I love, love, love Prague. There is so much to see and do there that I added an additional day to my stay. I had originally booked 3 days at the Downtown Hostel and after the second day, I booked a 4th day. Mostly due to the people I met at the hostel and how many things there were to see.
The train journey from Berlin was pleasant. I shared a compartment with a young American couple. I shamelessly eavesdropped on their conversations while reading and napping during the 4.5 hour trip.The scenery sped by, for me it was revealed backwards which adds a “surprise” factor as opposed to facing forwards
I was able to find the hostel quickly which was on the second floor and faced a huge wall mural of a mobius strip with alternating tanks and construction equipment traveling around and around. The reception was very helpful and spoke excellent english. Entering my room, I was greeted by another traveler, Paulette who became a good friend during my stay. She happens to live in the Bay Area, so about 30 minutes away….small world effect coming into play. She had arrived a few hours earlier and already taken the free walking tour of the city which she recommended.
I enjoyed a few hours scouting around the general area that afternoon and stopped for a bite along the main square, Wenceslas Square…yeah that guy who comes to town in song at Christmas. I saw his statue and walked his square. The Czech Republic uses a currency called crowns so part of my walk was to do pricing comparison and tuning my mind to how much a crown was worth. I decided to make it easy on myself and say a crown was about 20 cents. It is more like 18 cents, and for ease of mental math, I rounded
That evening when I got in, Paulette encouraged me to join her at the cooking lesson in the kitchen. I met Kristian. In the reviews of Downtown Hostel, he was referenced as a reason to stay there. In my opinion, every hostel should have a Kristian. He’s a program director, social director, joy for a traveler. He helps people connect and connect to the city of Prague. On my first night there, he taught us how to make Grenadyr, which is a Czech dish. First he put us to work chopping onions which gave us a chance to meet each other and interact and I learned two of the girls there that night had stayed previously and studied at a TEFL training center and were now teaching ESL. Great information for me as I want to do that too. Then Kristian had us chop potatoes, pickles, and a smoked meat sort of like ham. You sauté the onions until they mush up, same with the potatoes, boil up some wide flat noodles. Then mix it all together and fry it up like a pad of hash browns and eat with the pickles as a side. It was delicious and yet cheap for how many people ate
The next day, I took the free walking tour with an American expat guide, Keith walking through the old part of town. We stopped by churches, synagogues, theatres, concert halls, bridges and a nice bakery shop. One of the churches has a “thieves” arm story. The thief snuck in at night and when trying to steal a gold necklace from the statue of Mary, the statue came alive and captured him by the arm. In order to free him they cut the guys arm off and hung it from a chain as a warning to others. We were able to peak in a small window and see what appeared to be a dry shrunken arm
Prague was clear and dry during the days and had thunderstorms and rain in the evenings while I was there. On the second night, Kristian took Paulette, me and the two ESL teachers up the hill to a nice restaurant overlooking the city for true Goulash meal. It was spicy and filling and so good. We topped that off with the best hot chocolate I’ve had in years and a wonderful apple strudel. After dinner we walked down the hill back to our hostel, stopping to pick up and pet a local frog, which Kristian was scared of. Near the hostel, we stopped to admire a small house in a square that was made of stained glass panels and lit from within. Between Paulette and myself, we took about 50 pictures. Nearby was a photographic exhibition, in the open square, of bicycling in Amsterdam that was fabulous.
The next day, Paulette and I attended a concert of chamber music. It was about an hour long and they played Mozart, Vivaldi, Dvorak and Pachelbel. The room was an old church and was called the mirrored palace. They had two organs, one of which was played with the two violins, viola and cello. It was so beautiful, I was moved to tears, during the Canon from Pachelbel.
Later that night, we met Kristian and Ellisa at the Ice Pub. This is a room chilled to -8C or 17F. The walls, bar, pub tables and a throne??? were all made of solid ice that you could see through. The price of admission, about $10, got us 20 minutes in the room with two other people and two drinks. They were shots of vodka with a mixer. We had a choice of yellow (sour), red (sweet) or blue (bitter) and the drinks were served in shot glasses made of ice. I got a red one and a yellow one. Yes, friends, I had two drinks. Shocking I know. They give you a shiny silver parka and gloves to wear while you are in the ice room and we probably spend most of the time taking pictures of the room and ourselves. Geeky tourist activity, CHECK!
The next day, Paulette and I had a Segway tour with Kristian. We were his only guests. The tour started on the other side of the river, so we crossed the Voltava River using the Charles Bridge which was filled with artists drawing caricatures and sketches and other artists selling jewelry, photos and small paintings. Kristian gave us a quick tutorial on using the Segways and some time to practice which was challenging with so many people around. Then we took off on our 3 hour tour, a 3 hour tour. I was doing pretty good. Kristian was in the lead and then Paulette and I was last in line on the biggest Segway. We rolled over cobbled streets, up and down sidewalks, across tram tracks. Stopping, going backwards, turning. I was confident enough to take my camera out and snap a few shots along the way. We rounded a corner headed for the Prague Castle at the top of the hill, The sidewalk was crowded, and then BOOM! I got too close to a concrete trash can and my right tire stopped while the rest of the Segway and me went on….and down. Passers by were quick to come to my aid and help pick me up….and there coming toward me were a group of….zombies. Young people all made up with blood and gore and white faces. Talk about a surreal moment. I was shaken only and bruised my elbow so Kristian and Paulette made me sit down and Paulette fetched me some hot chocolate…which is great medicine for falls. Kristian talked the coffee shop out of a small plastic bag of ice which went on the bruised elbow.
After a brief break, we continued on and there I was speeding past historical sites, thinking “Look at me, look at me. I’m on a Segway, Oh, I want one of these. I wonder where I could find one used?” Kristian lead us off the sidewalk and into the street as there was little traffic there. I’m feeling great, recovered from my fall and then…BOOM!. I got too close to the curb and down I went again. Having survived my first fall, I am relaxed and nothing is damaged but Kristians’ confidence in my driving the big Segway so we switch and I take his small one. Still we travel on and I’m having fun as we head up hill into the Castle. Prague has Europe’s biggest castle which is really a complex of palaces. We stopped for another break on the hill and share a pastry. For our final exam, when we get back to the tour office, we get to ride our Segways into the office through a narrow hallway and help put them away. No more Booms for me and I navigate the narrow hallway full of people successfully. I want a Segway!
After that Paulette and I head off to another concert, this time in one of the main concert halls. This group is even better than the day before and the hall has amazing acoustics. They play many of the same pieces we heard the prior day so it is easy to compare. When I heard the first group, I was impressed and awed. The second group though sounded twice as good, either because of the room or because of them using a bass instead of a pipe organ. It was a totally amazing experience.
We then proceeded to the old town quarter near the famous astronomical clock tower and found a nice sidewalk cafe for dinner. I wanted to try the smoked pork knuckle which I had seen on so many menus. It was just the knuckle of pork – over a pound when you include the bone. They was mustard and horseradish as an accompaniment. It was so tender and flavorful. I loved it and will have to look for it again. For dessert I had creme brulee and we watched to nightly thunderstorm and rain deluge. Fortunately, our cafe had awnings set up for the rain and we just all squished in a little tighter so the people at the edge of the awning could stay dry. The rain lasted for about 30 minutes and once it slowed we paid the bill and headed home.
At the hostel, Kristian had just finished a cooking lesson where he made garlic soup and he insisted we have some. Even though I was full from dinner and dessert, I finished every drop of my bowl. It was fabulous. Though with as much garlic as the soup had, it was good that I had no date expecting a kiss good night.
Paulette and I shared a good bye hug and email addresses. It was a real treat to run into someone who enjoyed similar interests and that I could shared some adventures with. She was gone before I woke up the next morning, off on her next adventure and I had a few hours to have breakfast, charge my phone and iPad and pack for my next stop….which was Bratislava in the Slovak Republic. Stay tuned.