After Amsterdam everything was up in the air. Germany and Switzerland made sense geographically on the way to Italy but it turned out this little thing called the Alps were between Berlin and Zurich, making our intended route a little more difficult than we anticipated. Lots of people had talked to us about Copenhagen, and lots of people had talked to us about Prague. Prague definitely made more sense so we looked into some transportation and found ourselves on the first international train we had taken on this trip to Europe. We love our cheap busses, but there’s something to be said for a smooth, fast train. We’d been told over and over that the German trains are really good, and we agreed.
We arrived at about 3:30 in the afternoon and only had two hours until we needed to move on to our host’s town, so we parked it in the train station for a bit. When traveling extensively like we are, sometimes just having a place to sit indoors with a free WiFi connection is enough to make us very happy! I was even able to make a phone call or twoJ
Our host lived in a small village called Odolena Voda, which required a ten minute trip on the Metro followed by a half hour bus ride into the countryside. To be fair, I’m not sure if it is really considered the countryside, or if it just looked that way to us – but we passed a lot of farmland on and green space on the way! The next morning before coming back to Prague, our host took us on a short tour of her town. There was a post office, a church, two grocery stores and a thrift shop, and a grand total of 5,000 people. Our host explained that the population of the town was less than 3,000 people and then a business built a huge complex of high-rise housing, and the population almost doubled overnight!
Arriving in Prague again the next morning and seeing the city in the daylight was seemingly anti-climatic. We walked down the main street from the Central Metro Station and I felt bad wondering where all the beauty was that I had heard about. I thought of a friend we had met years ago traveling, who had seen many cities in Europe and said Prague was the most beautiful. I didn’t get it.
After walking down the long street we came upon Town Square, and as the square unfolded I suddenly got it. It was the most beautiful square I have ever seen. As beautiful as the Grand Place in Brussels, but with several more buildings each as gorgeous as the the most gorgeous ones in Brussels. As gorgeous as the two main squares in Bruges, but on a much larger scale. This was something.
The biggest attraction in Town Square is the Astronomical Clock. This tower has a huge (you guessed it) astronomical clock on it, which not only chimes but has moving parts like a cuckoo clock every hour from 9am-9pm, every day. People gather round the clock to watch and listen. Doors open and figures of the apostles come out of it, a skeleton rings his bell and turns his hourglass, a clockwork rooster crows, and a trumpet player (this is a real person, not a figurine) plays his trumpet way up high at the top of the tower. It is a complete production, and always merits thunderous applause from the crowds who gather below!
After Town Square, we walked through the streets towards the Vlatava River and the Charles Bridge. We passed another small square but the square was not so significant – now all of the buildings were gorgeous, and it was almost too much to take in at once. Everywhere we looked there was detail and beauty, on a scale larger than we have ever seen before. Once we got to the river and saw the bridge, with a castle looming above on the other side, we truly understood what all the fuss about Prague is about!
We ended up staying in Prague an entire week, which was entirely not the plan. But between our host family being amazingly accommodating, having a difficult time finding a host in our next destination, transportation prices being too high to leave (maybe that’s their trick), and bus tickets selling out, it just worked out that way. We mixed our days between touring this gorgeous city and relaxing in the beautiful countryside. We spent time in gardens and walking the famous Golden Lane, filled with its tiny houses. We explored the areas around the castle and watched and listened to that clock over and over (sometimes while enjoying gelato). We walked through the Odolena Voda cemetery, marveling over the obvious old lineage there. Most of the graves housed several family members, and all the graves were covered in flowers and clearly visited regularly. We visited a glass exhibit in the Museum of Decorative Arts, explored the Jewish Quarter (more on that in a moment), and back at our host’s we played on a big trampoline in the backyard. On one of our last days we swam at an indoor pool in Prague with a huge slide.
Back to the Jewish Quarter – we had no idea when coming to Prague that there even was an old Jewish Quarter for tourists to visit. As we walked through we were able to see many synagogues, each different and fabulously beautiful. Somehow, the Nazis permitted the synagogues of Prague to be used as warehouses for confiscated Jewish property, and never raided the collection, so there are plenty of precious antique religious objects on display. In the Jewish ghetto we also saw the cemetery where the headstones are completely crammed on top of each other. It’s a silent reminder of what living conditions were like in Prague’s ghetto. We learned the ugly truth of living as a Jewish person in Czechoslovakia even after World War II. (We never knew until now just how badly Judaism and Communism clashed at the time.)
In the end, Prague definitely lived up to its reputation in every way except one – it’s not as cheap as you might think! We actually found Berlin was much cheaper and we were surprised about that. Our host explained that many attractions in Prague that now have entrance fees, used to be free. I guess the secret is out and tourists are driving up demand – Prague really is very very beautiful!