Prague was an afterthought. After we had decided on Croatia as this year’s ‘big’ vacation, and realised the intricacies of non-Schengen visas, we needed a nearby place in Europe to land, and the proximity along with the huge number of microbreweries made it the favourite. After starting at an insanely early time (3 AM), sleeping through the uncomfortable Lufthansa flight and sleepwalking through Frankfurt’s cold airport (and staff, except two – one who pointed us to a faster way to go through immigration and the other, who gave us a spot in the line) we landed at the Vaclav Havel airport. We’d arranged a shared pick up by Prague Airport Transfers, and were met by an extremely jovial guy who kept up a steady flow of information – facts and opinion -throughout the trip as he dropped off two sets of passengers before us. Every alternate sentence was closed with a “like this”. We were dropped last and that meant an hour for the trip.
Our stay was at Iron Gate, very close to the Old Town Square. In its dim lit but stylish lobby with medieval style decor elements, we exchanged euros to korunas. (we had read that the airport rates were not so great and the hotel rates were close to what our driver had said was a good rate for the day) We also learned that the check out was 12 PM, which meant we would have about 6 hours to kill the next day before we left Prague – 2 of them was nap time! Our room was compact and neat, and after a quick refresh, we stepped out for lunch.
From a gazillion options, we chose a very cool sounding Fat Cat Brewery & Pub which was a ridiculously short walk away. It was exactly how one would have envisioned a microbrewery to be. High ceiling, lots of wood, functional yet good looking furniture and a ton of craft beer options. We were overwhelmed enough to ask for a sampler set, and thanks to that being 7 glasses of 100 ml each – Lager, (two types, one made by a monastery!) Weizenbier, Ale (including one with a chili flavour) among others – we could only consume a Cider after! The Goulash soup was excellent, served within a bread and loaded with beef and potatoes. Svíčková was a local dish we had to try – beef served with a wonderful thick, creamy sauce and superb bread dumplings we couldn’t get enough of!
After lunch, we set out to see the things our guided tour the next day wouldn’t cover. The Old Town Square was first – for the Town Hall and the astronomical clock. Every hour, the clock puts on a little show. We were just in time. An old, bent man was trying his best to get the crowd to be interested in a little trinket (based on the clock) he was selling, straining from the effort. Remember the kind of thin cardboard stuff where you could turn a dial and a new image would appear – that kind. No one seemed interested, and it was really sad to see him just getting exhausted from the effort. A euro was small enough an ask for us to do the needful. We were also just in time to see a bird do its business on poor Jan Hus’ statue! We then visited the Church of our lady before Tyn, tucked away a little behind the square, and then made our way to the Powder Tower. (after gunpowder, not make up as I had thought!) Some vintage rides were available, it’s a thing here!
Our original plan was to go to the Dancing House, but we shifted that to the next day since our nap time had been taken off anyway. Getting tickets for the tram to take us to Kampa Park turned out to be a slightly bigger headache than we thought. The kiosk near the Jiráskovo náměstí station shooed us away when we asked for tram tickets. The internet lied! With a little help from a Subway staff (the brand, not the mode of transport) we got them from a shop nearby, owned by, you guessed it, an Indian. He was watching Aaj Tak on the mobile, and that’s how we got to know the lotus party’s President nominee. Speaking of headaches, my nemesis on every vacation had now appeared on the scene again! 😐
A nice little tram ride got us to Kampa Park. The sight of people relaxing on a weekday at just after 6PM made us ponder quite a bit about their quality of life, and ours in comparison. Sigh! After walking a bit, we sat down near the foot of the Charles Bridge for the view. D had wanted to see something called the Lennon Wall nearby but we didn’t have the directions right. So we walked on Charles Bridge towards our hotel to freshen up a bit before dinner.
That didn’t go exactly as planned because of multiple reasons – the damn sinus headache being the primary cause. We also realised that the restaurants in this part of town closed a bit early, and those that didn’t were packed. We finally decided to go back and sleep!
We could afford a late start the next day – 11 AM – because that was when our guided walking tour (part of the Prague Airport Transfers deal) would start. After a standard buffet breakfast at Iron Gate, we set our for the square, which was our scheduled meeting point. We chanced upon a floating genie, a nice trick! Our guide was Ross, and we had some 30 odd other folks for company. The tour was scheduled for about 4 hours including a lunch break, and Ross had to keep his voice booming throughout. We wondered how he managed! We spent a considerable amount of time in the Old Town. Thanks to Ross setting up the contexts really well, we started buildings, parks, statues etc in a different light. As he said, it’d be best if you took a tour on the first day, so you can deep dive later into areas that catch your interest.
We saw Mozart’s “hangouts” in Prague as well as Kafka’s house. After Old Town, we visited the Jewish Quarter and then broke for lunch. We noticed one of D’s shortlisted restaurants in the vicinity – Mlejnice – and decided to try the famous pork knee, and a Goulash to attack my still-present headache! The pork knee is heavy duty fare in terms of size and fat, but with the chili and sauces for company, we managed to finish most of it. The restaurant decor has many stylised cooking utensils and an old school charm about it , but thanks to the alfresco space, it also manages to bring in a contemporary touch. Liked the place!
After lunch, we moved towards the Charles Bridge (that’s his statue). In the distance, we could see our next destination – the Prague Castle. We began walking through Lesser Town, past the St. Nicholas church, and slowly began what was to be quite a climb. Halfway through it, the Dancing Hall plans went out of the window! 😀 The view from the castle area was fantastic – the city of a hundred spires in all its glory. Ross made sure we were on time to watch the change of guard – happens every hour.
Inside the Castle are multiple palaces, most famous of which is the St.Vitus Cathedral. After a brief tour, we bid Ross goodbye and began our walk down. We had been eyeing Trdelník for a while now, and our first stop was exactly for that purpose! Rolled dough, grilled and given a powdered sugar finish, it comes in different flavours, including ice cream fillings. We chose a plain chocolate one and it was absolutely delicious! The sugar kick gave us enough energy to track the Lennon wall (Ross had helped us with directions) and do some souvenir shopping before reaching the hotel an hour before our scheduled pick up.
Prague Airport Transfers handled this very well too. Our pick up arrived on time, and had probably the coolest driver I’d been with in a while – all black ensemble, gum chewing, mostly one hand steering, always looking for a faster way but without any irritating start-stop mechanism, smooth lane changes – she dropped us off at the airport. We had enough time for dinner at a Mexican place (!) – Rancheros – with very pleasant staff. The flight was delayed by more than an hour but wifi meant we weren’t completely bored. However, it also meant that we would reach Zagreb only around 1 AM. We really hoped our driver would wait for us!