14 Sep 2011

Prague Day 3 – Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011

Posted by Deborah

(by Seth)
Somehow, we just barely made it back to the center of the Old Town for a 10:45 a.m. “free” walking tour. Our guide, Christian, was a Scottish immigrant with a flair for the overdramatic. When he wanted to point something out, he’d throw his hands up behind him and yell, “BAMMM!!! Look at this statue!” It bordered on being obnoxious, though he seemed like a very nice guy otherwise. He pointed out several interesting things, including the border between the old and new town, an interesting “faceless” statue in front of a theater where Mozart had performed and historic buildings that were distinguished by symbols (like a Black Madonna) instead of address numbers.

We decided to leave the tour about halfway through, however, because Christian said they would head to the Jewish quarter next, which we’d just explored the day before. We stopped at a random spot for lunch just off the main square, which turned out to be fairly tasty and not too expensive (It was called Cafe Domecek, but don’t ask me how to pronounce that). I had beef with a mushroom sauce; Deb had a similar beef stew with a different kind of sauce.

After lunch, we headed back to Mala Strana, stopping in the square on the way to watch the anti-climatic astronomical clock “show.” Instead of heading straight to the castle to finish off the tour we’d started the day before, we went one more tram stop to the Strahov Monastery. Aside from more picturesque buildings, the complex contained several small museums and libraries. Deb had read about a miniatures exhibit that she wanted to see, which ended up being quite fascinating. The “museum” was nothing more than two small rooms containing about 30 works by Czech artist Anatolij Kon?nko. The artwork itself was invisible to the naked eye, you had to look through microscopes or magnifying glasses to see the itty bitty teeny tiny train that Konenko had attached to a piece of hair or the wing of a mosquito or something crazy small like that. Aside from a few articles in Czech left on the table in a plastic sheet protector, the artwork was left to speak for itself.

From the museum, we continued toward the back of the monastery, which had a stunning overlook of the nearby castle and the city below. We could have walked to the castle from there, but decided to head back to the tram instead because we didn’t trust ourselves not to get lost.

Back inside the castle, we toured a basilica that was fairly unimpressive compared to the huge cathedral (though it did have a cool alter with a see-through container of some important person’s bones). The former Royal Palace also left something to be desired. We were expecting lavishly decorated rooms, but instead it was mostly empty stone rooms. One chamber contained colorful crown jewels (perhaps replicas) that everyone seemed crazy about except for us.

As it turned out, the most entertaining part of the castle was just inside the entrance to the Royal Gardens, where we found falcons, owls and eagles tethered to perches. Deb and I were both pretty psyched to hold and pet the birds, though I think Deb scored a bit higher on the enthusiasm scale.

After what was probably an hour of chatting with the falconers, we meandered through the rest of the Royal Garden aiming to eventually wind up in the main part of Mala Strana. At one point we thought we’d found the path to take us all the way down the hill, but after a couple hundred feed our “path to nowhere” ran into a dead end. Naturally, we had no choice but to walk back uphill before we could find another path out of the gardens, where we caught a tram to take us the rest of the way down.

From there, we walked through an area of Mala Strana that we hadn’t already covered and happened upon the John Lennon wall. Personally, I didn’t find it all that exciting. It was just a wall with some graffiti on it. Deb, however, was entertained by a group of guys who were standing on each other’s shoulders in order to add their personal touch to the collaborative artistry. More importantly, our trek to the Lennon wall uncovered several cute galleries which Deb made sure to support by making a few purchases.

We crossed back over the river, this time by foot on the Charles Bridge. It was a total ambush. The bridge was covered with local artists selling jewelry and other “fun stuff.” Thankfully, Deb obliged my growling stomach before doing too much damage, though she certainly didn’t come away empty-handed.

Once across the river, we hopped on a tram to another amazing dinner at a place called Stare Doba, another guide book find. I had a steak smothered in blue cheese cream sauce with a tasty — and cheap — beer. Deb had a MASSIVE potato pancake stuffed with chicken, vegetables and all kinds of tastiness. When I say massive, we’re talking over a foot in diameter. Sufficiently stuffed, we took a purposeful trek back to Kava Kava to snag that elusive slice of carrot cake. Deb saved it for breakfast the next day, and reports are that it was just okay. That didn’t stop her from carrying it like a baby as we scampered to the hotel to grab our bags and back to the metro stop to head to our next destination: Budapest. We at least learned our lesson this time – there was no walking to the train station.

I was super excited for the train ride because we’d be in sleeper cars for the first time. I don’t know what I was thinking. First of all, Prague was not the first stop, which meant that there were already 4 people sleeping in our 6 person cabin. It was hard enough to get into the cabin with the lights off, never mind trying to find space for our bags when our cabinmates had already used up basically all of the storage space. To make matters worse, someone was already in my assigned bunk. Deb and I had gotten bunks across from each other (at least we thought we had), but that was now out the window. I was left with the top bunk, which wouldn’t have been so terrible if the air in the cabin worked at all. Instead, I boiled all night. Needless to say, it was not a comfortable trip and my illusions of awesome sleeper cars were shattered. Naturally, Deb woke up chipper after a good night’s sleep on the lower bunk.

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