Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Czech Republic - Prague and Kutná Hora

Prague Castle, Old Town Bridge Tower on Charles Bridge
Astronomical Clock, Bridges spanning Vltava River


PART 5 of a 5 part series

In June 2011 my friend Alvin and I took a month long backpacking trip through Europe to visit 8 cities in 5 countries. Our entire itinerary was:
  • Munich, Germany - 2 days
  • Salzburg, Austria - 3 days
  • Vienna, Austria - 3 days
  • Budapest, Hungary - 3 days
  • Kraków, Poland - 3 days
  • Prague, Czech Republic - 5 days
  • Dresden, Germany - 2 days
  • Berlin, Germany - 2.5 days
We arrived in Prague on an overnight train from Kraków, Poland - please read about our time in Poland in my PART 4 blog post Poland - Kraków and Auschwitz-Birkenau. In this PART 5 blog post I'll cover sites we visited in the Czech Republic.


Day 1: Prague - Astronomical Clock

During our overnight journey, we met Joe and Orla, a couple from Ireland. They were staying in a neighboring first class cabin and we got to talking about our travels. They told us about how they recently visited Los Angeles, California and unwittingly ended up in a very sketchy Greyhound station near Compton. We had a good laugh about how they thought Hollywood would be full of celebrities as depicted in movies when in actuality it was a lot more run down. Welcome to America!

We arrived in Prague very early in the morning, before most businesses opened. We decided to join forces with Joe and Orla to find our way to the Old Town Square. It was a 20 minute walk and we enjoyed a quick breakfast with them before we went our separate ways.

Alvin's friends Jerry, Matt, and Shefali were arriving from Chicago, Illinois to meet us in Prague so we had to coordinate meeting up and checking in to our rented apartment. This was 2011, before Airbnb existed and before I had an unlocked iPhone that I could use internationally. Alvin's friend Jerry was arriving first and we planned to meet at the Jan Hus Monument at a certain time and it was like 1995 when you made plans and you showed up. We'd get the keys to the apartment and wait there for Matt and Shefali who were arriving later in the day. It all worked out incredibly well, considering we had no means of communicating! I love it when a plan comes together.

Navigating to Old Town Square with Joe and Orla
Navigating to Old Town Square with Joe and Orla

Jerry arrived as planned and we dragged our luggage with us and found a place for lunch.

Lunch of smoked ham with potato dumplings
Lunch of smoked ham with potato dumplings

After lunch we joined a massive crowd gathered in the Old Town Square in time to see the intricate Astronomical Clock chime. Reviews of the Astronomical Clock on TripAdvisor.

Astronomical Clock Tower
Astronomical Clock Tower

Astronomical Clock
Astronomical Clock

Crowd gathered to watch the Astronomical Clock (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Crowd gathered to watch the Astronomical Clock (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

We checked into our rented apartment and waited for Matt and Shefali to arrive. Once they got settled in, we got to planning the next 3 full days. Everyone got to pick something they were interested in - I was looking forward to our itinerary!

Planning our Prague itinerary (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Planning our Prague itinerary (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

We went to dinner at a nearby restaurant called Lokál Dlouhááá. It was an interesting space but I don't remember the food being anything special. Reviews of Lokál Dlouhááá on TripAdvisor.

Interior of Lokál Dlouhááá (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Interior of Lokál Dlouhááá (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

Lokál Dlouhááá - Chicken, mashed potatoes, and onion
Lokál Dlouhááá - Chicken, mashed potatoes, and onion

After dinner we wandered around in the area near Old Town Square. We went to see the Statue of Franz Kafka, took a night time stroll across the Charles Bridge, and stopped for gelato on the way back to the apartment.

Statue of Franz Kafka on Vězeňská Street
Statue of Franz Kafka on Vězeňská Street

Tower at the end of Charles Bridge
Tower at the end of Charles Bridge

One of many cones of gelato I enjoyed on this trip (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
One of many cones of gelato I enjoyed on this trip (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)


Day 2: Prague - Alfons Mucha and Salvador Dali exhibit, Petrin Hill and Tower, Charles Bridge, dinner cruise, jazz & blues club

We planned to cover a lot of ground on our first full day in Prague. We needed to start with a hearty breakfast. Luckily we could choose from among plenty of food stalls in the Old Town Square.


Food stalls in Old Town Square (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Food stalls in Old Town Square (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

Pork mash, spinach and noodles, and potatoes
Pork mash, spinach and noodles, and potatoes

We went to see the Alfons Mucha and Salvador Dali exhibit (250 koruna/US$12.50) which consisted of several floors displaying works of both artists. I believe it was a temporary exhibit which is no longer there (it probably moved to a permanent location) but you can still find reviews on TripAdvisor. I much preferred Mucha's drawings but it was a change of pace to see so much of Dali's work. My first memory of seeing a Dali painting (well, a parody of it) was in Kenneth Branagh's 1991 movie Dead AgainReviews of the Alfons Mucha and Salvador Dali Exhibit on TripAdvisor

Dali's The Persistence of Memory
Dali's The Persistence of Memory

View of Old Town Square from the Mucha/Dali Exhibit
View of Old Town Square from the Mucha/Dali Exhibit

After the exhibit, we walked to Petrin Tower, Prague's Eiffel Tower. It's a 63.5 meter tall observation tower that looks a lot like Paris' Eiffel Tower. It's located at the top of a hill, roughly a half hour walk through orchards. We took our time on our walk - I had read about how there was plenty of fruit for the picking but I didn't see anything. :o( The observation deck is accessible up 299 steps - you definitely get your exercise getting to the top! Reviews of Petrin Tower on TripAdvisor.

Fruit trees on Petrin Hill (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Fruit trees on Petrin Hill (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

Petrin Tower (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Petrin Tower (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

Group photo on the observation deck (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Group photo on the observation deck (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

View of Prague Castle from Petrin Tower
View of Prague Castle from Petrin Tower

Looking toward Old Town Square from Petrin Tower
Looking toward Old Town Square from Petrin Tower

We crossed the Charles Bridge again and this time I stopped to touch the dog depicted on a plaque at the base of the statue of St. John Nepomuk, a priest who was thrown into the river by order of the King. He was executed because he received the Queen's confessions but refused to divulge them to the King. Apparently the two plaques at the base of the statue are one of three places tourists touch while on Charles Bridge. The first is the image of the priest being thrown into the river - it brings good luck and ensures your return to Prague. The second is the image of the queen, who is witnessing the event. The third is the dog on the left plaque - there's actually no legend or fortune but most do it because they love dogs. I fell into that category. Reviews of Charles Bridge on TripAdvisor.

View of Prague Castle from Charles Bridge
View of Prague Castle from Charles Bridge

Pet the dog!
Pet the dog!

We went to the east side of the river and bought tickets for a dinner cruise with Prague Boats (790 koruna/US$40 a person). Reviews of Prague Boats on TripAdvisor. We sat upstairs on the deck for unobstructed views. We got to listen to a live band that was playing on board and enjoy the views. The only downsides were it was freezing and we didn't know when the buffet would open. We joked that we'd be fighting other patrons for scraps by the time we got down there.

Shefali and Jerry enjoying the dinner cruise (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Shefali and Jerry enjoying the dinner cruise (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

Lining up for the dinner buffet (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Lining up for the dinner buffet (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

Food was okay, nothing special (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Food was okay, nothing special (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

Enjoying the dinner cruise (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Enjoying the dinner cruise (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

Dancing Building (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Dancing Building (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

Our only group photo.. with a beer bottle (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Our only group photo... with a beer bottle (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

View of east side from the boat
View of east side from the boat

Charles Bridge at night
Charles Bridge at night

Charles Bridge at night
Charles Bridge at night

After the dinner cruise we went to a jazz and blues club open jam. It was located in an underground cellar - we stayed for a few sets and made our way back to our hotel after midnight. We had a packed first full day!

Blues open jam session
Blues open jam session


Day 3: Prague - St. Vitus Cathedral and Prague Castle

The next day we planned to visit a few of Prague's main attractions - St. Vitus Cathedral and Prague Castle (350 koruna/US$17.50). First up, a chocolate roll and a latte for breakfast!


Yummy chocolate roll and latte
Yummy chocolate roll and latte

We walked from Old Town Square to St. Vitus Cathedral, the largest and most important church in the country. It was so massive that I couldn't take a proper picture of it with my camera. The church is a great example of Gothic architecture, complete with gargoyles and spires. Reviews of St. Vitus Cathedral on TripAdvisor.

St. Vitus Cathedral

St. Vitus Cathedral

Gargoyle on St. Vitus Cathedral
Gargoyle on St. Vitus Cathedral

Ornate Gothic architecture on St. Vitus Cathedral
Ornate Gothic architecture on St. Vitus Cathedral

View of bridges spanning Vltava River from Prague Castle
View of bridges spanning Vltava River from Prague Castle

After dinner gelato of course (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
After dinner gelato of course (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)


Day 4: Day trip to Kutná Hora

We took an hour train ride to visit the medieval town of Kutná Hora which was once the second most important city in Bohemia. Kutná Hora grew incredibly rich due to the massive silver deposits beneath it but after all the precious metal was mined and the city was ravaged by war, it now serves as a popular day trip destination.

I visited the Czech Museum of Silver and went on an underground to the silver mine. We learned about the various mining equipment used as well as the conditions underground. Then we put on a white robe, helmets, and a few of us got to carry flashlights. The mines are several floors underground and not for those with claustrophobia! We probably spent about 30 minutes in the mine but it was enough to get a sense of the conditions. At one point our guide had us turn off all the flashlights so that we could be in total darkness. I think a few of us were happy to ascend back to the surface. Reviews of the Czech Museum of Silver on TripAdvisor.


Checking out an exhibit of mining equipment
Checking out an exhibit of mining equipment

Heading 6 stories below ground to the mines
Heading 6 stories below ground to the mines

Narrow tunnels
Narrow tunnels

Some cramped quarters
Some cramped quarters

Back above ground!
Back above ground!

St. Barbara's Church
St. Barbara's Church

St. Barbara's Church - one of Kutná Hora's main attractions
St. Barbara's Church - one of Kutná Hora's main attractions

Streets of Kutná Hora (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Streets of Kutná Hora (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

Taking naps on our train ride back to Prague (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)
Taking naps on our train ride back to Prague (Photo courtesy of Alvin C.)

We took a few more pictures around the Old Town Square on our last night in Prague. We would head to Dresden, Germany the next day.

Astronomical Clock at night
Astronomical Clock at night

Old Town Square
Old Town Square

Church of Our Lady from Old Town Square
Church of Our Lady from Old Town Square


Day 5: Travel to Dresden, Germany

Train from Prague to Dresden
Train from Prague to Dresden

Heading to Dresden by train
Heading to Dresden by train

We took a 2 hour train journey to Dresden and stayed busy planning our itinerary. I'll cover our travels in Dresden in PART 1, Germany - Munich, Dresden, and Berlin.

In addition to the Czech Republic and Germany, we covered 3 other countries during this backpacking trip. Please read about them here:
If you enjoyed reading this travel blog please check out my other trip posts:

Happy traveling and thanks for reading!

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