was fully booked (as they announced on the platform at Wien Hauptbahnhof but fortunately I know you must always make a reservation on European trains otherwise there is a good chance you won’t be able to get onto the train you hoping to take. The train trip was pretty uneventful (as you would hope). The only annoying thing was that an Australian couple and an American couple ended up together in a 4-seat and didn’t stop talking at the top of the voices the whole 4-hours. I ended up watching TV shows on my iPad just to block out the constant talking. Note to self: book the quiet carriage next time.
We arrived in Prague at 3pm and decided to walk to the hotel from the station. Not a particularly long walk and we thought given we had sat for 4 hours it would do us some good. The only thing we didn’t think about are the cobblestones for both roads and pavements which does not facilitate dragging a piece of luggage behind you. The other annoying thing about Czech Republic is that they are not part of the Euro so you have to get separate money (Koruna) because they rip you off otherwise on the exchange rate from Euros. From a little research it seems they have been promising to join the Euro since 2007 and now the earliest likely date is 2020 but that even seems unlikely. The Czech people are seriously against joining the Euro now as general opinion in the country seems to be that the EU won’t survive. More than 70% of the population believing taking the Euro to be a bad idea.
We are staying at the President Hotel (https://www.hotelpresident.cz/). It doesn’t look particularly impressive from the outside (looks like a 1960s building – building in the middle of the photo) but it is on the river (Vltava River). However, the rooms are quite nice and we have a view over the river the red roofs on the left. Most importantly they have a Nespresso machine in the room.
At 5pm we headed out to walk around Prague and walked up to the Old Town Square. The walk there dispelled any notions that Communism survived in any shape or form. The road to the square has shops such as Prada, Gucci, Hugo Boss etc etc and also included a Rolls Royce dealership. There was also a Ferrari parked in the road. The square itself was teeming with people (aka tourists). We had no feel for the city at all and we are pretty poor at preparing in advance for what we want to see. We arrive in a city and then we do some research. We decided to get a better view of the city we should do a short (1-hour) city bus tour and as one left at 5:30pm we took that one hoping it would give us some insight and perspective into the city. While we did understand where everything was after the hour, I had a distinct lack of connection to the city at all. None of the people mentioned on the city tour meant anything to me and the none of the buildings pointed out were famous in their own right or had special significance to me. It seems my feeling was also how at least H & S felt too (H said she was trying not to be too judgemental and hadn’t said anything; S said he had used the same words when describing the city to his girlfriend).
It is quite a strange feeling for me because I have traveled many places already in my life and never felt like this before. The buildings are beautiful but I just don’t feel any form of connection to the city at all. The fact we don’t understand any of the language probably doesn’t help either. At least in Austria I can understand what people are saying and I can read and pronounce the words but here in Czech Republic I can’t do any of those things. It’s making me wonder whether I would enjoy any of the Eastern European cities/countries (I guess I won’t know until we try somewhere else).
For dinner tonight we went to a Czech restaurant/pub which was recommended to us by a friend who grew up in Prague but now lives in Cape Town. It was called U Fleku (http://en.ufleku.cz/). It looked closed when we arrived but we discovered that everyone was sitting in the courtyard at the back and it was buzzing and busy. Clearly very popular with locals and tourists. They only serve one type of beer (which was rated 92 out of 100). It is a special beer only produced in Czech Republic and Germany and this particular one is rated the 7th best in the world (it was pretty good). I would describe the food as typical pub food – I had half a chicken and potatoes; S, M & O had half a duck and dumplings and cabbage; H had roasted sausages and C had roast pork & dumplings. On the way back from the restaurant H said she is now over Czech food and can we eat something else tomorrow (like Italian). The service was also pretty poor – they simply ignore you most of the time, don’t explain anything etc. One review on TripAdvisor said “the service is terrible but that is part of the charm”.
We walked back along the river and across the Charles Bridge (and back again) which is famous in Prague. It is a pedestrian only bridge and it’s construction started at 5:31am 9 July 1357 under the reign of King Charles IV. Charles supposedly laid the first stone himself and he did at that precise time because he was told it would bring strength to Charles by his astrologers. The start time is a perfect palindrome (1357 9, 7 5:31) and Charles was a great believer in numerology. There is also a belief that if you touch the copper statue of St John, your secret desires will be fulfilled. Stephen tried it out (as you can see) … the impiety was hard to capture on camera though. The bridge is incredibly popular and was teeming with people (aka tourists). Prague seems a much bigger tourist destination than Vienna (especially for Americans).
P, M (because he chose well when he booked the hotel), H, S (because he shared my lack of connection on Prague and had some funny quips today), O & C