At the risk of bragging (but, I am), one the best things about living in Europe is our ability to travel with relatively little effort or cost.
Unlike in the US, where the price of most domestic flights make it nearly impossible for a weekend get-away (sure you can catch deals from time to time, but more often than not you are left driving if you really want to travel), Europe and it’s numerous budget airline options gives us an opportunity to minimize travel time. Being that we are already approaching the two year mark (half way!) of our scheduled time in the Netherlands, we really trying to make a concerted effort to use such travel ability – besides, how many times can you say that your weekend away was in another country? <- I mean this for those of you living in the US (aka 99.9% of the people reading this). So, with that in mind, on to our latest adventure.
Picture if you will, a grey, overcast, rainy day in the north of the Netherlands. It’s a Sunday morning. Whitney has just gotten out of bed, made some coffee, and has sat down at the computer for what I assume is some mindless playing on the internet. Little do I know, she has a plan. For whatever reason, she had it in her mind that on this particular Sunday morning, she wanted to travel. Not necessarily on that day, but she had the travel bug. The result? Before her coffee had even cooled enough to drink, we had a trip planned over Valentines Day weekend to go to Prague. Why Prague you ask? It was a cheap option and someplace we had never been. So, that brings us to the present and last weekend when, after a crazy week of work for the both of us, we hopped a train early Friday afternoon, went to Amsterdam, and then had a short flight over to the Czech Republic.
I should also preface this by saying that we went on this trip with absolutely no plan. With work being so busy, we had given this trip no thought, and knew only two things about Prague: 1) there was a big castle and famous bridge we should see and 2) the Czech Republic is apparently quite well known for it’s beer. Sounds like a weekend plan, right? However, I must also admit that this is the way we like to travel. What better way to experience a new country/city than to just wander around for an entire weekend, seeing what you happen to find along the way? Sure sites like Trip advisor and Yelp are useful, but we prefer to make our own discoveries.
Day 1 – Friday night:
By the time we got to Prague and found our hotel, it was already dark. Nonetheless, we dropped our bags and headed out to explore. Conveniently enough (thanks to Whitney’s planning), our hotel was only a few minutes walk from Old Town Square and the Prague astronomical clock (which, during the day is extremely crowded – I highly suggest seeing it at night).
After some local cuisine, we called it a night. Lots to see on Saturday!
Day 2 – Saturday:
Saturday morning started off by revisiting Old Town Square (this time with our new GoPro camera so we could get panoramic pictures….you will be seeing a lot of these from now on).
Notice the gold plate and line on the ground in the picture of Whitney? Well, to be honest, we didn’t see it until we got home and looked at the pictures. Turns out this is the Prague Meridian:
“From 1650-1918, a large column, one of the oldest columns in Europe, stood in the square. Every day at twelve noon it would cast its shadow on a certain section of the square. This was the meridian used to verify the exact solar time. The column is gone now and so is its shadow. But you can still see in the paving of the square where the noon shadow was cast” (http://www.pragueczechtravel.com/prague-tips/prague-old-town-square.php)
This is one thing to keep in mind about Prague: it’s a very old city with a long, sometimes complicated history – something we were very ignorant of before traveling there. Luckily, it’s infrastructure was spared during World War II but it was still under Nazi occupation. In fact, it was under communist rule until the 1980’s.
Next it was off to find the Charles Bridge. Spoiler alert: we found it! And it was beautiful (as was Prague in general). We were on the bridge fairly early in the morning, and as such, it wasn’t very crowded. However, we saw it again later in the day and it was packed! Travel suggestion: go early to see the bridge, it’s worth it. Additional fun fact: the bridge first opened in 1402!
After the bridge, we simply wandered. Mostly in an uphill direction (elevation? we don’t have that in the Netherlands!).
We eventually made it the Prague Castle, which according the Wikipedia is:
“a castle complex…dating from the 9th century and the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic. The castle was a seat of power for kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors, and presidents of Czechoslovakia. The Bohemian Crown Jewels are kept within a hidden room inside it.”
And here we thought the White House was cool…
Within the castle complex was St. Vitus Cathedral, which was amazingly beautiful. I think the pictures can pretty much speak for themselves.
After leaving the castle complex, we again wandered through the city, this time with no direction in mind. For the rest of the day we simply picked random streets, ate lots of food from street vendors, and stopped whenever something interested us.
One ironic site we came across: the Stalin Monument. As I mentioned previously, there is a history of communist rule so it wasn’t so much of a surprise that there would be a monument related to this. However, what was surprising was that there wasn’t actually a monument. It seems that following the fall of communist rule, the city was purged of all communist relics, which meant Stalin had to go. In it’s place is a large metronome, with a beautiful view overlooking the city. The things you learn…
Day 3 – Sunday:
The one remaining item we had previously heard about was that we had to visit the Old Jewish Cemetery, which is apparently rated as one of the top “must-see” cemetery’s in the world (who know such a list exists?). Being that the cemetery was closed on Saturday (sun down Friday to sun down Saturday is the Sabbath and hence any Jewish related attraction will not be open – good thing we lived in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA and now know that!), we decided to visit it Sunday morning before heading to the airport. I honestly never thought I would say a cemetery was worth visiting, but it was. So many graves that they are literally stacked on top of each other, dating back to the 14th century! In this case, the pictures do not do it justice.
Because we were pressed for time, we didn’t have the chance to visit a lot of the buildings related to the cemetery (the Old New Synagogue for example). This is something we definitely want to do when we go back to Prague – yes we are definitely going back to Prague.
And so that’s our Prague adventure. A quick trip, yes, but certainty worth it. Prague is an amazing city and I honestly cannot wait to go back. If you ever have to chance to visit, I highly recommend it. Not only is it full of culture, history, and beauty, it is also (in the words of a fellow American traveler we came across): “like, 100% cheap, for real”. It’s always easy to spot the American…
Until next time,