I had always read about Prague as one of the most beautiful cities in the world and when we were planning a trip to that part of the world then it had to be included without fail! Prague used to be the capital of Czechoslovakia until 1993 before it got divided into Czech Republic & Slovakia and this was part of GK education too during my schooling years! It is now the capital of Czech Republic.
Recently Prague was voted as the Number 5 Top Destination in the TripAdvisor Travelers’ choice Destinations 2015 just below Istanbul but ahead of London, Rome and Paris which is quite a feat! It also finds a similar place on many other rankings so we were understandably quite excited about visiting this city. Prague has the lowest unemployment rate in the European Union and has been a political, cultural, and economic centre of central Europe with waxing and waning fortunes during its 1,100-year existence. Its main attractions include the Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge, Old Town Square with the Prague astronomical clock, the Jewish Quarter, Petřín hill and Vyšehrad. Since 1992, the extensive historic centre of Prague has been included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
I had planned 4 days in Prague and even though we found it too crowded and commercialized for our liking, it still deserves all the accolades for all the beauty it possesses!
Friday 17th July 2015 ||| Chill in Prague
We reached Prague from Krakow through an overnight train and survived a major scare at the Praha Hlavni Nadrazi (Main Train Station) in Prague. We decided to have our breakfast at the garden just outside the station, bought it from a convenience store and enjoyed our meal at a bench outside. And soon we realized that one of our bags was missing! We had the scare of our lives and I backtracked inside to that store just to try my luck as that was the last place we remembered it could be. Luckily and quite surprisingly our stroller bag was still there waiting to get picked up by me after almost 30 minutes of lying unattended! I would leave it to you to figure whose fault it was; the station security team or the people who found it quite unattractive! I am not taking any blame on us.
After this major scare we started our walk towards our Hotel which was some 2 kms away. We could have taken a cab but exploring the city on foot that too early morning was quite an experience in itself. The city was waking up gingerly and we found atleast 6 drunk mean lying on the streets; one of them even had an ambulance attending him! Where else would you find an ambulance getting a drunk man to wake up and carry on with his day! It was quite a sight. Thanks to Google Maps and my Blackberry phone we reached the Hotel Residence Malá Strana (http://www.garzottohotels.cz/en/hotel-residence-mala-strana-prague/) where unfortunately our room wasn’t ready and we had to wait till 2 PM to check in.
We dropped our luggage, freshened up and went to a nearby fountain cum garden to start our 5 hours waiting session! We started with our 2nd “light” breakfast of the day while Abhay ran behind the pigeons (which was his favourite pastime of this trip) and spent almost 90 minutes at that spot doing nothing except observing people around us. There were many of them; walking hurriedly to office, some just chilling, some walking their dogs, some waiting for trains, trams and buses and some like us – just sitting idly!
We then walked to the Petrin Gardens which are one of the largest gardens in Prague and were almost empty when we were there. Abhay found a small stick and did his Javelin Throw practice with full vigour while we just lounged in the lush green grass!
The sun was shining in full glory and we were getting quite hungry so we had to take a long & sunny walk to Coda Restaurant (http://www.codarestaurant.cz/en/) which was almost 2 kms away for our Lunch. Coda supposedly has the best view of Prague from its rooftop. We reached there at 12 PM and had a long lunch enjoying the view and the flavours. We were the first guests for the lunchtime when we entered and by the time we left the rooftop was choc-a-bloc with people! Some effect we had!
We walked back to our hotel after enjoying a relatively less sunny walk and finally checked into our spacious room. It was quite a relief to be indoor after a long time you see! We freshened up and went deep into our afternoon siesta which was much needed & deserved too!
After a long 3 hours siesta session we got ready and moved out to explore Prague and its evening beauty. The Friday night was getting into the groove and the city was getting ready for another weekend extravaganza.
Tour first destination was The Dancing House. The very non-traditional design of this building was controversial at the time it was commissioned because it stands out among the Baroque, Gothic and Art Nouveau buildings for which Prague is famous. It is quite a popular landmark of the city and is extensively photographed too.
We then went towards the Vltava riverside to enjoy the sunset view and as most of you know my favourite photography time! I love capturing the hues of the sky during this time of the day and luckily this time I had the river hues to enjoy as well! We sat down on the edge of the river while the sun went down. The colours were unimaginably beautiful and had a wonderful time enjoying the beautiful view!
We then watched a Death Metal Band performing Live infront of a big audience; most of whom were drunk or high! Abhay had a fantastic time watching a man with a weird fluorescent hairstyle! We then took a long detour towards our hotel enjoying the exquisite architecture of the city this time in the night hues. No wonder they list this city as one of the most beautiful cities of the world!
Dinner that night was Mexican at a restaurant named Cantina. We ordered Sopa Azteca and Guacamole with nachos, XXL Burrito with sour cream and extra hot salsa sauce, Honey glazed chicken Drumsticks with baked potatoes and Mexican rice and Bandita ordered Frozen Lime Margarita with Tequila for herself. The serving size was quite huge and we got the extra stuff packed for the next day which came in very handy indeed! Abhay was quite interested in the menu too and tasted everything we ordered! Except the Margarita obviously!
We finally reached our hotel at 1 AM and crashed! We walked almost 8-10 kms that day so were quite exhausted plus the heavy dinner was the icing on the cake!
Saturday 18th July 2015 ||| Prague Castle Walking Tour, Vltava River Boat Cruise and Chill in Prague
This was quite a hectic day starting with a heavy breakfast at our hotel filled with Corn Flakes, Milk, Fruits, Juices, Omelette and Coffee! Yes I love the buffet breakfast concept and fill myself up to get the day started on a “heavy” note.
Our Prague Castle Tour was supposed to start at 11 AM so we made a lazy start and started at 10 AM with a walk to the Old Town Centre area. It was quite a sunny day and we knew the weather was not the best one for a day with lots of walking in store for us so we packed a lot of water and juices for us.
I had booked this tour through Discover Prague Tours (paid 600 Czech Crowns for the 2 of us) and the representative was at the designated meeting point when we reached. We collected the tram tickets while waiting for all the participants to join us and started the tour at 11:15 AM.
Our tour partner gave us a detailed description of what was in store for us including the approximate distance, part of the castle and the time to all of us. She grew up in Australia before coming back to Prague and joined Discover Prague Tours 4 years back.
The Guinness Book of Records lists Prague Castle as the largest ancient castle in the world. It occupies an area of almost 70,000 m2, at about 570 meters in length and an average of about 130 meters wide. The castle was a seat of power for kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors, and presidents of Czechoslovakia. The Bohemian Crown Jewels are kept within a hidden room inside it. The castle is also the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic. The history of the castle stretches back to the year 870 with the construction of its first walled building. This was going to be a historic visit for us and quite literally too!
We started in Old Town Square, took a tram ride to the top of the castle district before exploring the monasteries, breweries, palaces and various panoramic viewpoints of Hradčany, the Castle District. We visited various parts including St. Vitus’ Cathedral, Strahov Monastery and Brewery, St. Nicolas’ Church, Domecek Gestapo/StB Prison, Wallenstein Palace, The Loreto, St. George’s Basilica, ‘Mozart’s House’, Novy Svet and The Black Tower.
The most impressive and beautiful part was the St. Vitus Cathedral which is celebrated as one of the finest Gothic buildings in the world; construction started in 1344 and was completed in 1929. It is one of the most special building of the world with one-thousand years of architectural styles represented – from Romanesque to Art Nouveau, Gothic to Neo-Classical and Baroque to Renaissance – as well as the tongues and arms of Saints, we were wowed by the fascinating history of this truly unique complex of buildings and its surrounding areas. And our guide did a perfect job in explaining the history and we got enough time to slowly observing and enjoying its beauty both from outside and the inside.
The views from the top of the castle were absolutely breathtaking giving us a bird eye’s view of Prague. We also heard a lot of legends about the Castle some of whom were really interesting including this particular statue; if any unmarried girl touches “you know what” then she is guaranteed a handsome husband!
We finally finished the tour at 2:30 PM, took a 30-minutes break rejuvenating in the Castle Gardens before going for Lunch. We took the Metro from the Malostranska Metro Station in Prague which is 32 metres deep located right under the Prague Castle. It was good fun taking the escalator down with Abhay in his Pram while Bandita was shit scared looking down at that deep escalator!
Our Lunch destination which was a restaurant named Nenasyta which serves specialty Slovenian and Mediterranean Farmers’ Specialties. And by the time we ended our lunch it easily became the most enjoyable meals of our trip and we made new friends as well!
We met a Mexican Couple eating at the table next to us, started a conversation with them, moved to their table sharing our meals and lots of stories! They had a dog (one of the 4) and a young baby as well! While Abhay got busy with the dog we got busy in sharing their travel stories! They had recently moved to Prague after David got a job offer from DHL and were having a real good time. They were such a vibrant & fun couple and we had a wonderful time with them.
The owner-couple of this restaurant Meti and Primoz were an equally fun couple and we had lots of interesting conversations with them getting to know more about the Slovenian cuisine. We also taste Pumpkin Seed oil for the first time which is almost an exclusive Slovenian specialty! They have quite an interesting menu and they serve whatever is available as they source their ingredients fresh and the menu keeps changing! Their passion is quite evident from the fact that they have named their venture Foodadventure (http://www.foodadventure.eu/) and served us with lots love and passion. We were quite lucky to have got this day right as they were off to a month long vacation and this was the last day before they would have closed their restaurant for a month!
We ordered Clams cooked in garlic sauce, Grilled calamari, Salad with pumpkin seed oil, Prawns in orange sauce and raw fish seasoned with pumpkin seed oil. All the dishes were delicious and we polished off quite a lot of their freshly baked bread too! All this while the stories kept flowing and thanks to David who introduced us to Birell – the nonalcoholic beer which by far became my most favourite beverage of this trip!
Thanks to the long conversations we got quite late so had to quickly bid farewell to our new friends and took the Metro to reach the Mala Strana District for our next agenda item of the day which was a Vltava Boat Cruise which I had booked through Prague Boats (www.prague-boats.cz). We luckily reached before time, got our tickets and boarded the boat for a picturesque cruise exploring the city from a cruise boat. The weather was perfect and Abhay had a wonderful time as always! I clicked many photographs of the famous Charles Bridge which is one of the most notable landmarks of this city. It was definitely a good decision to do this short cruise.
We finished the cruise at 8:15 PM and finally took a walk on the Charles Bridge while taking a long detour to reach our hotel and enjoying the beautiful weather!
The bridge is 621 m long and nearly 10 m wide, resting on 16 arches shielded by ice guards. It is protected by three bridge towers, two of them on the Lesser Quarter side and the third one on the Old Town side. The Old Town bridge tower is often considered to be one of the most astonishing civil gothic-style buildings in the world. The bridge is decorated by a continuous alley of 30 statues and statuaries, most of them baroque-style, originally erected around 1700 but now all replaced by replicas.
There are a lot of legends associated with the status and some carvings. Certain brass spots on some of the sculptures are rubbed by passersby to a brightly polished shine thanks to the rubbing and there was quite a long queue of people waiting to rub! You can read more of such legends and the history behind all those statues here: http://www.gypsynester.com/cb.htm
After these history lessons it was time for another Prague Landmark – The John Lennon Wall; the wall was an ordinary wall in Prague has been called Lennon´s since the 1980s, when people have filled it with John Lennon-inspired graffiti and pieces of lyrics from Beatles songs. Lennon was a hero to the pacifist youth of Central and Eastern Europe during the totalitarian era. Prior to 1989 when communism ruled, western pop songs were banned by Communist authorities, and especially John Lennon´s songs, because it was praising freedom that didn’t exist here. Some musicians were actually jailed for playing it! When John Lennon was murdered in 1980 he became a sort of hero to some of the young and his picture was painted on this wall, for whatever reason right here, along with graffiti defying the authorities. Some people also believe that it helped inspire the non-violent Velvet Revolution that led to the fall of Communism in the former Czechoslovakia in 1989. In November 2014, Prague residents woke up to a very different Lennon Wall than the one they had known since 1980—a completely white space, with years of artwork painted over save for bold black text proclaiming, “Wall Is Over!”. Since then the wall has been filled up by continuous new graffiti though!
We also spotted a small bridge with thousands of padlocks! It is a growing trend in European cities for couples to secure a padlock onto a bridge as a token of love. Some locks feature handwritten or engraved initials or messages on them.The bridge is around the corner from the John Lennon Wall. the local legend behind the bridge is one about two star-crossed lovers. Just like Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the couple came from two prominent Czech families caught in a feud. They planned to meet at the bridge for a kiss and when the families discovered their secret, the unfortunate pair was killed! The legend inspired many locals and tourists to visit the bridge and add their own love lock to the collection to represent their eternal adoration.
And then it started to rain! We were walking through a garden to reach our hotel when the heavens opened up and we were graced with heavy rains! We were not carrying any umbrella with us so had to take cover under a tree. It was a brief shower though so we started our walk back and finally reached our hotel at 10:30 PM, we picked up groceries on our way and enjoyed a cozy Haldiram Dinner in our room before calling it a day!
It was a fabulous day spent through the streets and landmarks of Prague and we had a wonderful time indeed!
Sunday 19th July 2015 ||| A day at the Prague Zoo
I have always been fascinated to Zoos since my childhood and vividly remember visiting the famous Kanpur Zoo with our maternal grandfather many a times during our summer vacations. And thanks to those countless hours of NatGeo & Discovery Channel viewing this love kept growing; infact these were my 2 favourite TV channels.
And last year we visited Kenya for 8 days and did multiple game drives visiting 3 different national parks including the most famous one – Maasai Mara! It was also Abhay’s first international trip and he couldn’t have had a better debut! I am sure he would remember nothing when he grows up but surely would enjoy the photographs and our stories!
During my Prague research I got to know that the Prague Zoo was recently rated as the 4th Best Zoo in the world in the TripAdvisor Travelers’ choice Awards 2015 and I was really excited to include a visit in our Prague itinerary but Bandita wasn’t very enthusiastic but still I somehow convinced her for a short visit.
You can check out more information about the zoo at www.zoopraha.cz/en
We reached the zoo at 10 AM through quite an enjoyable Tram and Bus journey, bought our tickets and entered a magical world! Abhay was most excited seeing all those animals, greenery and birds right from the start. We saw so many birds, reptiles, insects and animals for the first time; it was one helluva amazing experience!
The first exhibit was of the Polar Bears which we were seeing for the first time! Quite a special start indeed; they were rollicking in the chilled water in gay abandon and were in no mood to stop their swimming fiesta! We moved on to see various wildlife exhibits.
I was most excited to see the Black Panther which I was seeing LIVE after so many years. I felt almost like a school child and kept gazing at this majestic animal moving around in the enclosure for almost 15 minutes!
The zoo authorities have divided the area into various parts basis the regions where the wildlife species are found namely Indonesian Jungle, Africa Up Close, Australia and Across the continent and also basis the species namely Pavilion of Big Tortoises, Feline & Reptile Pavilion and Chambal Pavilion amongst others. The zoo map was very comprehensive and we used that to navigate across the huge zoo.
Bandita was most excited to see the Anacondas up, close and personal and kept ogling at them. It was definitely an awesome sight after watching them create havoc in the famous movie named on them!
Another special experience was the Elephant pavilion; the authorities have built a proper Ganesha Temple with hymns playing in the background; they also have statues of the holy bull Nandi, Parvati and the Natraj! It signifies the elephant God infront of the area where Indian elephants roam in gay abandon! A Buddhist temple was also featured infront of the Sri Lankan elephant’s enclosure. It was such a special sight to see a Hindu temple in Prague. There was also a notice board explaining the significance of elephants in the Hindu religion.
Luckily the weather was perfect for such a long day; it was quite pleasant and windy. Infact it also drizzled for some time just before we started our lunch. We could not have asked for more!
Lunch definitely was another highlight of the day; we had not expected to have such a lip smacking meal during our zoo expedition but then we were in one of the world’s best zoos! We had lunch at Gočáry Restaurant which serves Czech Cuisine. We ordered slowly baked duck thigh served with 2 types of steamed cabbage and Czech dumplings which was simply fabulous. The Grilled chicken Breast served with potato puree, mushrooms sauce, cauliflower puree and caramelised pickled onions was also very impressive. The perfect weather and all that greenery around us made our meal further spectacular!
After the much needed and enjoyed lunch we moved on to explore other parts of the zoo and reached the “Chambal” pavilion and surprisingly the board also had the Hindi version! It houses the Gangetic Ghariyal which I had never observed from such a close distance. It was a fascinating experience indeed watching such rare species belonging to your own country in Prague!
I also saw the Puma for the first time; an animal made famous by the global sports equipment brand! Had always read or heard about it but this was the first time I was watching one! There were a lot of other first time feline sightings too! Sumantran Tiger and the ever so elusive Africal Serval.
And then I had a real unique sighting of a Tiger dumping! And you know how much I enjoy the fine art & act of dumping! I could not believe my eyes when I saw one of the most majestic animals playing that act right infront of my eyes! I wasted no time in bringing my camera out and capturing those splashy moments.
Another special experience we had was the running track where one could run, capture their speed and the screen showed it compared against the top running speed of various animals! I clocked a top speed of 22 kmph! It was quite a fun activity. Even Abhay tried it out and reached a glorious 4 kmph!
And then we went to the pavilion of the fastest animal on earth! A female cheetah had recently given birth to 4 cubs and the big family was enjoying an afternoon siesta but all of them kept popping up their heads from time to time giving us quite a decent view!
We also saw some spectacular birds; and the most special was the Scarlet Ibis whose colour was so mind-blowingly awesome we just could not take our eyes off them!
We also saw the Bald Eagle which is both the national bird and national animal of the United States of America. It also appears on its official seal. When we visited that enclosure it was enjoying an evening meal! We also saw different species of Vultures.
And then we went to the Pink Flamingo pavilion. It was so disappointing to spot them in their most famous African natural habitat of Lake Nakuru during our Kenya Trip due to excessing flooding of the lake. Watching them in an enclosure could not match that high but was quite a consolation!
And the first time experiences didn’t end with this! We also saw Gorillas for the first time! There was a big family of 8 of them enjoying their lunch and were in no hurry at all. They gave multiple poses roaming around in slow motion! All 3 of us were equally excited and spent almost 20 minutes enjoying their antics!
The last exhibit we watched was the Penguins Area; it was the 3rd time we were watching Penguins after enjoying their views here in Kuwait and during our February 2013 Dubai trip.
Just before we left there was a small water stream where Abhay had a splash playing with the water and making himself wet! He also played with a family of ducks! Since then he has been fascinated with them and laughs whenever he sees them on TV or in a book!
We had planned just 4 hours for the Zoo from 10 AM to 2 PM and I had also booked lunch at a nearby restaurant as well but we were in no mood to leave that early as our experiences kept getting better with each new pavilion! We finally left at 7 PM which was the official closure time as well. Even though we were pretty tired after all that walking but it was so much fun watching all those species up, close and personal. Abhay had a real good time and enjoyed his fascinating first trip to a zoo!
My biggest victory came when Bandita said these words when we were exiting the Zoo “Yaar, sahi kiya hum Zoo aa gaye”! I was on cloud nine hearing these words!
We came back to the Mala Strana Area and I had a gelato at the famous ice-cream joint named Angelato and it was the most perfect way to end a spectacularly awesome day! And I had the combo of my 2 favourite flavours – Cappuccino and Tiramisu!
We got back to our hotel, freshened up, had an early dinner and then crashed for a long night of sleep! The next day was another long & arduous day as we had planned a day long hike to the Bohemian Switzerland National Park.
Thursday 23rd July 2015 ||| A day spent at the Old Town Square in Prague
We reached at around 1 PM from Cesky Krumlov at the Praha Na Knížecí Bus Station from where we took an Underground Metro to reach the Praha Hlavni Nadrazi (Main Train Station) as we had to leave our luggage in the Baggage Lockers there. The process was automated and self-serviced so it didn’t take much time to settle our luggage and we left for the Main Square to start our day long affair! Our train to Warsaw was at 11 PM so we had almost 8 hours to spend and do nothing!
Our first PoA was Lunch which we had in the Railway Station Gardens and Abhay roamed around running behind pigeons and playing with fellow travellers!
We reached the square at 4 PM along with thousands of people thronging in that area. There was so much to see, experience, enjoy and absorb! The excitement and energy was electric. There were so many artistes displaying their talents – dancing, singing and playing various instruments. There was also a group of ISKCON members dancing to the tunes of Hare Rama Hare Krishna!
And even with so many people around there was no mayhem; it was an organized chaos!
And then I saw a huge crowd facing the Prague astronomical clock which is one of the most notable & famous landmarks of this city. The crowd was waiting for the clock to hit 5 PM and witness the spectacle! The clock was first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still working so you can imagine all that excitement and the palpable wait!
The watch’s operation is very special too. Its mechanism itself is composed of three main components: the astronomical dial, representing the position of the Sun and Moon in the sky and displaying various astronomical details; “The Walk of the Apostles”, a clockwork hourly show of figures of the Apostles and other moving sculptures—notably a figure of Death (represented by a skeleton) striking the time; and a calendar dial with medallions representing the months. According to local legend, the city will suffer if the clock is neglected and its good operation is placed in jeopardy and a skeleton, mounted on the clock, was supposed to nod his head in confirmation.
It was so fascinating to witness all these movements and the crowd lost in the same in near pin drop silence! You can read more about the watch at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prague_astronomical_clock
And then I went to the top of the 69,5 meters high Old Town Hall Tower which houses the clock to enjoy a 360 degrees view of Prague. I had to pay a small fee and then take the lift to reach the top floor. And the views were simply magnificent. SO much history to admire and absorb! The view of all those historic buildings around me was magical and even when there were lots of people on the top, it disturb me much.
Bandita was quite tired so decided not to come but I tried my best to spot her from the top of the tower and after a brief struggle spotted her! She was sitting and enjoying an artiste’s performance.
I came down after absorbing all those views and had a small snack while Abhay got busy with playing a man who was dressed in the character of Winnie the Pooh! He just didn’t want us to leave that spot where he was able to see him all the time. He kept on running towards him for an hour before finally giving into a tight hug from that man! He was so damn excited to finally have got the courage to get that much close to him!
After all that fun in the square we finally bid our goodbye at around 8 PM and headed towards one last special dinner which was going to be quite a unique one. It was at a restaurant named Chilli Point which serves delicacies from all over the world with chilli as the main ingredient! I had read its reviews on TA and started following its Facebook page as well. I got really excited when I spotted our very own chilli – Bhut Jholakia which is considered to be one of the hottest chilli varieties in the world! I had booked a table at the restaurant which was much needed as it has just 5 tables.
We had a wonderful experience as ambiance was mind blowing and the dishes we ordered were very delicious as well. They have a shop on the ground floor which sells fresh chilli, pastes, jams and dry chilli powders. I bought 2 chilli powders – Bhut Jholakia and the Trinidad Scorpion Moruga which is considered the world’s hottest chilli. I would be soon using them in my cooking adventures!
I ordered Rabbit meat cooked in Trinidad Scorpion Moruga with wild mushrooms and onions served with jasmine rice for myself which was mighty delicious and very very hot. Bandita ordered smoked salmon in herbs crust with chilli mayonnaise and assorted veggies and Cheese Risotto with habanero. Even their desserts have chilli as one of their ingredients and we ordered caramel wafer and coconut mouse with bananas and strawberry plus chocolate sauce made with Bhut Jholakia. It was a crazy yet quite a delicious combination.
After this special dinner it was time to bid a final goodbye to Prague and its beauty. We walked towards the train station after enjoying the gorgeous night views of the city one last time, picked up our luggage and took the overnight sleeper train to reach Warsaw.
We had a wonderful time in this wildly popular city and even though it was little too much crowded for our liking we still enjoyed our stay here. The delicious food and the historic sights ensured that we were never affected by all the people around us! Our hotel was also very comfortable thanks to the large room allotted for us; plus its convenient location was very handy too. We walked a lot exploring all those restaurants and sights and as a result ate a lot too!
Prague would always remain a special destination for us and I hope all of you would get an opportunity to visit this city soon.
So till the time we meet again…
Cheers to life…
Till then ride safe and have safe sex…
Hasta la Victoria Siempre…