Day 166

Our latest trip took us to Prague, the capital of Czech Republic.  After going there, I’d say that Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. The city managed to retain its wonderful architecture because the city was not heavily bombed (relative to other cities)during WWII. Otherwise, we could not see this wonderful architecture today.

Since I lost my wallet, I couldn’t use my Bahn25 for my discounted tickets anymore, so I ended up cancelling my train tickets and instead went with others who were going by car.  We met at around 7:30 in the morning and began our journey.  As usual, I slept for most of the car ride.

The Mosaic House Hotel

We first went to our hotel to meet up with the others.  When I first walked into the hotel, I was surprised at how nice everything was and we only had to pay 72 euros for 3 nights.  The lobby of the hotel was also a restaurant/pub and each night, the hotel would hold events/parties.

The hotel room even had the coolest shower.

Normally, I don’t post about showers, but this one was too nice to ignore!

Czech Crowns

Since Czech Republic didn’t adopt the Euro, we had to go to the currency exchange.  Before leaving we learned that the rate was about 1 euro for about 24 crowns.  When we got our currency exchanged, we felt so much richer because of all the extra zeroes.


The Czech bills look cool too, but maybe that’s because I’ve never seen them before.  I really hate the change though.  Apparently a 1 crown coin exists and those were really annoying to carry around.

Old Town Square

At the old town square we saw some of the most well known historic landmarks in Prague such as the Týn Church, Jan Hus Monument, St. Nicholas Church, and the Prague Astronomical Clock.  We went here on the first day as well as the second day when we went on the free walking tour.  Many of the historic landmarks survived throughout the Second World War unlike many other cities because this city did not get bombed as heavily as other cities.


The tour guide talked about the history of Czech Republic briefly and explained the significance of the buildings and interesting factoids about them.  For example, he explained the story of how Jan Hus was burned at the stake, how the astronomical clock doesn’t actually correctly predict the correct positions of the sun and moon since it assumed that the Earth was in the center of the universe, and that the designer of the clock was blinded by people who did not want him to build a similar/identical clock elsewhere (what a terrible way to be treated after such an accomplishment).  He also talked about the defenestrations that occurred in Prague prior to the Hussite and Thirty Years War.  He even told us about random facts like how pedestrian lights in Prague only stay green for 9 seconds.

Random Frisbee Game

On our way up to Prague Castle, we decided to stop for a beer nearby.  I got to try one of the Czech beers called Gambrinus, a type of Pilsner.  It tasted similar to all the other kinds of Pilsner I’ve tried.  Afterward, we came across a grass field and decided to play some Frisbee.  While passing around the Frisbee, we somehow got the Frisbee stuck in the tree and spent about 10 minutes trying to get it down. 

We even played a game of Ultimate Frisbee too. I ended up running so much, and I surprised myself as to how long I ran for. I guess going on all these trips and walking around all the time really boosted my endurance without me realizing it.

The Tears of Stalin

While walking toward the castle, we came across a giant metronome on the hill.  In front of it, a huge sign read “The Tears of Stalin” with some missing letters.   According to our tour guide, he said that the area used to be the site of the world’s largest representation of Stalin until the statue was destroyed in 1962.

The picture is crooked because I took it while crossing the street, but at the top of the hill, the words can be see (although some letters are missing).

Prague Castle

When we arrived at the entrance to Prague Castle, we saw two palace guards dressed in a really formal uniform and they behaved like the guards at Buckingham Palace.  Each one wore a blue uniform with a rifle fitted with a bayonet.

When we reached the courtyard of the castle, we came across a bunch of people coming out from the cathedral while chanting.  They even had people wearing backpacks with a giant speaker coming out of it.  I remembered that the day was Corpus Christi and that would probably explain what was going on.

Once the people passed, we saw the St. Vitus Cathedral up close.  It seemed as massive as the cathedral in Cologne.  Apparently, this cathedral here is the largest in Prague.  We didn’t get to go in though because of the Christian holiday.

Everywhere around the castle were examples of really well kept architecture from hundreds of years ago.  It was quite an amazing site to be able to see all of that.

On our way down the mountain, we took tram 22.  Before going to Prague, I had read on the travel report for the city and it explicitly stated that lots of pickpockets operate along that tram route specifically targeting tourists.  So in order to prevent myself from getting pickpocketed again, I was extremely vigilant in watching my surroundings and protecting my stuff (I think I’m quite paranoid with that now).  Nothing happened and I didn’t notice anything suspicious either.  I guess the time that we went wasn’t exactly the peak traffic time.

Church of St. James

The next day, we went on the walking tour around the city.  We began at the old town square where our tour guide explained a lot of Czech history.  He also took us a number of other locations.  The next location we went to was the Church of St. James, where someone happened to be getting married that day.  That’s a pretty cool and unique sight if you ask me.

The tour guide also went on to talk about the history of this place.  In particular he told the story about Vratislav was buried alive by accident in the church.  Story says that the man climbed out of his coffin, but could not get past the stone doors.  Some thought his screams were because his spirit could not find peace so they tried to resolve the problem using holy water.  When the tomb was opened several years later, people found his dead body outside of his coffin.

Also in the cathedral is a statue of a mummified forearm which belonged to a thief who tried to steal from a statue of Virgin Mary inside the church.  Apparently the statue grabbed his hand and refused to let go.  After the thief’s hand was cut off, it was kept at the church to serve as a warning for all thieves.

Franz Kafka

Moving on to the next destination, the tour guide showed us a statue of Franz Kafka, a famous author from Prague.  The statue represented him conquering his demons in his dreams.

Before Kafka died, he did not want his works to be published.  He requested that all his works be burned, but the friend that he entrusted this task to felt that it would be a waste to do such a thing.  After publishing his works, Kafka became very well known and is now considered to be one of the best writers of the 20th century.

The Jewish District

Our next destination was the Jewish district of the city.  This is where we got to see a lot of synagogues build hundreds of years ago.  One of the synagogues, the Spanish Synagogue, had a design unlike most synagogues.  The tour guide said that the synagogue looks more like a mosque and could be due to the fact that the synagogue was built with the help of Muslims and the mosque-like design served as a thank you to them.

The next synagogue we went to was the oldest synagogue in Europe.  Known as the “Old New Synagogue”, it doesn’t look very beautiful as far as architecture goes.  If the tour guide did not mention that it was the oldest in Europe, I would have walked past it thinking that it was just any old building.

The last synagogue we saw was known as the “High Synagogue”.  Unlike the other two, this one didn’t have as interesting of a history.

After seeing the Jewish District, the tour proceeded close to the Vltava river, the river that runs through Prague.

The Rudolfinum

Near the river, was the Rudolfinum, which is a music auditorium.  It is also the home stage of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.

Walking further along the river, we could see the Charles Bridge.  And further in the distance up in the mountain, we could see Prague Castle.

Charles Bridge

The Charles Bridge, named after Charles IV, used to be the only bridge across the Vltava river and therefore, this bridge was used extensively as a trade route between Western and Eastern Europe.

While on the bridge, it started to rain and all the artists selling painters instantly covered up their art to protect it.  Unlike last week in Munich, I brought an umbrella.  On a different part of the hill, we could also see the tip of what looks to be a lookalike of the Eiffel Tower.  Apparently, it is an lookout tower and a transmission tower.

One the bridge, there were so many statues across its length.  One of them however, according to the tour guide, was of John of Nepomuk, who was thrown into the river hundreds of years ago.  This man is usually portrayed with a halo of five stars.

For some strange reason, the weather couldn’t really make up its mind at the time, so I got interesting pictures of the bridge with rain clouds and white clouds hovering over it.

Epic Karaoke

That night at the hotel, they had an karaoke event.  Those who were brave/drunk enough, went up on stage to sing for everyone.  When we were there, it was quite rowdy, and our group had quite a bit to drink too.  Some of my friends went up to sing “Summer of ‘69” by Bryan Adams.  They were like the Backstreet Bro(y)s.

While they were up there singing, the audience was really into it too.  People were dancing too.  I guess that’s a good thing.  Just for kicks, I took my friends lighter and started waving it back and forth like at a real concert.  Later on, with some “encouragement” from my friends (probably peer pressure), I went up with them too.  Never went up on a stage like that before, but I guess it worked out.  Afterward, the others went to the largest club in Prague.  Apparently it has six floors.  I didn’t go though, because I really hate clubbing.

International Music Festival

While in Prague, the International Music Festival happened to be on and so we went there to check it out.  I wasn’t that excited for this, since I’m not exactly a fan of any of the music they played there.  What was cool was that the event people shipped a truck full of beer and hooked it up to all the beer taps.  It’s like a dump truck (but with a smaller container that didn’t spin) carrying beer being transported over water.

When we left the festival, we came across the weirdest demonstration of modern art.  Just looking at it confused the hell out of me.  It just made no sense.

Modern Art

There was an modern art exhibit that people could walk through.  We didn’t go in it, but as we walked past the exit, we looked inside and saw some pretty strange stuff.  There was a couple standing in a room with glass windows on all sides and all they did was hug each other.  They stayed in the same hugging position and didn’t move.  Another exhibit had a tent with white cloth draped all over it with someone inside dressed in a similar way (I didn’t notice at first until he/she started moving) and all he/she did was move around randomly inside.  It made no sense.

There was also this thing called a “Sleeping Box”.  I guess it works really well for people who want to block the sunlight while sleeping outside.  Or maybe it was part of the modern art thing.  I don’t know.  The weirdest part about it were people randomly walking around holding a copy of “The Great Gatsby” that had an iTouch/iPhone taped on one of the pages and walked around reciting lines from a play.  It just didn’t make any sense.

The National Museum

Since the modern art exhibit was close to the box office for tickets to the opera, we decided to see if there were any tickets available for that.  Unfortunately, all their tickets had sold out.  Instead, what we did was go to the National Museum to see a mini classical music concert.


The concert played music from famous composers such as Vivaldi, Bach and Mozart.  When I heard the sound of the violins playing, it sounded so nice as I heard the instruments themselves as well as the echo.  I really admired the skill that these people had in music.

Food

In addition to just visiting landmarks around the city, we also tried some of their cuisine.  For food, I got to try their pork knuckle and their goulash.  They also served more mainstream things like perogies and burgers.  The perogies and burgers don’t sound very Czech (maybe not the pork knuckle either), but it was still very delicious.


The menu said that the pork knuckle was only 250 grams, but when they served it to me it seemed more like a kilo of just pork.  Somehow, I ate all of it (except for the really fatty part).

We also went to another restaurant called the “Iron Curtain”.  It was set up using the most stereotypical communist way.  It was underground and in every hallway was some paraphernalia from the communist times.  They were items like propaganda posters, or really old motorbikes.  They even had busts of Stalin and Lenin.  The front cover of the menu even said we’d have a “propaganda experience” and indeed we did.  The item with the best name on the menu had to be the CCCP Burger, where CCCP stood for the “Classic Capitalist Cheeseburger Plate”.  Oh the irony.


The “Iron Curtain” had the best restaurant atmosphere I’ve ever seen.  We left them a generous tip and the waitress was very happy about that.

Drinks

Many know that Pilsner beer comes from the Czech Republic, so everywhere in Prague, people drank Pilsner.  They had lot of brands, but the two most common ones were Gambrinus and Pilsner Urquell.  Apparently, the original Budweiser, came from Czech Republic and not from America.

We also tried another drink called Absinthe.  It is highly alcoholic (45 – 74% ABV).  According to Wiki, it says “Absinthe has been portrayed as a dangerously addictive psychoactive drug” and so, many countries banned it (Canada included).  However, it isn’t proven that the drink is any more dangerous than other types of liquor.

We prepared it by lighting a mixture of sugar and absinthe on fire and then dunking that mixture in a glass of water.  By lighting the mixture on fire, the sugar would caramelize and the absinthe would lose some of its alcohol content.  Apparently, that is one of the mainstream preparation methods for the drink.

We drank it and depending on the concentration of sugar, the drink would either be too bitter or too sweet. I didn’t like it very much. We even tried it without the sugar. We just lit the absinthe on fire and had a flaming shot. That drink just burned as it went down. Someone mentioned that it was kind of like Bacardi 151.

Going Home

On the morning of the fourth day, we went back to Stuttgart.  On the whole, the trip wasn’t very expensive.  It only cost me about 200 euros with transportation and accommodations included.  We even ate out at a restaurant every night.  If I had a wallet at the time, it wouldn’t have hurt at all.