“Red in tooth and claw”
– A Random TripAdvisor Review
Big Fan! (I Liked These Things!)
Museum of Communism: A unique experience to say the least! My husband emigrated to the United States from the former Soviet Union. His stories of life in a communist society are interesting to say the least, and thus, have stoked an interest in communism for me (in a history-nerd type of way, not in a take my cows, government, and do with them what you will, way.) The museum aims to demonstrate what Czech life was like under the Communist regime. In addition, it discusses communism in other parts of the world and explains the ideas behind communism and how it has evolved from a manifesto to a societal way of life in some places. The biggest criticism for this museum is that it is “text heavy.” As in, there are paragraphs of reading EVERYWHERE and they are LONG. However, I know how to read, so this wasn’t a problem for me personally. The museum does a great job of immersing visitors in the communism experience as you are able to see re-creations of a corner store, work room, school room, and interrogation room during these times. I personally felt that I could have spent half a day in the museum, but I am someone who genuinely likes to learn about such things. This museum is fascinating to say the least. It satisfied my intellectual curiosity as well as provided an excellent understanding of a piece of the Czech Republic’s history. If you are someone who likes to learn, or enjoys unique experiences, I definitely recommend.
Prague Riverside Parties: I’d like an award for pretty much being awake for 24 hours, please. The night before this event we returned to our hotel in Amsterdam at 5AM, slept for 45 minutes, ran to the airport, touched down in Prague, checked into our hostel and shot straight over to the best tour I’ve ever taken. If you are looking for something unique and entertaining to do in Prague, here it is. The night started at a tour office-slash-party central where sangria and beer is unlimited. We were given the chance to meet our fellow party goers and the alcohol really helped everyone find the courage to make new friends. My favorite part about this bar crawl was the age range. Many bar crawls are filled with people who might as well be toddlers and say things like, “what’s it like to have a job and a home? I can’t wait to move out” or “Ugh, peed in my diaper, let me go change it, I’ll be right back.” If I tell them I’m married, forget it, they applaud me for doing the bar crawl without the use of my cane or walker. This event had some young people who were very agreeable, but mostly people in their mid 20’s to mid 30’s who had lives I could relate to which involved paying bills, having a career, and crippling college debt and anxiety about life. This, along with the booze, made it extremely easy to meet new friends.
Our tour guide was exceptionally funny, laid back, and a transplant from Australia. He enjoyed making fun of all of us, which some people I’m sure take offense to, but his wit is genuinely impressive and his jokes are harmless. I am incredibly sensitive to being made fun of and I never felt uncomfortable with his way of joking. While he leads the tour, another guide pushes the traveling party cart around behind us where we were free to grab booze and enjoy the tunes blasting from the music system. A third guide takes photographs so you don’t have to feel obligated to keep your phone in your hands the entire time. This all made for an extremely relaxing night out. We stopped by various and unique sculptures, works of art, and sites in Prague where the tour guide gave us the history of each stop, which may or may not be made up. I didn’t care, I hadn’t slept in nearly 24 hours and couldn’t see straight from too much sangria.
Beyond the drinking and meeting new friends, there were several highlights. We sat in a park and ate Aussie meat pies for dinner which were delicious. We created our own stencils which we used to spray paint the John Lennon wall, a truly memorable experience in and of itself. We didn’t stay for the after party as we were completely shot. I laughed and drank so much on this tour and felt I had a really good way of getting my bearings of the city. A unique, fun, and relaxing way of spending my first night in the city for sure!
Zizkov – A little far from the center of the city, but I’m glad we wound up staying at a hostel in this area. Staying in Zizkov allowed us to be able to interact with local people and to experience travel without being catered to due to our American nationality. I recall one day when we tried desperately to ask for help catching the tram. People, for whom we asked for help in the neighborhood did not speak English and quite frankly, did not give a shit that they didn’t or couldn’t. In most places I visit people will cater to my English language needs, and if they cannot will become distraught and try desperately to throw together the few English words they know or frantically make gestures or draw pictures. Not the fine people of Zizkov. We would run into stores or approach people on the street desperate for information. Folks would either just stare at us looking incredibly bored and shrug, or ignore us all together. This was a good lesson to learn. The world does not revolve around my language or culture. I did not speak the Czech language, they did not speak my language, and that was that.
On a more positive note, we spent an evening doing some casual bar hopping and got to meet people who live in the area. Being further away from Prague city center, we weren’t subjected to only rubbing elbows with other tourists. We were able to learn about some locals’ everyday lives. We heard about their children, partners, and careers as well as their attitudes toward their own government as well as our government. The variety of bars ranged from a Tiki bar (Tiki Taky) which offered a variety of flaming cocktails and pretty good frozen pizza to a dimly lit bar which could best be described as an Eastern European saloon named Bukowski bar. While I enjoy nightlife, I’m way over the days of the mayhem and madness of crowded bars with music blasting and pretentious nightclubs. The bars in Zizkov were more appropriate to my interests. The atmosphere was cheerful and it was possible to make conversation. These are not the “all the bottom shelf liquor you can handle” joints that once wooed me in my early 20’s. By the way, it took me pretty long to learn that “all you can drink” doesn’t necessarily mean “drink all you can”, but I challenged myself and preserved everything weekend of my early 20’s nonetheless, and I’m all the worse for it. If you are looking for a place where adults come to drink without the noise and amateur hour feel, try Zizkov!
Charles Bridge A drunk rando once said, “Prague is Disney World for adults” as my bestie and I walked over the Charles Bridge. Nowhere is that more apparent than the Charles Bridge. In my opinion, it is most beautiful at night when the lights are on and it’s truly a sight to behold. The feeling of magic and standing right in the middle of history is unequivocal. There are TONS of tourists on the bridge, many taking photos. I recommend pulling off to the side and taking it all in as opposed to rushing from one side to the other with the masses.
Thai Foot Massage: Travel is different than vacation because it wears you out. It’s physically exhausting and despite all of my solid memories of traveling, I also don’t recall having a single trip where my feet didn’t feel like I’d rather amputate them than withstand the pain of having walked SO MUCH. My feet and legs were throbbing after walking around the city all day, and then I saw it…too good to be true…a Thai foot massage salon. Warm memories of my first Thai foot massage in Bangkok came flooding back. I forced my best friend to experience the magic with me. This experience truly allowed me to wax nostalgic, minus the price. In Bangkok, I paid something like five dollars with tip. Here, I’m pretty sure we paid 60 US dollars each, but the sheer joy of the massage is worth it (at least to me.) When John Mellancamp wrote “Hurt So Good” he was inspired by Thai foot massage. For those unfamiliar, a warm blanket is draped over your body as the act begins, and you nearly always fall asleep. A masseuse works the FUCK out of every inch of your feet, rubbing out every knot and pain. If there is a knot in your foot, the masseuse will find it. What makes it unique? Something I dreamily refer to as…the stick. The masseuse takes a polished wooden stick and prods it into various pressure points of your feet, relieving pent up pressure and alleviating tightness in particular areas. If you think sex is great…try this. Afterwards, your shoulders, neck, and scalp are given plenty of TLC. I constantly have knots in these areas and I carry a lot of tension in my body, this treatment was designed for me. I kept trying to tell this to all the other throngs of people waiting online to get rubbed, but they wouldn’t let me cut them. There are at least two Thai massage parlors in the middle of the town square and although they are not what you think of when you imagine flying to Prague, it’s an experience well worthwhile. My bestie’s shoes were incredibly tight on her feet and after the massage, the swelling went down and she was able to put them on with ease! I don’t know, I keep calling Prague magic…fits right in with the magic of Prague to me!
Old Town Square: The old town square is the pulse of the city of Prague. It is where both old and new Prague join together and come to life. The view of the crude fairy-tale-esque Church of Our Lady of Tyn surrounded by orange roofed buildings is the city’s iconic “hallmark” picture. On the day we spent time there, a band was playing and all came to gather on the cobble stone streets where visitors sat and enjoyed the sun while drinking beer and eating snacks from the numerous stands set up around the perimeter of the square. It was impossible not to be consumed with a “how lucky am I?” feeling as we relaxed in the midst of the unfamiliar history of the city center while enjoying something as comforting and familiar as a good weather festival.
Beer: In Prague, beer is said to be cheaper than water. It is also more delicious, less disappointing, and generally makes me a happier human being. It’s the thing to do. Get yourself a nice sized beer, eat some pretzels with it, and have yourself a moment. Wherever beer and snacking are part of the culture, I can make myself at home.
Prague Castle: It would be almost subhuman to say that such an old, historical site is un-enjoyable. This made the list twice because there were aspects I enjoyed, and aspects which frustrated me immensely. First off, those who know me by now know I love the opportunity to see history first hand. I love wandering into historical sites and getting lost in imaging what life was like so long ago. Prague castle offers so many opportunities to do just that.
Golden Lane – These are preserved buildings which demonstrate what life was like from the approximate 16th century until World War II in various capacities. Of particular interest was the home (number 14) of Matylda Prusova, a famed fortune teller. Ms. Prusova predicted the downfall of the Third Reich at one point during WW2 and was arrested by the secret police where she later died during her interrogation. I have an inexplicable affinity for fortune tellers of the past and conjuring up what conversations they may have had with their clients is of special interest to me. We live in an age of nearly all answers to every question are available in a nano second at our fingertips. I wonder what it may have been like to be so yearning to know something that you visit a mysterious fortune teller, or witch to gain information or a better understanding. I wonder what kind of life a woman with such a unique profession lived.
Defenestration of Prague – Defenestration means to throw someone out of a window. Although this was done at least twice in this castle, one such time was a central moment of religious turmoil within the country in 1618. I remember hearing about this piece of history in a college class and for reasons truly unknown have always been intrigued by this story, probably because those sentenced to the punishment survived and were able to run away! We saw the window where the incident took place and were able to learn a lot more about the specifics. I don’t know that the audience for this blog would be interested in a history lesson on the event, and besides, the castle does a better job of explaining this than I ever could!
Audio Guide – The amount of things to see in Prague Castle is beyond ones wildest information. I really don’t think you could see it all in a lifetime. Luckily, there is an audio guide which I am a huge fan of as it limits the amount of reading you must do and keeps your interest as it narrates a story. It offers the opportunity for an in depth explanation of exhibits of your own particular interest. My best friend, on the other hand, hates audio guides. I am truly surprised I’m not telling you about the defenestration of the audio guide. Speaking of which, you must fill out a “potential criminal application” because if you do not return your guide to the office by a specific time, you are reported to the police who then begin the task of finding you and arresting you. That’s a real threat BTW!
Rosenburg Palace – As overstated enough, I enjoy being among historical places with a story and imagining what it might be like to be the people who once inhabited or spent time there. This was especially poignant at the Rosenburg Palace. Empress Maria Therese founded the palace in 1755 as a home where noblewomen could live if they had fallen on hard times. As I walked the halls, I tried to imagine the lives of those women and what they ‘hard times’ may have looked like. I imagined how they were dressed and what they would do throughout the day. I considered who they loved or were interested in romantically and how this might have come at odds with the strict rules in place at the palace. The site is incredibly ornate and reeks of the aristocracy, an aspect of history with which I am fascinated. If you’re any kind of imaginative, stop by!
Big Books – God only knows which part of Disney Prague World we found this in, but we came across a selection of replicas of records books which would have been kept by the castle. One such book (the one with a skull on it) is a records book of all the names of those who fell victim to the plague. Although it’s far away and you cannot see it, we found ourselves marveling at it for quite some time. Often times the historical events we learn about in class seem so outrageous that it is hard to believe that they actually happened. Here, albeit a replica, we were confronted with the truth that so many people did die of the plague and there names were actually recorded. To be in the presence of such history, and such personal tragedy within history is really an astounding feeling. In that book were the names of people who were not unlike myself, I’m sure, and were overtaken by one of the most sinister health crises to ever confront humanity. It’s easy for the mind to run wild with a typical day in the lives of the people compared with this book, and how much their lives were changed at the onset of the plague. Chilling.
Not a Fan! (BOOOOOO!): – (I did not like these things)
Prague Castle: My bestie and I each had a complete “crank-a-saurus” day on our trip, and this was Amanda’s. Hers was mostly in response to and triggered by our time at Prague Castle. I really think this reaction was not without merit, and I could totally see how a traveler could get frustrated and fed up at Prague Castle. It is so damn easy to become burned out from traveling, and in particular, site seeing. Prague Castle is a marathon, a day long if not several days long site seeing journey. It requires extensive time on one’s feet as well as devoting an entire day to cramming new information into your brain. There’s also the element that it is fucking HUGE. It could be its own city with its own postal card, therefore, it feels quite arduous to get from one point of interest to the next. If you’re here for the selfies and fake candid photos of yourself pretending to learn something, skip it. If you have limited time, but are eager to engage with the history of the castle, come prepared with a plan. There are entire websites and guide books devoted to this one site. I suggest making a plan in advance of what interests you and becoming familiar with the layout of Prague Castle which really should be called Prague Mini City. This will minimize the amount of time you spend being lost and confused which we did and only added to the frustration and fatigue! The layout is not intuitive and it was exhausting trying to hit all of the stops and creating a plan on the go. As someone who has exercised once, I tell you, plan for this day like you would for a day long hike!
Ice, Ice, Baby – As my bestie and I relaxed in our hostel with the two new roommates we met, one of them posed a question about a topic that we thought only we had noticed. “Is it us, or are the people here…very unfriendly.” I’m a literal stereotype of a New Yorker in so many ways, but I am also, as far as I can tell, an incredibly friendly and kind person. A habit both myself and my bestie have is smiling at people that you pass on the street. I told my tour guide that this was something I often did, and he replied that Eastern Europeans have a quote about such a thing. “He who wastes a smile is a fool.” If you think that sounds harsh on its surface, check this out. It actually means, “A person who smiles at strangers is mentally inept, or intellectually challenged.” Quite a harsh indictment for trying to brighten someone’s day or demonstrate politeness and friendliness. If you have a friendly disposition, bear in mind that actions that are normally reciprocated at home will most likely not be, here. I found it very difficult to engage locals in conversation for the most part. Smiles were definitely not reciprocated and many of our attempts to speak with locals or joke around were straight up ignored! I’ll never forget thanking cab drivers for the lift and just being stared at annoyed-ly until I shut the car door. When leaving the airport, my best friend was screamed at for asking a question regarding her luggage, and no one around us made an expression to signal that this was abnormal or inappropriate. As I’ve already emphasized, I’m a true New Yorker. But, in New York it’s not unheard of to respond to “thank you” with “you’re welcome”, or a hand up to acknowledge that I’ve heard you and it’s not problem. Culture shock can happen anywhere, apparently!
Public Transportation – It could be us, it could be the city. I’m going to blame the city because I’m a bitch and because I’m still bitter. We could not figure out public transportation for the life of us. We spent nearly four hours trying desperately to find a way to take PT from Zizkov where we stayed, to the city center. Everyone we asked pointed us in a different direction, none of which were intuitive or made sense and for that I was pretty pissed. Thankfully, Uber was extremely cheap, so we just got carted around that way instead. I’ll never say no to Uber or a cab!
Food for Thought – Top Foodie Experiences
Svejk Restaurant Malostranska Pivnice: Whenever I meticulously plan each trip that I embark on, of special interest is making sure that I get to eat the food of the traditional country or city. (What?! You, Stephanie?! But, you’re so petite! This is very hard to believe!) Visions of Bohemian delights such as pork knuckle, pretzels, and beer filled my dreams and this restaurant delivered my vision to perfection. We sat at iconic picnic tables in the beer garden of the restaurant where we were doted over by a great waiter (until we didn’t tip him over 20%, then he dropped the act.) There are racks of baked pretzels on each table and we happily ate every single one of them, but thought it was weird that people around us weren’t doing the same. We found out they charge extra, but the price per pretzel is negligible for the most part. We each ordered a large beer for one dollar and took time to look over the menu and the clientele. I was happy to see that many of the people dining around us appeared to be locals, and having some Bohemian ancestry in my family, I found that a lot of the local men kind of looked like my dad in one way or another. People were full of good cheer and full mugs of beer. A waiter brought out some kind of giant slab of meat on a spit to the girls next to us, and I simply had to know if this was the famed pork knuckle. I leaned over and asked one of the women who ordered the dish what it was, and she responded with, “Pork knee. Now get the fuck away from me before I kill you.” This is a local translation of what she actually said in English with her ‘how dare I ask’ stare and curt words. “Pork knee.” Pork knee? All I’d heard about was pork knuckle…close enough. We ordered beer cheese which was not what either of us thought it would be. I had some salty fondue vision in my head. This was room temperature soft cheese with mustard on the side and beer completely poured over it. It was strong and pungent, not overall disgusting, but not something I would order again. I enjoyed all the flavors together, but was also repulsed by them after I’d finished the dish. The pork knee came out in all of its rock-star glory with an array of groupie sauces to dip it in. It was fatty, juicy, extremely heavy and filling. Pork knee (knowing how much the girl next to me hated me, it was probably pork ass to be honest) was both unlike anything I’ve had, yet reminiscent of a pork chop. For me, European food is kind of usually all related. There is some version of a sausage, a noodle, a dumpling, a goulash for every culture. I have to say, the few items of Czech food I’ve had were truly unique experiences and are an acquired taste. I wouldn’t imagine that these are dishes that are easy to whip up in my home kitchen, and the ingredients are probably hard to come across. The menu has a dizzying variety of meals and it was a memorable introduction to Czech food!
Pastar: What kind of self respecting New Yorker and Italian doesn’t crave pasta every other day? I’d gone far too long without a bowl of noodles in my face, four to be exact, and I could feel weakness, confusion, and flu like symptoms setting in. We trekked all the way to a highly rated Italian restaurant which was closed, and naturally, we had to go to a nearby bar to numb the pain and disappointment. A quick internet search lead us to a new found highly rated Italian restaurant, yes, Pastar was the welcome real-life mirage of noddley goodness in a bleak, barren, desert of only which there seemed only to be sausages and pork knees. The front of the store offers a vision of what heaven might look like. There is an impressive meat and cheese selection for purchase as well as various spreads and jarred items. As we continued walking toward the back, the dining area was a brick pizzeria- meets-elegant-cafe-area. It wasn’t long before we ordered and our dinner was served, that is to say, service was attentive and quick. The pasta was rich, fresh, and way too legit for me to quit. It was not “Czech Republic’s version of a pasta”, but instead, the real stuff. A waiter insisted that a girls’ night out should be met with full glasses of champagne at all times, and, how could we resist? We didn’t and had several glasses because we’re teachers and can afford such luxuries. (We split a half bottle is the real story.) The wait staff were among the friendliest people we met in Prague and we were given complimentary shots of lighter fluid at the end of our meal which were definitely not optional. The waitress made sure we knew that this was a Czech tradition of great honor and prestige. After taking a very small sip and smelling it, I think she meant to say, “this is how we terminate the lives of felons on death row, with this drink right here!” We made a plan to pour the nail polish remover into our water glasses when the waitress walked away. I have fond memories of Amanda ridding her shot in one swift motion, while every time I tried to dispose of mine, someone popped up out of nowhere asking us how everything turned out. In a city that at most times felt unfamiliar and cold despite it being the throws of summer, Pastar offered a delicious home sickness remedy composed of familiar elements of Italian food, drink, and pleasant conversation.
Cafe Savoy: We enjoyed dessert at the famed Cafe Savoy and it’s incredibly obvious looking back that we had no business being in such a famed and elegant institution. Chandeliers, beautifully patterned walls, and large picture windows cultivate an unmistakable air of sophistication. And boy, if I’m not just the EPITOME of sophistication! (See photo of me pouring hot chocolate into a mug and spilling it everywhere.) Late night wound up being a great time to visit the Cafe because during most times, the line can be extensive. Cafe Savoy is near famous and has been around since the 1800’s. The lavish decor and unmatched service truly capture the grandeur of the time period. The dessert experience? Honey, it’s to die for! The pastries were incredibly decadent and the size was generous. (That second part? That’s what she said!) For history buffs, culture fans, and dessert enthusiasts, a must visit.
Digs – Where I Crashed
Brix Hostel: This has been my third experience at hostels. The jury is still out. I like the idea of staying in a hostel, but some aspects deter me. In some ways, I feel like I’ve surpassed on the age which is appropriate to stay in a hostel. I’m a working professional making a decent salary staying in an $18 a night bunk bed when I could probably very well afford an AirBnB or cheap hotel. However, I was late to the traveling game, and I feel that if I don’t experience hostel life in my 20’s, it will only continue to become even more inappropriate for me to stay there. Certain unavoidable aspects skeeve me out, such as the amount of people who sit on the communal furniture (like couches) with their bare feet and sweaty legs in a single day. Sheets on beds and stuff are changed, but the soft couches? Yuck. The kitchens tend to skeeve me out as the mix of a variety of different types of foods tend to fill the air and because so many people use the counter space they are sticky, dull, and have that “never going away” film on them. I need to stress, these are things that I find fault with at all hostels, not just Brix. Brix was among the cleanliest of hostels I’ve stayed at; I would happily recommend staying here.
Brix Hostel provided an excellent experience, and I have very fond memories of having stayed there. As previously mentioned, it’s in the Zizkov district which is not very central, but wound up being a good experience. The check in process was thorough and the receptionist very friendly. I was happy that the hostel seemed to host a variety of ages and I didn’t feel like the creepy, nearly 30 year old auntie watching over everyone. We stayed in a women’s dorm in which there were six beds in total. The room next to ours was filled with many beds and you had to journey through this room in order to get to ours, so I’m happy that we were sectioned off in a way. Under the beds provided ample storage and I was able to fit my entire backpack. Bring your own lock, or rent one from the front desk just to be safe. The variety of roommates we had were easy to get along with although we didn’t get much time to really get to know anyone as each night the guests changed. We stayed in the midst of a heat wave and to say our room was sweltering at night would be an understatement. There was no fan or air conditioning, and we had to completely soak our towels and drape them over our bodies to keep cool! (There was only one night where there was wind outside the window, and then it was much easier to fall asleep!)
The hostel had a bar and courtyard which could become very crowded depending on the day and time of day. Our last night in Prague, I oddly have happy memories of waking up every so often to the sound of partying in the courtyard until all hours of the night. Although we weren’t participating, the cool air and lively sounds of others having a good time made me smile. They weren’t too rowdy and the sound was reminiscent of those summer nights at home when friends and I could kill hours in a backyard sitting around a fire pit drinking beers. When we left early in the morning, people were just leaving the revelry. The showers and bathroom we used overall was IMMACULATELY clean, probably cleaner than my bathroom at home. I would probably stay here again if given the chance.
What I Learned: Prague is a fairy tale come to life meets near perfect preservation of the medieval period in history. It is beautiful and historic. It is magical and reminds me very much of Hansel and Gretel, or Shrek. It was my first look at Eastern Europe and there were a lot of cultural aspects that differed immensely from anywhere that I’ve ever been. I’m incredibly grateful for the experience I’ve had in Prague. My best friend is an exceptional travel partner, probably the best. Many of the positive memories I have from this trip are because she was by my side, and together we can turn nearly any experience into a fun opportunity. I’ve never disliked anywhere that I’ve traveled to, but I need to be honest in saying that Prague was not a city I would feel the need to re-visit. It’s hard. Looking back at this trip as I re-hash all of the experiences I’ve had, I’m remembering Prague as a beautiful and convivial place. However, I truly remember that both of us felt it had been way overrated by friends who had traveled there, and we both felt a bit disappointed for the most part by our experience in Prague overall. The people I encountered for the most part seemed to realize that tourism brings money to the economy, but seemed to really despise and resent the tourists. This was palpable from nearly the moment we arrived. Despite the beautiful streets and architecture, there’s an ensconced sense of desolation, bleakness, and hollow feel to the city.