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3 Weeks in East-Central Europe: Part 3, Prague

Here is a belated report of my trip to Prague in July/2014. (Parts 1 and 2 can be found here: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/3-weeks-in-east-central-europe-part-1-budapest
and here: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/3-weeks-in-east-central-europe-part-2-vienna

On day 11, we took the train to Prague. When we arrived, we were met by a driver arranged by our hotel, and we were glad. That train station is huge! The driver took us right to our hotel, where we were met with cool, moist towels and water to refresh ourselves as we checked in.

When we were planning our trip, we had originally thought of renting an apartment in Prague, as we had in Budapest and Vienna. However, I couldn’t find an apartment that was available and met all our criteria: air conditioned, quiet at night, in the castle district. So, we decided to book at the Questenberk hotel, instead. Best decision ever! (I have copied parts of my review of the Questenberk from another site, here.)

When we saw our room, we were so pleased. It was very charming and exceeded our expectations. There was wine and fruit waiting for us (a bonus for booking directly with the hotel, I understand), and our room was replenished with a fresh water bottle for each of us daily, and delicious chocolates on our pillows each evening.

After seeing our room, we went to the deck for a welcome drink and a taste of that day's soup while Jacob, the concierge, discussed the sights, transportation, hotel services, etc. that were available to us.

It was a warm afternoon, and we decided to go for a walk in the neighbourhood to get our bearings, followed by a walk in Petrin Park. We walked around the monastery walls and ended up at the park. We saw a 10th century church, Petrin Tower, and the stations of the cross. We then followed a path that led to a little pool, which was lovely, except for the drowned frog in it. It was cool and shady, and a most pleasant way to spend the afternoon. We stopped at several lookout points to take in the views of Prague and the castle.

That evening, we ate at the hotel’s restaurant and the food was excellent. The hotel has an award-winning chef. We loved the views from the deck where we ate—of the castle, Petrin Park and Tower, and the monastery. The views are so lovely, in fact, that there was a bridal couple on the path right below us having their photos taken.

In the mornings, when we went for breakfast, we were greeted by name and treated to a wonderful breakfast buffet with juice and cappuccino or coffee. My husband could not believe the extent and variety of the buffet and asked to confirm that it really was all included. Each morning, we had eggs, bacon or sausages, vegetables, cheeses, pastries, Nutella, and fruits. There were other options, also, such as cold cereals and cold cuts. The view was lovely, particularly from our favourite table on the upper level, by the window, but no matter where we sat, we enjoyed the ambience and character of the room and the artwork in there.

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Day 12, a Sunday, we got up early to head to the castle. However, we misunderstood the directions and took a circuitous route, whereas we could have walked straight down one of the streets leading from the square where our hotel was located. Anyway, we toured the palace, St. George’s Basilica, the Powder Tower, and Golden Lane. (We could have done without the Golden Lane part. It was very narrow and crowded.) We then got in a line waiting to go inside St. Vitus’s Cathedral. There had been a mass there that morning, so it wasn’t opening to tourists until noon. The lineup seemed a bit long, but joining the line turned out to be an excellent decision. The number of people coming in after us was far, far greater than the number of people ahead of us, so we were able to see all the loveliness quite well. I’d definitely recommend seeing this as soon as it opens during high season. I was particularly enamoured with the “flying” silver angels holding up the velvet canopy, but there were so many lovely things to see in here, it was quite overwhelming.

It was getting very busy by this time, so we left the castle and started walking down the hillside adjacent to the castle. We saw a patio that looked appealing from above, and found the restaurant to be “Valoria” at street level. The food, service, and views were all excellent. We then returned to our hotel, poking our heads into a few shops along the way, for a break. Each afternoon, the hotel offers refreshments in the guest lounge: coffee, tea, cakes, lemon water, ice water, and fruit, and we always managed to make it back to the hotel for this.

That evening, we returned to the castle area. Our hotel was very convenient to the castle, and it was lovely to be able to go and walk around the castle in the evening, when it was nearly deserted. We took a different exit from the castle, taking a bridge over the moat, and ended up in the gardens where we found the summer palace (Belvedere Palace). Below the summer palace was a hill leading into the moat, and from here there were some fabulous views of the castle and powder tower. Further along, we ended up in Letna Park and came upon a lovely pool with statues in a rocky grotto. This is a monument to Czech Poet, Julius Zeyer. We then walked further, to the Hanavsky Pavilion and enjoyed the fabulous views of the river and its bridges. We walked back uphill and stopped for supper at the restaurant under the hanging boots: U Sevce Matouse. It was still warm enough to sit outside on the sidewalk, and we did so, watching dusk fall over Hradcany.

The next day, Day 13, we returned to the castle and toured the Rosenberg Palace and the Story of Prague Castle. I enjoyed seeing the gargoyle exhibit and artifacts such as Wenceslaus’s armour and the shoes of a 12th century pope.

We then went to the Strahov Monastery and had lunch just outside the walls at a small takeout place, connected with U Stribrne Kocky Bistro (I think) that we’d noticed on the first day. There were a few tables set up in the shade of the wall, and we enjoyed sausage hotdogs and cold drinks.

That evening, after a break and refreshments at our hotel, we walked down through Mala Strana to Kampa Island. I particularly liked seeing the Lenin Wall. We then walked to Andel and stopped to look at the thought-provoking Memorial to the Victims of Communism along the way. We went to Andel to see a dance show that was supposed to take place in Portheimka Park, but it didn’t materialize. We were, however, entertained when we were mooned by a beggar after refusing to give him anything. We had a quick supper at a nearby sidewalk café, where I tried Kofola, “Czechoslovak Traditional Love Cola.” We bought a 3-day transit pass and took streetcars back to Hradcany and our hotel (just a half block from the streetcar stop).

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Day 14 was the day we finally walked along the amazing Charles Bridge into Old Town. After another huge buffet breakfast at the Questenberk, we took the tram down the hill. We walked across the Charles Bridge fairly early in the morning—about 8 am. We took our time, admiring all the statues and the view. We were hoping to get to the Astronomical Clock in time for 9 am. However, when we got to the other end of the bridge, we must have zigged when we should have zagged, since we got lost and didn’t find the clock until shortly after 9. We walked around the square, taking in the sights, and returned to the clock at about 9:30. We decided to have “second breakfast” on the patio of El Toro Negro, a restaurant facing the Astronomical Clock. This was a great decision, as it allowed us to relax while we waited and afforded us a great view of the clock. I loved the clock, especially the cute little skeleton that starts off the whole spectacle. Afterward, we went up the clock tower and enjoyed the views from there.

From Old Town, we headed to Wenceslaus Square, which is more of a boulevard than a square, really. We enjoyed the architecture as we walked to the end to the statue of St. Wenceslaus, and the museum, which was closed for renovations. It was very hot that day, so we hung out in the shade of the museum for a while, taking in the views of Wenceslaus Square. We walked back again, stopping to look in a couple of malls, which were lavishly decorated. (One is called “Lucerna Palace,” I believe, and it had a sculpture of a horse hanging upside down in it.) Poking in various nooks, crannies, and doorways, we stumbled upon the lovely Franciscan Garden and spent at least a half an hour there, enjoying the sculptures, fountains, flowers, cooling shade, and serenity.

We then walked to see the Tympanum and the ruin of the North Tower of the Church of Our Lady of the Snows, and went inside the church to see the fabulous, over-the-top interior.

In the afternoon, we returned to Hradcany, where we walked around the monastery. The interior of the Strahov church was particularly impressive, with its frescoes and statuary.

Day 15, our last day in Prague, we wanted to see the Dancing House and the Jewish Museum. We walked through Petrin Park and rode the funicular down the hill. Near the top of the funicular, I viewed an odd and interesting house/studio called the “Magical Cavern.” It featured dozens of fantastical works of art created by the owner, Reon. We also saw the Hunger Wall, created in the 1300s as a make work project to help provide an income to starving people.

We walked to the dancing house and then headed back along the river again, where we stopped for ice cream on a little island, Slovanský ostrov or Zofin, where the National Theatre is and where there is a little children’s train and a lovely view of the river.

We then took transit to Josefov where we toured the Maisel Synagogue and the Jewish graveyard. The graveyard was unbelievable, with over a thousand headstones tumbling over one another in close quarters. We were told that 7 layers of graves lay beneath these.

Afterward, we took the metro to a stop where we could catch a streetcar back to Hradcany. After a rest and refreshments, we walked along the castle moat, where we saw a huge sculpture of a troll-like creature and the area where bears were once kept. We finished off the day with a lovely dinner at Peklo, a restaurant in a 12th century grotto/cavern at the Strahov monastery.

We were well pleased with our visit to Prague and the choices we made. We loved our hotel, so that was a great choice. Booking a car from the train worked well for us. And getting a 3-day transit pass after spending a couple of days in the castle area was perfect.

After another sumptuous breakfast at our hotel the next morning, we headed for Cesky Krumlov and what was, perhaps, the best day of our trip. More on this in the next trip report.