Hey everyone! Last week we were lucky enough to visit Eastern Europe for our first time and it was amazing. Our first stop was Prague in the Czech Republic. The city feels like you’ve traveled back in time to a medieval fairy-tale. It’s a fun, energetic place that has a lot to offer travelers (including cheap beer)!
We arrived late Thursday night and headed straight from the airport to our hostel. (Unfortunately for us, the public bus that usually runs between the airport and the center of the city stops after 11pm, but we pre-arranged a taxi to pick us up through our hostel). A while back, we won a photo contest through St. Christopher’s (a hostel chain that owns a lot of places in Europe) which granted us 2 free nights for 2 people at any one of their locations! We chose the The Czech Inn, since we knew we were planning a trip to Prague. We had a private room and private bathroom (with an amazing rain-head shower). I would highly recommend this hostel to anyone coming to Prague. (It’s a little out of the way- 25 minutes walking to the center, but we found the metro very easy to use).
After a short nights sleep, we were up early for a Free Walking Tour of the city through Sandeman’s New Europe (a company that we have used a few times now and have never been disappointed). The tour guides are usually locals who take you on a 2-3 hour tour of their city, sharing fun facts, history and tips on places to eat. You decide at the end of the tour how much it was worth, and give your guide a tip! (I recommend signing up online for the tour you want so you are guaranteed a spot).
The Czech Republic has an interesting history. Here are some of the things we learned while on our tour:
The Czech Republic was formerly known as Czechoslovakia. During WWII, it was invaded by Germany and wasn’t liberated until the Soviets arrived in 1945. It remained under Communist Soviet control until 1989! In 1993 (the year Mark and I were both born) Czechoslovakia peacefully split into two separate countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. (Meaning, we are the same age as the Czech Republic!)
In the Old Town Square we visited the World’s Oldest Astronomical Clock. Our guide actually taught us how to read the clock. Instead of telling the time, it tells you how many hours until the next sunset! Every hour, there is a short show at the clock. The 12 apostles come out of the two windows at the top while the skeleton (middle 0f the picture on the right) pulls a chain. Don’t set your expectations too high if you wait to see the show. Our tour guide claims it’s the 2nd most disappointing attraction in the world (after the Mona Lisa). I would have to agree with him, the show is nothing to get excited over and most people spend 15 minutes standing around waiting to see it. If you’re in the center near the hour, stop by to judge for yourself! But don’t go out of your way just to see the show. Observing the clock is interesting enough.
After learning about the Clock, we headed to the Jewish Quarter of Prague. The Old New Synagogue is Europe’s oldest active synagogue, built in 1270. This synagogue has seen many things throughout history. For a long time, all the Jews in Prague were forced into a ghetto (an area of the city they couldn’t leave) by the Christians. The King blamed the Jews for the Plague, since it seemed to be killing everyone but the Jewish people. (Now we know that was because Jewish ritual calls for washing hands before prayer so their habits were healthier than those of the Christians). One of the most famous incidents during this time was a massacre on Easter Sunday in 1389, where over 1,000 Jews hiding within the synagogue’s walls were killed. Now, the inside of the Synagogue has hebrew inscriptions remembering that day.
We also saw Franz Kafka’s house, a famous Jewish writer who was born in Prague. (His most popular novels are Metamorphosis, The Castle and The Trial).
After our informative tour, we decided to cross the famous Charles Bridge. There are some beautiful views of Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral from the bridge! Once on the other side we headed out in search of the John Lennon Wall. What was once an ordinary wall, is now a place filled with grafitti about peace and love. After John Lennon was killed in 1980, the wall became a place for young Czech people to express themselves (in a time where they had few opportunities to do so). The communist police tried to whitewash the wall, but everyday new messages of Beatles lyrics and peace were appearing. Today this wall serves as a monument of free speech and the non-violent rebellion of youth against communism. It is constantly changing, yet you can always find some reference to the Beatles or Lennon!
After snapping a few photos and admiring the art, we decided it was time for a (very late) lunch. We decided to go to the John Lennon Pub, a small restaurant not far from the Wall. We found the food and beer to be really good! Mark had a bread bowl filled with goulash and I tried the parmesan cheese mushroom risotto. (They also have free wifi which is always a bonus for travelers!)
Our final stop of the day was back across the river in the Old Town Square. We are always in search of the best views of a city so we decided to climb to the top of the Old Town Hall Tower. It costs 130 CZK for an adult (around 5 euros) and 80 CZK (3 euros) for a student with an ID. (You can also take a tour of the Town Hall, which includes entrance to the tower, but since we had limited time we decided to just do the tower).
After taking in the amazing views, we decided it was time for a snack! All day we had been walking past these street vendors and shops that sell Trdelniks (don’t ask me how it’s pronounced, we referred to them as turtlenecks the whole time we were in Prague). According to our tour guide, they are not authentic Czech food, because they are more modern (and have only been around for the last 15 years or so), but we decided they looked too good not to try. They are basically fried dough made into a cone and covered in cinnamon and sugar. You can eat it as is, or fill the cone with melted chocolate, whip cream or ice cream!
Finally, we decided it was time to head back to the hostel to get ready for our night out! Prague is a city with a lot of night-life. Fun fact: The Czech Republic has the highest beer consumption per capita in the world! Not only is beer cheap there, it’s also really good.
Before our trip, we signed up for a Pub Crawl called the Drunken Monkey. At the first stop, they offer 2 hours of open bar (including beer, wine and some liquor) and there are places to play beer pong, foosball and Jenga! We were able to be-friend some people (4 American study abroad girls, and 5 German guys) by playing against them in Beer-pong.
After the first bar, they take you to two more bars (with welcome shots as you walk through the door) and they end the night at a Club! It was one of the best nights out we’ve had in a long time. We love making new friends when traveling! Another highlight of the night was that Mark and I were beer-pong champions!! (Two years out of college, yet somehow we still got it!)
We managed to make it back to our hostel at the somewhat decent hour of 2:30am! We didn’t know before our trip that Uber existed in the Czech Republic, but one of our new friends informed us so we were able to safely take one back to our hostel (and it only cost $2.35!)
The next morning we miraculously checked out of our hostel and made it out the door by 10am! We had a little time to visit Prague Castle before catching our train. To enter into the area of the Castle is free (you only have to go through a security checkpoint) and it’s great to walk around and enjoy the views. We ended up buying a ticket to see some more of the things in that area. There are different types of tickets, a full one (Circuit A) for 350 CZK (13 euros) or a shorter visit ticket (Circuit B) for 250 CZK (9 euros). Since we didn’t have a lot of time we opted for the shorter visit. For information on what each ticket includes, check out the Prague Castle website.
In my opinion, I don’t think it is necessary or worth it to buy a ticket. Most of the important things to see, you can simply walk around and explore on your own (free of charge). My favorite part of the visit was St. Vitus Cathedral, which you can actually go inside to see for free. (There is a roped off section that you can only get past with a ticket, however).
Your ticket also includes entrance to St. George’s Basilica, Golden Lane with Daliborka Tower and a (short) visit inside Prague Castle.You are not allowed to take pictures inside, but rules are meant to be broken so please enjoy these illegal photos I took.
I enjoyed seeing the small houses on Golden Lane, but Daliborka Tower is no more than a small torture chamber. St. George’s Basilica is very old and nice, but nothing worth going out of your way to see.
In all honesty, if you have more time to explore and really get into the history, paying for a ticket to visit Prague Castle may be worth it. However, if you are on a budget or have limited time, simply entering the castle region and exploring it yourself for free is good enough. There are nice views of Prague from the top of Castle Hill, which you can see right when you enter the area. The best part of our time at Prague Castle (for me anyways) was when I got to enjoy this freshly made Trdelnik!
Our last stop in Prague was back to the Old Town Square once again. We managed to catch the Astronomical Clock show at 2pm before grabbing a quick lunch. Our tour guide had mentioned a place if we were looking to try authentic Czech food, and we were curious. The name of the small shop is Lahudky and he warned us that the old women who work there don’t speak any English but all you have to do is point to what you want. They are famous for their Open Faced Sandwiches (basically a sandwich with no bread on top!). We bravely chose some through hand gestures and stood at one of the tables to eat. They were amazing! It’s about a 5 minute walk from the center and definitely worth a visit!
Although we would have loved to stay longer in Prague, we had to catch a 4:00pm train to Budapest! It was easy enough to find the train station (we had arrived 30 minutes early) but we had a difficult time figuring out how to get across the highway to get inside the station! (Look for stairs that lead you underground). I think the station was undergoing some construction, but there were no signs directing us to which platform our train was on! After 15 minutes of sprinting up and down stairs and asking random people for help, we finally found our train and hopped on with barely 5 minutes to spare! We were covered in sweat and frantic, but relieved we had made it. (I think someone was definitely looking out for us).
If you are interested in booking a train from Prague to Budapest (or vice versa) check out this useful website that helped us to book our tickets. Make sure your tickets are stamped by the conductor before the train leaves the Czech Republic (this could result in a fine if you don’t). You also have to have your tickets checked by a Slovakian conductor (since the train goes through Slovakia) as well as a Hungarian conductor when you enter into Hungary. Have your passports and tickets handy, so you are ready when the conductors walk by. If you don’t find a Czech conductor–seek them out yourself!!
Besides almost missing our train, Prague left us with nothing but good vibes. We already talk about our trip back someday. We hope this video blog gives you a little taste of our time there. Stay tuned for our next post about the Szechenyi Baths in Budapest!