After five memorable days in Prague, and a belly filled with goulash and pilsner, I booked a ticket for Budapest. But that's another story.
Franz Kafka was born near the Old Town Square in Prague, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He spent the majority of his years in Prague and is buried in the New Jewish Cemetery. A museum and bronze statue by Jaroslav Róna pay tribute to his life and writing.
Prague was a bit of a last-minute decision. Paris was expensive, and I needed to move on. I heard Prague had great cheap beer and wonderful architecture - all the information I needed! I found an inexpensive airline ticket, and without any prior research, landed in the Czech Republic the following day.
It's exciting to arrive in a foreign country where you don't speak the language, know the currency, or how to get to the hostel you booked the day before. I would ask people on the plane around me, "Any idea on how to get into the city?" People are friendly and helpful, especially when you're standing in front of the metro ticket machine with a traveler's backpack, a fistful of foreign currency, and a confused look on your face. Or maybe they just feel sorry for me. Either way, it all works out in the end, as long as you maintain a positive attitude and just keep smiling.
The Prague astronomical clock, or Prague orloj is a medieval astronomical clock first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still working. At the top of each hour, a crowd of hundreds gathers below the clock tower to watch as the four figures flanking the clock are set in motion with the striking of the bells. A cylindrical glass elevator takes visitors to the top of the tower to gaze out upon the square.
Books and beer: two of my favorite things. And the Strahov Monastery has them both! Well worth a visit, the monastery was founded in 1143. The library is divided into two major halls: the Baroque Theological Hall contains 18,000 religious texts, and the grand Philosophical Hall has over 42,000 ancient philosophical texts. You can't enter the libraries without a prior reservation and pay 400 CZK (neither of which this budget backpacker is down with) but you can peek inside and take pictures for an extra 40 CZK (~2 USD). Once you've had your fill of books, head next door for a beer. The historic brewery dates back to the 17th century and brews the very tasty St. Norbert beer (amber and dark).
Across the Danube river and perched atop a hill is Prague Castle, which is a compound of multiple buildings including the gothic St. Vitus cathedral. Commissioned by Charles IV, construction began in 1344 on the site of an earlier 10th century rotunda. It took almost six centuries to complete, with the final phase of construction in the period 1873-1929.
I opted to take a day trip to the nearby town of Kutná Hora. About an hour by train, the primary attraction is the Bone Church. As the name implies, it contains the remains of an estimated 40,000 people. At the time of the thirty years’ war in the 17th century, the number of burials outgrew the space available in the sought after graveyard, and the older remains began to be exhumed and stored in the chapel. So what to do with too many bones? Start making a chandelier, of course!
You never know who you are going to run into. I was sitting in Kampa Park near the river drinking a cappuccino when these two people walk by. They stop and the woman looks at me at says, "Bolivia?" At first I thought she had mistaken me for someone else, but then says, "Didn't you hike Colca Canyon with us in Peru a month ago?" Sure enough, I had! They live in Prague and just happened to recognize me. What a small world!
I've found that one of the benefits to traveling alone is that you don't have to apologize when you select a bad restaurant or get lost walking about. In fact, it's impossible to get lost when you don't know where you're going, which is usually my approach for the first day in a new city. I wander about, just exploring. If something looks interesting, that's the way I head. And Prague offered an endless array of interesting winding streets, open-air markets, towering spires and scenic views. The numerous pubs offered ample opportunity to take a break from wandering and just sit to enjoy the scenery.
As our day trip started to draw to a close, the clouds darkened we could hear thunder in the distance. As we finished lunch, the skies let loose and a soaking rain left us running for cover. The restaurant owners offered us blue trash bags to cover our heads as we made a run for the train station and our ride back to Prague. We laughed as we boarded the train wearing soaked shoes. As a traveler, it's important to be able to laugh at yourself no matter the circumstance, as it's all part of the journey. I smile when I think back to the adventure that was Prague Unplanned.