There are very few times in my life of which I can remember experiencing absolutely perfect weather; 1 October 2015, the day I went to Prague Castle, was one of them.
The previous day, my Free Walking Tour guide, Derek, convinced me to take the Prague Castle tour. When he said that visiting the castle by ourselves would be a waste of time unless we didn’t care much about its history, I knew he was right. After our free walking tour, my new found friend Tyrone and I went straight to the Discover Prague tour offices, where we had met earlier that morning, and booked our tickets at the counter at the cost of a mere 300 Crowns. I thought it was well worth it.
Like the free tour, the Castle tour started at 11am, which meant that I could again wake up at a reasonable hour and enjoy my breakfast. The moment I stepped outside to go to the other boat, I knew that the weather was going to be fantastic. I really could have gotten used to the view from my breakfast table. While I enjoyed some slices of cheese, I stared at the view for as long as I possibly could. More than once, the thought of how lucky I was crossed my mind, and I couldn’t help but smile to myself and shake my head in both awe and disbelief. This was the Prague I had come to see.
After breakfast, I still had some time, so I popped back to reception to drop my humongous brass key off before relaxing for a few minutes at the coffee table with my map. I still had the entire afternoon and evening to explore, and I had marked off several places on my Google Maps which I just had to see. I didn’t want to use my phone unnecessarily and honestly, using a traditional map really cannot be beaten. I marked off what I wanted to and headed out.
The meeting point was the same as the previous day, and as luck would have it, Derek was my guide again. He kept counting the number of people who had arrived, and I told him that Tyrone was the one that was missing. We waited a while but Tyrone never arrived. I suspected he was hammered after the previous night’s pub crawl, so I was a little bummed that he was missing the Castle Tour. It would have been nice to have company to take my photos again so I could avoid that damn selfie stick that my friend had given me for this trip.
We strolled over the cobblestone roads towards the Vltava, but didn’t go across Charles Bridge like I expected. We instead went to the one next to it, Mánesův Most, from where we could see Charles Bridge. It was at that point that our tour began.
Derek told us some of the history of Charles Bridge and the Vltava River. What shocked me was the height at which the water reached during the floods, and the number of times that the bridge survived. Built in 1357, it is, after all, the oldest standing bridge in the city. He explained the reason construction started in 1357, at 5:31 am on 9 July, due to the Holy Roman Emperor’s strong belief in numerology. It would form the perfect numerical bridge of 1357-9,7-5:31. He also told us some of the legends as to why the bridge had survived for so long, like how the workers not only drank beer while constructing it, but also included it in the cement, since it was available in abundance.
From there, we made our way across the bridge over to the War Memorial in Kralov Square, roughly 50m from the Winged Lion Memorial. Derek explained more history about the Czech Republic’s involvement in the war, which made me sad because I could not imagine such a beautiful place being subjected to the things that it was. It really has come a long way in the last 7 decades.
For those who don’t know, the Czech Republic’s coat of arms is depicted by the double-tailed lion. The Winged Lion Memorial was a gift from the British to honour the Czech airmen who served in the Royal Air Force during the war.
We didn’t have time to actually approach the Winged Lion Memorial, so we headed directly to the tram stop from where we’d catch Tram 22 to the top of the hill. Derek had already given each of us a ticket before the tour started, so as we approached the stop a few metres from the War Memorial, he explained that we’d need to count 5 stops before getting off at the Pohořelec stop. Since we were all English speakers, we couldn’t remember which stop he said, or whether he meant that we must get off at the 5th stop, or after it.
The tram journey was actually longer than I expected – almost 10 minutes. I didn’t realise we’d cover that much ground in between stops, and because our group was rather large, it was a bit of a squash even though we distributed ourselves over 3 cars. Derek was in the car behind me, so I made sure I looked back at every stop to make sure that he wasn’t getting off. The ride required quite a steep ascent, and there was even a hairpin bend – something I hadn’t experienced while in a tram. It might sound silly to mention, but I remember it as if it were yesterday, thanks to the stunning greenery on either side of us as well as how the city began to open up once we rounded the corner. It was as if we were going towards a secret garden because our surroundings just kept getting greener.
Eventually we got to the 5th stop, Pohořelec, where we had to get off. There was an announcement before and after each stop, so by the time we got to Pohořelec, I realised it sounded close enough to the stop Derek said we should get off at. Some of the ladies from my tour who were standing near me were very paranoid that we’d miss the stop, so we all waited a few moments for Derek to disembark before we did too.
The area around the Pohořelec stop made me feel as if I had been teleported to a different city altogether. The buildings looked slightly more modern than in the city centre, and the roads were much wider, not to mention confusing.
We had a short uphill walk before I saw a sign for the Strahov Monastery. I was super excited about that because it was one of the places I had marked on my map, though I wasn’t sure what we’d get to see or how long we’d spend there.
After a quick bathroom break, we gathered under some trees, some 20m away from the Monastery’s library. Derek gave us a chance to sit as he told us a bit about the monastery and how it was founded by King Vladislav II. There is a lot of history associated with the monastery, which comes at no surprise since it was founded way back in 1142. The St Norbert Brewery, which sits within the monastery walls, was founded in the 17th century, and produces beer up to this day.
The brewery was the reason why I wanted so badly to visit the monastery, because the beer that is produced there cannot be attained outside the monastery walls. They do not produce it for commercial use, so it is very exclusive. Derek told us the story behind St Norbert, and explained how, to this day, seasonal beers are produced in his honour and in very limited quantities. I was there in Autumn, and there were signs around the vicinity advertising the seasonal beer: the Antidepressent Autumn Dark Lager. Since we were clearly not going to stop for a drink, I knew I had to find my way back after the tour.
Towards the exit of the monastery lay a vantage point from which we could get great views of the city. Derek rated it number 3 of the top 5 views of the city, and it was clear why.
From there, it was time to go to the Castle. We went back the way we had come in, passed Pohořelec and continued further down the road. Derek let us stop for about 30 minutes to get a bite to eat from a little cafe, and take another bathroom break. I got myself a salami roll and some iced tea before finding a spot to sit outside.
When we were done, we went towards the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which was once controlled by the Butcher of Prague, Reinhard Heydrich. It was easy to visualise the Nazi flags hanging down the front of the building, as they once did.
Our first glimpse of the Castle was from a massive open area. Do not expect it to look like a castle, because it definitely does not look like one. The only thing castle-like about it is its elaborate entrance archway and the guards standing in front of it. It is easily comparable to the Royal Palace in Monaco, which doesn’t seem to have any fences at all.
The most popular attraction, due to its visual appeal, is without a doubt the St Vitus Cathedral, and it was the first thing to greet us once we passed through the palace gates. I’ve seen several cathedrals in my life, but this one blew me away.
After spending a few minutes inside, we met up on a small staircase outside before stopping at what is now a children’s toy museum. There is some history attached to that too, of course, but I think the thing people will remember the most is the bronze statue of the 12 year old boy outside the entrance to the museum. I must say one thing – there’s a reason why a certain part of his anatomy is shiney, so people, stop being ridiculous and thinking that rubbing that part is going to bring you good luck; that is a myth, just like that spot on Charles Bridge. It is unacceptable to touch that part of a child anyway, so don’t think it’s any different with a statue.
Once we got to the back entrance, we got to what Derek termed the second best view of the city. As if Prague couldn’t get any prettier…
That was the end of our tour, so I took the opportunity to ask Derek about the cab services and which he would recommend, not wanting to pay another 600 Crowns to get back to the station the day after next. He recommended the AAA taxis, saying that they were the most reliable, not to mention reasonable. There was one other that he mentioned but I couldn’t remember the name.
After taking more photos, my next move was a no brainer – I had to go back to the monastery to try out their beer. The only problem was that I would have to retrace my footsteps through the whole castle.
That trip seemed to take forever, and once I got back to the the Pohořelec stop, I totally lost my bearings. I didn’t go back up the ramp we had gone up earlier, but walked around it instead, following the signs. I had a gut feeling that I had taken the wrong way, but according to my phone’s GPS, I was walking along the boundaries of the monastery. It was the long way round and all I could do was continue walking until I got to an entrance.
I was pretty hot and bothered trying to find an entrance, and it was an uphill climb too, however I couldn’t complain about the quiet and scenic road that I was walking on.
After accidentally walking into a tennis club, I again had to retrace my steps to the road, but after that it was not long before I found the ‘proper’ entrance. I had already been walking for at least an hour, but still had to go through some gardens before getting to the restaurant I had seen earlier while on tour. Eventually, after 1.5 hours, I was able to sit down and order the beer I had travelled so far to taste. I met a friendly middle-aged American couple there, who sat at the next table. We smiled at each other when their food order came because they looked so excited when the waiter put it on their table. They asked me to take a photo of them, then they exchanged the favour. They were also sweet enough to give me both of their unused 24 hour passes, which would cover all my transport.
I didn’t have anything to eat, since I was still full from lunch, but I took my time to enjoy the beer. It was definitely worth the trek. I actually should have tried another one, but since I had to get myself back to the hotel, I opted out.
I walked back to the Pohořelec stop and waited for Tram 22 to come, in the opposite direction of course. While I was waiting, I had a look at the Tram map and noticed that it stopped at Narodi Divadlo (the National Theatre), which was not far from my hotel. Bonus!
Almost a whole day had gone by, and the weather remained perfect. I was absolutely and irrevocably in love with Prague by now, so much so that I started walking slower and taking deeper breaths just so I could absorb as much of it as I possibly could. I literally enjoyed every breath of being there – there was beauty in everything.
One thing I didn’t mention was the fact that my hotel was a stone’s throw away from the Dancing House, which I later found out is just an office building.
After relaxing and taking a few minutes to freshen up, I took a walk to the Vyšehrad Fort, roughly 25 minutes away, in the direction opposite to Prague Castle which I hadn’t ventured to before. I didn’t realise there would be something like 200 steps to get to the top, but I knew that the view would make it worthwhile. It was sunset after all.
I walked around the fort a little and sat on one of the walls overlooking the city. The church bells went off at 7pm and because I was practically next to it, it was a beautifully thunderous sound. I sat there for at least another 30 minutes or so, admiring the view, before heading back down the way I came.
For a change, I walked along the riverbank, below road level, to get back to my hotel. There was a street performer dazzling the crowds by dancing while hanging from the bridge by a strong piece of cloth. It reminded me of the dance Isha Sharvani did in the movie Kisna, which requires an immense amount of strength.
I didn’t eat proper food when I got back to my hotel, as I was just too exhausted to go around looking for something. The closest place I knew of was near Charles Bridge, but I was in no state to walk back all that way again. I ate a mini pack of Oreos instead, since I still had some from Salzburg, and that seemed to do the trick.
I went to bed wondering how I had actually managed to make this holiday happen. Every day was better than the last, and to think there was still more to come?