Prague: The City of a Hundred Spires (and Chimney Cakes)

My ten day spring break escapade came to a close with the fairy tale city of Prague. After a few hours exploring Vienna in the morning, we hurried to the bus station to catch our 15€ ride from Austria to the Czech Republic. Since our bus left around 6 pm, I chose to spend most of the 4.5 hour ride sleeping. There were very few people on the bus, and we each had rows to ourselves. At around 10:30 pm, our bus pulled into a parking space at a train station in Prague, and we were free to go – no border control, no check in, or anything. This was a bit strange, we thought, but for the moment we were focused on finding an ATM to get some korunas. We then headed to the taxi stand outside for a short drive into the city center. Our Airbnb host invited us to his cafe, and we sat for a while while he explained the city and the apartment. He even offered us welcome drinks of tea, coffee, or beer.

Tired, but excited, we headed up to our homey and spacious apartment and anticipated the morning to come. We started the next morning with a walking tour of the city at 11 am. Our guide was not our favorite, but we were happy to get accustomed to the city a bit. We started in Old Town Square, which was less than a minute away from our apartment. We learned about the astronomical clock tower, and headed towards some other monuments. Our walk through the Jewish Quarter was beautiful, and we ended the tour not far from where we began.

After the tour, we returned to Old Town Square to visit the top of the clock tower. For less than 5 bucks, we saw panoramic views of the city, the smell of mulled wine and trdelnik (chimney cakes) wafting up from below.

At the start of every hour, the clock has a little show that people crowd around to see, often leaving rather unimpressed. After descending the tower, we found ourselves 6 minutes away from the next hour, and decided to join the crowd to see the spectacle. When the clock struck, the tiny skeleton rang a bell to signify the death of the hour before. Twelve apostles shuffled by the small doors above, and the show was over. I, personally, thought the 90-second show was cute, especially considering it is part of a medieval tower.

After the tour, we had a quick lunch of haskusky in the square – for just a few korunas, we each got a few pounds of the potato dumpling, ham, and sauerkraut mix. We took a short break at the Airbnb to freshen up, since it was so close, and then we headed for the main event: trdelnik. Tredelnik, otherwise known as chimney cakes, are the tourist snack of the city. Don’t let that fool you, though – they’re delicious, as long as you get one that is a bit further from the main square, and it’s fresh. At this point, I was already enamored with Prague. There was truly an air of magic in the city, and it felt like a real-life Disneyland.

We spent the rest of the day slowly making our way towards Prague Castle, discovering interesting corners of the city along the way. The ghostly statue sits outside the theater where Mozart premiered his opera, Don Giovanni. The statue is named after the ghostly character, Il Commendatore. We took another walk through the Jewish Quarter, where the buildings were truly the most intricate and unique. This is a bit unsurprising, as it is now the most expensive neighborhood in Prague. This seems to be a trend in many European cities – the area of a city that was once a place of containment for Jews later becomes a high-end, trendy area.

The Jewish Quarter is also home to another of Prague’s quirky statues: the memorial to Franz Kafka, the writer who lived in Prague. The statue is a representation of his story, “Description of a Struggle.” We crossed the Vltava into the quiter side of the city and began our hike up dozens and dozens of stairs (not before stopping in a few trinket shops, of course). By the time we reached Prague Castle, the giant complex was near closing. To enter the complex, we went through military security, which we weren’t expecting! As the sun was setting, we spent a short amount of time wandering the area, seeing St. Vitus Cathedral along the way. Exhausted from our day of walking, we made the trek back over the river and had dinner in a traditional Czech pub. Our waiter was blunt and sarcastic, and the chicken schnitzel was great.

We dashed back to the Airbnb, as it had started pouring while we were eating dinner. At this point, I was feeling sad that I only had one day left in this magical city. I could spend weeks wandering the corners and side-streets of this unique place, and I truly wanted to take pictures of everything. While there were definitely many more tourists here than in Budapest or Vienna, it wasn’t difficult to understand why. I was also endlessly entertained (and shocked) by the Communist-themed souvenirs in the tourist shops; who would buy a “KGB: still watching you” shirt is beyond me. Both Budapest and Prague were so interestingly complex, likely due to both of their recent dark histories. I felt a sense of honesty and genuineness in both cities, which is something I greatly appreciated. It was quite different to visit a city that was still rebuilding, and it opened my eyes to cultures that were extremely different than my own at home, and many of those in Europe, as well.

Our main destination for our second day in Prague was the John Lennon Wall. Like the day before, we slowly made our way there, allowing ourselves to explore and learn along the way. We started the day at a place called Burrito Loco, where I had my first real Mexican food since before I left the states. Mexican food is virtually nonexistent in Rome, and what is there is far from good. For this reason, I was overjoyed to be lunching on a giant burrito, fit with guacamole and all. After walking a bit, we crossed Charles Bridge, the most popular (and touristy) bridge in the city. Lined with huge statues, painting and print vendors, and selfie-stick sellers, the walk across was a bit more stressful than I had anticipated. Regardless, the views were spectacular.

The city was a bit calmer on this side of the river. Jenny and I were a bit tired after rummaging through a few tourist shops, and we came upon a gated park where we decided to rest for a bit. There were just a few people walking around, and we enjoyed the few moments of serenity apart from the bustling city. As we got up to leave, however, we noticed a man and his wife ripping a banana in chunks, motioning towards something in the distance. We glanced over, and across the park, a beautiful peacock was making its way towards the couple. Jenny and I were floored. The only other time we had seen peacocks was in a petting zoo, and this man was feeding it a banana as it wandered around his feet!

Within a few minutes, the area was entirely flooded in peacocks and birds. In all, there were 17 peacocks wandering the area around us, clearly comfortable with humans. The man from before noticed our utter shock, and in broken English asked, “you don’t have these in America?” I was entirely baffled that birds like this walking around freely could be normal for anyone, and I surely wasn’t expecting them in Prague. I was enthralled to see these fabulous, iridescent creatures wandering around calmly – it was unlike anything I had ever seen.

After a bit of research, I found out that the park we stumbled upon was called Vojanovy Sady, and that peacock sightings were common here. Who knew?

A bit later, we met up with the rest of our friends to finally complete our journey to the John Lennon wall. We passed a bridge, where boats passed slowly as people tried to sell tours along the street. The surrounding area was quiet and colorful, and we walked through another park where we had stunning views of the river.

Just before the wall was a bridge covered in locks, with proclamations of love, names and dates, and even a doodle of Nicholas Cage adorning the walls. At this point, we could tell we were close. We turned the corner, following the small stream of people and the sound of acoustic guitar until we came upon a tall and bright wall, spanning a half a block or so. There was an air of happiness all around, as friends took photos of each other and a man played covers of the Beatles. I borrowed a small bottle of blue paint from someone nearby, and each of us left our tiny mark on the wall. Jenny added a sunglasses emoji, and I painted the phrase “the future is female.” As soon as I finished, I passed off the bottle of paint to someone else as two French girls took a selfie with my phrase, smiling widely. Yet another magical moment in this fantastic city.

We made our way across the river and towards our Airbnb, stopping for our second chimney cake of the trip along the way.  These, sadly, weren’t as fresh, but we enjoyed them nonetheless. We took some more pictures around Old Town Square before stopping at the apartment to change. Jen and I went to a delicious burger place for dinner, where we had cider, fries, and burgers with goat cheese and caramelized pear. We finished the meal with our last trdelnik, in an effort to make up for the ones that had flopped earlier. Luckily, these were a success. Our night ended at a popular pub called the Beer Museum, where we joked about the last ten days and the beer memes that played in a slideshow on small TV in the corner.

Prague was one of those places that I knew I would miss dearly even before I left. I’ll always remember the interesting food, unique architecture, and the fun times I had here. What a perfect way to round out my spring break. Praha, you’ll be missed!

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