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Michael’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 05 May 2007

Location: Prague, Czech Republic

MapOkay, still no net at home, but managed to use Dan's computer (with his own mobile net access) to upload this... it's a long one, so get settled in!

Prague 18-22 April

Five hours of work under my belt (all be it somewhat unproductive) and next thing I know I am heading to Bournemouth airport for a trip to Prague. There's something about working in the morning and then heading to another country for a late beer that seems so appealing. Tom and Trace on the other hand decided to take the day off, but we all set off for a long weekend. Thanks to Nat for driving us down to the airport.

An uneventful flight (usually a good thing) and I caught an hour or so of zzz's. Straight from the airport, short bus ride and negotiating the metro stations found us in the middle of Prague, searching for the hostel. Cross a bridge, take a couple of turns, and eventually end up in a square looking for the hostel. With worry rising after searching 3 sides of the square (note, there were no directions or maps on the hostels website how to get there) the door was spotted after making it almost the entire way round the square.

Quick drop off of the bags and we headed out searching for a bite to eat, given we hadn't had dinner. No such luck, 11pm and the food joints around us shut. What to do in this situation? Head for the nearest pub! Haha, cheap beers right next door to where we were staying. By cheap, we're talking 50p or $1.25 is standard for a pint of good Czech beer. Anyway, we got onto the Czech beers quickly and made a mess of the night. Two beers here and a couple beers there and we called it off at around 2am. That resulted in one main thing – Trace ended up with a murderous hangover the following morning, which lasted till the 6pm nap.

A slow start to the day, and we started wandering (rather slowly given the state of some peoples heads) north towards Prague castle. Whilst walking around some back alleys, looking for anything that resembled breakfast, we came across a few restaurants selling lunch... good enough for us. We were starving. Tom and I tucked into a 'special burger' (just the first of some interestingly named foods) and Trace hit the spaghetti. I managed to down a pint of Kozel, having witnessed the locals on the table next to us getting in some jovial late morning drinks. After what proved to be possibly the most expensive meal we had for the weekend, we set off and quickly found ourselves walking under Charles Bridge. From there we knew we were getting close to the castle and headed uphill. After a mission of an uphill walk, heading to the castle walls, stopping regularly to look over the city that we were climbing high above to admire the beauty – or perhaps just to grab a quick breath!

The castle was nice, but we managed to find ourselves at the back gate! Continuing our walk through the castle, we made it to the opposite side and purchased our tickets and audio tour. First stop on the trip was St. Vitus Cathedral, far and away the highlight of the castle. The old gothic outside, and most incredible stain glass windows you'd ever hope to see in every corner of the church. As well as that, the 287 step South Tower was truly worth the climb to see over Prague. From there we continued through the Royal Palace, Basilica & Convent of St. George and Golden Lane. It was a pretty awesome city within a city, and walking around the fortified structure looking over the rest of Prague was awesome.

Heading back down the windy steep streets, this time from the front entrance of the castle, we wandered across to one of the most famous bridges in Europe. Charles Bridge, lined with statues on both side, was packed to the brim with tourists and just as many people trying to sell their wares to the crowds. As it was, we only crossed the bridge once in our stay, and I really didn't get to take it all in due to the hustle and bustle. I wish I had of taken more time now in hind sight.

On the other side, we wandered around looking for the Old Town. Like so many old European Cities, a massive plaza stood in the centre of town, and remains somewhere in the town to this day, not necessarily still in the centre. Flanked on all four side with combinations of both new and old buildings, the recent commercialism of this city, voted as the best and cheapest weekend getaway in Europe, is incredibly apparent. Restaurants now creep further and further into the town square, packed to the brim with tourists willing to pay too much money for food and drinks. Having wandered around the Old Town Square, taking in the Astronomical Clock that sits on the side of Town Hall, and hunting down the churches in back alleys that belong to the spires we could see above the restaurants we stumbled across a Jazz Cafe.

We headed home, for a much needed kip and then grabbed some Chinese for dinner. That is when the food names got really weird. Aside from the “Fire of a Phoenix”, “Stuffed Birds Next” I couldn't get my eye off the “Chicken with Mysterious Appetite”. Actually tasted pretty good in the end, but the taste was certainly mysterious, never tasted Chinese like that before! A couple of beers in the restaurant and we headed into the Old Town to try and catch some of the Jazz Club night. Sitting there, taking in the jazz bands we had a good time getting a few beers and chatting away. Eventually curiosity got the better of me and I ventured for the Absinthe list. Gazing the list, and fearing the taste, I decided on an Absinthe Hemingway; A shot of Absinthe over ice and a lemon slice and the glass topped up with Champagne. Hmmm, thought the sweet Champagne might take the taste off the Absinthe, but I was wrong... check out the picture Trace took if you get a chance... and the video Tom took for me (will update once the net is on at home again):

VIDEO LINK

From there, once the music stopped, we left the old town and made our way back towards the hostel. We didn't get far before we came across a dive bar down in a dungeon, and had a few beers there, before wandering back to the bar we finished at the previous night. Given Trace and Tom had wanted to head home around midnight when the music finished, it was fun to stay out till 4am drinking! Hahaha, great night.

Friday morning, we managed to get up and eventually headed to the central train station after grabbing some crappy food at a supermarket. A on hour train ride later, and we managed to find the right stop at Kutna Hora, clearly a small country town in the middle of nowhere. It didn't take long to figure out who got off the train as a local and who as a tourist. They tend not to make maps for the tourists... So why are we in Kutna Hora???? The Sedlec Ossuary, more commonly known as the Bone Church.

For 70 Crown (about 5 bucks Aussie), you enter the church and can take as many pictures as you like. The church was surround by 3,500 square meters of graveyard, and as the population boomed in the silver mining town, the space had to be used for other reasons. The graves were dug up and the bones of 40,000 people were piled high next to the church for re-burial. Only thing, the re-burial never happened. At some stage someone decided that the bones should at least be put inside the church. Now, it looks more like a movie set from The Pirates of The Carribean. Amazing... and bizarre. Emblems made of bones, chandeliers made of bones, and just straight up mountains of bones... words, can't do justice, and pictures struggle to tell the story as well.

From there, we left the church, with a new party in the group. Jen, a girl from Portland, Oregon was on the end of her 3 week trip round Europe and traveling solo, came along with us as we ventured 30 minutes or so into this towns Old Town Square. There we sat down an d had a couple beers and some pizza before venturing back to the train station and heading back to Prague.

Once back in Prague, we made the decision to head back to the hostel. Rather than take the Metro, we wandered along a bunch of different roads before finding Wenseslas Square, the main shopping district in town, and also running downhill away from the Parliament Building. Finally we made it back to the hostel and before long I was headed to the Metro to catch up with Scotty! Haha, he'd just spent 8 hours on a train to head in for the weekend, and it was about the last time either of us had any real sleep.

Before long, the four of us ventured out to the restaurant U Fleku, a traditional Czech Restaurant that brews its own beer. The beer they brew never leaves the restaurant, only ever served there, and the food is all traditional. The four of us eagerly ordered big old plates of goulash and dumplings – oh hell yeah! It actually tasted really damn good, and we knocked that back with some fervor whilst polishing off some of the brew.

After dinner we were headed out to find a new watering hole. We found a couple fliers for a club called Nebe and decided it might be worth a look later on. It just so happened that the club was just up the road from U Fleku and as we walked past the front door, the front lights just came flickering on, as if it were a sign inviting it in! We headed down stairs and the place looked more like it was a decked out old world war bunker, not a bar. We all had a few cocktails there before moving on further into the night.

After a mad dash for a train, the last of the night, followed by a taxi ride, we ended up in a new part of town we hadn't before seen. A Cuban bar, El Bedguito or something, was the first place we came across and before long Tom and Trace packed it in for the night. Scotty and I stayed on, and headed up stairs to check out the cigar bar. A fist full of Crown later, and Scotty and I were both sucking on the end of a couple long fat cigars. Later in the evening/morning, we found ourselves headed with our 'local guide' to Duplex, a nightclub that required an elevator ride to the 7th story overlooking Wensaslas Square. Was a nice sight looking down this massive street as the night slowly brightened towards some sort of a dawn.

Eventually, Scotty and I made the long walk home, grabbing a quick hit of Maccas on the way. A mere few hours sleep, interrupted mainly due to the length of the beds meaning Scotty and I had to play footsies most of the night! Eventually when we all rose, showered and dragged our sorry buts out of the hostel, we headed to Ansdel to grab a feed. Again pizza seemed to be the choice foodstuff for Tom and Trace while Scotty had 'the worst ressotto ever' and I chowed on a reasonable spaghetti carbonara. Again, managed to start the day with beer, but it went a slower than the previous day!

After breakfast/lunch, we wandered down to the Staropramen brewery to do the brewery tour. Surprisingly enough, it wasn;t long before we ran across Jen from the day before at the Bone Church. Being my fourth brewery tour (Carlsberg, Heineken, Guinness previously) it was by far the worst I had been on! It lasted all of 30 minutes, and certainly didn't have the lights, razzle and dazzle that others have had. The one thing that they did have going for them was that it was pretty much free beer at the end. Two taps, a light and a dark beer (light was much better), but given my previous night, I was struggling to find any enjoyment out of the beers!

After the brewery, the five of us headed up Petrin Hill to Petrin Tower. Tom and Trace caught the Fernicular Railway up the hill, and Scotty, Jen and I set about climbing the monster hill on foot. Damn that was a solid walk. Unfortunately, the best view of the city was about two-thirds of the way up the hill, and I didn't bother taking the camera out, figuring the view was only gonna get better. One of the most extraordinary things to see was the camp some homeless people had made in a cave near the top of the hill. Anyway, onwards and upwards we climbed, getting to the top a few minutes before Tom and Trace who were held up due to the millions of scouts queuing to get to the top.

Soon enough I again found myself climbing. This time we headed to the top of the Tower and again found ourselves with a fantastic 360 degree panorama of Prague. You could just wander around the top of the tower for hours, had it not swayed back and forth in the wind so much and been so full of little bloody scouts. The place was crawling with them. Eventually we climbed down the stairs and started even further the climb down the hill. At the bottom we said goodbye to Jen who was headed for a train to Munich to catch a flight home to the States.

The four of us jumped a tram and headed back for a bit of quick R&R before another night out in one of the prettiest cities in Europe. Dinner again consisted of Chinese with bizarre names, and a few beers too. After dinner, we crossed the road and headed to the sports bar. The place was totally empty, except for the Czech bar chick. We asked for a few beers, but of course the keg was dry. She wandered over and tried to move a full keg into place. After a minute or two of struggling, I dragged Scotty over and the two of us quickly maneuvered it into position. A few beers in there, in which the bar chick spent most of the time feverishly trying to find the NBA playoffs for us to no avail... had to make do with NHL playoffs.

Eventually Scotty and I bailed and headed to the Tupil Lounge... strike that off the places to visit. What a dump. Around the corner and I don't know the name of the joint but we chilled the night away till the early (or scratch that... late) hours of the morning, Vodka in big old bottles being the drink of choice.

Next morning, a hurried packing and we were out the door of the hostel at 10 (leaving behind a busted toilet that didn't flush and present in there....). Straight to the same restaurant that we had lunch at the day before and Scottie and I had a quick look around the shopping center waiting for the restaurant to open. A couple of bizarre things – 1. Diva (where Lora works, and as far as I thought was an Oz company) has a store in a shopping center in Prague; 2. We walked into a mens clothing store and they were offering us Champagne for free before 11am on a Sunday – personally couldn't stomach it!

After breakfast/lunch, Scotty bailed for the train station and headed back to Bremen while Tom, Trace and I did the best thing we could think of to kill a couple hours – lay on the grass and relax... I even got a few minutes sleep I think. Eventually we dragged our asses to the airport, hopped our flight home (where I managed a bit more sleep) and by 630 pm Sunday evening we'd made our way back home courtesy of Tom's Dad driving.

What a weekend, highly rated for a beautiful town, and as a party town. Beers are incredibly cheap too. Czech people in general aren't the worlds friendliest, but they go alright, and the English in Prague is pretty good. In any case, I can definitely see why they say that Prague is currently the number 1 weekend destination in Europe!

Coming soon, the developments in Southampton since Prague and the pics from Prague... Go Titans!