It’s 7 am and I’m on a bus to Prague. I’m exhausted and can barely speak because of all the yelling I had to do in order to converse with people at the sparty. It’s amazing to me how in crowded places like bars, concerts, Turkish baths, etc., people always find that to be the best place to ask you questions with more than a one word answer. Example, we’re in a noisy crowded pool and my peers want to know my life story. No joke. So, hence, my throat is a little scratchy.
But, at any rate, it’s early, I’m exhausted, and on a 6 hour bus trip from Budapest with a Hungarian bus driver, who turned out to be much more of a character than I had originally anticipated. The major difference between buses and trains aside from the wheels and track debacle is the bathroom situation. While one comes standard with a basic “water closet” (trains), the other does not (buses) so periodically it is required to take bathroom breaks. As such, this driver was a very understanding man; or maybe he was just victim to an overactive bladder, but we will never know. Aside from the generous breaks, he even considered our empty stomachs. About halfway through this 6 hour ride, he let us get KFC to take with us the rest of the way. Now, let it be known that I do not often “indulge” in KFC, but as they say, desperate times call for desperate measures! Hence, when Mr. Hungarian Bus Driver Man told me to get some chicken, I flapped my scrawny chicken arms into the roadside, eastern European KFC and had my first KFC in a very long, long, time. Though from my distant recollections of the KFC back home, this one was much better. Still, probably not my number one recommendation on where to get your first bite in Prague.
Finally, we had arrived at our destination! After making a few inquires around the bus station as to how I was to arrive at my hostel, I eventually made it. Of course, I had seen a map of Prague prior to my arrival and when I made my reservation at the Charles Bridge Economic Hostel I knew it was close, but it was seriously close. Like on-the-Charles-Bridge-close. What I also hadn’t realized was that the hostel doubled as a tourist office, which apparently meant that any tour that you booked through the office was discounted due to the fact that you were a guest. Awesome perk! And don’t let me forget the free coffee! Thank the lord above for that; beyond a life saver for an always exhausted traveler such as myself. After getting to my room, I met Tom, an Australian saxophone player on vacation from his homeland of Perth. Seeing as how we both managed to be by ourselves, we though it a good idea to head out for a little grub and maybe do a little sight seeing. Tom was a couple days ahead of me, but he was pretty open to whatever so I suggested we do this ghost tour that the hostel had mentioned was free for us, as guests. I hadn’t done any of these “creepy” nighttime tours and Prague had that Gothic feel that made a tour like this feel appropriate. Little did we know that this would be an hour of our evening we would’ve wanted to get back.
We were running a little late for the tour, but we managed to catch the group just as we were leaving and the tour guide allowed us to jump in. And so it began, the worst tour in Europe. Clearly, this tour was intended as a spooky ghost tour of Prague’s scariest legends and horror stories. What it turned out to be was a long walk around Prague with a poor girl who couldn’t scare the pants off man, woman, or child. It’s possible that the language barrier was indeed quite a barrier, or it could be that this just isn’t her bag, baby. At any rate, we toughed it out for an hour, but were in desperate need of liquid respite at the end of it all. Lucky for us, our awesome hostel staff recommended this underground bar called The Black Angels Bar.
Talk about an evening of opposites! I went from taking one of the worst tours ever to having one of the most fun nights of my life. It was insane. First of all, this bar is absolutely fantastic; not just drink wise but in every other way as well. Everything was coming up kismet. The drinks were completely on point, the atmosphere was all dark and upscale, the prices were fantastic (because it’s eastern Europe, and what they say is true: the drinks are CHEAP!), and the company was some of the best in the world because it was literally the best in the world. We sat next to a couple British guys on a business trip from London, then met these raucous Indian guys that were dancing with some stunningly gorgeous women from Zurich, there was a group of women from somewhere else celebrating what appeared to be a late forties birthday party; it was a great crowd.
But wait, it gets even better. Going into the bar, we knew there would be a piano man. What I could not have guessed is that the piano man would go on break, thus inciting a spontaneous karaoke session between one of the Indians, Tom, and the rest of the bar.
As a music man himself, of course Tom had to get in on the piano playing action, and I am definitely glad he did because he blew everyone away. And of course when I asked him beforehand if he played piano, he did that typical guy thing where they pretend they’re mediocre when really they’re freaking amazing! He told me he only knew “a few songs” when in reality his repertoire was quite extensive. Like Wonderwall extensive. And the drinks kept on flowing, thanks to our new Indian friends. It was a night I could never have ever imagined and still even remembering it, I can’t believe it a) happened and b) I was there to participate. But that’s part of what’s so amazing about travel: the serendipitous nature of everything you do and how you do it.
The next day, we went on a real tour that was also free with my very familiar friend, Sandeman’s. But this time, the Prague version. Our guide, Ian, was from Brazil but moved to the Czech Republic a few years ago for love (what greater reason?). This was a very long tour, about three and a half hours, but definitely worth the time commitment. I’m almost positive we walked the entire surface area of Prague and Ian, despite being from Brazil, was a fantastic guide. He knew tons of information about the history, culture, myths and legends, filming locations for popular movies; seriously everything. Interesting fact, even though the movie EuroTrip is set all over Europe, it was filmed solely in Prague. So in actuality, the title should be PragueTrip.
Unfortunately, while taking our mid-tour break, I got what I thought at the time was the worst news ever. My flight to Croatia (taking off 4 days later) was canceled. Not gonna lie to you folks, I freaked out a little. Or a lot. So I called the airline to get the skinny. Turns out, they just changed their minds on the whole Prague-Dubrovnik thing and canceled all the flights for the rest go the year. Apparently in Europe, people do crazy things like this. Even better, when I asked how I should get to Croatia now that the flight I booked 8 months in advance was canceled, the not so understanding airline guy told me to just book another one… Great, four days notice and now I have to buy a whole new flight. So I looked into that. No way Jose! For three times the price I originally paid for my flight plus ridiculous layovers and expensive accommodation, I could visit Dubrovnik. Then I tried the train, thinking maybe I could do Croatia backwards and do Zagreb then work my way down. Again, no way Jose. That train ride is like a whole day wasted, and again, everything was coming up expensive.
That’s when, with a very heavy heart, I had to let Croatia go. It was a tough choice because Croatia was my inspiration for the entire trip, but it was becoming overwhelmingly clear that this was just one of those serendipitous “joys” of travel and I had to take the good with the bad.
Simultaneously as I’m freaking out about Croatia, my ability to speak, eat, and worst of all drink is beginning to become more and more compromised. A couple hours later, I’m almost positive that this is now officially strep throat, in which case I need antibiotics that I don’t have with me. But what I do have are Spanish doctor friends… Lightbulb! Fly to Madrid! I looked it up and it was only slightly more expensive than my original flight to Croatia, plus I had a free place to stay, and meds! It was a win-win..win?
Having made all those arrangements, my mental state was coming back down to homeostasis, but my physical state kept getting worse. So bad in fact that I spent the last nights in Prague watching movies on my iPad and sleeping in the hot sweat that my body couldn’t help but provide for me. Thank you tonsillitis.
It was a miserable time, but I tried to make the best of it. Even though I was clearly ill, I didn’t want that to affect my stay in Prague. After all, there was still so much more to see! I battled on, and tried to make the most of a bad situation which may not have been wise, but was more fun than sleeping in a pool of my own making all day long.
Aside from Tom, I also met Isabelle from Valencia. Being on the same solo traveler wavelength, we all decided to go visit this monastery up on the hill that is known for it’s delicious Matuska beer and breathtaking views. The food was pretty dang good too, and this coming from someone who could hardly swallow.
Isabelle had to leave a little bit early in order to catch a show that she had previously booked so Tom and I decided to take the long way down through Petrin Hill park.
Mind you, at this time of night its dark, there are trees everywhere, no street lights, and I had recently been on a ghost tour; basically, I was scared out of my mind. I had an “irrational fear” (as Tom said) of getting attacked in the middle of this park. Turns out Tom was totally right because we ended up surviving just fine and making it back to the cobblestone streets from whence we came and even found the Lennon Wall! It was pretty dark, but you can definitely make out Lennon. Unfortunately, though it is more of a graffiti wall than anything else. It’s been so obscured by other “taggers” that whatever authentic purpose this wall once held, it seemed to be a bit lacking in sentiment, at least in my opinion. Nonetheless, it’s one of those things people talk about when you go to Prague. We saw it, took a picture, and moved on back to the hostel.
The following day was Tom’s last day before moving on to Salzburg so Isabelle and I thought it a good idea to get a farewell breakfast at Tom’s new favorite place, Cukrkávalimonáda which is this adorable little French/Czech place with all kinds of super amazing food; namely, their crepes.
But after breakfast, it was time for us all to go or separate ways. Tom to the train station, Isabelle to a big art museum, and me to the drugstore because my throat situation was anything but situated. And from there I spent the rest of my day in bed, sleeping, popping throat lozenges and watching When Harry Met Sally (my personal favorite).
The following day was my last day and I was determined to at least to one major thing in Prague, strep throat be dammed! So myself and a new girl in my hostel, Zoe (from L.A.), went to the Prague Castle, which is also the second largest castle in Europe. However, we all know that size really doesn’t matter. Though it may have been huge, there wasn’t much by way of aesthetic appeal. Totally still worth doing, but just a little something to keep in mind, should you go in with big expectations.
That said, there are three ticket options for this mother of a castle. The first one will just get you into the St. Vitus Cathedral and the castle’s picture gallery. The second one will get you into the cathedral, the Old Royal Palace, St George’s Basilica, and the Golden Lane. The final option, which should be called the golden ticket because it almost gives you the key to the kingdom, gets you into everything else. The unique thing about the Prague Castle tickets, I will say is that they are valid for two days, rather than the standard “one-dayer” so if you were so inclined to put out the money for the grand daddy of all tickets, you do have two days to make it worth your while. Due to my current state, I thought the middle of the road ticket was the best for me, and thankfully Zoe agreed.
We were off! Not to see the wizard, but to see the castle. And it was quite an enjoyable experience. The cathedral was absolutely beautiful, but having talked to Isabelle before my arrival, I kinda sorta knew it would be.
Then it was on to the Old Royal Palace, which was actually a bit of let down (although you suppose I could’ve figured that given the name..). Essentially it was all the old rooms, with none of the old stuff, so it was a bit of a boring walk through of a big, drafty, mansion. From there we went to the Basilica which is also a little “meh” in my opinion. A lot of people in a queue that just goes around the perimeter of the convent and then brings you to a small metal gate where you find what looks like a crypt without tombs, and then you’re back to where you started.
However, the Golden Lane is what totally made the circuit B ticket worth the extra Kronas. This adorable little row of tiny houses stationed inside the castle walls is really reminiscent of the ancient settlement that this castle used to house.
Inside one of what must be the larger houses, there was an exhibition of knights armor and weapons, as well as an ancient torture chamber and a few other olde time goodies. It was a tight squeeze, but worth the claustrophobia to see some pretty cool medieval relics.
Then the rest of the lane is much smaller houses that have been restored and decorated in their former glory to show the fine visitors of Prague what life is really like living in a tiny home. Sure, it’s all the rage now, but back then, I’m sure those people would’ve killed for some extra square footage, if ya know what I mean.
At the end of the Golden Lane was house No. 12 that used to be the home of a prominent film historian who appears to just be off running errands as the house is maintained in it’s original, livable, condition still showing footage of old Czech films and footage of the castle. Another famous resident, Franz Kafka used to live in house No. 20
The end of Golden Lane brings you to the natural conclusion of Prague Castle and thus this post, as I went home and (you guessed it) slept until my flight to Madrid the following day. Obviously I did not die of strep throat as I am still here, keeping you abreast on my travels. But what other things I did in Madrid, you will soon find out in the next installment of This Little Lady Goes to Europe!