July 16 - 21, 2002
We had a great time in Prague, even if it was all too brief. Five days (and five nights) gave us a chance to see lots but there was lots left unseen. Click here for our ideas on what to see if you have 3-7 days.
We arrived by train from Wroclaw and immediately were faced by the problem of finding a place to stay within our budget. Compared to most of the eastern European cities we visited (and even the rest of the world!) Prague was very well organized — it is obvious from the first moment it is a tourist town. In the train station there was a big board listing places, mostly on 3x5 cards with a small photo, a caption or remarks, and the price. Our first pass over showed there wasn't a combination that we liked — either too far, too pricey, or too little in ambience. While doing our second pass a man approached us and offered to get us a room, but his price was too high. When we told him we wanted to pay $30 another man approached us and said that he had an apartment for that price. Remembering our Kiev) experience, we wondered if we could be so lucky. And we wondered if we could be unlucky — it was late in the evening and if we got into his car to be taken to his apartment would we ever be seen again?
But we decided to chance it and were rewarded by a convenient location, just over a mile northwest of the center of the old town, and some extra conveniences like a washing machine, and a fully-equipped kitchen. We would have been more enthusiastic, however, if the place had had a little less doggy smell. The apartment belonged to the man's father who owned a dog. The father was retired and a widower but had a 'girlfriend' who had her own apartment. The father allowed his son to rent out his apartment now and then to earn extra money to supplement his old-age pension. When his apartment was being rented, he moved in with his girlfriend.
The apartment was just east of the new University district and just north of the the Castle hill area. It was very much a residential area, buildings being mostly of solid looking stone construction and about 4-5 stories high. We think that it was once a very prosperous area and then under communism it went, like all else, into decline. Now we think anybody lucky who possesses one of these apartments. There are many signs of improvements going on. Just a few blocks away is the edge of an embassy district. Seen only from the outside, there has been no decline in the luxury there.
Almost our first order of business was to get ourselves tickets from Prague to London. No leaving this for the last day as we usually did. Normally, we wouldn't know when our last day would be until one morning we woke up and said "Well, that seems to be it. Let's go tomorrow." In this case, we had to get to Darlington for Chris and Sam's wedding. We already knew there was an overnight bus to London. Through some phone calls we learned that one of the two ticket offices was in a building belonging to the nearby university. So over we went and with little trouble got two tickets. We (or at least Gerry) looked forward to a 15-hour ride through the night and through Germany, Belgium, France, and the Channel Tunnel (that would be our second passage.)
On our first real outing we walked a mile to the Castle Hill area, coming in the back way. Because of that and because we didn't have a good guide (yet) to Prague we were lacking in information about what to see and what tickets were needed. It didn't help that it was raining lightly and that throughout our time in the Castle area the rain increased in intensity. But we found the Castle area wonderful, really liking the cathedral and the great hall. We didn't have enough time to visit the museums.
The next day we made our first visit to Old Town (Stare Mesto) From our apartment it was a five minute walk to catch the tram that would take us close to the center. We had some confusion at first on how to even recognize the station but we did eventually figure it out. It is necessary to climb the right steps to come out on the platform for the desired direction. We managed to do it wrong 3 or 4 times before we realized how the system worked. We did make it to the center and really like the place. Over the next three days we would pass through every day just to get another taste of it.
On our third day we visited Josephov (the Old Jewish Quarter) and the Old-New Synagogue. We saw all the once-synagogues, now museums. I liked the outside of the Ceremonial Hall (where the Burial Society once met) best and I liked even more the inside of the Spanish Synagogue. That's a real beauty. Gerry made a second visit was on Friday night, the evening before we left. He went looking for Friday night services at the High Synagogue and found, inspite of what the guide book said, there weren't services. But almost next door there were services at the Old-New Synagogue. At the door there was a security man who asked me some questions ("Where do you live in Prague?") before letting him in after the services had started. It was almost all in Hebrew although as far as he could tell half of the 40-50 men there were Americans. He bases this observation on overheard conversations. The women were kept separate, in a smaller room that had observation.
Once we had seen what we consider the four "musts" of Prague we explored a little further. We took a tram to Vysehrad where we enjoyed the view, the cemetery where greats are buried, and the view. Then we walked back along the Vltava River The first part of the walk from Vysehrad is away from the river. It gives you a chance to have a feeling for how the non-tourist parts of Prague look and function. The river walk itself is serene. Toward the end, when nearly back to the center you pass the very modernistic Frank Gehry office building that some call a twisted bottle. We had already seen it on another walk, from the east to west banks. Jan thought it was a monstrosity that shattered the harmony of the cityscape, while Gerry found it interesting in spite of being somewhat out of place.
Now, with our short report of what we actually did, you can go on to our suggested tour