Journey dates: 25th Jun - 27th Jun
Travelers: Shwetha Shrivatsa, Karthik Raja, Jayanthi Bala, Parasuram Bala
Tour: Trafalgar Tours - highly recommended
Day 1: Introductions: We began our Amazing race of Central and East Europe in Prague, a beautiful, quaint, small city on the banks of the Vltava River. It is also known as the City of Spires. After a crazy dash to make our connecting flight in Frankfurt we arrived in Prague on schedule. We took a prepaid taxi from the airport to the Hilton Prague Hotel that cost 33 Euros. Most of the taxis and big stores accept Euros but it is advisable to get some Koruna (Czech currency). For the next 9 days we would tour the magical medieval cities of Prague, Vienna and Budapest with Trafalgar.
We had a couple of hours before the Tour welcome dinner, so we decided to stroll around our hotel and stock up on water. The dinner was at the Hilton and began with a quick round of introductions and drinks. Our tour director Gina Braim warned us about pick pockets in the main tourist places and also about street peddlers trying to sell counterfeit currency to unsuspecting tourists. If you are careful you won't come across either.
After a delicious dinner (our family got a vegetarian version in all the tour organized dinners/lunches), we proceeded with the group on a guided tour of Prague by night. We started at The Strahov Monastery atop a hill with breath taking views of the Lesser Town. From there we made our way to the Old Town Square in a toy train. After getting a quick glimpse of the attractions here we made our way to the Charles Bridge, the most famous and historic bridge in Prague. The walk down the bridge with the reflections of the city lights in the river was just magical. We then made our way to a local brewery for some Czech beer- Pilsner, and local music. We returned to our hotel, armed with new found knowledge of the Prague landmarks.
Day 2: City Tour: After a good night’s sleep and a sumptuous breakfast we began our guided tour of Prague with our local guide. We started in the Prague Castle, one of the biggest castles in the world. This is a very historic complex that has stood the test of time, wars and fires and contains the gothic Saint Vitus Cathedral, a monastery, several towers and many palace rooms. There are three major courtyards that open up into important attractions. The views are breathtaking and don’t miss the change of guards on the hour.
From here we made our way to the Old Town Square, via the Jewish Quarter, that houses the most well-preserved Jewish historical monuments in Europe. The square and surrounding streets are pedestrian zones, and were filled with outdoor cafes. There was a giant screen erected in the middle of the square to air the 2010 FIFA World Cup matches. It is bordered by a large number of colorful houses, palaces, churches and many remarkable medieval buildings. Some of the most prominent buildings around the square are the Old Town Hall (famous for its astronomical clock), the Týn Church and the Kinský Palace. Our guided tour ended here and then we went up the Old Town Hall tower to get breathtaking aerial views of the city. After a quick lunch at one of the cafes we walked to Wenceslas Square (really a big rectangle) which is flanked by the imposing National museum and several buildings with Art Nouveau Architecture. In front of the museum is a bronze equestrian statue of St. Wenceslas. The Wenceslas Square is located in the Nové Město (New Town), a district just south of the historic Staré Město (Old Town).
Our next stop was the Dancing House, the city's most famous modern building, that portrays two people dancing. This building was a short metro ride away. It was an interesting modern building that didn’t fit into the quaint surroundings. One look and you know Frank Gehry had his hands all over the design. We then decided to walk back to our hotel along the entire length of Prague. It is a small, walking friendly, city. We passed some recreational island parks, the famous Charles Bridge and a photo exhibition of Czech flora and fauna on our long leisurely walk.
Our initial dinner plans was to eat at Lehka hlava, a hip vegetarian restaurant, but we couldn’t get a table as we had no reservations. So we made a reservation for the next evening’s meal and went to the Charles Bridge and had dinner at one of the countless cafes that dot the river side. Again we got to see Prague by night, a beautiful sight.
Day 3: Day Trip: We booked a day trip to Kutna Hora, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Czech Republic, with Martin Tours. The ancient silver mining town of Kutná Hora is about an hour’s drive from Prague and one can enjoy the beauty of this small Czech town with a historic past. In the 13th century, silver was discovered here and a few decades later the royal mint was established. Be warned, the tour operators are really bad and just didn’t do justice to the places.
Our first stop was the Ossuary in Sedlec, a suburb of Kutna Hora. The ossuary contains bones of over 40,000 people fashioned into arrangements such as bells and a chandelier. Our next stop was the beautiful gothic Cathedral of Saint Barbara, one of the most famous Gothic churches in central Europe. St Barbara is the patron saint of miners, which was highly apt for a town whose wealth was based entirely upon its silver mines. From there we walked down to the former royal mint, which was housed in the Italian Court. The Italian Court (Vlašský Dvůr) was originally built as a fortified castle to watch over the important trade route connecting the capitals of Bohemia and Moravia: Prague and Olomouc. When a rich deposit of silver was discovered in Kutna Hora in the 13th century, its fortifications provided the safest storage place and it was pressed into service as a mint. This completed the main sites of Kutna Hora. After a quick lunch and a stroll through this quaint town we headed back to Prague. If we had a better guide and a little more time to enjoy the beauty of this unique town, it would have been a great trip.
After a quick break we headed out for dinner to Lehka hlava. The food was very interesting and delicious. Our Prague by night for evening 3 was at the old Town Square. We caught the 2nd half of the Mexico vs Argentina match and the atmosphere was electrifying. A nice end to our stay in a beautiful quaint city.
Day 4: En Route to Vienna: The day of travel. We left early so we could squeeze in a stop at Lednice. Between the 17th and 20th centuries, the ruling dukes of Liechtenstein transformed their domains in southern Moravia into a striking landscape. At 200 km2, it is one of the largest artificial landscapes in Europe and will take many days to walk but 2 hours will give you a great start. On the way, keep an eye out for the remaining Communist era apartment blocks.
Tips: Keep plenty of Korunas handy to pay for restrooms/toilets
Buy water as tap water is not really advisable
Prague is a walking city so keep your walking shoes handy