We woke at 6am; it was still dark out. Breakfast at the Hotel Ibis Praha Smichov was even better than in Budapest, because they had all the same food and Laughing Cow cheese. We ate, bought metro passes, and took the metro to Staromestská, or Old Town Square. Bertine led the tour. I photographed. The cold was especially painful that day, for some reason.
the church of our lady before týn
They were setting up booths in old Town Square and Andel, near our hotel, for Christmas. We didn’t really know what they’d be used for, but we were hoping they’d be open before we left.
church of st. nicholas
Old Town Square made me really, really happy. It was one of those places that’s so essentially Prague. It’s perfect.
astronomical clock (old town hall)
We positioned ourselves in front of the clock on Old Town Hall at 9am. Every hour, it puts on a show; a procession of apostles comes out and music plays. My favorite figures on the clock were Death (a skeleton, of course) and The Turk.
window on old town hall
9am also meant the clock tower was open. We went inside, climbed a bunch of stairs, and then took a magical round glass elevator to the top. The first thing we did, even before checking out the view, was smash some pennies in the machine.
Prague is all about red tile rooftops, winding streets, cobblestones, and church spires. It’s amazing from above.
looking across the vltava: prague castle on the right
church of st. nicholas
church of our lady before týn
old town square, setting up for christmas festival
We circled the clock tower and peered at the city until we were freezing. We took the magical round glass elevator back downstairs and set off wandering.
Most of the shops didn’t open til 10, so we followed the guidebook and read about the sights, noting the stores we wanted to come back to. We went into a few churches, and by then I felt like I’d already been in so many churches I couldn’t keep track of them anymore.
I was excited to see a Tesco, so we went in and checked it out. It was kind of like a multi-level K-mart. Not terribly exciting, but we at least warmed up. Afterwards, we headed back towards Charles Street in Old Town, where all the shops were. We found a little candy store that had coffee, so we stopped there for a while.
The people who worked there were so awesome. I had a cappuccino, and Bertine had tea. When we were done, we picked out a bunch of treats for people at home, and then each bought a bar of chocolate. That was the first time I’d ever had sugar-free chocolate that actually tasted like the real stuff.
karlúv most (charles bridge)
Charles Bridge was one of the things I was most excited to see, so of course when we got there I started crying. I can’t help it!
Even in the cold, the bridge was busy, and lined with stands selling prints, photos, and crafts. We each picked out a photo of Prague that we liked. I took about 300 pictures.
little quarter and prague castle
st john nepomuk: rub him for good luck
We found the frieze depicting St John Nepomuk being tossed off the bridge (they really seemed to like tossing people from things in Prague). Tradition states that one should rub him for good luck, so we did. He’s all polished from all the good luck he’s been distributing over the years.
people seem to pet the dog too!
grand priory mill (little quarter)
little quarter bridge tower
We walked down to the other end in the Little Quarter, then headed back across to Old Town. I took 300 more photos, and the bridge got even more crowded in the ten minutes since we’d gotten there.
Also, we couldn’t resist talking about the movie XXX and Vin Diesel a lot while we were there. I mean, it was all about Prague. Shut up.
the vlatava river
For some reason, my phone only picked up T-Mobile while we were in metro stations, and on the Charles Bridge. Otherwise it was OSKAR. I was happy when I could get T-Mobile, because that meant I could send photos to the interweb, and let people know we were alive. I sent four of them from the bridge.
musicians on the charles bridge
st norbert, st wenceslas, and st sigismund
We went back to Old Town and headed back into the main shopping area. By now, it was BUSY. There were tourists everywhere doing their tourist thing. It was hard not to trip on the cobblestones when walking in a crowd, I noticed. On Charles Street, I had to buy a bunch of tshirts and other things by Fun Explosive. It’s a miracle I only bought five shirts, because I wanted fifty.
We did much, much shopping in old town, then found a place for lunch in a side alley off the main square. It was a little Italian restaurant called Giovanni, and in keeping with all our dining experiences, it was awesome. As was the decor: gold-flake ceilings, velvet drapes, mirrors everywhere, an eclectic mix of tables and chairs. I ordered a four-cheese pizza with brie, and Bertine had penne. I got ‘comfort coffee’: a cappuccino with SoCo. SO AWESOME.
vegetarians are HOT.
After lunch, having been sufficiently warmed-up, we decided to take our numerous shopping bags back to the hotel. We turned right around and headed back to the same metro stop, but this time turned the other direction into Josefov, the Jewish Quarter. Prague’s Jewish ghetto was enclosed and didn’t become an actual part of the rest of the city until 1850. It’s very crowded.
The Old-New Synagogue was built in 1270; it’s the oldest in Europe. It’s also the home of Rabbi Löw, who created the Golem and supposedly hid it in the synagogue.
Man, I was really excited about the Golem. That quickly became my second-favorite thing about Prague, after the Charles Bridge. At the gift shop, I got little Golem figures, and a book illustrated by the Fun Explosive people. I really dug the Golem. I couldn’t stop talking about it.
old jewish cemetery
old jewish cemetery
The Old Jewish Cemetery is unbelievable. It’s hard to capture in photos just how crowded it is. It’s about the size of half a city block and has around 12,000 gravestones, but there are supposedly 100,000 people buried there. They charge a lot to visit it, but it’s absolutely worth it.
rabbi löw’s tomb
people leave pebbles and coins as a sign of respect
We walked around the rest of Josefov, getting lost a lot. There’s something about the combination of winding, dead-ending streets and alleys and the fact that it takes a lot of work to actually find street signs that made getting around in both cities a challenge. Organic cities are always hard to navigate. We finally found the Spanish Synagogue, but I was more excited about the Kafka statue. Kafka is definitely my third-favorite thing about Prague. It makes me happy being somewhere he was.
We took the metro over to Wenceslas Square, which is best known for being the site of anti-Soviet riots. We were pretty exhausted from walking in the cold all day, so we decided to stop at McDonald’s and go to the bathroom. For some reason, I guess I’m OK with going to McDonald’s in Europe. We got Coke Lights and Spinach and Cheese pockets, which were dangerously close to real food. We warmed up. I went on a long journey to find the bathroom, because they’re hardly ever nearby. This one was out back in a courtyard. I paid my 5Kc, and got a McDonald’s receipt in return.
We set off up Wenceslas Square, then started to realize maybe we weren’t in the right place. We turned around and walked back. At McDonald’s, we turned left and then found ourselves in Wenceslas Square. Which really isn’t much of a square at all, it’s just a really wide, divided street with a bunch of stores. It was somewhat similar to the area near our hotel: fancy shops and restaurants. There were carts and booths set up in the middle, and it was quite crowded.
jan palach memorial
We walked down to the end near the opera and museum, and stopped to see the memorial to anti-Soviet protesters. Standing at the high end of Wenceslas square, overlooking the crowd, we decided we were cold and worn out. [And, according to this movie, I really wanted coffee.] We hopped on the metro at Muzeum and rode back to Andel.
We decided to buy food and hang out in our room instead of dining out this time. We stopped at the Target of Prague (Carrefour), and scoured the grocery. For ourselves, we got a few kinds of fresh bread, cheese, snacks, Squash-brand cherry vodka (which was only twice the price of pop, as liquor is super-cheap in Europe), Coke Light, and a beer. We also bought a ton of candy to bring back home to everyone. Kinder eggs are always an especial favorite.
We brought our haul back to the hotel, noting on the way that Humanic really looked like it might be open in time for us to shop there. We ate dinner, drank Coke Light with cherry Squash, and watched the Simpsons dubbed in German. Which was hysterical. My favorite part was Mr. Burns answering the phone, “Oy-oy.” We also watched parts of Aliens in Czech, Big Brother in Czech, and then MTV Made in German. We almost died when we saw it was a story about a kid in Minneapolis wanting to be a rapper. They showed scenes of Uptown, and his hip-hop mentor was wearing a Pizza Luce tshirt. So bizarre.
We slept hard that night in our twin beds with the blankets so narrow you had to be careful your ass didn’t hang out.