Archive for the 'Czech Republic' Category

Prague, Czech Republic

Karie on Apr 10th 2008 07:21 pm

Prague is said to be one of the most beautiful cities in all of Europe. It was largely preserved during the war, although it was bombed toward the end of WWII. However, any damage caused throughout the decades has been replaced or restored, in some cases with even greater magnificence.

When you walk around Prague, look up. Some of the cities most beautiful and unique treasures are on top of buildings, or sometimes even hanging over the edges. For a while it was quite popular for young, undiscovered artists to take it upon themselves to decorate the city with sculptures (sometimes in random places). They often received no fame or recognition, nor did they expect it; it was simply their contribution to their beloved city.

Even the houses are decorated. Each building has (or had) some type of unique sign by which it could be identified. Before street names & numbers existed, you could send a letter to “the house with the three flying ducks”, and the messenger would know where to deliver it.

It’s hard to imagine that such a beautiful place was under such oppression not so long ago. We took a free walking tour (yes, we’re becoming quite fond of the free walking tours, especially when we don’t have a lot of time in a particular city), and our tour guide was a girl around 30 years old named Victoria. She was a Prague native, born into communism, but her parents gave her and her brother “Western” names in hopes that they could grow up and immigrate, in order to make better lives for themselves. Thankfully now, it is not necessary for them to leave their country to find opportunities.

The city is bustling with activity, and while it was nice to be in a country that’s not on the Euro, the city is not as cheap as we were expecting. Just a few years ago it was known to be one of the best and least expensive tourist destinations, but I suppose a rise in tourism is always followed by a rise in prices. It wasn’t extreme – in fact, we might not have noticed if we had not come directly from Cesky Krumlov. It is still possible to find some great spots to eat with the locals at reasonable prices… you just have to look a lot harder.

We spent a good amount of time crossing the Charles Bridge, admiring the street performers, vendors, and the fantastic views in every direction. We also made our way up to Prague Castle, one of the largest castles in the world, and one of the oldest medieval castles in Europe. The grounds include several buildings, churches, gardens, etc. You could easily spend a whole day there. I think we spent maybe 2 hours, max.

It was our last day, and we had been traveling for 4 of the last 5 weeks. While I know this is not a lot by backpacker standards, we were tired, so we probably didn’t really give it the attention it deserved. I think the last straw for us was when we purchased a relatively expensive ticket that gave us entrance to multiple buildings on the castle premises, only to find out that the main attraction – the palace – was closed.

Why wasn’t there some sign at the ticket booth stating that it was closed? How about the ticket salesperson saying, “You know the palace is closed today, right?” Had we known it was “closed due to technical difficulties”, we would’ve skipped the package deal and bought a la carte style tickets to any other attractions that we wanted to see, which would’ve been significantly cheaper, and less irritating. #@!*%^$!

We decided we needed an attitude adjustment, so at the last minute we squeezed in funicular ride up Petrin Hill to seek out the mirror maze. I don’t even know where we heard about it, and it’s certainly not one of those attractions that tops all the “must see” lists, but it was just what we needed to boost our spirits. We goofed around for a while, and when we came back out Prague was lovely once again.

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Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Karie on Apr 7th 2008 09:59 pm

Cesky Krumlov takes the cake for the “Most Likely to Make You Want to Stay Longer and Do Nothing” award. When you plan your trip, figure out how long you want to stay, then add a day or two. It has the relaxing feeling of a beach resort, except that there are no beaches and it’s not overpriced.

It’s a charming medieval village set in what feels like the middle of nowhere (about a 3 hour bus ride from Prague). There’s a river that winds through the town, on which you can raft or kayak in the summer months, but don’t bother trying to orient yourself based on the river as you will get lost following its many twists and turns. However, as our hostel host told us when we first arrived “getting lost is just part of the experience here.”

It doesn’t take much aimless wandering before you stumble across the castle, which includes one of my favorite attractions of the city. Back in the days when the castle was still in use, the mote surrounding it was stocked with bears for protection, rather than water. The bears are still there just for nostalgia, although they are well-fed, slow-moving, and don’t look like they’d really give a rip if you fell into their mote. That happens to be my favorite kind of bear.

The town itself is pretty small, but it’s surrounded by rolling hills and snow-capped mountains, with enough hiking trails to explore for weeks on end. We even went horseback riding one afternoon. Getting to the horse stables was about a 30-minute hike, literally uphill both ways. Scott’s a pro with the horses, but this was my first time.

Much to my relief, I was able to get on my horse (Monte) without incident. Then our instructor started explaining how I was to get the horse to go, stop, turn, etc. I had a brief moment of panic when it occurred to me, “oh my gosh, I have to drive this horse.” For some reason I expected him to be like the horses at the fair that only walk in a circle so they always know exactly where to go without my help. Luckily, I was pretty much right. In fact, there wasn’t much I could do to affect Monte’s decisions, which was probably in both our best interests. We all sauntered through some beautiful meadows and forests for a while, then returned safely to the stable. It was a great experience, despite the fact that I am allergic to dust, hay, and I think, horses.

Another real treat for us was getting to eat 3 real meals per day. This is rare when we travel, but Cesky Krumlov is one of the jewels of Europe that is still reasonably priced. Perhaps another reason people come for 2 days and stay for 2 weeks. Hostel Krumlov (which I highly recommend) made great recommendations for restaurants and activities, and we also met some really cool people there, so we stayed busy (and full) the entire time… even if some times we were just busy doing nothing. It really is the kind of place where you can wander around the same streets over and over, or just sit down and relax, and never grow tired of its charm. I don’t think my words are even doing it justice. You just have to go experience it for yourself.

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