The castle tour that nearly turned into a pub crawl.
Prague Travel Blog› entry 209 of 251 › view all entries
August 25th, 2008 – by: cmgervais
We covered serious ground today, all on foot. Yes, Prague offers public transportation options such as a tramline and a metro, but you could miss something that way! We walked, walked, walked. Excellent, but tiring too.
Our first mission was to stop at the real estate agent’s office to pay for our apartment. It wasn’t exactly on the way to Prague Castle, our intended destination, and it took a little longer than we expected. So when we finished with that, it was already time for lunch. Luckily we had an excellent map to help us find the tiny street where Lehkahlava -- a restaurant recommended by Fodors -- is located. It was a long way and we got a good look at the Old City on the way, as we traversed wee streets and major ones to find this funky vegetarian café.
We entered the restaurant through a heavy curtain and were lead into a dark room to be seated. The ceiling was dark blue, with small holes for tiny points of light to come through, like stars. There was a small fixture at our table that produced a disk of light the size of a baseball. We had to take turns with the patch of light to read our menus, and in the end took the easy way out, ordering the special of the day. Only $6! We started with lentil soup, and then they brought us huge plates of rice and couscous and a stir fry of cabbage, green beans, mushrooms and tofu. Really tasty, and did I mention it was only $6? Good place.
OK, then it was time to really be tourists! From the restaurant we were close to Charles Bridge, a Prague landmark.
About halfway across the bridge, the walking path narrowed considerably due to construction or renovation. Instead of enjoying the INCREDIBLE view of the Prague Castle area in front of us, we were jostled and swept through with the crowd of tourists until we landed on Mosteca street. This street is lined with beautiful old buildings (OK, I guess that pretty much describes ALL the streets in Prague!).
This very crowded street had tourist information booths, cafes, and shops selling crystal and art glass as well as other tourist kitsch.
We then found ourselves at the foot of the castle area, in Hradcany Square. This square played the role of Vienna in the movie Amadeus. It is surrounded by incredible buildings, and the view of Prague from here is just stunning. I have to say again…this city is absolutely unequaled. It is incredible. I know, everyone says that. But it’s true!
It was right around this time that I started to realize that the identifier keys in my Fodor’s guidebook were completely screwed up.
Anyway. At first we planned to just stroll the grounds and gardens for free instead of paying the $17 entry fee. We walked across the length of the castle area and ended up at the Golden Lane, which I was really looking forward to. But turns out you need one of those tickets to get in! So we paid the $17 after all.
The Golden Lane is a row of tiny, colorful buildings that used to house the castle guards. They have been transformed into cute shops, all touristy of course, but I enjoyed it a lot. Franz Kafka used to live in No 22, which now appropriately houses a bookstore.
After this, we went into Dalibarka Tower which is a former prison. There were some creepy torture devices there, such as a “rack” and a “violin.” There was a small cage with leg and neck irons inside. Was a terrible fate that would have been! They had posted some informative boards about the history of the tower and this was pretty interesting, if gruesome, place to visit.
Then it was time to walk back through the Prague Castle grounds and use our tickets to visit the places we had missed the first time. St George’s Basilica didn’t do much for me (another really old church), but I really liked the Royal Palace. You enter through an enormous hall (dating from 1493), which has the most amazing old wood floors and a soaring vaulted ceiling.
We did not pay extra to go into St. Vitus’s Cathedral (this is the pointy church visible from pretty much everywhere in Prague.) But I can report that it is quite amazing from the outside! Construction on this gothic masterpiece started in the 10th century and was not completed until 1929. According to Fodor’s, the cathedral is the “spiritual heart of not only Prague bit of the entire country.” It is incredibly large and were we duly impressed with it up close and personal.
At this point we were so tired and achy. It had been a long day of walking and sightseeing. I had the rather brilliant idea of checking out one of the pubs listed in the book. We have both been wanting to try out some of this famous Czech beer, and the timing felt perfect.
People stared at us when we came in. The dark atmosphere and unsmiling faces seemed intimidating. Plus, there were people sitting at every table...no room for us? We both kind of wanted to walk back out, but then a waiter indicated we should sit at a table with three others… so we did as we were told.
As we sat there wondering what to do next, the waiter dropped two foamy mugs of beer in front of us. No need to fuss with a menu and make any hard decisions, as they only serve one beer: Pilsner Urquell.
When the beers got low, the waiter simply brought another round and marked a line on the paper he had placed in front of us. Such an efficient process, and you could tell they were well practiced. The place was full of people drinking beer after beer after beer.
After two beers each we were on the fence: should we have another round, or should we leave? We ended up leaving, but at this point I really wanted to head on to another pub on the list.
On the way to our apartment we passed through Old Town Square again. We noticed a huge crowd of people staring up at the old clock there (I later learned it’s the Astronomical Clock). Although we had no idea what they were staring at, we joined them and commenced to staring at the clock ourselves. In three minutes, at exactly 5pm, the old clock came to life. A skeleton pulled a chain to ring the bell, the mandolin player played a tune. It was a pretty lively show for something that dates from 15th century, and the crowd made a collective chuckle before dispersing.
We left as well, and went back to the apartment.
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