For whatever reason, I was never really drawn to visiting Prague. Maybe it was due to its Soviet past, or perhaps it was that nothing there warranted it making the bucket list. However, we had a free long weekend (July 4th) and Prague was within driving distance. We were aware that the fact they retained their currency when entering the European Union meant that it was a great option on the budget. US$1 was roughly equivalent to 20 Czech Korunas.
We set off on Friday morning (Charlie in the capable hands of my friend, Erin!) and hit a little traffic around Nürnberg – mainly due to the trucks all headed back to Eastern Europe for the weekend. The drive took a total of about 5 ½ hours, including a stop at the border to pick up a ten day vignette. It cost about €16 for the vignette – if you don’t have one and drive on the highways, then you can risk an instant Police fine.
I found our accommodation on http://www.secretescapes.com for the budget friendly price of $70 a night. (Let me know if you want to join- we’ll both get credit) It was a little further out than we would usually stay, but we weren’t too bothered and it was a test at trying staying a little further out. We would need to rely on public transportation for the first time. The hotel was amazing for the price- a true 4 star (which is rare in Europe!), an amazing breakfast spread that was included in the price and had unlimited wine! It was the best breakfast spread we had ever experienced together. Parking is expensive in Prague, and there is a high theft rate. We chose to park in the hotel’s garage, which was underground and cost about $20 a day.
Our hotel deal came with an included 24 hour public transport ticket. Nearby was a tram stop, and about the same distance away was the underground line. We chose to go with the tram the first time into the city, so off we headed. On the tram you are required to validate your ticket the first time you step on board, and then carry the ticket from that point onwards. The tram dropped us off right in the center of the shopping district, so we headed into the first supermarket we saw – to window shop of course! Beer was cheap – there were bottles as cheap as 25 cents each! We quickly got into the spirit and determined anything higher than a $2.50 equivalent was a bit of a rip off- which is quite hilarious to think about!
We wandered around to see the sights – the famous ‘Astronomical Clock’ which was obviously a huge let down (readers who have been will know what I mean!) It is apparently the second most disappointing tourist attraction in the world. We went and saw Charles Bridge, and the weather just so happened to be perfect. Lots of vendors set up over the bridge, selling their wares, including a man who had some cool French Bulldog paintings.
It was getting to around dinnertime, so we wandered back to the tram area and ended up finding a Chinese restaurant. Yes – I know, a Chinese restaurant in Prague? Why? Well, I will tell you, it’s the best Chinese food we have ever had in Europe! We were both incredibly impressed with our meals, and while it came to the whopping price of 250 koruna (around $25), including drinks, it was absolutely worth it. Haha. Don’t be put off by the photo – the food was awesome!
On the way back to the hotel we picked up some drinks at the local market, along with some local chocolates, and went back to the hotel to enjoy ourselves.
We awoke a little late, but made it in time for breakfast, which was on from 6.30-11am to make up for lazy people such as us on the weekends. The breakfast was epic, and we enjoyed a couple of glasses of sparking wine before we headed off into the city for the day. This time we took the metro and got off at a stop that dropped us into the middle of the city again. Just a warning – finding the way out was a bit difficult, but we eventually made it out of there!
The clothes shops were pretty reasonably priced, Nick found a couple of tshirts, I think two cost $10 – bargain! There is a large mall called the Palladium that we found by mistake (I needed to find a bathroom!). The bathroom in the mall was free, unlike in Germany, so that was convenient. The mall was huge and full of great stores- large brand name stores like Top Shop were there which were fun to browse.
I had booked us a Sandeman’s tour. The way it works is that you are in a large group, and you don’t pay up front. At the end, you determine how much value you feel you got out of the tour and tip accordingly. I did feel as though they pushed their other tours (that cost) quite heavily, but I still think it was a neat kind of system. The tour was about three hours, including a stop for a snack at a Czech pub. We paid about $5 for a diet coke, a huge 500ml beer and a snack of a plate of Czech potato patties.
The tour was quite interesting. I obviously knew about the Soviet background of the Czech Republic (former Czechoslovakia) – however I didn’t realize how much warfare they had been involved in over the centuries. Due to some of the religious problems they had, now more than 70% of the population define themselves as atheist or agnostic. Quite the contrast to Czech’s neighbor, Germany, that has a population of almost 70% defining themselves as Christian.
Hitler wanted to retire in Prague, so that Nazis held a large presence in the Czechoslovakia – in fact, as we all know, Czechoslovakia was annexed prior to WWII. It wasn’t until Poland was invaded too that the world stepped in! Hitler decided not to destroy the Jewish Ghetto as he wanted to have it as a museum for people to come to and view the ‘extinguished’ race. This means that the synagogue in Prague’s Jewish quarter is the oldest in Europe.
Later after the tour, and more wandering on our own, we ended up finding a Pakistani restaurant to have dinner at. It was delicious! The meal was definitely different to what I have been used to, but it was incredibly tasty and definitely the best we have had in Europe. (Seems to be a theme when it comes to Prague!)
Once again, we found a supermarket to grab some drinks and snacks at and retired to the hotel. This was after a couple of events:
1- Apparently I walked into the path of a man high on meth, which ended up him yelling expletives at me in Czech in front of lots of passers by. I was embarrassed, but then realized it’s quite nice not knowing what someone is yelling at you.
2- A man was high on meth in the metro station (which is where the supermarket was). I didn’t want to go near him, and Nick got annoyed at me, saying he was harmless. We ended up having a domestic over the fact that I lead a much more sheltered life than my husband, and that if he married someone who came from a small pacific nation, then he had to deal with my emotional outbursts when I’m scared. I’m not sure who won the argument, but we ended up ending our argument when we realized he wasn’t there anymore.
3- Czech has quite relaxed laws. It is not ‘illegal’ (but not legal) to carry certain quantities of drugs – including meth, cocaine etc. Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend on staying out late after dark. The Czech girl who took our tour said she avoids Wenceslas Square after dark.
4- We went into a cigar shop and ended up seeing all sorts of awesome weapons for sale- including asps, brass knuckles, throwing stars and various high-grade pepper sprays. I wanted the pepper spray. Next time!
We woke late, and ended up realizing that we would be late to pick Charlie up if we headed back into the city, so we were a bit sad about that. We had already decided we would be back again, so the sadness didn’t last too long. The food was the best we have had in Europe, so it would be rude not to go back.
We enjoyed a large breakfast and then decided to check out and head to a large supermarket on the way back to Germany to pick up some Czech goodies. We left and hopped onto the autobahn and quickly found a Globus.
These are some of the random foods we found, some purchased, some we didn’t:
Here is a short selection of food/drink reviews:
We found this delicious biscuit bar in two different flavours – caramel and coconut. I think coconut was my favourite. The bottom of the biscuit was like a delicious shortbread, with a layer of coconut cream running through it, topped with chocolate and sprinkled with m&m type morsels on top. It caused a delightful party in my mouth, so we ended up buying about 3 of each flavour. The price at about a 50c equivalent was extremely budget friendly.
Orion chocolate (vanilla flavour)
I feel quite spoiled when it comes to chocolate now, with having Milka and Ritter Sport varieties at budget prices here. I should not have expected much from this Czech chocolate, and I was indeed sorely disappointed. My first bite was of just the chocolate (no filling). It tasted like cheap Christmas or Easter holiday chocolate, the type that you hang on your Christmas tree and then regret eating as it sticks to the roof of your mouth. The vanilla filling was ok but I wouldn’t buy again.
Zelyonaya Marka Vodka
It would have been rude not to get some vodka while we were there, so we paid the pricey sum of 239 koruna (around $12.50) for a bottle of vodka. This vodka is amazing. It is devoid of smell and is extremely smooth in mixed drinks. We have had it in screwdrivers and other tasty varieties and this stuff is potent.
We plan to go back and get more of this delicious vodka.
We eventually made it back to Germany at around 7.30pm, after a stop at a random US army base on the way back for lunch/dinner. We will definitely be back to Prague, maybe next time in winter to see the contrast.
Until next time! (Which probably won’t be until our big trip in September)