Prague is the Paris of the '90s. -- Marion Ross
First, we had to get to Prague from Budapest. Our travel package included train tickets. The travel agency must have thought that we wanted to see the countryside -- slowly. What should have taken seven hours, took ten and felt like twelve. We continuously pulled onto side tracks to let express trains pass -- as well as to let people pushing baby stroller and grannies in wheelchairs go by.
Perhaps time ran backwards because of how the train compartments were set up. There were six seats crammed into one compartment with a door that locked. Julianna and I took our reserved seats. A Russian couple -- very young and very in love -- sat across from us, absorbed with each other. At the next stop a grumpy housewife from Slovakia sat next to us. She screamed angrily into her cell phone much of the trip.
At the border of Slovakia we gained a woman who sat next to the Russian couple. She brought with her the smelliest sandwich this planet has ever witnessed. Once she slammed the door shut behind her, there was no escaping the stench. We withered and gagged until a student from Lithuania appeared. Stinky had stolen her reserved seat. We awaited the fight to ensue, but the student disappeared. We prayed that she was trying to find a conductor. Stinky munched on.
I made my way out to the hallway in order to find the restroom. The hall was over-flowing with bags and people. It seems that tickets are still sold for the train even if all of the seats are reserved. Without a reservation your only option is to stand -- for seven hours. When I did find the bathroom I decided to hold it. Think: Men on a rocking train trying to hit that tiny metal bowl.
Once back in the compartment I discovered that the student had emerged to demand her seat. Stinky admitted defeat but the smell continued to linger. I looked out at the countryside and missed road trips across America. The only irritation would be the GPS leading us astray -- but in a pleasant British accent.
Pulling into the Praha (Prague) station we saw the sun setting over a skyline filled with spires. In the taxi we passed the Opera, several squares and the most ornate buildings. Prague is truly stunning.
My first Facebook post regarding the city:
I am going to run out of camera batteries and memory cards! Every building is spectacular. This is the most beautiful city that Man has ever built. Words cannot describe the magnificence. I am now uploading pictures, which will never do Prague justice.
Our first evening in Prague...
We had heard that the number of restaurants in the city has sky-rocketed in the past few years, as well as most international cuisine styles are now represented in quality just behind Paris. Anxious to sample the food (and extremely tired of bland Hungarian food) I tried to hurry Julianna. Her response: "No one in Europe eats at 5:00." End result: All of the French (and Italian and Continental) restaurants were packed. We wandered around the Lesser Town.
The only place we could get in was a steakhouse near Church of Our Lady Below the Chain. It was mostly empty -- and we were about to find out why. It was located in a cellar which was painted all in pastels with artwork of dragons and witches covering the walls. I suspected that the decorator had been on a hippy acid trip.
I ordered the beefsteak with caper sauce, while Julianna opted for Hawaiian pizza. The pizza was mediocre with over-salted ham. And, though I ordered the steak "medium well" it was delivered nearly raw, and had to be sent back. Through all of the dishes being delivered and returned I had to hunt down the waitress twice. She was too busy texting to notice us -- the only couple now eating. (We are not revealing the restaurant’s name as our meal seems to be a one-off. Reviews on Tripadvisor were all positive.)
Undaunted by this experience, we pressed on into the night to discover Prague. The city is best seen at night, and even better by horse-drawn carriage. [Lines of awaiting carriages can be found near the Old Town Square. A 20-minute ride set us back $40.]
Church of Our Lady Below the Chains
Built in 1420, this is the oldest church located in the Mala Strana. The Order of the Maltese Knights came to the rescue, funding a three-nave Romanesque church. When the Knights Templar were exiled the basilica was demolished, leaving only foundation walls. A Gothic nave was started but construction stalled during the Hussite Wars in the 15th century. Finally, a century later the church was completed in the Renaissance style, with the Baroque interior installed in the 17th century.
Address: Located on Lazenska.
This pedestrian only stone bridge dates to 1357 and is 1,692 feet in length. It connects the Old Town with "New" Town by spanning the Vltava River. The bridge would be the only crossing over the river until 1841. In roughly 1700, thirty statues were placed along the bridge, though the current statues are replicas.
The first statue to appear on the bridge was St. John of Nepomuk (1698). He is the national saint of the Czech Republic. By King Wenceslaus’ order he was drowned in the river for not divulging a secret told to him by the Queen of Bohemia. Across the bridge and down at the end you’ll find King Wenceslaus’ statue. He was considered a "good king" (as the subject of the Christmas carol "Good King Wenceslas") and became the patron saint of the people.
On the Stare Mesto side of the the bridge lies the Old Town Bridge Tower. This Gothic tower was completed in 1380 as part of the city’s fortification system. In 1648 it proved its worth against maurading Swedes, though the west side was severely damaged.
On a String: The history of Marionettes in Prague
Traditionally, the marionettes are hand-carved from wood or made from plaster, and originate in the 18th century. The subject matter can be devils, animals, characters from stories, royalty or a variety of other themes.
The National Marionette Theatre is at Zatecka 1 in Old Town.