We’re thrilled to feature our first guest blogger, our dear friend Jean Devlin…sharing her travel adventures and stunning photography.
When it comes to foreign travel, I try to familiarize myself with basic words and phrases of the native language. My language acquisition hit some serious roadblocks when it came to Czech and the only word I could remember was pivo, which means beer. Fortunately, that really came in handy and better yet, most merchants and waitstaff speak decent English in the city.
Prague is a beautiful city that deserves a visit. Most of the main attractions are within walking distance of each other, which is good because though the metro system is simple to navigate, trying to figure out how to pay for a ticket is extremely difficult. Personally, I’d rather be above ground, soaking in the sites instead of riding on a subway anyway. The Vlatva River divides Prague, with the Little Quarter and the Prague castle on one side of the river and the Old Town and New Town on the other.
The Charles Bridge is a beauty and not to be missed and we crossed over it many, many times during our visit. I’ll get into my observations on that later.
In the Little Quarter, some of the houses built in the 12th century are marked with Baroque plaques above the doorways instead of numbers. It’s fun to search for them!
You can also peruse the many shops that display and sell the handmade marionettes that Prague is known for. They are charming or creepy…or both.
What is now the Czech Republic was under Communist rule until the latter part of 1989 and hideous concrete buildings from the communist era are juxtaposed with the gorgeous architecture from the 1200’s and beyond. Old Town has a huge square and is the perfect place to enjoy a nice, cold pivo and enjoy the people watching. I’ll have more on that later too! The Astronomical Clock, built in 1490, is located here and well worth joining the inevitable crowd that gathers on the hour to watch its show and the dancing apostles. Legend has it that the clockmaker was blinded after he created this clock to prevent him from recreating another masterpiece. That’s harsh.
There are a lot of good restaurants around Old Town Square as well as some awful ones. I’m generally not a fan of menus with a lot of pictures but those unappetizing photos were certainly appreciated since the language is stingy with vowels and generous with foreign symbols. I admit that my food choices are not often adventurous ones, particularly when meat is a featured item almost everywhere. If you are like me and want to play it safe, the pizza is really good and there are some cool places where you dine underground surrounded by curved, stone walls. Finding them is part of the fun! One of the best ways to appreciate the architecture of Praque is to climb to the top of one of its many towers. Narrow, windy staircases reward you with a great view from the top!
Be sure to wander through the Jewish Quarter and the cemetery where the headstones are all helter skelter and bodies are stacked twelve deep. The walls of the Pinkas Synagogue are a moving memorial to the Czech jews killed during the Holocaust. From floor to ceiling, left to right, row after row and room after room after room, are the names of every Czech citizen who perished. It is extremely moving and emotional and something I think we should all see to be reminded of history and to never allow it to be repeated.
The Museum of Communism is kind of a funky place but very interesting and helped to answer at least some of the 100’s of questions that were generated in my head. It’s fairly small and comprehensive and worth a visit if you are a curious sort like myself.
Musings from Old Town Square
After a day of wandering twisting cobblestone streets and walking up 1000’s of narrow stairs, there is nothing better than a few cold pivos while sitting at a great outdoor table. It’s also a good opportunity to review and recap some of the more amusing observations not often included in guide books. Here are some of those reflections:
After dining, remember to ask for a ‘bill’ from a Czech. Disclaimer: These are merely observations, not sweeping generalizations.
Many men were observed to be wearing snug bathing suits while attempting to pass them off as shorts. Rather peculiar. Length of pants on men varied greatly, from the ubiquitous man capris to very, very shorty shorts. Men wear interesting footwear and colorful socks. No white crew socks here!
Many men native to the Czech Republic wear shirts with English words such as “Montauk Yacht Club” and “Twat was that?”. I sincerely hope the latter individual didn’t know what that shirt said.
Dogs in Europe are pretty cool. Just like VISA and MasterCard, they seem to be accepted everywhere. Most dogs don’t require leashes and even in a crowded city, follow their owners like well-mannered offspring. They generally seem oblivious to other dogs. Some dogs even manage to look forlornly at passing tourists, just like their masters whose occupation is begging for money. I don’t know how fun it is for these dogs to go to all of these historical sites but they don’t seem to mind. Most of the males are still…intact, if you know what I mean.
Can we talk about toilets? Most toilets in the Czech Republic (and much of Europe) are very different from their American counterparts. Most lack a tank which makes me wonder where people keep their tissues. Flushing can present a challenge. Some have the flusher mounted on the wall, some have a button and others have a pull chain. What doesn’t make sense to me is how some places charge you to pee. Is it really worth someone’s salary to stand there and collect a few cents? What was really strange was that our favorite place for a cold pivo also charges for the potty. What a gimmick.
Toilets often have deep, deep bowls which often deny one the simple and perverse pleasure of viewing a job well done. Toilet paper ranges in quality from plush white to grey to light brown, which was just a touch softer than a grocery bag and probably just as absorbent. Most, however, were of a finer grade than what we have in some public restrooms and I appreciate that very much.
While some of the street performers in Prague were outstanding, some were truly the worst ever! One guy in Old Town Square played recorded music and would occasionally crank out a few off-key toots on a trombone. Then there was the guy on the Charles Bridge with the stuffed monkey who played recorded music while turning a handle on a fake organ grinder. The prehistoric guy and gal were terrifying. She banged on the bongo while he did some crazy ‘dance’ moves. The talented musicians and artists scattered about really made up for the select horrendous performances, but all proved to be entertaining.
Day Trips: Part 1
For some unknown reason, my husband is generally opposed to travel by bus. However, after some harrowing navigation via automobile through the Czech Republic with its unintelligible road signs, he was happy to jump on a bus and head to Kuntna Hora, a 1 and 1/2 hour ride from Prague.
This is a charming, undisturbed town with a few great restaurants options but the main attraction for heading here is the Bone Church. Amazing, macabre, amusing and fascinating, the bones of over 40,00 people were used to decorate the church. Kids will love this but it is about a mile walk from where the bus stops to the the church. You get to admire some nasty Communist era architecture before you arrive to see the bone sculptures.
Day Trips:Part 2
Cesky-Krumlov is a charming, quaint town in southern Bohemia located a short bus ride from Prague. That it is designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site speaks for its appeal. My daughter spent a semester in Prague and we didn’t visit here because she had already been. I regret that still and am trying not to hold it against her. Photo credits go to Jessie Devlin Grisard, who selfishly kept this gem to herself, denying her family the pleasure of its charms.