Our last evening in Prague we were shuttled to the Krizikova Fontana a.k.a. the dancing fountain. Basically, it’s a fountain whose streams are choreographed with lights, music and sometimes actual dancers. Unfortunately, it was (still) raining, so there were no dancers. (Apologies for the shoddy camera work in the video above.)
The show was pretty corny, but at least it was set to the music from the Dirty Dancing soundtracks (original AND Havana Nights) and the Shall We Dance soundtrack.
Oddly, the Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights soundtrack is what will remind me of Prague from now on, since it was also playing in the hotel bar during a much-needed nightcap.
Apparently, no Polish bus tour is complete without a trip to the local Tesco to stock up on local alcohol, so that was our last stop after the dancing fountains.
To call my Prague trip a nightmare would be exaggerating a bit, but at a certain point that’s how I felt! I woke up for day two of official Prague sightseeing and – surprise, surprise – it was raining again. But that sure didn’t stop us from seeing all the remaining areas of Prague – after all, there was an itinerary that had to be followed!
This area of Prague had some cute, narrow streets lined with old school houses. It’s also where many former mansions have been turned into embassies (including the Polish consulate).
We made a pit stop at the Kafka Museum. Mind you, we didn’t actually go in of course, but we did admire the peeing statues in the courtyard.
We visited Wallenstein Palace, which wasn’t especially exciting, but the gardens behind it are worth a visit. There were peacocks roaming around, and even a bunch of little baby peacocks hopping about. There were even a few very old, wise-looking owls in a caged-off area. At this point it stopped raining and the sun even came out, so we were cautiously optimistic.
Little Quarter Square Here, we visited St. Nicolas Church, which was pretty due to its ornate pink marble exterior. However, the climb up to see the “gallery” of Karel Skreta’s paintings was wasted since the vast majority of them were out for renovation, and really only three or four remained on display.
By the time we walked out of the church, it was raining again. I opened up my new best friend (my umbrella) and we headed to the Church of St. Mary the Victorious to see the Infant of Prague (basically a regally-adorned doll, which draws pilgrims from around the world). The prayer in English, promised by Rick Steves, was nowhere to be found at the altar, so I had to improvise my own little prayer.
Next up, we checked out the Lennon Wall, by which I was a little disappointed because although I spotted a couple peace signs and some Imagine-inspired graffiti, most of it just seemed like regular graffiti.
Cruising the Vltava River A cruise up and down the Vltava River was on the itinerary, so that was our next activity. And it sure was raining still. I was already cold and wet, so the last thing I wanted to do was get on a boat. The cruise was mildly miserable, because despite a canopy, every time the wind blew, rain would fly in my face.
I guess it was a nice perspective from which to see some of Prague’s bankside attractions, but at that moment I really did not feel like sitting on a f*#&$%g boat!
Charles Bridge We get off the boat and it’s raining even harder than when we got on. Great. Our next item on the itinerary is Prague’s famous Charles Bridge. By the time we got on the actual bridge, it’s pouring. And our tour guide is still trying to give the grand tour, as if we could even hear anything he’s saying over the rain pelting our umbrellas.
As we walk across the bridge, the rain just gets worse and worse. There’s no way to even remotely enjoy the bridge or take a picture from under the umbrella. At one point I see people stop to rub a couple plaques on a statue, so I do it too, even though I have no idea what I’m wishing for. Later I learn that one plaque was for my man (which I don’t have) to be loyal, and the other one was just to make a wish.
Needless to say, at this point I was completely miserable! If nothing else, this rainy, windy, umbrella-destroying weather reminded me of Chicago!
Old Town Our guide was determined to keep the tour going, so we walked towards Old Town, where there was a bazaar and several souvenir shops, to get some free time.
My first stop was a coffee shop to warm up and dry off. That was a joke – my jeans were soaked up to above my knees and my shoes literally had puddles in them! I contemplated buying an entire new, dry outfit but decided it would be futile, since my new clothes would likely be wet again within five minutes.
I braved the rain to visit the Mucha Museum, to see Alfons Mucha’s gorgeous art nouveau posters.
Old Town Square When our group met back up, the last thing I was in the mood for was more sightseeing, but our guide – like the rain – was relentless. We walked to Old Town Square and saw the famous astrological clock do its thing – from under our umbrellas of course.
Next, we walked up Parizska Street from Old Town to the Jewish Quarter. I was actually glad we took that street, because it has all the designer stores on it, so at least I could gaze through the windows.
Unfortunately, we didn’t really see much of anything in the Jewish Quarter. We just walked there and stood outside a synagogue while our guide talked. I was disappointed because there were a couple things I really wanted to see in this neighborhood but I guess these will have to wait until next time:
I suppose I wasn’t really in the mood to sightsee at that particular moment anyways.
At this point, we finally got to head back to the hotel to change before dinner and the scheduled after-dinner entertainment. Needless to say, the last thing I was in the mood for was our middle-aged bus driver hitting on me.
Admittedly, I’ve always pictured Prague in my head on an overcast day. Maybe I saw it that way in a photo or movie or music video and it stuck with me. But this day was too much!
Our second side trip from Prague was to Karlowe Wary (in Polish) or Karlovy Vary (in Czech), known as Carlsbad in English -talk about an identity crisis! I had no idea what to expect (I was hoping it at least wouldn’t be as deserted as Kutna Hora), but I was very pleasantly surprised!
The town is located in this lush, green valley, and as we drove down towards it, you could begin to see a couple of buildings emerge from the misty fog drifting up from below. It was perfectly picturesque.
The town lays along this canal, which is lined with colorful buildings, mostly expensive hotels and designer stores. Carlsbad is apparently a pretty fancy spot!
The entire town has a very quaint, charming yet classy vibe to it. While the gloomy weather did add a certain drama to the atmosphere, it would also be a great place to visit on a nice, sunny summer day. And, of course, on a day when I would have money to spend in the designer shops!
The town is also known for its hot springs, whose mineral water you can try drinking for free from various fountains. Personally, I did not enjoy drinking hot, salty, slightly-smelly water!
Unfortunately, our first day of sightseeing in Prague was accompanied by a steady rain. So, I bought myself a Mucha umbrella, since I stubbornly hadn’t brought my poncho.
We focused on the Castle Quarter, which has plenty to see!
Miniature Museum: to be quite honest, I didn’t really care about this stop, which was a small museum full of even smaller artifacts – tiny miniature sculptures you have to look through a microscope to see.
Stairs leading down to Little Quarter: the view from this area just to the right of the entrance to Castle Square is breathtaking, looking down on Prague’s red roofs on this misty morning. You could also see the American Embassy in the distance, in case you need to know where it is. The stairs are also a good place for a photo op!
Changing of the guards: I had a chance to catch the changing of the guards at Castle Square, which occurs everyday at noon. The ceremony was a little too long, drawn out and anti-climactic, although the five-man band (including tuba player) in the windows was a nice touch.
St. Vitus Cathedral: there was so much stuff inside the church! Statues, sculptures, chapels, tombs (St. John of Nepomuck’s tomb is especially eye-catching), etc. But my favorite part was the Mucha-designed stained-glass window.
Basilica of St. George: I gotta give it to Rick Steves, he described this basilica best when he wrote that it is beautiful in its simplicity. The limestone structure had such a clean, bright look, and its simplicity seemed perfect for the kind of quiet reflection you’re likely to do in a church. It made such an impression on me, that the basilica may be my favorite part of the Castle Quarter. I didn’t even take a photo, because I really don’t think I could have captured the essence of St. George’s on film.
Golden Lane: I was very disappointed to see that this allegedly picturesque street is closed for renovation until May of 2011.
Statue in front of the Toy & Barbie Museum: there’s a small square here, and in the center is a statue of a naked boy. Allegedly, if you touch his penis, you score several years of good sex. However, I haven’t found anything about this statue online, so maybe people just made that “good luck” story up to make tourists touch it! (Ok, I grabbed it, just in case the story is true!)
I left Warsaw at 1 a.m. for my Almatur Polish bus tour to Prague, and by 5 p.m. the next day we still hadn’t made it to our final destination! But at least we made it to our first stop, Kutna Hora.
Kutna Hora was a silver mining town back in the day, and is best known for its ossuary, a.k.a Bone Church. Yes, these are real, human bones that fill up the lower level of this relatively small church just outside Kutna Hora’s town center. The church is surrounded by a beautiful, old cemetery (although who knows if there’s anything left in the graves!).
After visiting the Bone Church, our group ventured into town, which was surprisingly empty. There were barely any people in the streets and most of the stores were closed! But there are a couple nice sights to see:
Saint Barbara Church: this enormous church, named for the patron saint of miners, has a gorgeous exterior, complete with gargoyles. The view of the church from the front is one of my favorites, with a simple garden in front of the entrance and the huge arches sticking out the sides.
Italian Court: home to (coin) mints and kings, this building has a cute courtyard and interesting artifacts that give a glimpse at life in the 13-14th centuries, including a chart that showed the value of money under each king by showing how much items like a cow or pitchfork cost at the time. The absolute highlight of the court was the chapel, which was completely filled with beautiful murals and stained-glass windows. Unfortunately, there are no photos allowed in that room, so you’ll have to go see it for yourself! Check out the cool statue of King Wenceslaus on your way out of the courtyard.
In the courtyard of the Italian Court
Water Tower: while this round, stone structure was under renovation while we visited, it’s a very pretty piece of work.
Lesson learned #1: be more than two hours early for flights (especially when flying discount airlines), but there’s no need to be more than 15 minutes early for a bus or train departure.
Needless to say, my grandma and I being over an hour early for my 1 a.m. bus departure to Prague resulted in a one-hour wait for said bus to arrive. Not to mention that most of that time was spent sitting in a taxi because my grandma refused to leave me anywhere on my own at that hour.
Lesson learned #2: it’s never too early for a beer. One of the Polish men in our tour group had one for breakfast. Literally, it was 8 am.