Prague, Czech Republic: The City of a Hundred Spires

Prague, Czech Republic: The City of a Hundred Spires

It all started when I saw Marissa post on her FB timeline that she’s on her way to Budapest from Heathrow, so I asked — “Were you in London??”. She responded, “Only for a layover. Come to Prague and meet us if you can!”.

I met Marissa and Todd 4 years ago in Santorini and we’ve been keeping track of each others adventures through FB ever since. It would be great to see her and Todd again so I did a bit of re-scheduling of my meetings to free up some time.

Normally, I’d rather pay a bit more if it means I’ll be flying non-stop. However, BA was just too expensive so I opted for Swiss Airlines instead. I had to have a layover in Zurich but I got an upgrade to business class! Happy days!

I wanted to be near the Old Town for convenience sake and settled on Art Nouveau Palace hotel. Trip Advisor gave good ratings, but if you ask me now, I’d say, stay somewhere else. Their hospitality was luke warm at its best that I struggle to understand why people talked highly of it.

Before going, I did check the weather forecast. RAIN. THUNDERSTORM. DANG! Hence, the raincoat travelled with me. True enough, after settling in in my hotel room, dark clouds started to roll in. So I decided to take a nap instead. Work has been tough lately and I’ve been deprived of my beauty sleep for far too long.

When I finally hit the town, the first place I went was Charles Bridge. But boy was it crowded! I tried to take some pictures but it was impossible without getting a dozen people entering the frame. I walk across the bridge towards Lesser Town and walk around that area for a while. Then I crossed back to the Old Town. In my head, I was already devising a plan — I’ll come back tomorrow at 5am when I’d have the bridge all to myself!

When I told my family I was in Prague, my brother said, “Wow! You can eat the twirl bread!”. I was like “What, twirl bread?”. I’ve been to Prague before, albeit 12 years ago and I can’t remember any twirl bread from my previous visit. But once I was in town, it was hard to miss it. My brother obviously was referring to tredlnik and it’s sold at every corner.

Of course I had to buy one, if not only to snap a photo and tell my brother that I’ve eaten one. Not surprisingly, it was yummy. Yes, for the lack of words, yummy, like all things that are less healthy.

If I were to describe how it tastes like, I’d say, it’s a cross between donut/ cinnamon roll and churros. It’s basically a sweet dough, wrapped around a stick, grilled and topped with sugar, cinnamon and walnut mix.

You can have it plain or the centre spread with pistachio paste, nutella or chocolate spead. Some of the tredlnik are shaped like cones and of course, topped with ice cream! It became a ritual for me to have tredlnik every day while there. I can starve when I get back to London!

The first tredlnik I had was with pistachio paste. Yummsss…

I spent some time wandering around the Old Town and checking out some souvenir shops. By 21:00 I was hungry so dinner was in order.

I knew from my last visit to Prague that the menu would mainly be meat based but there’d normally be at least one fish/vegetarian option. I ended up dining at Casserol and was pleasantly surprised that the dining area downstairs was converted from an old cellar which gave it character.

I had traditional mushroom soup for starter and salmon trout for main.

I wished I had some more space in my stomach for dessert but I was absolutely full by then.

The next day, I actually did wake up at 05:00. While brushing my teeth it crossed my mind many times that I may be the only crazy person to get up at some ungodly hour, all for the sake of Charles Bridge. But who would have thought there were crazier people in this world?!

On the way, I saw a homeless peeing against a wall. Urgh.

When I reached the Old Town Bridge Tower around 05:30 there were already a few people there. A wedding photo shoot was in progress and some instagrammers were already there fully made up and doing their own photo shoot! A group of guys looked as if they have been out partying and haven’t even gone to bed yet! And two were peeing at the side of the bridge! Three people and it wasn’t even 06:00 in the morning! Where’s your civic mindedness?!

I tried to put the image out and only enjoy the sunrise on Charles Bridge. While I didn’t have the bridge all to myself, it was much better than the day before. I strolled across to the other end stopping to take photos of the statues and the sceneries beyond.

On the way back I stopped by the famous astronomical clock to hear it chime at 7.

And believe it or not, I saw another man peeing against the wall!

The beautiful image of Prague that I’ve had in my mind all these years shattered.

My hotel is near the Powder Tower so I made a short de-tour to go and see it. The Powder Tower is one of the 13 original city gates. The name “Powder Tower” dates to the 18th century when the tower served as a storehouse for gunpowder.

Later, I went back to the hotel to have breakfast, rest a bit and shower. I wanted to go to Prague Castle today. Marissa won’t be arriving until later in the afternoon so that would give me ample of time to visit the castle. The castle complex sits on top of a hill and is huge. Unless you are training for an endurance race, save the energy to cover the castle grounds and take the tram instead. Tram #22 will take you to Prague Castle.

You can buy tram tickets from the metro station. They have 3 types: 1/2hr for Kr24, 24hrs for Kr110 and 72hrs for Kr360. Once you get on the tram, validate the ticket and the clock starts ticking from that point.

Whilst the tram stops at the Prague Castle, Prazksy HRAD, don’t get off there. Instead, get off two stops after, at Pohorelec. Trust me. You can thank me later.

When you get off Pohorelec, you will see first, the church Nanebevzeti panny Marie. Not far from there, there is the panoramic spot which you wouldn’t want to miss. From here, to get to the castle is all downhill.

Unless of course you want to go to Petrin Hill where at one junction, you will need to turn right and do a de-tour towards the hill. There is a funicular if you don’t fancy the hike up. I hiked up  Petrin Hill 12 years ago and didn’t feel like doing it again this time.

This is Petrin Tower from afar: the tower that looks like a mini Eiffel Tower. You can go up that tower. There’s a lookout platform that would afford great view of Prague.

When I got to the the main castle gate, it was close to 12 noon. At this hour every day, there would be the “grand” change of guards, so I waited. It was ok, I was there anyway so why not wait a while. I suspect, nothing could beat the change of guards at Buckingham Palace though!

The place gets pretty crowded for the noon show so if it’s something you don’t want to miss, come early.

Entrance to the castle incurs admission fee. The fee depends on which building you want to have access to. I took the cheapest at Kr250 which gave entrance to only four sights: St Vitus Cathedral, St George Basilica, Golden Lane and The Old Royal Palace. I knew I had limited time, so these four would do.

On entrance, the first thing that would catch your eyes would be St Vitus Cathedral but there was a long queue to enter so I decided to start from the back and went to Golden Lane.

Golden Lane or Zlata ulicka has its charms. The colourful small houses give an olden world quaintness to it. It was said that once upon a time, the area was resided by many goldsmiths, hence the name. Whether it’s true or not, this place is overly commercialised and attracts crowd of tourists, me included!

I later proceeded to Basilica of St George and the Old Royal Palace.

Last but not least, it was time for St Vitus Cathedral.

Just as I was exiting the cathedral, Marissa texted. “We’re here! Let’s meet for dinner!” Perfect timing. They wanted to have an early dinner. As I haven’t had lunch yet, “early” sounded good.

As I made my way back to the hotel, I had to stop for a dose of tredlnik. This time I chose one with nutella.

Back at the hotel, I showered and got ready for dinner. We were to meet at the Old Town Bridge Tower at 17:30 and head to Marina Restaurant on the Vltava riverbank together.

The service at the restaurant was slow but food was, whilst not great, was good. The view though was spectacular. Yeah, you do pay for the view.

We chatted over drinks and food and caught up with each others adventures. Marissa and gang just finished their Viking River cruise and had loads of stories to tell me. Prague was their last port before they head back to the US. It was great to get to know Mama C and Minda.

Of course our dinner would not be complete without a group photo.

After dinner, we walked to Charles Bridge. Marissa was staying at Lesser Town while I wanted to do some night photography.

On the way back, I passed by the Old Town Square. It was still packed with people. The Church of Our Lady before Tyn glowed with lights from beneath.

By the time I got back to the hotel, my feet were on fire! I had to alleviate it by raising them on stacked pillows!

The following morning, again, I woke up early. I promised Marissa that I’ll meet her on Charles Bridge at 05:30. And again, we were not the first to get there!

We should have touched the picture of the priest thrown off the bridge which is claimed to guarantee your return to Prague and bring you luck. Instead, we touched the cute dog, which … doesn’t bring anything. But the priest thrown off the bridge is just simply tragic! Oh well.

After wandering around on Charles Bridge and taking photos, we said our goodbyes. Marissa and friends were planning to go to Prague Castle whereas I had a plane to catch later that day.

Back at the hotel, I had breakfast and went up to my room. Packing can wait. I wanted to catch up on sleep and napped.

I checked out exactly at noon. After arranging to leave my carry on at the concierge, I walked to the Old Town with no particular agenda. As I passed by the Astronomical Clock, I saw a door next to it opened. I knew that one could go up the tower but I thought that the whole thing was under renovation. It seems not! Despite the renovation on the outer part, it’s open for business!

If you’re ever in Prague, don’t miss going up the astronomical clock tower. For the first level, you can either take the staircase or take the lift. I chose the later. I thought it would take me straight to the top but instead, only to the base where I had to buy an entrance ticket. For Kr220 for adults, it was worth it.

To go up the viewing platform, you can take a cylindrical lift.

But I chose to go up the ramp. There are photos on the wall telling the history of the astronomical clock tower.

When I got down from the tower, I texted Marissa. The day before, I told her the tower was under renovation — I needed to tell her that I was wrong, and for her not to miss out.

I’ve read about this Sigmund Freud: Hang Man. I still had some time so I thought I’d go find it. Tucked at an alley along Husova ulicka, there he was the hanging man. If one didn’t know better, one would surely think this guy is trying to commit suicide!

Hmm… tredlnik would be good now so off I went in search for my daily dose. I couldn’t leave Prague without trying the “chimney”, could I?

As I turned around after buying my chimney cake, I came face to face with Mama C. Ah! They’ve found me!

Apparently they deferred their plan to go to Prague Castle and decided to check out the Old Town that day instead. We went for lunch together after which I had to finally bid goodbye. I have a plane to catch and had already arranged for the cab to pick me up at the hotel at 16:30.

Bye-bye Prague. Although I admit that on this visit, with the peeing men and the lukewarm hospitality, I felt a little sparkle in you have gone, I won’t be surprised if and I do hope that one day I’ll be back.

View from seat 20A, cattle class.

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