Europe 2012: Prague, Czech Republic

Czech Republic Flag
Czech Republic

We travelled to the Czech Republic from Berlin in a box train, it was very square. The train had started elsewhere and consequently remained about half full as the crowded platform boarded.

The train set off with the aisle full of freshly boarded passengers slowly making their way down the carriage looking for an available seat. Jon managed to grab a pair of seats facing each other for him and I whilst Catherine sat on the other side of the aisle. Once sat down we identified that some seats had reservation cards above them for various points of the journey from its start point up until termination Budapest. Purely by luck we had secured a couple of seats unreserved for the entirety of our journey. Catherine however was not so fortunate so had to move to a free seat in the adjacent carriage.

When, a few minutes later, we made a brief stop at a secondary Berlin station to allow a handful more passengers to embark the aisles were still full of people trying to find their rightful or any free seat, and their massive suitcases trailing behind them were generally causing chaos. Eventually things settled down when passengers made their way down to subsequent carriages.

If we were lacking hills in Holland and Germany before we had them now as we entered the Czech Republic, the train’s climbing causing a woman in stupid sized heels to fall on someone she was walking past much to the disgust of the German couple we were sitting next to. The train got hot and later rather chilly as air(con?) blew up the side of the carriage.

The German couple were replaced in Dresden by a much younger couple who were reading 99 sex tips from a booklet included with Cosmopolitan or another of the magazines in their stash. From the number of kisses in which they partook they were probably going to try out a good number that night.

The Americans on board were, as usual, loud and discussed health insurance before their confusion turned to at which Prague station they should alight. The small communist one surrounded by crumbling concrete tower blocks wasn’t it they eventually decided which was plainly obvious had they read the trains itinerary and seen the number of available connections.

I had only identified the previous night, on a hunch, that the Czech Republic might not actually use the Euro (I was not involved in any of the trip’s planning!). Good move, they didn’t, something the trip planners had simply assumes. The Czechs use Koruna, about 33 to the pound or 25 for a Euro.

At Prague station we changed some Euro having ignored a man attempting to screw us over either by stealing our money, passing us fake notes or otherwise offering us an exceptionally bad exchange rate. That he did this directly next to a large A-frame sign alerting tourists in various languages to avoid such exchanges was rather amusing. We ignored him as he quoted a one point something rate which we didn’t understand in the slightest and he left convinced we were French to prey on the next train load of arriving tourists.

We identified the metro station nearest to our hotel using a combination of a poorly scaled Google Maps print out, a guidebook and map of the Prague Metro, before going on a quick recce around the main station. Purchasing a 24 K metro ticket from a lady in a kiosk entitled us to half an hours travel in the central zones, more than enough for the 4 stops we needed. We validated our tickets (having seen other people do this) and set off.

Panorama Hotel Prague
Panorama Hotel Prague

The hotel had a signposted exit from the metro station but after that it was not immediately apparent where the hotel was until we saw a 25-story high beige tower block emblazoned with the name of the hotel. Lack of signposts and construction in the area meant we ended up walking in through the car-park but the hotel was most definitely built.

It was quite grand compared to our previous accommodation and significantly bigger – our room was on the 16th floor with a view towards the center of the city. We only had a single double bed, although it was massive but a quick call to the front desk saw a maid arrive with a fold out bed.

Unpronounceable Czech Beer
Jon drinking an unpronounceable Czech Beer

After looking at the hotel menu we decided to suss-out a smallish looking shopping centre directly behind the hotel which we could see from our room to see what the other options were.

The modern centre was pretty decent, spread across 3 floors with a food court at one end. The clothes stores were deserted but the food places busy. The ubiquitous McDonald’s and KFC were there as was a sushi place, Lebanese restaurant, fish bar and Italian restaurant. We spent the next couple of hours struggling to eat the massive pasta dishes we had ordered in German from the Czech waiter.

We also tried some unpronounceable but very drinkable Czech beer before leaving the shopping centre shortly before its 9:30pm closing time (Harlequin take note!) to take advantage of the free mini bar we had for some reason been given.

The hotel offered a rather grand buffet breakfast which offered a strange mix of items from around the world.

Sausage, Bacon, fried potato, egg, bread, cheese, ham, fruit salad, yogurt, cereal, croissants, a variety of pastries, cakes, pasta and salad with dressing. (no photos of this I’m afraid)

Washed down with an array of drinks from a massive tea/coffee/hot chocolate machine and Orange juice from a dispenser which automatically refilled itself from the fridge.

In the narrow roads around and the plaza in front of the astronomical clock among the thronging crowds of tourists were a large number of people offering free tours of the area. Between them these “Umbrella tour people” as I dubbed them worked in several different languages guiding visitors along some of the nearby roads and explaining the history of the relevant buildings. They almost all had a brightly coloured folded umbrella with them. Perhaps it rains a lot in Prague!? Anyway they would point these umbrellas up skywards as they walked presumably so that their group of tourists wouldn’t lose them through the crowds. I was quite surprised at the number of people offering such tours – all of which were free with the guides having badges/signs saying that they work for tips only (I guess tourists tip generously). I’d be surprised multiple tour guides with the same coloured umbrellas didn’t go around accusing others of stealing their group of tourists! Jon added it would be tempting to walk around the area with your own bright umbrella held up to see how long it took for a crowd of confused foreigners to start following.

We crossed the Charles Bridge, which was rather spoiled by the large number of stalls attempting to sell various high-end tat to tourists, aiming for the Castle. The bridge contained more than 20 statues of saints – and one was obviously missing (did he jump!?).

Looking towards Prague Castle
Looking towards Prague Castle

As we headed up towards Prague Castle the bikes gave way to Segways. After having made the long and steep ascent I think the Segway riders had the right idea! We explored the free bits of the Castle and the Cathedral which is contained within one of its courtyards. Afterwards we walked through the rather small gardens and stopped for photos near a café where we eavesdropped on a nearby American tour guide who explained that because the castle took so long to build, favoured architecture styles of the time had changed, hence one tower was built in a different style to the others. Makes sense.

Prague Castle Towers
One of these towers is not like the others
Looking down on Prague from the Castle gardens
Looking down on Prague from the Castle gardens

Back down on the sloping streets of Prague city centre we must have passed the embassies of at least 25 different countries – easily identifiable by the flags flying outside. Some were rather grander than others and some seemed to share their building with other nations. Even Kosovo had a presence, and they aren’t even an officially recognised country! I took us away from the busy main street down some side roads aiming for the river. On the way we stumbled upon the John Lennon wall (just a load of Graffiti) and a bridge of luuurve, or something like that – full of padlocks.

John Lennon Wall Prague
John Lennon Wall Prague
Padlock Bridge Prague
The most secure bridge

There was a Lego Museum and, yes, a Tesco.

Behind a signpost, but definitely a Tesco.
Behind a signpost, but definitely a Tesco

Bit of a mix up at the hotel on the second morning with regards to our breakfast.  Hotel staff were convinced we didn’t have it included in our room rate – we did – and it took a little while to get this sorted.   Still there was plenty left but I avoided the pasta!

Before we headed on to our next stop, Mestre in Italy we stopped by the Interspa supermarket in the shopping centre behind the hotel. Their collection of bread based products was superb with Danish pastries and bread rolls in different shapes covered in various seeds and cheeses. They also had a cheese which contained bacon and the largest range of energy drinks I have ever seen.

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