Prague for the Weekend, August 2018

In August Mikayla and I had a long awaited weekend in the capital city of the Czech Republic, Prague. This was my fourth time in Prague/Praha/Praga/Prag, however the previous times (one stag do and two conferences) I guessed that I hardly touched the surface discovering the city. This, paired with Kay’s love of libraries and a little persuasion meant we were on our way!

A rarity of our travels was the luxury of a five star hotel. The Grandior Hotel is exactly one mile from Charles Bridge and over the road from a metro station. We did a weekend trip; Friday night to Monday evening and this cost us about £470 including an expansive breakfast buffet and flights from Bristol.

Once we arrived in Prague late on Friday evening we were happy to share a taxi with our neighbours on the flight instead of messing with public transport. The Taxi cost 700CZK which works out £28 for a half-hour trip. We found out on the way back the bus that gets in to the main train station was only 60CZK/£3 each, but around 10pm the bus runs only one every hour and you would still need to gamble with the metro, tram or night buses to get where you need to go!

Saturday

After indulging ourselves at breakfast we had a stroll in to the old town. An early 8am departure meant that the weather was already warming up to the 35 degrees we were treated to throughout the weekend. I had an extra spring in my step that morning knowing that back home it was the start of the football season – County away at Mansfield – yet pleased I was here rather than taking the coach trip to Nottinghamshire (we ended up losing 3-0!).

The old town square is one of the top tourist attractions thanks to an astronomical clock, which as luck had it was being repaired at the time so draped in scaffolding and blue nets. I was genuine when I told Kay that the ‘moving clock’ we used to have in John Frost Square, Newport I believed to be better…

A meandering walk through the narrow streets of Old Town ended at the foot of Charles Bridge, which along with the clock regarded as the top attraction in the city. Thankfully it was still early so the numbers of tourists were less than usual and we took a few moments for photos and made our way across.

After a quick break for rehydration we made our way to the Franz Kafka museum.  Kafka, a Bohemian Jewish novelist and short story writer, is widely regarded as one of the major figure of 20th-century literature. The museum is located in one of the places he used to live by the Vltava river. Due to the crowds we noticed heading towards the caste we decided not to go in, but did spend a few moments attracted to the “Piss Statue” located outside the museum, that was everything you could imagine and more. Two metal sculptures having a wazz in broad daylight. Art apparently!

As we walked up to the castle we were halted half way, having to join the queue of easily 300-400 people. Considering the queue was just a bag check it did take almost an hour. After we passed through successfully we were able to go to a viewing platform but considering the amount of people fighting their way to get a selfie decided not to bother. This did annoy me a bit. Don’t get me wrong we all need a profile piccy at some point but the amount of selfie sticks being wielded was akin to some medieval swordfight. I didn’t have the heart to tell one especially ignorant person who pushed passed that the photo overlooking the city would look much better without her ugly mug included.

The castle itself is free to explore but has many exhibitions, galleries and cafes. The castle has high four storey buildings yet is dominated by St Vitus Cathedral in the middle. Now I’m not one for churches or the like but the presence the building had over the castle walls and the rest of the city was quite something. To make our trip up to the area worth our wait we decided to walk up to the top of the cathedral at a cost of around £6. What stood in our way of surely a great viewpoint were 287 steps. 287 narrow winding staircase steps that only had one way up and the same way down! A logistical nightmare but just about when claustrophobia was setting in we emerged at the top and the fruits of our labour was rewarded with panoramic views of the city and Vltava River that runs through it. I was grateful that there were a lot less selfie stick wavers in this area – obviously too much effort for a new Insta post.

By the time we descended all the way back to the riverside it was time for some lunch (via a bookshop I had to drag Kay out of!) and we returned over Charles Bridge, through Old Town and back to the hotel. Our little siesta wasn’t initially foreseen until I put together our itinerary a few days before, but we easily accommodated a few hours rest while I could follow the game back home.

Refreshed and rewashed we set out to the “New Town” area that again was only a 20 minute walk from our hotel. You’ll be pushed to have to walk an hour to get anywhere in the City. The main part of this area is Wenceslas Square, a busy dual carriageway starting at the national museum (again with scaffolding ruining our pictures) and going downhill to the bustling shops which unnoticeably merges with the old town area. It only took us half a dozen attempts to fins somewhere suitable for dinner and our window seat allowed us to witness the worst thunderstorm I have – probably – ever seen. Lightning striking every minute followed by easily 10 seconds of thunder. When I braved the outside for a ciggy I became uncomfortably soggy in the space of six seconds. By the time I succumbed to have a pint of Staropramen the rain had stopped, darkness set and the cooler atmosphere was perfect to walk along the river taking in the beauty of a lit castle and bridge.

Sunday

If you plan a 16km walk during your 2.5 day stay you have to be really organised or stupid. I think I flirt among the two areas. A matter of days before we arrived we agreed that we would be able to fit in an excursion, namely to a small village called Mala Skala, also known as Český ráj (Czech Paradise), a slow two hour train journey from the capital. Having been happy with the reviews on TripAdvisor, we booked a private tour with Aventouro for £60 each including transport. You can view it by clicking here.

Our 6:45am meet up with our tour guide meant we had to skip breakfast, but were able to catch up on some sleep on the train, even though I tried my best to stay awake and appreciate typical Czech countryside away from the hustle and bustle of prime time tourist season. Once arrived at the destination, a station not too dissimilar to those in the Welsh Valleys, we made our hike up…

… and up… up… up some more… and just when we thought we’d plateaued… up a little further.

To put that in to some form of scale, Mikayla’s fitbit told us that by lunchtime we had climbed 76 floors. Our previous record was a measly 51 floors obtained 18 months ago in Canada. Those of you who own a fitbit will know a floor isn’t exactly your stairs at home either. Remember it was 35 degrees and I’m not what you would regard as being in “good shape”. You should be impressed.

The highlight of the days hike were the interesting sandstone rock formations scattered at the top of the mountain and the viewpoints that climbing these can offer. Whilst we were squeezing through narrow alleys between stones we were told of the history of the area, how worshipers used to visit the area to avoid religious persecution and were guided to several viewpoints that, on a day like today, you could see as far as the Earth’s curve would allow.

After miraculously not breaking any bones on the decline back down to the village I rewarded my endeavours with a burger and fries and a watermelon juice-cocktail-thing. After a discussion with Andrej our guide we decided not to do the second hike (a shorter, less interesting but steeper trek), instead thinking we would make better use of time back in the city.

I had my eye on the Vietnamese restaurant around the corner of the hotel ever since planning the trip a few weeks back. Pre-deciding what to order looking at their website, using images that actually looked like the food served meant I thoroughly enjoyed my spicy beef dish as expected – albeit using half a bottle of hot sauce to make it to my level of spicy.

Since we now had tickets for the metro, tube and bus we decided to hop on to a tram to get in to town. We did some homework on where we needed to go the next day and had a lazy walk along the river and back to the hotel. 26,000 steps today, 31,000 yesterday and 24,000 to come on Monday!

Monday

We tried our best to have a lie in on our last day and to scoff ourselves with our final breakfast buffet but failed on both parts, leaving the hotel by 9 and having just enough food to see us through to lunch. We had a few things on our to-do list today but most importantly a visit to the Clementinum area that houses the Baroque Library, regularly named the most beautiful library in the world.

First stop though was another trip up a bloody hill, to the Petrin Tower. Luckily on this occasion we made use of the funicular railway up to the base of the tower, meaning we then only had to climb 299 steps. Interestingly the design is based on the Eiffel tower, and the top of the tower (including the hill) is the same altitude as the Paris version, about 320 metres. This was one of the many reasons why I was glad to visit Prague again, as on previous trips I didn’t have any inclination to come here, yet it provided the best views overlooking the City. There is so much more to see than the bridge and clock tower.

We decided against paying to visit the Jewish Cemetery and went straight to the library, squeezing in a trip back to the hotel to pick up my bank card before our 1:30 tour. You can only enter the area as part of the £12 tour and there are 172 horrific steps to climb as part of it but it was very good, our Czech guide Caroline even chucking the odd bit of banter in to her guide.

Only part of the tour is a brief look inside the famous Baroque library. The area is constantly in 25 degree heat to preserve the books, and boy is there a lot of books. We were told of the immense value of the room contents, including one book that is valued at 1.2 BILLION Euros and several in the millions. The library also hosts many clocks and globes, including both the largest, and most valuable globes in the world. All in this room in Prague – how fascinating.

The tour went on to explain how the tower was used as an area for teaching and astronomical studies, culminating into a final few flights to get to yet another viewing area. Whilst a lesser scope compared to the Petrin and St Vitus towers, it was great to look over the heart of the old town area.

We squeezed in our final lunch of the trip and hired a pedalo for a final hour relaxation drifting along the river, offering long lasting memories of Prague’s riverside views. Relaxation didn’t quite go to plan as obviously we had to pedal the bloody thing, warranting a Trdelnik dessert afterwards. A Trdelnik is basically ice cream in a doughnut-style cone – delicious, and just within the remit of my frugality costing around a fiver.

A magnet for the mother purchased, bags collected from the hotel and the tram to the main train station later and our trip came to an end, watching day turn in to dusk as we headed for the airport.

Thanks for reading! I’m going to follow up this post with my Prague “5 top tips” shortly. Those of you on Instagram, I have finally started to add photos to my account and have already got some nice comments from random people that made every one of the f***ing steps worthwhile! You can follow me here: https://www.instagram.com/hownot2life/