Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Europe Day 8: Prague

Prague Castle from St. Nicholas Tower
Less than 24 hours. That is all I had in Prague. It wasn't much, but it was enough to do some decent sightseeing and exhaust myself with all kinds of walking.

Someone told me Prague would be tough because fewer people spoke English there, but it was actually an easy city for this rookie. Getting from the Prague airport into town was a breeze. That's probably because I stayed at the Prague Marriott in Staré Město (Old Town), and the Cedaz shuttle bus drops you off across from the Marriott. It also costs an affordable 150 CZK, which I believe was around USD $7.

From the hotel, I walked through Old Town, across the Charles Bridge, through Malá Strana (Lesser Town) to Prague Castle. It's less than two miles, but the small and twisting streets are mainly made of cobblestones, and Prague is hilly. Originally, I intended to tour Prague Castle and walk along the Charles Bridge, but in Lesser Town, I ended up also climbing the St. Nicholas Tower and going into the Church of St. Nicholas. In a way, this was a mistake because my detour left me only two and a half hours at Prague Castle, so I could not rent the audio tour (it's a three-hour-plus tour). But, I don't regret it at all.

The cobblestone streets
If you go up the church tower, you get a great view of Prague Castle, Lesser Town, Vlatava River, all the way to Old Town. However, it is very cramped and steep. I do not recommend this if you are afraid of heights, or claustrophobic.

Charles Bridge from St. Nicholas Tower
Touring St. Nicholas was amazing, but it was so weird to pay a nun an admission fee. St. Nicholas is a baroque church, so "ornate" doesn't even begin to describe it. At this point in my trip, I began to realize that even the most beautiful Catholic churches in the U.S. are nothing compared to Europe.

Inside the Church of St. Nicholas
From St. Nicholas, I followed the street signs to Prague Castle. I bought the "short visit," so I could only get into St. Vitus, the Royal Palace, St. George's Basilica, and Golden Lane. The Daliborka Tower is supposed to be an option, but for some reason I skipped it. It was a nice contrast to see the Gothic cathedral, St. Vitus, after the Baroque style of St. Nicholas. Though I felt rushed at Prague Castle, and desperately wished I had an audio guide, it was quite an experience. At one point I realized just how cool it was to be walking around in what was seriously a castle. I mean, this UNESCO World Heritage site was a legitimate fortification with churches, courtyards, streets, homes, and towers. After touring the castle, I took a page out of my sister Mindy's book, and took a ridiculous amount of pictures of the view and St. Nicholas from the castle's hill. What? It's a long pathway with so many opportunities for picturesque photos.

View from Prague Castle grounds
I actually also took my time with the view from the castle because I was trying to wait for dusk so I could walk along the Charles Bridge and because Frommer's says, "The best times to stroll across the bridge are early morning and around sunset, when the crowds have thinned and the shadows are more mysterious." Unfortunately, the cold got to me (it was nearly as cold as Berlin), and I couldn't make myself stick around for dusk during daylight savings. I did climb to the top of the observation tower on the Old Town side of the bridge. This too was a cramped and steep experience. But, the views from the top are worth it if you don't fear tight spaces and heights.

St. Lutigarde statue along the Charles Bridge
After all this, I found my way to hard-to-locate restaurant, and ventured back to my hotel at night. It was safe, but I probably should not have walked so far in the dark as a solo traveler. My parents and sisters are probably not very happy right now, so I should add that I stuck to the main streets, and was very aware of my surroundings. It did not take long to get back to the main part of town, and I did get to see the Astronomical Clock lit up at night.

The Astronomical Clock at night

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