Our train arrived in Prague around 7:30 on Saturday. After purchasing tickets for public transportation, we walked around the train station like lost tourists (which we were), until we finally were able to get our bearings and find the correct tram stop. We contacted our AirBnB host to let him know we were close and hopped onto the tram which delivered us to Mala Strana, with a short 2 minute walk to our door. Our host met us and led us up what seemed like 8 flights of stairs, in reality it was 3. He gave us a quick tour, a recommendation on where to eat, and left us to get settled in. I didn't get a chance to photograph our apartment, but if you are looking for a great place to stay in Prague check it out here. We had 360 degree view of the city from our 3rd floor apartment, which was super modern with huge wooden beams throughout, and a private balcony overlooking the US embassy and Petrin hill park.
We had an OK meal that evening at a restaurant in our neighborhood - I had a fried pork chop, which I had hoped would rival my favorite BBQ joints version in Charleston, but no dice. Sloane had risotto that was just ok, the best part of our meal though was the price. We both ate and drank for less than thirty dollars US, including tip. We were spent from our long day of travel so we returned to our apartment, climbed the stairs and quickly found ourselves asleep in the comfy bed.
Sunday, September 10, 2017
I was up early at 6AM to wander around and take in the tourist attractions before the crowds hit. We had heard Prague was a popular place, but we had no idea just how popular. I walked down to the Vltava river and across the Charles Bridge, one of the main attractions in Prague. I expected to be alone this early in the morning on a Sunday, but instead found myself the background subject in at least 4 different photoshoots and plenty of other people who had my same idea.
I didn't stick around on the bridge very long given the amount of activity already happening. I crossed to the other side of the river and found a quiet little corner to photograph the bridge from. Just as I had set up my tripod and began taking long exposures, I suddenly found myself surrounded by a large group of tourists. They silently swooped in and began posing on the railing right in front of my shot, with out a second thought. I would find out later that this was quite the norm here. I politely asked them to clear out of my shot, but they didn't seem to understand and simply smiled and nodded at me, some of them coming to close for comfort to my tripod legs. By this time it had started to rain lightly, so I packed up my gear and walked quickly up river to the next bridge crossing.
I had planned to scout some places to photograph the Charles Bridge from at dusk, so I popped open my little travel umbrella and made my way to the edge of Shooters Island in the Vltava river. I quickly explored the area and decided this would be the place for some dusk shots. I made my way back to the bridge, crossed the water over to "our" side of the river and wandered around aimlessly until I found my self back at the base of the Charles Bridge. At this point it was 830 or so and I was hungry. I was in need of some sustenance and ahead of me lay the golden arches. I knew Sloane would want coffee so I saddled up for my first European fast food adventure of the trip. It was the nicest McDonald's I have ever been in, and the menu was pretty much the same as it is in the US. I took our breakfast and coffee back to the apartment to find Sloane just stirring. Although she laughed at me for getting McDonald's, she was quite happy to have black coffee and and egg sandwich. We ate and made a plan for the day, which would start with a free walking tour of old town Prague.
The rain let up just in time as we joined up with a free tour group from Sandemans, on a recommendation from a friend who had just visited. The tour is free, and at the end they ask you tip what you thought it was worth. I am not the kind of person who likes group tours of any sorts, but it was actually very informative and they kept the groups to under 15 people which was great. Clocking in at just under 3 hours, it was a little longer than I had hoped for, but we had a great guide who kept it interesting.
I didn't take many photos on the tour, we mainly just listened and asked questions.
After our tour ended, right near the infamous man in yellow above, we headed to a cafeteria where our tour guide said we could find some real authentic Czech food at a good price. I forget the name of it, but it was quite the experience. You take a tray and select which ever foods you want from a few different stations - with legit sweet but stern lunch ladies. You hand them your ticket and they scribble down what they have given you. We ended up in line with some other folks from the tour and sat down at a communal table along with them to enjoy our meal. The were both from England and had been traveling for 2 weeks already, their next stop was Budapest, so we filled them in on what we thought were the highlights and best places to eat. When we finished our meal we cleared our table and paid the woman at the door on the way out. We said farewell to our friends and made our way back across the river to Prague castle.
We found our way to a very long road/stairwell, which led up the hill from the riverside, to the castle grounds. As we slowly climbed upwards, there were hundreds of people heading down, which we realized when we arrived at the top was because the grounds were closing within the hour. Our travel guide/book told us we would want two days to explore this area, so we decided to take advantage of the end of the day and explore what we could. We walked around the gardens surrounding the castle and found our way inside the walls through an entrance on the side. It was quite pleasant strolling around and staring at the amazing architecture and gardens with barely any one there - the following day would be a different story. We stayed until it was closing time and found ourselves on the opposite side of the castle than we had entered through, which was much further away from our apartment. We hopped on a tram and were back to our apartment in less than 20 minutes. We took quick showers and headed back out on the town so I could take some photos of the bridge and castle at dusk.
After a long drawn out photo safari, which caused some tension between me and the now very hungry Sloane, as it usually does, we ended up at a Mexican restaurant. We both agreed we had enough of trying the local food and wanted to feast on some cheese and salsa. We went to a spot that our host recommended, and it was killer. The only down side was they didn't take credit cards, which we didn't find out until it was time to pay the bill. I ended up having to sneak into a nearby hotel's lobby to use the ATM and got reprimanded by the staff for not being a guest, but was able to grab the cash before being booted out. We made our way back home, and crashed quickly due to our extreme over eating.
Monday September, 11th 2017
I woke up early, of course and found the sky much clearer than it had been the day before. I didn't have enough time to get down to the water for sunrise, so I quickly climbed out one of our windows and scaled the roof scaffolding that was permanently affixed for maintenance. It was a perfect spot to set up a tripod and watch the fog burn off as the sun rose.
After the successful sunrise adventure on the roof, I carefully made my way back down to the safety of the apartment. All the noise I had been making climbing down woke Sloane up, so that task was taken care of. We showered and prepped for the day, which started out as any normal American day, at starbucks right down the street. After Sloane was caffeinated and we had some grub, we hopped on a tram and made our way to the rear entrance of Prague Castle, hoping to beat the crowds. We failed at that. We stood in line, sandwiched between two tour groups. One group, whose ancient members were loudly passing gas and pretending that it never happened, and another group, whose leader didn't stop talking the entire 20 minutes we were there, unfortunately in Russian, so we didn't get any free information. This was quite a different scene than the one we had encountered the day before in the late afternoon, where we were basically alone. If you don't like crowds, this is not the place for you.
We made our way through the security line, and found the ticketing office, where there is a seriously confusing menu of what you can buy tickets to. We ended up with tickets to see the church, the old living quarters, some exhibit on the history of the castle and a few other things. A lot of stuff you can view the outside of for free, but to get into them you need the special ticket. Turns out, the church you are allowed to go into withoutd a ticket, but you need one to walk around the inner perimeter - we would have been happy just poking our heads in, but since we paid, we followed the mass of people around the edges, pushing and straining to break free from the large group ahead and behind us.
An oddly quiet hallway, amongst the crowds.
After surviving the cathedral, we made our way to a much less visited exhibit - the history of Prague castle. This one was a bunch of reading, and slightly interesting, although sleepy. The nice part was there was a total of 8 people in there with us, not a popular one among the tour groups. We had our fill of reading and decided to join back up with the masses in visiting the old Royal Palace. The architecture here was stunning, I managed to find some shots not full of people.
After our quick tour of the old palace, it was almost noon, and time for the changing of the guard. We had heard it was popluar, but had no idea just how popular. Sloane found a royal guard who didn't seem too busy and inquired where the best place to see the ceremony was. He instructed us to look through a gate from inside the castle walls. We decided we didn't quite understand what he was saying, and exited the castle instead, to a sea of humanity - a now normal sight. We found a place near a fence where we could see a little, but after being swarmed by a large group, I decided to take me leave and left Sloane to fend for herself. I found a place at the back of the crowd, where I tried to capture an image of the humanity that was pointing selfie sticks and tablets at the ceremony. Sloane joined me shortly after I left, saying she had a good view, until someone from behind her stuck a tablet on a selfie stick over her shoulder and basically planted it in front of her face. No respect for personal space.
We decided to make our way back into the castle before the ceremony had ended, so we didn't have to wait in a huge line for security yet again. Our tickets still gave us access to 4 or 5 more things, so we found a few of them and checked them out. The most exciting part was a row of old homes that used to serve as shops and homes for the castles non-royal residents. It would have been even cooler if these tiny little homes were not over stuffed with people. We had enough and made our way back down to the main street in MalaStrana, where we hopped on a tram to take us to a very late lunch at an amazing Thai restaurant. After a relaxing lunch, we walked our selves back over toward the Charles bridge, stopping at a famous graffiti area, known as the Lennon wall - pretty boring stuff there. We paused for a few minutes on the bridge to take a selfie with all the people, who were great at photobombing.
Our plan was to go see the Jewish Musuem, so we walked to the Jewish quarter, which we had been to the day before. We chatted with a woman at the ticketing booth who instructed us that it wasn't one building, it was a walking tour of 5 or 6 different places - something we had no interest in doing. So - we made our way to a tram, which then took us to an area of town called Karlin with almost zero tourists, it was lovely. We had some fancy coffee - I even drank some, the Thai food lunch was lulling me to sleep. After our coffee break we checked out a local design shop, but it paled in comparison to our Scandinavian experience, so we didn't stick around very long. We opened our tourist book, in the non-tourist area and found what was suppose to be a happening bar (U Slovanské Lípy). We were the only people there, but we had a few pints anyway - killing some time before heading back to the tourist spots. Our plan was to meet up with a local guy who had been a professor of a friend back in the day. We had a hard time connecting with him, and it turned out he couldn't make it to us. We found ourselves a public toilet, in an odd little shopping mall, and sat down to figure out our evening. We took a detour back to old town to see the Astronomical Clock once more - click this link if you haven't heard of it - pretty damn cool, but again, all the people. I took zero pictures because the entire building was under renovation and it was very unimpressive covered in scaffolding and safety netting. We ended up having dinner at a cool little place called Mistral Cafe near the old town square, and the food was on point. We slowly walked home, stopping to take a few more photos of the Prague Castle from the riverside, and listening to some live music on the Charles Bridge. We poured some wine and went out to our patio to enjoy our last night. Turns out it was September 11th, and we had a view of the US embassy from the patio - they had two spotlights pointed upwards in remembrance. Our intentions were to finish the bottle of wine we had purchased in Krems, since we couldn't take it home with us, but we ended up showering and promptly going to sleep.
September 12th, 2017
Sloane and I both slept in a little, but were up by 8:30 or so to begin the epic chore of packing our belongings for our trip home. After we had located all of our stuff and smashed it back into the suitcases from which it had exploded one last time, we made our way outside to find a spot for breakfast. After lots of wondering around and finding a lot of places closed - we ended up eating a quick meal at the restaraunt that shared an entrance with our apartment building. We had a nice little meal and climbed the 3 flights of stairs to our apartment one last time, to fetch our luggage. We called an Uber and waited sadly for him to arrive on our corner, soaking up the last of this fairy tale town. Our flight home was a bit of hassle. We had booked flights from Prague to Boston, and then separately flights from Boston to Baltimore to save ourselves some money - this of course ended up costing us more money. Our first leg was relatively easy, Prague to Oslo, Norway. Here we had a 3 hour layover, and enjoyed the incredibly well designed Scandinavian airport while we killed time. We purchased food to eat on the plane, as well as some little bottles of wine, since I was positive I didn't book us meals. Turns out I did book meals, and we got free booze to go along with it, and they airline stewards would not let us drink alcohol we purchased elsewhere - waste of 30 bucks.
Our 8 hour flight from Oslo to Boston boarded on time, and then we sat on the runway for over an hour waiting for other flights who were connecting with this one to arrive. Sloane and I were very nervous - we had to clear customs in Boston, collect our luggage and go back through security to our domestic connection. We had 2.5 hours to do this if we were on time, but our flight didn't leave on time of course, it was about 1.5 hours behind by the time we were in the air. Our plane was a new Boeing 787 dreamliner, and it was the nicest plane I've had the pleasure of flying on for 8 hours. We fought sleep on the way home, since we were time traveling, it was waaaaay past bed time for us in Europe, but in the states it was 8 PM when we landed. We were the first few off the plane, and hurriedly made our way to customs, to stand in line for what seemed like an eternity. We tried to check in for our flight online while in line for customs, but it was too late to do so. We tried calling Southwest, but no luck Once we cleared customs, I bolted for the ticketing counter to see if we could make our flight, while Sloane waited for our luggage. Turns out the Domestic terminal was almost a mile away from the International one, and when I showed up the security lines had all been shut down. I made my way to the SW counter and made plans to reschedule our flight for the following morning. 6 AM flight sounded great to me, we could crash in the airport for a few hours, get breakfast and be home by 8 AM, but Sloane was the voice of reason and decided we needed a bed to sleep in. We re-booked our flight for 10AM and found a somewhat affordable hotel outside of Boston. After a long Uber ride, we made it to the hotel and crashed, real fast. Morning came quick and we were soon back at the airport, and soon after that we had landed in BWI, found an Uber, and were finally home just in time to get back to work. We definitely ended up paying more for the hotel and Ubers than we had saved booking travel separately, certainly won't be doing that on an international flight again - lesson learned!