From Picturesque Streets to Pickpockets – A Long Weekend in Prague

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.

Imagine first seeing this in the pitch black of night

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!)

The hotel had a Mozart theme. An "Allegretto" and "Amadeus" cafe. I should have sat down at that piano and shown off my new skills!

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.

Thank god.

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

BECAUSE

…within 15 minutes I was in the center of Prague.

Darn you, McDonalds and Texas Holdem Poker in front of beautiful building!

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.

Look right. Yes, that guy is wearing a saxophone suit.

And more to come.

Guarding the bridge

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.

The castle

Guards coming to defend the castle

St Vitus Cathedral

Le Petit Prince

Lennon wall

Prague's version of Pont des Arts?

Um...?

View from Kampa Island

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.

Paris could use these

Astronomical Clock. And oh yes, baby, it's cold outside.

The infamous tram 22

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.

Tormented detail on Charles Bridge

Stabbings, beatings at castle gate

Men in chains shouldering a lot of weight. I saw these burdened statues a lot.

General armor, for your everyday needs

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!

Not sure why these statues with the men's moving wee-wees were in front of the Kafka Museum.

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.

Of course I found the expat bookstore/cafe

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.

Klub architektů
Betlémské náměstí 169/5A
110 00 Praha 1

Franz Kafka Museum
Cihelná 2b
118 00 Prague 1-Lesser Town

Globe Bookstore and Cafe
Pštrossova 6
Prague 1

22 Responses to “From Picturesque Streets to Pickpockets – A Long Weekend in Prague”


  1. 1 Lindsey (@LostNCheeseland) March 15, 2012 at 10:33 pm

    Talk about low lighting in that restaurant shot! I’ve always wanted to go to Prague and you definitely paint the picture of a city that dabbles in dark and dirty (sort of). I like that it is imperfect – perhaps more imperfect than we find Paris – and I imagine it’s stunning in the Spring !

    • 2 paris (im)perfect March 15, 2012 at 10:41 pm

      I know, right? Nearly impossible to take a picture! The lights were just inches from the tables. I really liked that place. Most of the food I ate on the trip was hearty, but uninspired (but I also hadn’t researched places), but this place was good. Prague definitely dabbles in the dark. Didn’t find it that dirty (Paris probably beats out on that count, even!), but it has a very intriguing vibe. I would definitely go visit. I would have enjoyed it more if it were warm…but I can’t imagine battling even more tourists! It was already overrun!

  2. 3 Emma Bentley (@emmabentley87) March 15, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    Free dog poop bags! Yes, Paris needs some of them! :)

  3. 5 The Best in Paris (@Thebestinparis) March 15, 2012 at 11:45 pm

    What a beautiful city ! I also thought that the food was quite hearty, not really my thing, except the pastries ;) I remember trying a delicious Marzipan cake. Did you have a chance to try one of their nice tearooms ?

    • 6 paris (im)perfect March 15, 2012 at 11:49 pm

      Yeah, I can’t say I was won over by Czech cuisine. But the hearty fare does help in the winters! Hmm, I must have totally missed out on the dedicated tearooms. We stopped at a cafe that I loved on Kampa Island. Very cozy, lots of books, indie music playing, and nice servers. We stayed a long time.

  4. 7 Buffy March 16, 2012 at 1:52 am

    That is so great you were able to get over to Prague. It is on my places to visit next time I get back to Europe. I met a couple, journalists from there last week, and they said they would show me around when I get there. Hope you are enjoying Spring in Paris. Trees are blooming here. The weather is crazy this winter. The other day it was 40, today it was in the upper 80’s.

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    • 8 paris (im)perfect March 16, 2012 at 2:08 am

      Hi Buffy. It is always GREAT to have local guides. How cool to have that contact with the Czech couple now – take them up on their offer!

      I am adoring spring here. I was very thankful it didn’t rain in Prague as predicted, but I was still chilly. A week of sunshine in Paris was the perfect welcome home!

  5. 9 Dienna March 16, 2012 at 3:08 am

    I’ve always heard nice things about Prague. From your amazing photos, it looks like a beautiful city.

    Sorry to hear about your mom’s wallet being taken. Pickpocketers suck.

    • 10 paris (im)perfect March 16, 2012 at 10:13 am

      It is a beautiful city! And yes, thanks. My mom is a seasoned traveller -been all over the world! It was a surprise, but pickpocketing is something of an art. They’re too good at what they do! We didn’t let it mar the trip, however.

  6. 11 Amy Kortuem March 16, 2012 at 3:59 am

    And for a little lightness you went to the Kafka Museum. blaahahhhahhaaaaa!

    Sounds like a wonderful trip. And you got to see your parents. Awww.

  7. 13 aureliad March 16, 2012 at 9:10 am

    Great photos, and a wonderful travel tale!

    I’m sorry about your mom and her wallet. So tricky, those pickpockets. Glad you recovered quickly.

    The bit about people dressed up in strange outfits reminds me of my one trip to Prague; we made a 36-hour stop there in 2009 while on a bike tour between Rome and Berlin. As we headed out of town on our way toward Germany, I spotted a man at a bus stop, wearing head-to-to denim: tight denim shorts, faded denim shirt, a denim kerchief knotted around his neck, and the kicker: Denim legwarmer things rising above denim-colored boots.

    It wasn’t even a holiday! Just another summer day in Prague.

    Thanks again for sharing the details of your latest adventure!

    • 14 paris (im)perfect March 16, 2012 at 10:16 am

      I don’t get it. Sounds like a totally normal outfit to me.

      Tee-hee; just kidding! That’s hilarious. So I’m not the only one who spied interesting getups. I’m kind of interested in some denim legwarmers myself, though. Where can I get them? Should have picked them up in Prague!

  8. 15 Tanya in Transition March 16, 2012 at 11:12 am

    Too bad about the pickpocket incident. A friend had the same thing happen in Paris late last year.

    Prague is an fascinating city, isn’t it? Yeah, you see all kinds of…erm…interesting things/people. Food is crazy cheap, as is the beer. I’m with you re: the price of water. Better to stick with beer!

  9. 17 Adam March 16, 2012 at 11:42 am

    Ah Prague, I remember it well. We arrived on a beautiful spring day and took a tram out to the place we’d be staying. I was just admiring the scenery when suddenly the tram driver run screaming out of her cabin. We all got off and saw that she’d run over an old lady.

    The stay in the city itself was great, and if the food was pretty poor (dumplings anyone?), the beer was fantastic. It’s a beautiful place, but like Venice, heaving with tourists on the main routes. As you say though, it’s easy to get off that beaten track.

    Leaving Prague was fun too. We were in a hurry to get to the station, but in one of the Metro stations a ‘fake’ (we didn’t realise at the time) police officer asked to inspect our passports. He then wouldn’t give them back until we’d paid a fine. As we were short for time, we had to pay. Apparently it’s quite a common scam there.

  10. 20 Franck March 16, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    Did you visit Budapest? Because the Magyar language is the strangest among occidental ones. (Nice photo- hum… the guy dressed like a saxophone… was it sexual?)

    • 21 paris (im)perfect March 16, 2012 at 6:51 pm

      I LOVE Budapest. And for whatever reason, I actually was able to pick up more Hungarian words. I even got us out of a tight spot because of a few phrases I had learned from my guidebook. I didn’t get past “hello” in Czech.

      As for the saxophone guy, that’s what made it so random. I had absolutely no idea why he was dressed that way. Didn’t seem to be promoting anything I could see (jazz club?)

  11. 22 Franck March 16, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    That’s strange, I had the same experience with Hungarian words and great difficulties to learn some Czech ones. There is something very “clear” in the way Magyar sounds. I was almost in the middle of a script writing, taking place mosty in Budapest, and these words so weird, like fallen from Mars, helped me. The translation of my work in English was sometimes dispointing because I thought naively everything would be shorter (more synthetical?) but the few words of Magyar were always a refreshing discovery. Despite they are stil that hard to put in a conversation, especially in Paris. Bùcsù ! (boudchouou (bout de chou ?) = bye).


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paris (im)perfect?

Sion Dayson is paris (im)perfect. Writer, dreamer, I moved to France on – no exaggerating – a romantic whim. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong (and very right!) with such a (non)plan. These are the (im)perfect stories that result.

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