Our week in Prague kicked off with the travel day from hell. I originally wrote a veritable essay covering every last detail of the ordeal, from our first cancelled train to possibly witnessing a crime in Dresden, but then I realized that it sounded mopey as fuck and that’s not what I’d want to read in a travel blog, so why put you guys through it? Still, I want to memorialize that day because I know in a few months when we’re stuck in, like, Delhi and can’t figure out how to get to our next destination and it’s a million degrees and we just want some peace and quiet, we’re going to look back at this and laugh at how easy we had it.
So for my personal records, I’m gonna list all the stuff that went wrong. If you want to skip to the good stuff (which I recommend), please proceed to the next paragraph. Still reading? Here goes. The train to Schonefeld Airport (where our Berlin-Prague bus was leaving from) was cancelled. Once we got there, we learned that our bus stop was in the parking lot with no seats or shade (and it was 85+ degrees out). When our bus arrived, there were no two seats together so we had to sit in different sections. The whole bus smelled like poop. At this point Alex checked our tickets and realized we had to change buses in Dresden - surprise! In Dresden it was raining and our connecting bus was running two hours late. We ate McDonald’s. It was terrible. Oh yeah, and we casually witnessed what may or may not have been a gang fight across the street from the station. We heard something that sounded like fireworks and then saw a group of guys across the street, all holding what looked like baseball bats and screaming at each other. They ran off but soon no less than 10-12 police cars showed up and chased after them. And the icing on this miserable cake was that when our bus to Prague FINALLY turned up, we were sat across the aisle from this dude who had seriously the rankest foot odor I have ever personally witnessed.
Needless to say, we’re never going back to Dresden, and I think we’ll be looking more carefully at our bus schedules *before* paying from here on out. Travel isn’t always glamorous, folks. Anyway, we made it to Prague in one piece somehow, and I'm happy to report that the rest of our time there was far more enjoyable and far less terrifying than the journey in.
Prague is an incredibly photogenic city. It seems like the medieval city planners knew the power of a good skyline pic, because pretty much no matter what direction you look from the river, the view is breathtaking. All the old buildings are incredibly well-preserved and the cobblestone streets are all windy and lead to little secret gardens tucked away in alleyways…I know I overuse the word magical, but this place seriously is. Bruges felt like a fairytale town but this feels more real somehow - people live here and go to work and live their lives here - it doesn’t feel like it’s built for tourists the way Bruges did.
After a day of walking around having our minds blown by the city’s beauty, we knew we wanted lots of photos. Only one problem: this city is overrun with tourists. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Charles Bridge, the Old Town Square, and the first few blocks on either side of the river are absolutely crammed with people - like, wall-to-wall Glastonbury-style crowds. But if you veer off that main stretch just a couple blocks, it feels like you’re the only person there. I was so confused by this…where do all those people go when they’re not in that half-mile radius? How can there be so many people in that area and basically none elsewhere in the city? I just feel like the laws of conservation of matter must not apply here because I cannot wrap my head around it.
Either way, we knew the city was too pretty to not be photographed, but we didn’t want our photos clogged with tourists. What to do? Wake up before everyone else, obviously. So we set our alarms for 4:30 and set off for Charles Bridge just as the sun started to rise. Unfortunately, we quickly realized that we were not the only ones on the streets at that hour - although we were definitely the only ones who had just woken up, as most everyone else seemed to be heading home from the bars. As we exited our hostel, two guys walking in the opposite direction shouted “LOOK OUT!” while pointing to a spot above our heads and about 10 feet in front of us. We followed their gaze and noticed a dude leaning out of a 3rd story window puking his guts out onto the sidewalk, loudly, to the sound of applause and hysterical laughter from the room. (It was at this point that we realized we were staying in a party hostel.)
The rest of our walk kind of followed the same theme, with lots of drunk pizza-eating bachelor parties, a few couples aggressively making out, and a handful of people passed out on the sidewalk. We had to sidestep a lot of vomit, empty bottles littered the sidewalks, and many streets reeked of urine. Absolutely none of this took away from the fact that in the cool morning air with the first rays of light just peeking out over the horizon, the entire city is covered in this pale rose-gold glow that literally makes you feel like you exist inside an Instagram filter. Maybe that's a millennial way of looking at things, but there you have it.
After snapping about a hundred thousand photos on Charles Bridge, we hiked up to Prague Castle. I should mention that I was in my pajamas and Birkenstocks, not really planning on an hourlong uphill hike, but we slogged it to the top anyway, past patchwork houses and orange tiled roofs and wobbly cobblestone paths, all bathed in that serene golden glow. At the top, sweaty and groggy and in need of caffeine, we were rewarded with panoramic views of the entire city that made the entire ordeal worth it. At this point it was precisely 6 a.m. and we noticed that the castle guards were opening the gates. Guess who became the first visitors of the day? We were the only people in the entire palace complex, and it felt amazing to explore a hugely popular tourist attraction with no one else around. We felt like the ultimate VIPs and when we finally crawled back into bed around 8 we were still buzzing with the excitement of having the whole city pretty much to ourselves.
We felt pretty accomplished after our early morning photoshoot, so we decided to ‘relax’ for the rest of our stay. That meant lots of pampering and eating delicious food and of course, liter upon liter of delicious beer. We visited a ‘beer spa’ which is exactly what it sounds like: you sit in a hot tub full of malt/yeast and drink unlimited beer while pretending you’re doing something good for your body. It was gimmicky and hilarious, but overpriced - if you visit Prague it’s definitely not a must-do despite what everyone on Tripadvisor seems to think. Mercifully, that was about the only expensive thing we did: Prague, while not as cheap as Eastern Europe, is still a very affordable destination compared to Belgium and Germany, and most bars outside the major tourist section of the city charge around $1 for a half-liter of beer. The food was also outstanding - we ate everything from traditional Czech food and authentic Italian to Thai, Vietnamese, and Indian cuisine, and we never broke the bank.
On our last full day in Prague, we took a day trip to a small town called Kutna Hora to visit the Sedlec Ossuary, a small chapel entirely decorated with the bones of around 40,000 soldier buried here during medieval times. It was delightfully macabre if you’re into that kind of thing (we are), but it was also very clearly a well-trodden tourist trap - it’s a church, yes, but it’s absolutely tiny inside and you’re kind of shuffled in and out along one clearly marked path and then forced to proceed outside past a small gift shop selling all sorts of skeleton-themed wares. We’ve been to a lot of churches and chapels on this trip, but pretty much all of them were actively-used houses of worship and so there was a certain level of respect and decorum inside. The ossuary, on the other hand, was more like some of the cheesy roadside tourist attractions we visited on our road trip in Ireland, and seemed to be more focused on tourist $$$ than worshipping Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, it was still cool, but it wasn’t a complete must-see, and most of the photos you can see of it online make it look way bigger than it actually is. It’s kind of like the Mona Lisa of skeleton-themed churches. I guess. We made up for it by heading into the town centre for some traditional Czech food at a Bohemian beer hall, which was a million times more awesome than the bone chapel.
All in all, we really enjoyed our time in Prague. Even though at times we felt overrun by the touristy nature of parts of the city, we’d still highly recommend Prague as an affordable, picturesque, delightful destination full of amazing food and beer and plenty to keep even the most jaded traveler entertained.