This is eight post in a series about our recent Europe travels. The Courtyard at the Prague airport was very isolated from the din of the city. As we had checked in, the front desk wanted all our information – passport, address, etc unlike at Vienna. One thing you want to remember as your travel in Europe is that you need that adapter to keep using your chargers to juice up your electronics. You can usually borrow these at the front desk. At Vienna, we had got some sumptuous breakfast included with our room rates. There was no such sweet deal at Prague. We soon were resting in our beds. As usual, it took me an hour to sleep as I HAD to upload all the photos to my iPad before going to sleep. I was running out of space on my SD card and uploading to the iPad gave me a backup of sorts. It would stop at the backup, I had to edit some these but it was too late for that after the long drive from Vienna.
The next day, we did some research and found out that there was a lot to see in the city. It is always a great idea to take a conducted tour. This will have the added benefit of a guide. The front desk was very helpful, however there was no availability till after lunch. So we decided we will go to the city center and check options there. We purchased a day pass at the local transportation counter in the terminal opposite our hotel and were soon headed out. A bus ride and then a subway and we were in the heart of this fascinating city. People abounded and so were shops and markets and buildings. It was like walking somewhere in the Majestic area in good old Bangalore, except that I couldn’t find stray dogs or that occasional cow on the street. It was as hot as it would have been at Bangalore.
After some searching we found the tour company – Best tours – and booked a 3 ½ hour tour that would start at 2:15 PM. That gave us enough time to walk around and then get some lunch. We started walking towards the old city center. We crossed a street full of street-side shops selling everything from toys howling like monsters to colorful cherries and strawberries. Restaurants abounded with many having their chefs step out and doing some active selling. I passed this curious ‘Sex Museum’ on the way wondering sex sells anywhere. Come on, we started it in India with the Kamasutra and now balk at other countries exploiting the concepts.
The old city center is dominated by colorful buildings that were extremely well maintained. The centerpiece of the square is a water fountain in a sprawling space that were dotted with performers and bands getting ready to please the crowd. There is also this old church with its astronomical clock. One can go up the tower and get a good view of the city. Every half hour or so, a pair of pipe blowing performers perform to a curious, on-looking and appreciative crowd. Just glancing around the old square one would be left with the impression that the city is a food-lover’s paradise. And of course add alcohol to those merry-makers. For us, lunch was at Mayur, which had some nice décor but not many customers. Food was prepared fresh. Service was fine. Apparently, the Czech laws are more smoker-friendly and we had our server sip both a few puffs and short swigs at this table before getting us our order – an uneasy situation
The bus tour started 20 minutes late as we were waiting for some passengers to join. As we started, the guide started to highlight the buildings we were passing by. Given the old city layout, we had streets zipping by us and this got one of the travelers – an old lady – all worked up and frustrated. The guide was all graceful. Fortunately when we got to the Palace, we got off the bus and there was a lot of listening to do as we were walking and this appeased all of us. The palace tour lasted about 90 minutes. It is fascinating to get the idea of how life used to be in these places just a couple of centuries back – narrow streets that are more horse and walker-friendly; gathering squares; homes lined next to each other and above all the dominating presence of the palace and the royalty. Life in these times revolved around the royalty more than the common man so to speak. The Prague castle or hrad as it referred to locally, is now the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic. Why would he need such a large residence is another question. The Castle, built in the ninth century, is listed as the largest in area among ancient castles according to the Guinness Books of World Records
Once the castle tour was complete, the tour was pretty much over with the van dropping us off at the old town square. It was a pretty hot day and we were tired. We stopped for some ice cream at a shop that had a line running round its block. It was very much welcome and cost all but 12 Euros for four of us! Bad food is cheap not just in the US! Once refreshed, we had to hand around for dinner so the hotel was just way off. We found this Hare Rama, Hare Krishna restaurant touting vegetarian food. We were there at 8:45 PM. The restaurant was supposedly open till 9 PM. Upon inquiring the host assured us they could serve us, but all the tables were unset. Very soon, our platters came by, but it was apparent that the host was getting rid of the left-overs. We had little choice but to eat whatever we could savor. They say to treat a guest well even if the host doesn’t have food himself. The same motto didn’t apply to this restaurant bearing the Lord’s name, however.