15.03.23 — Travel
My last post from Madrid saw me take on many roles as I did my best to carry on keeping on through the bitter cold that’s been so prominent this spring. In case I hadn’t had enough of shivering, though, just last weekend I headed off to the east of Europe and the cold streets of Prague!
I’d organised the trip a few months ago, taking a couple of days off work in order to create a long weekend which coincided with a bit of time my friend Nacho had off. He’s been living in the Czech capital for about a year and a half now since he moved there from Spain, and so graciously offered to have me over at his and to show me around his new home.
As usual, I’d left everything to the very last minute, and so checked in and packed my bag in the half an hour before I left the house. Then followed a pleasant and rather uneventful journey from Madrid to Prague, where I wandered out of the terminal and followed Nacho’s instructions to his place. This took the form of a bus followed by a tram, from which I was able to capture my first glimpse at Czechia, a country I’d never been to before.
The first part of the journey was marked by the suburbs of the city, which looked somewhat drab with their repetitive blocks of flats under overcast skies. The second took me into Prague proper, where the desaturated monotony gave way to a vast sweeping river and a cluster of terracotta roofs peppered with spires and towers of all shapes, colours, and styles.
Before too long I rocked up at Nacho’s place, where I left my stuff before we headed straight back out into the city to begin our adventures. We first stopped to have a cheeky ride in a paternoster lift, a lift which keeps going and you’ve to hop on and off. There’s only a few left in the world, and one is in a building at Sheffield University which I had a ride on when I went to visit my sister who studies there. Who’d have thought I’d run into another one?
After our death-defying go on the paternoster, we headed down the main commercial street which leads up to the National Museum, an iconic building within the city. Nearby, we stopped for a drink, a quick bite to eat, and a catch up. From there, we went to see the Astrological Clock on the side of the old town hall just as it chimed the hour and figures of the twelve disciples appeared behind its little blue doors.
We then got lost whilst looking for the restaurant we’d arranged to meet Nacho’s friends in for tea (i.e. the evening meal). With both of our phones acting up, we did have a bit of a challenge on our hands, but eventually found it and settled down for a lovely meal of sushi and local beers whilst having some great laughs – his pals are great!
From there, the group of us moved down to a local institution known as “the dog bar” (or “el sitio del perro”, as we were all Spanish speakers). This was a place that had come recommended by more than one person, so I was interested to see what made it so special.
The odd system of payment via a propriety card system seemed like it might be the gimmick, but the place turned out to be so much more than that. Descending a series of stairwells, we found ourselves in an underground maze of rooms and corridors which housed different bars, clubs, lounges, and even a pizzeria and chill out room complete with an open fire. It was completely bizarre and I loved it!
After having a couple of drinks, trying to get my head around the local currency and its exchange rate with the euro, and having a little boogie to some Bob Dylan, I grew tired after my long day of travel and the two of us headed back home on the tram, the city’s preferred mode of transport as pointed out by Nacho and as evidenced by the flurry of trams passing through pretty much every main thoroughfare.
The tram we took back home was one of the older ones and we wound up at the back of the first of the two cars, so I simply had to record a video from our perspective as we whizzed through the streets of Prague on our way back to Nacho’s flat.
I then had quite the shock in the middle of the night when I rolled over just to hear a loud crack and to suddenly find myself half sunk into the bed. Evidently I was too tired to pay much attention to this, so wound up just rolling over and falling straight back asleep. It was only when Nacho asked me if I was okay later on in the night that I eventually stood up and assessed the situation. Half the slats had come unattached from the bed and I was sleeping in the mattress as if it were a hammock!
We managed to fix it up pretty quickly though as I profusely apologised for incurring such damage, but Nacho assured me that it’d been a bit wonky for a while. Either way, I’ll be watching the calories now I’m back off my holidays…
Nacho had to do a spot of work the next morning, so I headed off to the city alone, albeit with some recommendations on what to do. I followed them down to a tee, making my first stop at a local breakfast café called Golden Egg. I was served an absolutely divine toasted bun with smoked salmon, poached egg, bechamel sauce, dill, and chilli flakes, which I accompanied with a homemade pear and cinnamon lemonade. The whole thing was delicious!
From there, I hopped back on the tram and down into the city centre, where my first stop was the Old Town Hall. Nacho had suggested I sign up for a tour, but between my tardiness and some chaos and confusion over tickets once inside the building, I wound up having to settle for a general access ticket.
Never deterred, I headed up the final flight of stairs and towards the building’s clock tower in order to catch some views over the city. A seemingly endless ramp (which reminded me a bit of the one I climbed in Copenhagen’s Round Tower) took me up to the top, where I slowly made my way around the viewing gallery, taking in the panoramic views across the rooftops.
Up on the viewing gallery I’d wound up meeting four women who were visiting from Barcelona. I’d overheard them chatting away and wondering who to ask to take a photo of them, so I offered to do the honours. I then ran back into them downstairs, where we’d all had the same idea of trying to catch the workings of the clock mechanism that I’d seen the night before, the one which rotated the twelve disciples past the little blue windows.
I managed to catch this in the end, as well as spend a bit of time exploring the many interesting rooms of the Old Town Hall. Once I’d seen it all, I headed back outside and into the little flurry of snow that had started to fall, through which I made my way to the Old Jewish Cemetery. Funny how everything here seems to have a name starting with “old”…
Apparently me and Nacho don’t have two braincells to rub together between us, because I’d decided to pay this jewish monument a visit on a Saturday – yes, on the sabbath. Never mind, I thought, carrying on through the city’s beautiful streets and around to an area that Nacho had recommended I visit. There, I stumbled across a cute little cafeteria and grabbed myself a hot cider full of fresh apple and cinnamon. Just what I needed as respite from the cold!
Once I’d finished my drink, I was reunited with Nacho at a traditional Czech restaurant, where I enjoyed a potato salad with some fried chicken. It wasn’t mind-blowing like the food in a place like Bilbao or Santander (to name just a couple of recent examples), but it was tasty and kept us going until we were ready for some dessert!
Our sweet treat took the form of a trdelník or “chimney cake”, a Prague street food staple which takes the form of sweet dough wrapped around a cone and baked on an open fire. This is then bathed in sugar, cinnamon, walnuts, and – in our case as it’d come recommended – some chocolate on the inside of the cone. Given the ingredients, it’s needless for me to say that it was divine!
We then tucked into the doughy goodness as we wandered over the Charles Bridge, a landmark of the city which connects the historical centre to Malá Strana, a neighbourhood whose name translates to “The Lesser Town”.
In Malá Strana we had a snoop at some landmarks, including some rather rude statues, a famous John Lennon mural (he never visited Prague), and then the city’s narrowest street, which came with its own set of traffic lights to ensure people walking between the tiny gap didn’t end un walking into each other and having to reverse back out!
Heading back over the bridge we caught a sight of the location for the next day of adventures, Prague Castle, before being whisked off back home by another of the very efficient trams. From there, we didn’t want to be up too late thanks given the cold, and so opted for a lovely Italian meal and some cocktails at a quickly bar near to Nacho’s place.
The next day we were back on the tram and headed up to the castle which you can make out at the top of the above picture. We made a little stop along the way, though, as Nacho wanted to take me to see something up close that I’d observed and found quite funny the day before. This wasn’t any famous sight or street performer, however, rather a nutria. Wikipedia describes this animal as a large semiaquatic rodent, which is exactly what I’d said: they look like big wet rats.
I should point out that the food it was eating definitely wasn’t ours: people are discouraged from feeding the nutrias as they are an invasive species that’s causing strain on the local ecosystem. It was fun to see one up close, though, I have to admit.
From there we headed on our second tram and up to Prague Castle itself, where we were joined by Nacho’s friend Octavio. As the two of them have seen the sights plenty of times before, I was left to my own devices within the paid areas of the castle, which turns out to be a huge complex of buildings, churches, and even homes.
Between a church, a cathedral, a row of ancient houses, and another huge clock tower, there was so much to see within the castle boundaries that I wouldn’t even know where to begin if I were to start telling you about it all. For that reason I’ll just breeze over my personal highlights, starting with the old prison. The photos aren’t much to go by, but I spent a good while reading over the grisly details of how prisoners were kept within its walls in centuries gone by…
The highlight of the trip to the castle has to have been the tower, which made the tower I’d climbed the day before and its gradual ramp look like mere child’s play. The only way up this tower was by climbing over 280 steps – and not just any steps, but an unforgiving stone spiral staircase which seems to go on and on and on forever without so much as a little mezzanine to catch one’s breath. Add to this the fact that people are coming down as well as heading up and it made for quite the vertigo-inducing and claustrophobic experience!
I eventually hit the top, where I was very relieved to discover that there was a room lined with benches so that everyone who’d suffered the climb could take a minute and catch their breath. I thought I was doing badly until I lady appeared from the entrance to the stone stairwell with a face redder than the terracotta tiles of the city!
Once I’d recovered somewhat I stepped outside onto the viewing platform and was greeted by the best views of Prague so far. From my vantage point I could see all the way over the old Charles Bridge and into the city centre, as well as appreciate architectural details of the buildings I’d just visited before my death-defying ascent up the tower.
The trip down the spiral staircase was somewhat easier on the old chest even if it was equally – if not more – dizzying. I rejoined Nacho and Octavio in the plaza just outside the tower and had to catch myself as I’d gone dizzy for a moment. I think that this experience, alongside with my nausea-inducing ride on a big spinning attraction a the County Fair in Buffalo last summer, has confirmed that I no longer have the ability I once did to bounce back from such a shaking!
Once I’d recovered, the three of us headed out of the castle and down through Malá Strana for some lunch with another friend who joined us. I tried some goulash soup served in a hollowed-out loaf of bread, which was nice even if it was way too much bread for any human being to realistically finish!
The four of us then headed back across Charles Bridge and back to the trusty tram stop to take me and Nacho back home, but not before we all took a group photo from the bridge!
That evening, my last in the city, we had a meal at a nice local Chinese restaurant before heading to bed for an early night so that I might be up on time to see a bit more of the city before I had to leave. This didn’t work out as planned because I can be quite lazy and slow when I want to be, so the day’s activities were limited to a quick spot of shopping for me to pick up a gift for Nacho and then a trip together to the local post office in order for me to send off a cheeky postcard. During my shopping blitz, I ran into a Marks & Spencer and even a Tesco Express – quite a surreal experience for a Brit!
I then picked up my backpack and bade Nacho farewell, heading back to the airport on the same tram and then bus that I’d used to get into the city centre just a few days before. This trip nearly ended in disaster, though, as the bus was late, I got off at the wrong terminal, and then the queue for security was annoyingly long. I made it to my gate just on time though and took my seat at the very back of the plane for the three-hour flight back to Spain.
Apart from the panic at the very end there, my weekend in Prague was an absolutely wonderful one. The city is beautiful and chock-full of delights, Nacho was an absolutely fabulous host, and it was great to meet so many fun people whilst there too. My only complaint is not having had longer to carry on exploring the city at my own pace, but it’ll be there next year and I’m sure I will be too!