Prague, Czech Republic
We spent an action-packed weekend as tourists in Prague accompanied by our German friend, Moni. Moni was a high school exchange student at Dana's high school in Seattle.
The stunning grandeur and beauty of Prague was in many ways reminiscent of Budapest but there were 500 times more tourists. (That's not precise mathematics. It may have been closer to 502.26 times more tourists...) Prague's beauty stems from its location sitting on both sides of the Vltava River and from its grand buildings from each of its two achitectural golden ages: Gothic and baroque. Prague was also lucky enough not to be bombed during WWII so its past glory remains in tact.
Prague is a bustling, modern city with heaps of old world charm and architecture. I wholeheartedly recommend a visit. That said, I also recommend going at any time other than July as Prague is no secret to the world's tourists. It's on the backpacker circuit as well as listed in Samsonite's Top Ten Glamorous Places to roll your shiny new enormo-case across cobblestones.
We spent both days walking through the city and taking in the sites. We traveled by bus and the slick subway but mostly put our feet to the street and our knees in the breeze. We visited Prague Castle, a massive complex of buildings atop a hill which was started in the 9th century. We climbed the cathedral's Great Tower for a 360 degree view of the city. Along with perhaps 20 busloads of tourists blindly following guides holding up colorful umbrellas and ribbons as beacons, we strolled down the tiny Golden Lane of 16th century tradesmen's houses where Franz Kafka wrote about awaking one morning as a giant creepy crawly.
We were sure to visit the pedestrian-only Charles Bridge, built in 1357, adorned with 30 statues, and filled with 7000 tourists videotaping each other and trying to direct the foot traffic so it looks like they were alone on the bridge lost in deep thoughts. While on the bridge, we got hit by a flash rainstorm which created mass mayhem as the tourists ran to huddle under the arch at the entrance to the bridge. The vendors just covered their artwork with plastic and waited it out and watched as 7000 wet tourists tried to fit under an archway with room for 400 people.
The city of Prague currently has dozens of wildly painted cow sculptures scattered throughout the city in all the popular squares. It struck me as amusing since both Cincinnati, my hometown, and Seattle, my current home have had giant pigs scattered throughout town during previous summers. I don't know who started this global giant colorful livestock trend but it's gaining momentum. Snow's red hot "global trend" stock tip of the day: invest now in any company making giant molds of livestock.
As with so many of the more popular cities we've visited at the height of tourist season, Prague was awash with tourist souvenirs which we affectionately refer to as "T&T" - a.k.a. trinkets and trash. T&T is an awful lot of fun to look at in the shops but one must be strong and resist its beckoning swan song, drawing you in, pulling you deep into a dream of it sitting atop your mantle completing your home. Due to sheer willpower, I escaped Romania without buying white doilies for every armrest in our home, and I escaped Prague without buying a t-shirt of "Prague at Night". That said, we all certainly enjoyed listening to the call of shopper's temptation. We actually did buy some very charming painted metal coffee mugs with bright enamel giraffes and elephants on them. I know they'll be just the thing for our mantle. I know it. Nothing warms a home's decor like a folksy metal mug from Prague, right?
And now I have a confession to make. I haven't gone in every museum we've passed. And I couldn't tell you how one cathedral's altar differs from the next. We've come to realize that for us, and probably for many extended travelers, there comes a point we'll call "site saturation" when one's interest in seeing every famous architectural structure, museum and place of historical interest begins to wain. Traveling remains fun, exciting, fresh and interesting, but the desire to see every site a city has to offer begins to fade. I'm sure this is largely the result of the length of our trip and the sheer number of sites we've seen in such a short period. What remains interesting is being exposed to new customs, languages, scenery, cuisine, and surroundings. I never tire of people watching - both observing locals and observing the tourists from around the world. But I do tire of cathedrals and clock towers. Personally, the joy of traveling is not a checklist of historical points of interest. That said, we do use the main tourist spots as starting points for exploring the popular cities. I think they're just that, starting points to discovering the city of today amid the monuments to the past.
We were in Prague for the 4th of July. We celebrated by walking past the U.S. Embassy where we asked the guard if the embassy was hosting a celebration. He said they were but got cagy when we asked where it was. I hadn't shaved in a couple of days so I guess I looked threatening. You know how scary my beard looks after a day or two. (just joking...) We weren't on the "list" it seems. So we celebrated American independence by dining at Mama Lucy's Tex-Mex restaurant. Nothing says Stars and Stripes forever like a burrito. Ole!
Sunday afternoon, we took a funicular cable car to the top of the Petrin Hill park overlooking town, climbed to the top of the scaled the Eiffel Tower replica to catch a sweeping view of town. I was thrilled to discover the park's "Hall of Mirrors" funhouse complete with wacky mirrors that made it perfectly acceptable to sing "We are the lollipop kids, the lollipop kids" in out of tune munchkin voices.
I hope to get back to Prague another time and spend a bit more time being less of a tourist and experiencing life as the locals do. Turns out that requires more than a weekend. But what a fun weekend it was.