Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Prague 2012

Prague 23rd-26th November 2012

It has definitely taken me a while to put this up I know but I am just getting the hang of blogging! Here is my 3-day trip to Prague with my boyfriend, Adam. What a fantastic trip and a beautiful city! I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to explore a European city without the large price tag. We actually booked it through Groupon who were pretty tricky to deal with to begin with, but once we arrived there it was such an easy-going holiday. However, for me the hotel is of main importance so if you do book through Groupon be sure to have a look at Trip Advisor to make sure that the photos aren't deceiving!

The beautiful view of the city

Day one- 23rd November 2012
After much anticipation and anxiety about our first holiday abroad, Adam and I arrived at Prague airport after an astonishingly comfortable flight flying Whizz air. Instead of choosing to book a minivan which could have picked us up from the airport and driven us directly to our hotel we decided that we would be adventurous and cost-efficient and take the tube which turned out to be a much better option. I would highly recommend it: was so easy and I often prefer to avoid tourist traps.
This bus/tube journey is suitable for anyone hoping to travel to the city centre. As soon as you get out of the arrivals lounge at the airport the bus shelter is literally straight in front of you- it's difficult to miss- although you do need to see through all of the taxi drivers keen to get your business. 
The price of this whole journey is the equivalent of £1.66 per person or 96 koruna in total, so super cheap! However BEWARE- before leaving the airport make sure you have coins as these machines don't take notes. Despite not knowing this, we were lucky enough to find a friendly young woman who gave us the equivalent of about 20p in change in order to pay for our tickets! Don't get me wrong- there was a part of me that thought that after a 7.30am flight the most comfortable option would be to take a taxi to our hotel. However, I really was very impressed with how easy this journey turned out to be!

The system for paying for tickets is also very different: it charges you for the length of time you are hoping to travel on public transport instead of your final destination. Looking back on it, I would recommend buying a half day option. Once you have bought your ticket you have overcome the first barrier! Catch Bus 119 which ends up in DEJVIKA. From there, you catch the metro (which is also very straightforward as there are only 3 lines). Metro A takes you to MUZEUM which is the top of Wenseclas Square, so this is ideal if you are staying near the city centre. However, as our hotel was in New Town, we took Metro C (red line) and our stop was PAVLOVA. From there it was a very easy and straightforward walk.

As we organised our trip as part of a Groupon deal, we were a little bit sceptical about the accommodation as a few of my friends have had some dodgy ones in the past. However, we were very pleased to find that Hotel Assenzio was a modern and relatively small 4*  hotel with good service, very clean rooms and a good breakfast. Definitely a bargain!!
Because we couldn't check in until 2, we left our bags there in search for some lunch and to get our bearings a little bit. Walking back to Weseclas Square from our hotel couldn't be more straightforward. 
Weseclas Square is in fact not a square but a very long oblong rectangle which at the top has the very beautiful green and gold National History Museum. As the sun goes down and all of the street lights are lit up, I would highly recommend going up a few steps to take advantage of the brilliant view of the square. 

Unfortunately, I ashamed to say that Adam and I were so hungry, we did not even attempt to find a nice restaurant for lunch. Don't judge me but we were far too hungry to go in search for Czech food so we ate in quite a touristy restaurant in the square. However, one of the good things that came out of this was a complementary limoncello-like shot (which soon became complimentary in nearly every restaurant) called BECHEROVA. Although this was a lemon-tasting one the original has more like an Aniseed-flavour. It was super delicious although very strong and later on we realised that this was a very popular drink in Czech Republic as it was sold and advertised in nearly every store. 

With a hefty shot of this stuff in our systems starting to kick in we were raring to go and decided that because we were only staying for three nights, we wanted to make the most of our time here. We had a wonder down the beautiful, cobbled streets and eventually found our way to the Astronomical Clock which is really very beautiful and is situated in Staromestske Namesti. 

This beautiful space is surrounded by absolutely stunning architecture (best seen at night with a glass of mulled wine!).

After spending some time in this vibrant square, we attempted to find our way to Charles Bridge. However, Adam soon learned that I should never be put in charge of map reading and whilst our patience was running low and tiredness began to kick in we decided that we would head back for a quick nap before dinner. Although something of interest caught Adam's eye and he could not help but be drawn into the Sex Machine Museum on Melantriclova- just off from the Astronomical Clock. Let's just say that it was an experience somewhat similar to '50 Shades', if anyone is interested! So after an unnervingly silent and thoughtful walk back to the hotel with Adam, we got ready to go out for dinner. 

Before dinner, we found our way back to the Astronomical clock. With the buildings all lit up and the square spotted with people, we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to watch this surprisingly quiet city go by with a glass of mulled wine and beer. There were no horns, screaming, or cars zooming past . Despite the muffled sound of voices and typical Prague ham sizzling over burning logs, it remained beautifully still yet powerfully present when you glanced up at the looming architecture. This proved to be one of the best parts of the evening. 

We hadn't booked anywhere specifically for dinner as we thought that it would be best to meander down the little cobbled streets to find some authentic Czech cuisine. We eventually found a restaurant called A PROPO down Platnerska. It was on the corner of a street with many Italian restaurants which looked trendy although we decided to take the plunge and start on the right foot by choosing Czech food. It was a charming, friendly pub-like restaurant. What won us over in particular was the offer of 2-pint jugs of Budvar each, which although I struggled to pick up, was very delicious! I don't normally like beer but it felt like the perfect setting. 

The food was local and tasty although I have decided that it it definitely not my food of choice as I find dumplings very stodgy. So after two more complimentary plum shots and a rose (was very flattered!), we walked back. With the lights on and many couples ambling down the narrow roads, I realised what Kafka meant when he once said "Prague never lets you go." "This dear little mother had claws." It was only our first night and we were already entranced by this beautiful city.

Even though at this point it was 10pm, we both still felt so safe walking down the small dark alleys. It's one of those cities that manages to retain so much charm despite the ever growing modern New Town. Even though we had walking similar streets during the day, it seemed like we could carry on investigating new windy roads all evening.

Day two- 24th November 2012
I have now come to the conclusion that one of the worst feelings in the world is waking up excited for an all-inclusive breakfast only to find that I forgot to change the clock on my phone so my alarm didn't go off!! However I feel that this was a chance for us to find a cafe which was recommended on Trip Advisor called Cafe Corso. Trip Advisor truly was such a great help when organising this holiday and I would highly recommend to anyone that this is a must before you head anywhere!
This charming, bright and modern cafe conveniently serves breakfast until 12pm on Saturday so we were definitely in luck! Food and coffee were absolutely delicious, with great care taken on the presentation and the high quality ingredients.

From here we were ready for a long day of walking up to Prague Castle!  In order to cross from Old Town to Lesser Town, you must walk over Chalres Bridge. I say 'must' although I don't feel as if it is a very appropriate word. It is truly a spectacular view and we were so lucky with absolutely gorgeous weather today- blue skies and crisp winter mornings are my favourite, so the views were fantastic. 

Along the walls of Charles Bridge are beautiful Baroque-style sculptures of the patron saints. I feel you can really spend a while here, admiring the spectacular views of the castle. Once you reach Lesser Town it is a climb to the top so it's definitely worth it. 

In Lesser Town the buildings which border the cobbled narrow streets are colourful and cheerful and there are many hot chocolate shops on either side if you are already slightly peckish or if your hands need to be heated up a bit!! Walking to the top, you reach Prague Castle. In front of you is the Old Royal Palace which was home to Bohemian royalty from the 11th-17th century, and inside the massive Vladislav Hall was where the old Bohemian Kings were elected. This building is now used for swearing Czech presidents into office. 

I would highly recommend buying the short visit to the castle, which lets you into the Old Royal Palace, Basilica of St George, St Vitus' Cathedral and my personal favourite- Golden Lane. This short visit is only 125 koruna for a student ticket and really worth it I think to get a real understanding of historical royalty in Prague. This ticket shows you everything you need to see without all the extra historical exhibitions. 

As I said, Golden Lane was my favourite part. Wandering down this short and cobbled street, you feel like a giant next to these miniature colourful houses. It is made up of toy-sized tradesmen's cottages and what was so wonderful is that at the door of each of them is a story about who once lived there. Frans Kafka briefly lived in number 22 which was his sister's house during World War One. At number 27 lived an old woman who used to be able to see into the future. Eventually she was captured by the Gestapo after predicting the fall of the Third Reich and was tortured to death. 

After walking round the the castle, Adam and I decided we needed to treat ourselves. We noticed on our way up to the castle a bar which served pints for the equivalent of 50p which sounded perfect. I can  truly say that I have never had a tankard with gloves on- but it was so fitting and a perfect rest from a long day of walking!

At this point is was getting quite late and because we hadn't even had lunch we decided we would walk back to Old Town and indulge in some of the Prague Ham we saw the night before when we had our mulled wine! However, before we reached here Adam saw a brilliant find: a small door on Charles Bridge (Old Town side) which had 350 steps to the top, eventually revealing the most spectacular view of the city. Although it did cost £5, the view was really beautiful and the cherry on top was when the street lights on Charles Bridge turned on as soon as we reached the top. 

So after our delicious (but surprisingly enormous) portion of Prague Ham and (another) glass of mulled wine, we were ready to head back to the hotel. But not before we found ourselves in an impressive alcohol shop which featured an array of many (and rather exotic) types of absinthe. 

We decided that for dinner we would investigate further into New Town in search for Trip Advisor's number 3 ranked restaurant in Prague- U Kroka. I would consider taking a taxi here (especially if you're staying in Old Town as it's further away) as firstly it's quite a walk, and secondly, it's not the nicest of areas. We found this gem eventually, and it was definitely worth the walk! A local shabby-chic style restaurant serving excellent good with a great atmosphere. I always love it when I go to a restaurant and I cannot hear any English. The waitresses barely spoke English and there wasn't an English menu. For some this may seem like a daunting prospect, but for me it shows that this is genuine czech cuisine, so much so that all the locals come here. 
Czech cuisine is mostly based around meat so I decided to go for the ribs which were delicious. Adam chose a czech speciality of tenderloin steak with cream and cranberry sauce and dumplings. Although he said it was delicious- BEWARE- It is genuinely whipped cream on top of your steak! 
The bill only came to £15 for two main courses and a bottle of wine. Really amazing value. One of the best things about Prague was I found that food was so delicious and was so cheap! We were so fond of this restaurant- I cannot recommend it highly enough. Adam and I were nattering about it all the way back to the hotel!

Day three- 25th November 2012
Sad day for both Adam and I as was the last day of our first holiday together! We woke up feeling energetic and decided that as we had seen all the general sites such as Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, the Astronomical Clock and Wenseclas Square, we wanted to do a very specific day tour. The one part of this city which we felt we had not touched upon yet was the Jewish Quarter- or Josevof- as it's called. None of the guide books I had brought with me covered this area in much depth and I thought the only way to do it justice was by getting a tour guide to show us round. We avoided all of the "ultimate" tours which only briefly touch upon each site. Although you could argue these are great for a short trip to a city like Prague, you might as well go round by yourself because they do not go into as much depth as specific tours.
Tour guides can only be found in the square of the Astronomical Clock. We noticed a friendly looking man called Roman with an umbrella saying "Jewish Ghetto" on it and we instantly knew we hit the jackpot as there are not many other tour guides who just do this area. After realising that there was only one other gentleman in the group, I panicked knowing that there was no place to hide if I lose my concentration! The prospect of doing this for over 3 hours terrified me. For those who know me well this is a challenging task. However I eventually realised that there was no need to be worried as Roman was a gripping storyteller. 
We first walked around the perimeter of what was the old Jewish Ghetto- the walls were taken down however at the end of the 19th century. The Jewish Museum and Ghetto is so popular as firstly, at one point Prague had the third highest Jewish population in Europe and secondly because this was an area taken over by the Nazis, but many buildings still remain today. This is very surprising as elsewhere Nazis were systematically destroying and burning synagogues. They wanted to keep all of the buildings intact so they could eventually document and make the synagogues into a 'museum of an extinct race'.
We visited the Maisel synagogue which is unused today, but houses many interesting Jewish artefacts which date back to the 10th century. 

The Pinkas synagogue however was particularly moving. In the 1950's this synagogue was transformed into a memorial for Jews of Bohemia murdered by the Nazis. This spectacular arrangement of names on the walls in alphabetical order with their birth and death dates really put into perspective the masses of Czechs who were victimised by the Nazis. 80,000 names. Even more moving was upstairs where children's drawings from Terezin concentration camp were put on as an exhibition. The vast majority of these children were deported to Auschwitz after these pictures were drawn. These drawings depict the desires to return to Israel, home, parents and often frightening impressions of executions.
We were then allowed to roam the Jewish cemetery which was established in the first half of the 15th century. It contains almost 12,000 tombstones and it is estimated that there are over 100,000 Jews buried there, 10 layers deep, as orthodox Jews were not allowed to be buried outside the ghetto. 

I would highly recommend having a guide to go around this particular area and if you see Roman (white umbrella with Jewish Ghetto written on it) then you can be assured that you will have an informative tour. 
After the tour we found the Cafe Louvre which was recommended by Trip Advisor and wasn't far. Adam had amazing sage and bacon dumplings with pork whilst I tried another czech dish called Spatzle which is basically like gnocci- very delicious!

One of the best parts of this city is that everything is relatively inexpensive. So Adam and I decided that our last night in Prague needed to end on a high. We treated ourselves to a meal at the Bellevue restaurant which is a Michelin Star Restaurant definitely true to it's name boasting a fantastic view over Charles Bridge. How romantic! We had 3 courses with wine to match which was truly delicious. The waiters were very friendly as well, giving us an honest opinion about the meals which I always really appreciate.

Overall what a fantastic holiday. A close friend said to us before we left that a holiday either makes or breaks a relationship so it's nice to know that we returned home with enormous grins on our faces! 
Money-wise I brought £200 spending money with me, as did Adam. Obviously as I said we did splash out on the last night- spending about £65 each so I would say £150 is a comfortable enough spending money although it is worth I think to end with a treat! 
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