Prague – Playing Tourist

Recently a travel blog I follow recommended a Rick Steves audio tour for a trip, so I got the app (Rick Steves Audio Europe) and decided I would check it out when playing tourist by myself the next time I had a chance. As it happens, the app has a walking tour of Prague and the start point was easy to get to from my hotel, so I started there. Well, I started with a coffee, because it was freezing out and I need something to keep me warm for the couple of hours I would be walking around the city. Perhaps the Starbucks located right by the tour’s start point (as well as many other guided group tours I witnessed) was strategic. Anyway, I got my coffee after taking the metro to Muzeum station, and I started the audio tour.

While a bit goofy at times, the app allows people to take the tour at their own speed, to pause or jump ahead as it is broken into segments of the sights and includes a map. I did the whole thing and found it a comprehensive tour of most main points of Prague. Starting at Wenceslas Square (Muzeum station), you see the statue of Wenceslas himself atop a grand steed in front of the National Museum. Sadly the museum itself was under restoration, so I wasn’t able to see the white plaster that fills bullet holes in stark contrast to the colour of the building, an act of defiance against the Communist rule at that time, but they did use one of those covers that shows what the building looks like, so I got the idea. Wandering farther down the square, which is more a boulevard, you pass old hotels like the Grand Hotel Europa (also under construction on the ground floor), monuments to the past (like to the students who set themselves on fire in protest of the Communist regime that ruled from 1968-1989), and pass through mini malls to see some remnants of old Prague in its New Town such as stained glass advertising and statues. Here the app will also tell you all about the Velvet Revolution.

From there you take a nice stroll on a walking street (Na Prikope) to the Municipal House, a large nouveau structure that, with the Powder Tower, marks the entrance to Old Town. I have found that if I can only see one part of any city it should be the old town. Typical European buildings that hearken to times long gone while holding new stores, it’s always a fascinating and lively sight. And in Old Town Square Prague boasts statues and many churches, each loaded with history of a nation often in turmoil and fighting for its rights or independence. And of course the sight I most needed to see: the Astronomical Clock. I arrived just as it was on the hour, but missed the display as I was captivated by the massive crowd watching with apt fascination. Once cleared I was able to take my own look (I am too short to see through a crowd anyway) and marvel at the clock that is quintessential Prague.

And then I continued my walk down Karlova street to the bridge itself: Charles Bridge ro Karluv Most. Even in very cold, damp weather the bridge was pretty busy, covered in people posing at the cross or making a wish at John’s plaque. I did not make a wish as you only get one in your life and I wasn’t going to waste it; I need to make sure it’s the one wish I want. And here is where the audio tour ends, but I kept on. The bridge offers a fantastic view of the castle and is covered on both sides with fantastic statues that lend to some wonderful nighttime pictures. In the distance you can see the large red metronome that now stands where once stood a statue of Stalin before it was taken down.

Crossing the bridge I followed the signs up the hill, getting in my exercise as I climbed to Prague Castle. From there the view of the city is phenomenal. And the Starbucks up there has ample outdoor seating for one to enjoy this view, though in winter it’s more enjoyable to sit inside where the view is still available. And while you can’t see the castle from this square as the surrounding buildings are too tall, you can of course pay to enter and see the castle yourself.

The rest of my limited time in Prague included dinners with friends at or near the hotel (and some bowling as Hotel Duo features some lanes), retracing my steps to show everything to Boyface (and actually see the spectacle of the Astronomical Clock on the hour, all the pieces moving in fantastic harmony), pizza by the castle, and even managing to get some honey cake on the way home. And of course a little wandering to some of the very random parts of the town thanks to Atlas Obscura, such as the Kafka Memorial, a large statue of rotating mirrors that only look like his head from one position, and a statue of Freud hanging from high up in the streets.

And in case you couldn’t tell, yes, it was constantly very foggy while I was there. For an idea, the image below of Prague Castle is an enhanced image on the less foggy day. Still looks foggy, right? Yeah, Prague in January was, to my experience, very cold and very grey. If you’re heading then, bring lots of layers and winter accessories!

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