While I love Paris, one of my favorite parts about living here is the number of possibilities for leaving. In under two hours I can find myself in a totally foreign city, an adventure in a new destination awaiting (Barcelona! Berlin! Rome! Madrid!)
That’s how last weekend I found myself in Prague, walking its cobblestone streets and confronting the most confounding language I’ve heard yet. What’s even cooler is that I got to meet my parents there, thus continuing our tradition of planning reunions in worldly cities (last year it was Istanbul).
The flight to Prague was only an hour and twenty minutes. I arrived safely after chatting with my very interesting seatmate (former nightclub promoter now dealing in “African commodities,” anyone? Hmm…there’s a lot more to that story).
I’ve gotten so used to the convenient euro zone, I had to remember to change currency. Conversion to the Czech crown took some calculation (1 euro is about 25 crowns; 1 dollar about 19). Easy enough to exchange, though, and even easier to make my way into the city. I love straightforward public transport! A bus directly in front of the terminal dropped us directly in front of a metro – it’s speedy and clean!
And when I came out from underground…well, I was kind of in a wasteland.
This fitness center/tanning salon/massage parlor was in front of our hotel, which itself was an imposing, kind of wavy structure that welcomes many groups. It also seemed to be at a transportation hub as a ton of buses were parked in front. So first view: concrete solarium, a dozen parked buses, and a tall imposing conference hotel.
To be fair, the Dorint Hotel Don Giovanni is really nice (4-star!)
I collapsed in my room. (I’m still transitioning from being mainly a hostel/couchsurfing kind of traveller to sometimes staying in hotels – they’re still novelties for me). It was dark now and I was exhausted. (I know, I know. Being whisked to a new city in 90 minutes sounds more glamorous, but truth be told, between the ride to the airport, the wait, and transport the other end, time adds up).
I looked out at the barren street (and the biggest gym I’ve ever seen) and said, this will not be all I do with my day. So I forced myself out into the dark.
It’s one of those amazing things about travel. You arrive completely disoriented and tired then by simple force of exploring discover all the wonders that surround you. I came to like our placement very much
…within 15 minutes I was in the center of Prague.
Wenceslas Square is the main boulevard, but I did not spend much time here. I was distracted by all the kitschy shops and people sitting in windows having that weird live fish pedicure thing (true story!) I quickly made my way for side streets and that’s when I began to fall for the charm.
That would sum up my experience in Prague, actually. I was overwhelmed by the number of tourists (this when it’s cold in off-season!). Head just a few streets over, though, and loads of beauty feels like it’s yours alone. I know this is often a phenomenon in popular cities, but it felt particularly acute in Prague. That deserted scenic square above was a 10 minute walk from the bustling avenue.
I ate a great meal at Klub Architektů, a design museum and shop with a cozy, low-lit cellar restaurant. The waiter looked at me with pity when I ordered water, though. Warning! Like many European cities, they usually don’t serve tap water. My delicious main was only about 8 euros, and then I had to cough up 2 euros just for some H20. (Ok, cheap eating, but when water is 1/4 the price of your meal, it just doesn’t seem right!) If you like it, go for the wine (or beer! Czech beer is famous).
After dinner I wandered in the direction of the water. Then bam!
“Atmospheric” was the word that immediately came to mind.
Prague has ghosts. It is haunting and beautiful. And there are just some strange things, too. Within my first couple hours I had already passed two museums of torture and several Thai massage parlors. I also saw many people dressed up in random objects. Not to further sully their dignity, I tried not to be too intrusive with my camera so I have only a blur to give you an idea.
And more to come.
Oh right, hang on. It’s light outside!
Onto the next day, the only shot of sunshine the whole trip. No way was I going to miss out.
Before meeting my parents who were arriving in the afternoon, I walked everywhere.
Time to meet my parents!
What can I say? We have a hoot together. How lucky to be able to meet and spend time with each other and laugh, all while traipsing around a new place.
My parents were on an organized tour. (As we speak they’re probably somewhere in Vienna or Salzburg or Budapest). But they played hookey from the first stop in Prague so we could hang out. They were troopers and we continued our exploration over the weekend.
Ok, stop here. I love trams. I love public transport. #22 is great for sightseeing. But someone stole my mom’s wallet on Tram #22!
Prague is pretty infamous for pickpockets and I guess we learned that firsthand. It totally sucked, but like any crisis, especially one abroad, it can give you confidence, too. It happened. We dealt with it. We moved on.
Though we were running out of peppy attractions.
Like I said, Prague has some dark stuff.
For light relief, we went to the Franz Kafka Museum. (Ha!)
The exhibition was very well done and I learned a lot, but let’s just say it’s not a happy place. Now when I say Kafka-esque I will really feel the weight of that word!
But of course, there was joy, too. Prague is the golden city, a symphony of stone, a city of a thousand spires (all nicknames, not my poetic musings). There was something intriguing about the magical/haunting setting coupled with the seemingly no-nonsense Czech character.
In sum: yes to Prague. Sneak off to the side streets, bundle up (or better yet – go when it’s warm!), watch your wallets, travel with jovial company, and fall under its spell.
My little secret, though?
As much as I love leaving, my favorite part is often coming back. Returning home to Paris? It never gets old.
Betlémské náměstí 169/5A
110 00 Praha 1
Franz Kafka Museum
118 00 Prague 1-Lesser Town
Globe Bookstore and Cafe