Buses may not be a favourite means of international travel for many people, however, I find myself quite enjoying them. They can be noisy, bumpy, and packed with annoyances, for sure. They’re also great opportunities to disconnect, nap, and unwind while essentially being chauffeured … albeit with a bunch of gassy strangers, odd food choices, noisy bags and all. Conversely, given a great driver and decent folk, journeys on the road can be quite pleasant. For instance, they are a great place to catch up on blog posts.
Riding through the German countryside, occasionally being distracted by how the Bavarian forests remind me of home – save for my juvenile need to giggle at every use of “fahrt” – I’m trying to recount our recent experiences in Prague. We spent the better part of a day and a half in the Czech capital, both of us walking away feeling like there was so much more we wanted to see and do.
There’s a difficult balance to be found with city escapes. On one hand, they’re a great break from the familiar. On the other, it’s all too easy to try to pack days as fully as possible in an attempt to capture the entire character of a city in much too limited time.
Kat and I struck a good balance in Prague. This isn’t our first rodeo and we’ve come to accept that there are some things we just won’t be able to squeeze in. At some point we simply began filing ideas away for a future return.
In the city…
Our wanderings on this visit were confined mainly to Prague 1 and Prague 2; which comprise the old town, castle, and neighbouring areas of hip cafes and touristy haunts. It was really a prime location for a short stay, with far more than enough to fill an evening and a day.
We absolutely lucked out with weather and were treated to clear skies and bright sun, with cool evenings as the only reminder that autumn was just around the corner.
What to say about Prague? For starters, it’s beautiful! Tall, brightly coloured, facades turn streets into shaded passages. Every winding path reveals a new facet of personality in a cobbled tapestry of styles, flourishes, and hints of art nouveau. While some buildings have certainly seen better days, most felt cared for and cherished, shining in fresh coats of paint and stucco.
Much of our time was spent simply wandering and chasing spires glimpsed between rooftops. Like Dubrovnik, hours can be sent simply enjoying the sights and sounds of the city. If it weren’t for all those damn tourists.
It’s certainly hypocritical, but tourists really do dampen experiences. I’ve seen few places as swamped with tourists as Prague. Usually I’m able to suck up my attitude and simply shoot photos around selfie sticks, chads, tour groups and rolling luggage… but this city certainly pushed me to my limits. The old town and Prague 1 are often rammed wall to wall with wandering bodies. I would place the city within my top 5 least favourite places to be caught during a zombie outbreak. Photoshop will be getting a workout from this trip.
Grouchiness aside, we adored the city and its sights. Swiping recommendations from Atlas Obscura, we often found that a slight detour would land us in front of choice esoterica around the city.
There was an opportunity to dive down a slippery slope of themed sights, escalating the tour to include the Sex Machine museum, as well as one of the world’s foremost collections off chamber pots, but we figured those could wait for another time. We instead opted for a little more culture, including astrological clocks, frescoes, architecture, and various statuary.
One of my personal highlights was something billed as the Speculum Alchemiae. Supposedly unearthed less than a decade earlier, the attraction claimed to be the restored secret lab of a local alchemist. While it had been walled off and forgotten sometime in the past – likely to either hide its existence, due to lack of interest, or the victim of remodelling after a catastrophe – the lab was rediscovered following a bout of flooding in the 00’s. While there are some genuinely historic bits in the space, much has been reconstructed and furnished based on research and similar sites, including a hidden passageway that acts as an entrance to the lab. While perhaps not entirely historically accurate, the experience was certainly entertaining and worth the entrance fee.
The other standout stop in the city was the Jewish Cemetery. The site itself is crammed into a miniscule space within the city, hemmed on all sides by tall buildings and busy roadways. Inside, however, is a space that is both breathtaking in scale and sombre in atmosphere. I found myself floored by the scale of human disasters as much here as I had been at the holocaust memorial in Berlin. Compounding this is a mortuary wherein generations of the cities Jewish people had been interred for centuries … new graves being stacked atop the old many layers deep. It’s difficult to not become reflective while winding through the pedestrian paths.
My absolute highlight of the visit, however, wouldn’t involve entrance fees or guided tours.
After hours of walking through the city, enjoying its flavours, coffees, and local beers, Kat and I wound our way up to the palace district. Being late in the day, we skipped the tours and interior access, instead winding our way through the palace grounds. While the architecture and surrounding parks were beautiful, our eyes were set on the spires of St Vitus Cathedral, which we’d occasionally glimpse beyond the rooflines of the castle walls.
By absolute chance, we managed to stumble our way through guard posts and gates within spitting distance of closing time. With the light of golden hour just dipping towards the end of its peak … we walked through a portico and were immediately taken aback by the breath-taking facade of the cathedral. It’s easily one of the most stunning architectural sights I’ve seen in all of our travels. The building’s lights had just begun to come on, as the last of the day’s golden light leaked over the edge of the castle’s walls, bathing the upper half of the cathedral in a warming glow. I took a moment to be an annoying tourist for a change, staking my claim on the paving stones to grab as many shots as I could in the waning light.
Visually satisfied, Kat and I made our way back through the city, taking in more of Prague’s must-see beauty across the Charles Bridge, before ending our day in a relaxing little craft beer pub, not far from our bnb.
And now we find ourselves bus-bound for Munich and a date with one of my oldest friends, fairytale Barvarian castles, and steins as far as the eye can see. Oktoberfest awaits!
Apologies in advance, my liver…