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(I'm trying to go back and caption each photo, but something just came up that I need to attend to first. So that's why only some have captions!)
When you hear, “The Czech Republic” or “Prague”, what do you think of? Possibly the architecture, history, culture, food, or simply… beer? Admittedly, I knew nothing prior to my arrival in Prague, so my mind was an open book of blank pages quivering with the anticipation of drying ink and a recorded story. Why? Well, throughout the duration of my travels so far, I had consistently heard about how amazing Prague is and how I “have to go there!”. So, I added it to my list of destinations and as of October 31st, 2016, I arrived.
As you may know (if you read my last post), I missed my first bus and so by the time I arrived in Prague, it was nearing 10 pm. On Halloween (as an American, I love Halloween). Needless to say, I was ecstatic that I was not only in Prague, but that I had the chance to celebrate in a new country and with new people. But what to wear? Costumes are everything and since I had shaved my beard off a week earlier, using my long hair for a Jesus costume was out of the question. Fearless as I am, and without worrying, I realized that I still had my lederhosen from Oktoberfest! So, the plan was set; I would go as a Bavarian.
In a surprising and unfortunate twist to this segment of the story, none of this experience was meant to be as my Couchsurfing host wasn’t feeling well and wanted to go to sleep early (10-11pm). Oh, and there was only one key. Meaning that instead of a celebration, I would instead spend the night inside working on my blog and writing. Not to be deterred by my lackluster start, and driven by the past talks of amazement at this city, I had high hopes for the next day.
November 1st, 2016
Although I was up until nearly 2:30 am working, I somehow managed to wake up early (~7:30am). Not that it did me any good as I couldn’t leave until my host was awake to let me out/lock the door behind me (again, only 1 key). With little else in terms of options, I drew a bit of what was to become a full scene of a long-since-demolished Ukrainian church, got to work sorting through and choosing photos for my blog, and planning out where I wanted to go during the day. At around 10, he woke up and shortly after we both left. This was to mark the actual beginning of my time in Prague.
The first place that I made a bee-line for was a nearby church, Kostel sv. Ludmily, that I had passed the night before en route to my host’s flat. It had a square/plaza all its own and had a very cathedral-y look to it. As many of you know by my past drawings/photographs, I have a fascination with European churches. What you may not know is why, so I’ll explain why I have this obsession with buildings that cost so much time and money to build/maintain, yet provide no tangible service.
To set facts straight from the get-go, it’s definitely not because I’m religious or have unquenchable thirst for spiritual understanding. Like many others, I myself have little interest in organized religion due to the corruption that was its foundation and how pick & choose many people who claim to be religious are when it comes to helping others. By no means are all people of faith like this, but the ones who (along with some personal experiences) have really turned me off to the entire concept of organized religion.
My philosophy is simple: be a good person and live a good life. I don’t think myself or anyone else needs to tithe or give pagan offerings in order to achieve this “good life” status either. Anyways, I’m going off on a tangent… Why am I fascinated by these churches so much? History. Regardless of what side of history, good or bad, these huge structures housed education for centuries and as such are safe havens for history and culture. In many European countries, the churches have registers of the inhabitants of the surrounding area and are the go-to place when it comes down to tracing genealogy. Not only that but the monks that used to live in these churches/monasteries were also the educated individuals who kept records of historical events pertaining to the area. Not to mention the amazing architecture and how well-preserved they are due to the funding/commitment that being a religious building provides.
To sum this portion of my post up, I love seeing the frescoes painted on their walls, the architecture that pushed the boundaries of the times when they were constructed, and the history that goes along with many of the locations where they currently stand.
Anyways, the first church was locked when I went to visit it and then later when I re-visited, I learned that like many other locations in Prague, you can’t go in without paying (granted it is a low amount in comparison to what some Italian churches were charging). Now, while I completely understand that they have costs associated with being a common touristic point, I think that this requirement is ridiculous. Also, the Czech Republic has their own currency (CZK) so my euros wouldn’t work and I wasn’t going to exchange my money just to change it back again in the next country or so.
Long story short, I skipped any location that required a payment for entry. This was probably for the best as it kept me away from many areas that were overthrown by hordes of tourists with selfie-sticks and Segways. From that point, I walked around looking at everything from the multicolored cobblestone sidewalks to the walkways made of lumber on end in a pattern similar to stones to the intricately detailed balconies and pointy rooftops. As an artist, there’s no such thing as too many details and within my first hour, I understood why people loved this city.
In the rest of my time, I would visit many, many more churches. Though as I previously stated, a large portion of them charged entry fees, so I would stick to the exterior for the most part.
Like many other European cities along my route with great systems of Public transit, Prague is no different. They have their trams and buses and they have their underground system. Regardless of which direction you’re going, you can usually find a station or pick-up point somewhere in the near vicinity and the timetables are posted at each location. Please note that many of these stations are quite far underground and only have one working escalator going in each direction with one that’s consistently out-of-order and no stairs in sight. So you have to wait for what seems like an eternity to get to/from the world of the surface-dwellers.
Now, as I said in my section about churches, I didn’t have any cash. Why is this important to note? Many of the Czech ticket machines are rather old and only accept cash, so I went my entire 5 days in Prague without paying for public transit. Not recommended as they do check tickets occasionally (I saw it happen only once), but I rode for the entire 5 days and probably 20-30 times and didn’t have any issues personally. If you do pay, the cost of riding is very cheap (~$0.80 per 30 min ride) so if you’re planning on going, a) make sure to take out some cash from an ATM or b) be extremely careful (again, do as I say and not as I do haha). Oh, and the different trams vary on a wide scale when it comes to quality. Some are very new, futuristic, and comfortable with large displays noting where you are and what’s coming up while others are quite old and if you’re lucky, you'll even have a LED screen which scrolls through what the next stop is. You never know which one of these you’ll get, so that’s the main gamble that you make. Overall, a 3-star system. Improve the ticket-purchasing system, fix the damn escalators, and upgrade those last few trams and all will be well.
P.S. – Sorry, not sorry about not paying to ride your trams. It was fun while it lasted :)
As I briefly touched on in both of the previous portions, the prices in the Czech Republic are quite low. Transit fees are minimal, bread costs less than a dollar when purchased directly from the bakery (and it’s fresh, though not nearly as good as Germany, Switzerland, or France’s), and from what I saw when checking my backup options, housing through AirBnB is quite cheap (I didn’t end up paying for housing as I found CS hosts for my visit).
Restaurants are everywhere and the food is fairly average in price (from $6-15 (USD) at any medium scale restaurant with good reviews). Menus are usually posted outside so there aren’t any surprises once you get the menu to order. As for the quality of their food, I can’t really comment. I tend to buy produce, some pasta/bread, and yogurt for sustaining my energy/body weight as it’s cost-effective and feeds me for multiple days for the same amount that one meal in a restaurant would cost.
Museums have low admission charges with some places being free. There’s an old church with a convent (Klášter sv. Anežky České) built just down the river-bank from the Charles Bridge that is free of charge to see and is quite well preserved.
THINGS TO SEE
As everyone will tell you, there’s the Charles Bridge which is quite long and has statues lining each side’s railing and a tower at each end. In terms of being the highlight of my experience, the bridge was nothing of the sort. It was interesting to see and the statues were varied and somewhat cool to see, but it fell a bit short of my expectations. That being said, if you wait near the bridge at sunrise or sunset, you can get some amazing photos OF the bridge with the beautifully colored sky in the background. THAT I highly recommend as not only do you get the bridge, but you can see the tower at each end, the churches on each side, and in the far background, Prague Castle (which I’ll get into shortly). Besides the bridge, there’s the old town with its plethora of old buildings, churches, and statues/fountains.
The layout is quite similar to many other European cities, if I’m being honest (some architectural differences due to being a different culture/region/etc..., as it shares the basic layout of big buildings along the river. One cool place (where you’ll have to find off tourists with a stick) is the old town hall. At one point (WWII), the building had been damaged and rather than rebuilding it, the people of Prague simply took a large portion off and left the rest standing. I’ll post photos so you can see what I’m talking about. The old wall that once extended much further is quite visibly altered and on the face, just around the corner of the building, there’s a large astronomical clock which is highly accurate. Not really something to see, but people flock to watch its reaction at the turn of each hour.
If you’re in that area, you’ll see the rest of the architecture and history, so I really don’t need to go into further detail. A bit further away and many steps up, there’s Prague Castle. I didn’t visit it until my third day, but I had seen it every day leading up to it and just hadn’t the chance. Fun fact: it’s the largest castle in Europe, with its own cathedral (Katedrála Sv. Víta), many other smaller churches, and several palaces. Entry onto the grounds is free (after a walk through a metal detector and quick look-over of your belongings), though many of the places on the grounds charge entrance fees. The church is free to enter, but in order to go closer to the center away from the tourists, you need a special photographer license. It’s dumb, but after everything else, I kind of expected it. Anyways, the church is cool to see, and the view once you’re leaving the castle is quite nice/panoramic. So I suggest it for those reasons alone.
Away from the city and buildings (okay, not REALLY “away from”), there’s a tower that appears to be a smaller cousin of the Eiffel Tower. You can see if from most of the river-bordering city as it is quite high, overlooking the city and supposedly giving you a nice panoramic view. I want you to go near that, but ignore it and keep walking. It’s a waste of money as I have a better location to suggest and there’s always too much of a line waiting to ascend. About 5 minutes or so down the path (with the city on your left-hand side), you’ll pass by a small and quite old looking stone staircase with a metal railing. It is unused as it doesn’t lead to anything anymore (as far as the city is concerned). Anyways, take it and you’ll end up near some carved rocks and a bit further you’ll notice some caves built into the cliff-side where it appears that some homeless people live. At that point, take a right (still going in the direction of the city) and you’ll go about 100-200 feet before ending up in what seems to be an orchard. Go left and you’ll go slightly uphill. There, you have a great view of the entire city (complete with the castle, though a tree SLIGHTLY gets in the line-of-sight of it). And the best part? It’s free.
In terms of my personal experience in Prague, I had a great time. It was cold, but the skies were a pretty blue the entire time, there were buildings everywhere, my hosts were both quite helpful (despite the inconveniences due to not being able to come/go freely; a trade-off for the experience of staying with someone vs paying for a hostel or AirBnB), I was able to walk just about everywhere that I wanted, and I saw/met some really interesting people.
An old man playing the saxophone while singing was still probably the highlight of my time there. He was so lively and had a fun personality, that to me he was Prague personified. I’ll post some photos that I took of him while performing. In addition, I was able to take a few 360 photos and work more on my time-lapse skills. One downside was that it was about 50/50 on people speaking/understanding English. In touristic areas, they were more fluent, but in other areas, you would be lucky to get an answer to a basic question of “Left or right?”. This being said, it was definitely no fault of theirs that they didn’t speak my language and I wish that I would have known more Czech prior to visiting. Oh well, I didn’t and I still survived.
...And of course, a drawing :)
The final question: Would I go back? Gladly. Now, on to Krakow!