Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Prague: Day 3

Day 3

We spent the early morning wandering through Jewish Quarter which is one of the most beautiful parts of Prague.


We then caught the tram to the top of Prague's Castle Quarter. One of the most stunning sights was the Strahov Monastery's library.


I mean, look at those books! To take pictures you have to pay extra and you get a little "photographer" sticker to wear. Worth it so I can swoon over this library.

Just below the Monastery is the Monastery Garden which has the best views of Prague. Don't miss it!

From there we visited Prague Castle for the changing of the guard, entered St. Vitus Cathedral (the line is forever long but moves quick enough) and toured the underrated and under-visited Lobkowicz Palace. William Lobkowicz narrates the earnest audioguide. The collection has beautiful paintings, originals of Mozart's orchestrations.

The streets near the castle are bustling. Street performers, food vendors and these impressive illusionists. If only the shady massage people would channel their energy into something cool like this.


The convenience of staying near Old Town Square is that we ended each day wandering through it. We focused on the crowds of the Astronomical Clock on Town Hall.


As the crowds gather on the hour, the clock whirls around telling time in many different ways: Bohemian Time and Modern Time (with Roman numerals), sunrise and sunset, moon phases.

On the top of the hour, Death tips the hour glass and then the 12 Apostles march on through the open windows. It's quite the crowd pleaser. Hold onto your bags! We were warned it is prime pick pocket territory.

Gathering crowds below the Astronomical Clock.
The second best view in town (after the Monastery Garden) is from the top of the Astronomical Clock. We skipped the interior of the church and went straight for the view.

Oh how I wish this was my balcony!


And with dreamy views like this, we ended the night at the symphony for Prague's Spring Music Festival.


Prague is dreamy. Now excuse me while I dream of stuffing my face with one of these.

Practicalities:
  • Transportation: use the tram to get to the top of Castle Hill. It's a bit of an uphill walk and the tram is cheap.
  • Get a load of that view. Best views, IMHO, are from the Monastery Garden and the top of the Astronomical Clock. 
  • Crowds: Beware of thick crowds below the Astronomical Clock. 
  • Accommodation: most of our activities centered around Old Town so it was worth it to pay a little extra to stay close and not have to pay for a tram/metro ride in. We liked our place here
  • Eating: avoid eating on the big squares if you want good quality that is affordable.  
  • Travel Planning: Rick Steves for life. Other helpful sites included: 

Traveled May 2015.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Konopiště Castle: Day Trip from Prague

Day 2


I needed a big city break. A break from people and buildings. So we hopped on a train to visit Konopiště Castle, an hour train ride away from Prague. Buy your tickets at the train station, but be prepared for lines. We had to sprint to catch our train.

Konopiště Castle was Archduke Franz Ferdinand's (whose assassination triggered the start of World War I later). More info on the Archduke here


The inside is full of early 1900 furniture and his impressive, often terrifying taxidermy collection. He was really, really into hunting. Each of his killings were logged to the tune of 300,000+, many of which are seen inside of the castle. Lions and tigers and bears, etc. 

To view his ahem, collection, join a tour which is cheaper if you take it in Czech with an English audioguide. No pictures allowed. But if you book the wedding package you get an opportunity for that gem above. 


Archduke Ferdinand loved roses and his garden is a mosaic maze of rose bushes with roaming peacocks. We pulled up a seat, pulled out a box of chocolates we had been saving from Poland and enjoyed. 


After our fill of taxidermy, we hopped our train back to Prague and the weather was perfect enough for a ride on the river.

But first, the Dancing House.

We wandered down the riverbank to the boat rentals near the National Theater.


With Charles Bridge in the background, I found a message in a bottle! In Czech. Left for someone as ridiculous and easily excitable like me.

An evening stroll through the Old Town Square to our apartment and then bed.

Practicalities:

  • Money: Czech Republic used Czech Koruna. Get your monies at the ATM. In terms of sights, many are free. If given the chance, always pay extra to climb up for a view. 
  • Transportation: We used the train station just west of town to ride to the Castle. It was a little confusing getting from the train station to the castle. Just follow the other tourists. There is not much in terms of the town (all restaurants and shops were closed).
  • Accommodation: most of our activities centered around Old Town so it was worth it to pay a little extra to stay close and not have to pay for a tram/metro ride in. We liked our place here


Traveled May 2015.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Prague: Day One



Is there anything so romantic as Prague? Land of charm, soft orange rooftops, Art Nouvea buildings and beer that is cheaper than water. Prague is what I imagined and dreamed it would be. Much of city avoided bombing so it is rich and beautiful. So, let's Czech it out.

We had 3 days in Prague.
Day One: Old Town
Day Two: day trip to Konopiště Castle
Day Three: Castle Hill


Day One


We popped into Prague early when no one was awake. We dropped off our bags at our apartment in Old Town (Staré Město), fought the urge to sleep (overnight trains ≠ good rest) and started at the very beginning (a very good place to start). Enough parentheses for you? :)

Old Town Square is flanked by Church of St. Nicholas, Tyn Church and Old Town Hall. It has served as a market square since the 11th Century and if you get there early enough, you beat the tour groups on Segway.



As Prague continued to wake up we made our way through Old Town Square to Wenceslas Square which is a long, Art Nouveau style street with a strip of grass down the middle of it. At one end is the National Museum and a statue of King Wenceslas (from the Christmas carol) who ruled in the 10th century.



While you could see a typical equestrian statue out in the square, you can see an even more exciting Wenceslas riding an upside-down horse in the Lucerna Gallery. Because he is just that bad ass.
Nice to know that grumpy cat translates
After some retail therapy in forms of traditional shopping along Wenceslas Square and at the open-air Havelska Market, we wandered through the massive crowds and randos hawking Thai massages to the famed Charles Bridge.

There is a bridge tower (pictured left) and you can climb to the top of the tower for great views of the bridge. We  paid 75 Koruna for the pleasure. Even though it is crowded, it is worth the visit. The statue below is of the famed St. John of Nepomuk. Look for the rubbings on the bottom of the statue. Good luck?


We wandered back to Old Town Square and made two mistakes. First, we had dinner at one of the restaurants on the square where water was the equivalent of $8 and the food was less than mediocre. But the view was sure nice.

The second mistake was buying tickets to a second-rate Black Light Theater performance. Already seeming a little sketchy, the popular Black Light Theater company was sold out. We bought tickets for another one and it was, weird. Now don't get me wrong. I don't mind different or experimental, but it wasn't for me. If you can, I have heard that Ta Fantastika is the best one.

And with that, success for day one in Prague.


Practicalities:

  • Money: Czech Republic used Czech Koruna. Get your monies at the ATM. In terms of sights, many are free. If given the chance, always pay extra to climb up for a view. 
  • Transportation: the train station is on the east part of town. You can either to the metro or the tram. But Prague is incredibly walk-able so we mostly walked. 
  • Accommodation: most of our activities centered around Old Town so it was worth it to pay a little extra to stay close and not have to pay for a tram/metro ride in. We liked our place here
  • Crowds: Prague is a popular place. If you want to avoid crowds try to get to popular outdoor locations early (before 8 or 9 a.m.)
  • Eating: avoid eating on the big squares if you want good quality that is affordable.  


Traveled May 2015.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Krakow, Poland


The rest of our experience in Poland was less gloomy. The city of Krakow is a delight, with a big beautiful square and hearty food. Also, a castle which is always good in my book.



First off, I congratulate anyone who can pronounce anything in Polish. Bravo.


The center of Krakow (Old Town) is surrounded by a wall and a beautiful green space called Planty. As you walk through the ancient gate, feeling all old timey, you are greeted by the dreaded Golden Arches. More on them later.

The best sight in Krakow is the Main Market Square. Bustling with people and school groups, horse drawn carriages. On one end (the main building in the photo above) is the Cloth Hall which is a popular souvenir market.
On the other side is St Mary's Church which has overlooked the square for more than 800 years. We skipped the interior and climbed to the top of the tower (15 PLN). We arrived just in time to hear the bugler who plays from each window in the tower every hour on the hour. The bugler is paying tribute to a watchman who was killed while sounding the alarm of an enemy. While he played, he was shot in the throat, cutting the song mid note. So today, the bugler plays and ends the song abruptly, mid note.
After playing the song, he leans out of each window and waves to the crowd below. It was a little exciting (and loud) to be in the tower while he played. They did not allow anyone else to come up while he played, but we were allowed to stay since we were already there.

The best view!



It was worth the 239 narrow steps to the top of the tower for these views.

And then we visited McDonald's which is something we never do at home. But we heard that the McDonald's hear was built into a Gothic cellar that was discovered during renovations. So they excavated it and incorporated it into the design. That was worth buying a Mickey D's hot cocoa.



We then wandered over to Wawel Castle and explored the grounds. And I salute the Polish for incorporating fire-breathing (literally) dragons into their castle design. It was a fun area to explore but lots of rain so no pics.


We ate heartily in Poland. Mushroom soup, pierogi, and meat sandwiched in pretzel and drenched in gravy. For how chilly it was, it was nice to have stick to your ribs food.


Our apartment in Krakow was a little random, complete with an enormous mirror above the bed. The neighborhood was kind of sketch and a bit far from town. I would recommend staying as close to the center of town as you can which is fairly close to the train station as well.


And just like that, our time in Poland came to an end. We took in dusk at Main Market Square which is hopping all times of the day. Picked up our luggage and hopped aboard an overnight train to Prague.

Practicalities:

  • Transportation: your feet! Krakow is incredibly walkable. But if you want to get fancy, you can take a horse carriage ride around Old Town (we didn't but it looked fun). For train tickets, if you book more than two days ahead of time, you can get a significant discount. Book ahead if you can. 
  • Accommodations: stay close to Old Town if possible. But staying in a studio with an enormous mirror on the ceiling, we stayed here
  • Costs: Krakow was very affordable. Food and sites were cheap. Poland is a part of the European Union but they use their own currency which is the Polish złoty. Get your money at the ATM instead of those rotten currency exchange places.
  • Itinerary: I was feeling under the weather the last day so we took it slow. I really wish we would have visited the salt mines or Schindler's home.  
Traveled May 2015.