Prague is one of those places that is new to bustling tourism but which is handling it well. The city is gorgeous, there's a great transportation system and there's no shortage of restaurants, bars or things to do. Since joining the EU and conveniently being included in my Eurail pass, Czech Republic has changed quite a lot. It has a lot of history, like Budapest. Unfortunately I didn't learn much about it lol. I'm sure there was some devastation- the city just looks too new, colourful and architecturally beautiful.
Prague castle is very famous so I had to check it out. It is the biggest castle compound in the world. My disappointment came from the fact that there is no real castle. What you can mostly see from the distance is St Vitus's Cathedral. There is an old royal palace and a new building where the president works and parliament meet but you don't get to see that. However one day I did get to see the president arrive in a black car lol.
So yes, my first stop was Prague castle. To get there you cross the famous Charles Bridge, a beautiful walking bridge with many interesting statues. Nearby is the Lennon wall, a wall full of graffiti dedicated to the end f Communism. Once I got to the castle, I decided to take the long tour but some of it wasn't worth it. The history of Prague Castle was interesting and the picture gallery was nice. Going into the royal palace, you see that it's mostly empty, although the huge Vladislav hall is impressive. Otherwise, there are places to look out at the view of Prague.. As well as where the 2nd Defenestration of Prague took place in 1618. That's when people are thrown out a window. Lol. In this case, two Catholic governors were found guilty of religious persecution. They survived the fall!
Back to St Vitus's cathedral. It's massive and very gothic looking on the outside. Inside there are beautiful stained glass windows, a beautiful silver statue that is very valuable, and the king's balcony, where he sat during service.
Golden Lane is a cute narrow street where castle workers and locals lived. Now, their small houses are decorated to look like they once did. For example there was once a famous psychic that lived on the street. Her son went off to war and she waited in vain for his return, always setting a place for him at the supper table. She continuously predicted an early end to the war and a Soviet defeat so she was eventually arrested by the gestapo and tortured to death.
You can also watch the changing of the guards every hour by the main gates. Speaking of the gates, they feature two interesting statues, including a guy about to stab another guy, and a guy beating someone with a club lol.
Nearby is Strahov monastery, which has a gorgeous library. Unfortunately it cost money to take pictures and you can't even go into the rooms, you can only look inside lol. Still the rooms were beautiful, with frescos, old books in guilded bookshelves and globes. Outside the rooms they had a bunch of dried animals including an alligator, a snake and a dodo bird. The dodo was "fantasy" as the employee said. She did show me a (drawn) picture of one that lived though. She said he couldn't fly. Real, who knows lol. They also had the supposed horn of a unicorn. It sure looked like what a real one would look like! Weird eh.
Petrin Hill had several other attractions like a mini Eiffel Tower called Petrinska Rozhledna with a great view of the city, and a planetarium, where I saw the sun and Venus through a huge microscope. Venus was a white dot and the sun was big and yellow (duh) with heat waves radiating off of it and some sun spots. And yes, we used a special lens to see the sun; you can't use a normal telescope. You'd burn your eyes out of your head lol.
The hunger wall is also here. Basically it's a wall that is sort of useful because it added extra protection against enemies... but it was basically built because there were no jobs and people were starving, so the king gave them jobs. The result is the "hunger wall." Finally there is a creepy memorial for victims of Communism here, which starts with a piece of a man and, as you go down the stairs, ends up with a full statue of a (devastated looking, naked) man.
There are several synagogues in Prague. I visited the Spanish synagogue, the self-claimed most beautiful one in Europe. Is is very beautiful, although smaller than I expected. The entire inside is painted in brown and red patterns and as a whole it is very impressive. Nearby is an old Jewish cemetery, which looks like something out of a horror movie: jagged tombstones extremely close together.
Prague is quite medieval looking, so they take advantage of it in the old town square, with vendors and guys dressed as knights. There is clock tower with an astronomical clock and one day, someone was at the top playing a medieval tune with a trumpet, flag hanging from it and all. I loved it, totally my thing. There's also a strange statue and two churches. Nearby is Powder Tower, an old gate to the town, as well as Estates Theatre, where Mozart's Don Giovanni opera premiered in Prague and was extremely well received (unlike in Vienna).
One night I tried to find Mozart's house (man he had a lot of houses! I've already seen 2) in a park across the river but I got lost and instead took a very nice walk in the park. I also ventured into new town and it was nice to see a different part of Prague, where locals hang out. I ate dinner there, which consisted of potato dumplings (not as good as Grandma's) and pork tenderloin. And beer of course. As I was told by people from Prague, it is famous for it's beer. Specifically Pilsner Urquell. And it's damn good. People in Prague drink more beer per capita than anywhere else. My kind of place!! Lol. Some people have beer and soup for breakfast. I saw people drinking as early as 10:30 am. Craziness.
I took a day trip to Karlstejn Castle, about 45 minutes outside of Prague. It's a real fairytale castle, so that was cool. I was just happy to see an actual castle! I took tour two, a tour focused on the religious aspect of the castle. We toured a chapel that had religious wall frescos from the 14th century still well preserved! The big tourist attraction was the Chapel of the Holy Cross which has 129 beautiful portraits of saints still well preserved, which is the biggest collection in the world. The owner of the castle, King Charles IV was an avid collector of relics. These were places below the respective saint's portrait. In the chapel walls are semi- precious stones, which makes the chapel the most valuable room in the castle. This is where the crown jewels were kept as well. The ceiling is covered in gold sheeted stars with Venetian glass in the middle, making it look like the stars are shining. It really was a stunning room.
The castle has an extremely deep well but our tour guide said that it was all for show- the castle actually got its water from the nearby stream. As the castle was attacked twice, but never completely conquered, the knowledge about it's source of water was very important. Only the king and one other person knew. It was rumoured that the well diggers were killed to keep the secret, as they knew water was never found. All the attackers had to do was poison the river, but they never found out.
Prague food is good and cheap. It features a lot of pork and my favouite, dumplings. One night I hung out with 2 German guys from my hostel and we grabbed some food. I had rabbit, they had pork. Afterwards, we went down to one of the islands in the river and sat by the water. They were interested in Canada, I was interested in what their generation thinks about WW2. They told me there is guilt and that for a long time they couldn't be proud to be from Germany, but the tide is turning. It's more acceptable to be proud... The country is doing well after all. Then we drank some beers, people/tourist- watched and saw the city at night. It is a gorgeous city.
I was there 4 days so when I was a little burnt out I decided to see a movie. A surprising number were dubbed so I has to see Transformers 3 (X-men was sold out :( ) It felt great to see a movie... Unfortunately, just as the battle was won, the power cut out and the movie shut off. They told us to stick around (in English only after one of my fellow tourists asked lol). However, 20 min later is was past midnight, so I ditched. At least in Canada they give you a coupon or something! Nothing here.
That's about it for Prague. Gotta love their beer drinking, dumpling eating, laid back ways. I had fun.
Germany next. Berlin is up first.