Two Days in Prague
Lo's art camp exhibition was Friday, and we headed straight from there with a car full of Haring and Pollock remakes for Prague. It's a city I've been desperate to go to since I first started studying history. Defenestration! Preservation! Bridges and red-tiled roofs. It did not disappoint.
We stayed here. It was a great option in part because of these incredible double pained windows that were so delightful and unusual (for me, I realize for some people these are not newsworthy).
While not in the city center, it had ample free parking (yahoo!) and was on the 22 tram line which is like the express train to awesome town. We all enjoy taking trains and buses and trams and trolleys and subways so being close to a central one was great.
I'm planning a post on how we prep a map/itinerary for each trip. But, for now, we'll leave it as we had two routes planned. One mimicked Budapest, flat side of town on the first day, hills on the second. The second included some flat and some hill time each day. In part, we were watching the weather and energy levels after an big weekend and week at camp.
We picked the latter option and here's how it unfolded. I'm surprised at how calm I was...in Budapest I'd had a panic the first day we weren't seeing enough. Whether I was more tired or more confident or more ready to just be swallowed up by Prague's beauty, I just wasn't super must-see oriented this weekend. It worked out great, I'd say!
And, in the interest of keeping these trips transparent and lest you think we are secretly wealthy, one factor we were mindful of was money this weekend. We were sensitive to the fact that Budapest had been a more expensive weekend than we'd expected. While a wildly affordable city, if you say yes to every museum entry fee or tower-to-climb ticket you can quickly spend more than you'd expected. So we more strategically considered museums and towers. It's weird to weigh towers but there are just so many you *could* climb, especially in Prague. Did we spend Lo's college fun in Budapest? No, but a buncha bucks more here and a few meals out there and the "live like we normally live" component of these trips is out the (gorgeous) window.
Up and onto the tram early. You can only buy tickets in a few places, so be sure to hit a Tabak shop or the like. Many things can be paid for in euro or Czech crowns but unlike Vienna, there aren't on-tram ticket buying options and when you do find a machine, it only takes crowns.
We wandered into the heart of Prague 1, on the east of the Vitava River and where much of the soul of Prague rests. Our goal was kind of a wander-and-see. One of our first sees was David Černý's "Man Hanging Out," which while gasp-worthy is kind of just a chill, strong Sigmund Freud. I knew it was here, it caught me off guard. Kind of sums up every corner in Prague. Besides, Černý's sculptures are everywhere here, provocative and engaging around an unexpected corner.
As we had gotten on the right tram but in the wrong direction, it was about five seconds into sightseeing that Lo declared an immense hunger. Brett had been talking about chimney cakes as a must-do in Budapest, but I read they were a holiday treat there. And the we got to Prague and every corner and alley and street had a chimney cake model popping off its wall and cakes galore. Yes, you can get them stuffed with whipped cream or chocolate or even ice cream but we managed to convince Lo that cinnamon and sugar was good enough.
I have no recommendations on places. We picked the place closest. It was good. That means we were either lucky and found the best...or they're all good and made pretty much the same way.
Fueled, having done nothing really, we turned to a quick whirl around Old Town Square. We peeped the Franz Kafka house (not that there is just one...) and meandered on to the church-that-inspired-Disney.
As luck or chimney cake delays would have it, we rolled in right in time to watch other people watch the Astronomical Clock.
Whenever I get overwhelmed by the sheer much-ness of it all, i like to think back to a placard I saw in Mont Saint-Michel. I was annoyed by all the trinkets and tchotchke for sale and all the people and marketing and ugh. And then the placard which pointed out that since it became a pilgrimage site, the lane we were on had been a bustling zone of trade, then peddling saintly things and now personalized key chains.
So it was in Prague. I read about the 18th century square, filled with acrobats the like offering their distractions to visitors. And while no less annoyed at all the PEOPLE who had dared come to Prague the weekend I had, I was able to make my peace with the many people trying to sell those people things. Particularly if they were incredible jazz musicians.
As we continued on our way we stopped into St. Nicholas' Church.
Going into sacred spaces with a six year old has been a thing. She loves the ornate-ness and we have asked her to become the official organ spotter, which gives her a fun task.
But as non-believers, or any parent I imagine, these are also spaces fraught with questions. Sometimes asked a tad loudly. Or near someone praying. Or with a tinge of judgement I worry is an echo of how we talk about faith.
I love, though, how it provokes conversation. It requires that I clarify and articulate the value I put in these spaces and the positive power I see in faith focused on helping people, in changing the world for the better and in personal assessment. An ongoing conversation, for sure.
After fumbling my way through that in a pew while whispering, we headed ou with a stop at V Ungeitu, a fabulous shop of marionettes and toys and stuff. We picked up a travel-sized Jenga-esque game that involves colored blocks and a die.
And then on to the Powder Tower. One of the original 13 towers, it now separates the Old and New City.
We liked it for the random puzzle on the second level (buy your tickets on the first level, so many confused tourists not realizing 1st level in Europe is off the ground), the crazy spiral stairs requiring a rope and, duh, the views.
So much of your time in Prague, if you are me, is spent trying to capture the breadth of Prague in a single breath or image or description. So you go higher.
And now, because it had been eight seconds since she last ate, Lo determined that it was lunch time.
I had read in one place that kid-friendly options were not as plentiful in Prague.
First, that is hooey. We saw endless options for kids.
Second, the options on the internet are often wrong. We were seduced into heading to T-Anker, which is a rooftop restau on top of the Kotva Department Store. The site mentioned it as a hidden gem with an incredibly patient staff, a robust menu and a kid's play area.
It had one of those three. A great staff, yes. But nothing even resembling kid-friendly-ness if you are expecting it. Lo is good at restaurants especially when they have chicken and fries on the menu, so I wasn't stressed. And, my gosh, THE VIEWS. I would deal with an angry staff and screaming, hungry child (maybe) to sit up there and sip a beer and feel like a damn queen.
I also tried an Aperol spritzer. I dunno. It tasted kinda like Triaminic? I've loved the spritzers with elderflower I've had. Thought bitter orange would be great. It's super popular, I'll say that.
After lunch we wandered to Wenceslas Square and into Hamley's (insane multi-story toy store with slide, mirror maze, carousel, etc inside) and onto a playground in Seminary Garden. Really lovely and quiet, though not a single kid I saw could figure out that banana slide.
It started to sprinkle, a good sign to move on as the Mucha Museum was up next. I've long loved his work. A contemporary of Toulouse Lautrec (whose posters introduced me to the name Loie), Mucha's gauzy, textured, pattern-plus illustrations are a major influence on, well, what I ask Brett to design for me.
It's a wonderfully small, digestible museum with a bio film at the end. This was one of my major musts for Prague and it didn't disappoint.
From there it was more look-at-that as we wandered across the Charles Bridge.
Much of our reasoning for heading to Letnà was to have a beer at the biergarten with crazy views and a playground. We refueled with some Angelato and up we went.
I knew about the Metronome, the views and the biergarten.
The Metronome was built in the 1991 by Vratislav Novák as a lasting reminder of the Czech communist experience. It replaced the largest (like 17,000 ton) statue of Stalin.
What happened to the statue? It was blown up. Not as communism fell. Nope. Krushchev had it blown up in 1962 because Stalin's reputation was blemished and it was seen as an embarrassment to then Czechoslovakia, though communism would last nearly three more decades.
What stands now is a moving tribute to freedom. Like, literally moving.
The shoes? Those are a nod to the incredible skateboard scene in Stalin Square, behind the Metronome. With marble stairs and curves, the square is considered a global favorite for skaters, who then toss shoes on the wire.
Near one corner of the square, a Lindy Hop dance party was in full effect. Later that night I'd look for information on it, Swing Letná organizes informal yet legit swing events up there on the regular.
We all sat mesmerized and feeling lucky. No, that's not all true. I was mesmerized and happy to see the fun. And then I was a bit nervous someone would expect me to dance. And then maybe sad no one did? I dunno. Being a woman is hard.
What was easy was watching Lo watch the dancers and then want to dance with her dad. Twice in a day they danced and danced and danced. I hope someday when she's old this memory trickles up and she's filled with contentment at just what a good guy he is.
After some dancing and skateboard watching and also some time pretending she was a ninja, we went on to find the biergarten + playground.
We found something. Looking through other people's photos we might have stopped a few hundred yards shy of the larger biergarten with awesome seating. This? This was good enough.
As dusk arrived, we wandered back past the dancers and down the hill. We stopped for a quick taco / quesadilla fuel up at a food stand below the Metronome as people prepared for a Saturday night. Then I took an Uber home with Lo, and Brett wandered the streets eating suckling pig and drinking beer.
And, I dunno again. That's it. That's what we did the first day. It felt huge and wander-y and fun. It looks on this here page like we did a few things. Maybe that's how Prague gets you.
Up and out and at least this time we knew which direction to head. This time we took the 22 across the Vltava all the way up towards the palace complex.
Before we headed in, we started a bit outside the complex to see some of the Strahov Monastery and the Miniature Museum, one of those lovely, tiny museums that make me so happy. I love that it houses "one of the largest collections of miniatures" in the world.
After that, a quick croissant refill (again, many guide sites make it seem like options are sparce. They are not. Cafes abound.) and a beer hunt where Brett almost accidentally bought gluten free beer.
PS: You know why Czech beer is so good? Beyond having mastered the lager as a lighter, post-Industrialization option to heavy, dark beers they believe in crazy fresh beer. So it's not pasteurized and it's delivered in some really fun ways. Ask Brett about it. I'll always be a bit ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ about most beer stuff.
And then we headed over to the big show.
You could spend endless days seeing all the palaces and gardens and treasures in the complex. You buy a ticket package that allows access to specific things. We opted for B, which is a less complete but still fantastic half-day. The process is kinda cool. Depending on your ticket, you can access a the sites you've selected and it's all marked with roman numerals and close by but still feels like you are experiencing a ton.
PS: If you want to take photos inside the spaces you also need to purchase a photo pass. I have no idea if the million people taking pictures got one, but you know this gal did.
First stop was St. Vitus.
So much old loveliness but a main lure for me to St. Vitus was the Mucha window, a gorgeous Art Nouveau color blast in the vast space.
It was just one of many mind-blowing stained glass windows. It was gorgeous and gasp-y inside. I love, though, that it was totally a surprise. I knew the Mucha window was there but as we walked up I expected it to be the only bright in there. From the outside the windows are black and grim and imposing. Inside it a Skittle factory of stained glass.
We also toured the Old Royal Palace (still need to figure out the difference between a castle and a palace). From the entry point I was expecting big, empty white spaces (as opposed to Schönbrunn's gilded insanity). And lots of me looking at ceilings.
I did look at a lot of ceilings. But there was way more than white. A throne room and ginormous old books and this Hogwarts-y looking room.
It's also location of the second, yes, second defenestration of Prague, which is kinda the more important one and prompted the Thirty Years War. Having seen the window in our apartment, I'm not sure how people figured out how to throw each other out of windows, but there ya go.
We peeked into St. George's and the wandered down to Golden Lane.
Named for Goldsmiths, this row of OG Tiny Houses was built between layers of castle walls and housed everyone from a psychic killed by the Nazis to Kafka to nameless seamstresses eons ago to Josef Kazda's secret film collection and society. Oh, it was neat. Crowded and so crowded but neat.
Post-palace it was time to hit Malá Strana, one of the oldest and quaintest (though it's hard to find a not-quaint area) of the city. Windy streets and small shops abound.
I had read and totally forgotten that this is a land of gingerbread acumen but the smells from a small shop beckoned us in. I didn't think I liked gingerbread. I was wrong.
The shop is full of charmingly decorated cookies, that are seriously yummy. In trying to find the name of it, it appears there's some internet debate about whether this is a museum or a shop. Seemed like a shop to me, and a darn good one, which also has outdoor seating and drinks.
Your view is of the Kafka Museum and the statue of two dudes peeing on the Czech Republic by David Černý (when you see it, you'll know). Černý also has some giant naked baby sculptures you could stumble on...and get a couple weird photos of.
We also picked up a computer cut, hand painted wood ornament made by the nicest woman who has ever lived. Not only did she give Loie an unpainted ornament to paint once we got home, she let us leave with the package and come back with some money as we both thought the other had coins enough.
Getting a few Christmas ornaments is a favorite trip tradition and makes decorating the tree each year a walk down memory lane. Finding ones we can keep safe is a ongoing conversation. I love glass and fragile ones...but a flat packing, thin wood ornament can't really be beat.
We also popped into a small design shop with great prints and ceramics. Prague is great for finding old and quaint next door to modern and cutting edge.
As we continued through Malá Strana, or Lesser Town, our trusty Google Map let us know we were right near the Lennon Wall. As a kid raised on an abiding belief in John as the superior Beatle, I wanted to see the wall. But more, it's the role it played in quiet protest and free speech in Prague during Communist rule. More recently, it was painted all white by a group of art students, though that didn't last long.
Lo knew immediately who Lennon was and said, "Oh yea, Grandpa's talked about him a LOT." Yes, yes he has.
Wandered on a bit more as early evening set in and here's where things shifted. We were walking toward Pétrin Hill. Maze, tower, some kind of weird tunnel I had read about. I HAD PLANS.
And then a few feet from where we'd cross the street to head up into the hill, I spotted a sign for craft beer and street food. We went in and looked. It was nearing 6 pm. We'd go up in the hills, we said, and come back and have a later dinner!
Instead, we left and immediately came back to Zahrádka Vítězná 18.
The next couple hours were spent chatting with an American/German couple whose young daughter Holly kept eating our fries, playing foosball and drinking really good beer.
It was exactly what we needed and wanted.
Would we have gasped with another vista? Sure. Would I have taken 20 pictures of another site. You bet. But those moments...which included splitting a burger the size of our head and a fantastic plate of chicken, that will sit with us as long and as profoundly as another church or castle or tower.
Then it was home and sleep and, mercifully this time, not an insane wake up time to head back to our last week in Vienna.