I have two intentionally-scheduled long layovers in Prague. I am probably not getting a real vacation this year and going through Prague saved me some money on flights. Of course, I intent on spending all my savings doing fun stuff around the city.
Because I had only a little time and was going over Easter time, I had done quite a bit of research ahead of time to see what was open when and what was worth seeing. I thought there was a good chance that I would be able to exhaust all the worthwhile things to to in a day or so and then go on a day trip outside of Prague the second. Boy was I wrong.
I got off the plane, took a little bus to the end of the metro line, and then the metro to the center of town. I got out of the station and was immediately overwhelmed. Everywhere I looked was incredible architecture. Because it was Easter, there were street vendors, Easter markets, and performers everywhere. Additionally, there was Prague and all of the incredible things to see. I immediately abandoned my plans and decided to just take everything in.
I walked from Wenceslas Square straight up the road towards my hotel. Of course, I was distracted by an incredible smell and had to investigate. Turns out, you can roast pastries. I didn't know that was possible. They basically take cinnabon dough, wrap it on a stick, sugar it up, and roast it over a fire. The outside is nice and crispy, while the inside that was on the stick stays chewy and soft. For a couple koruna, you can get a delicious chunk of this.
After that delicious distraction, I continued to the hostel. I was staying at Hostel Homer. It's right up the main street from the metro station and not too far, but it's sort of hidden in an Italian restaurant. As a hostel, it's quite nice. It reminds me of somebody's fancy-shmancy home in that it's incredibly well-decorated. Of course, it's also very old and historic, which is a nice way of saying "has no elevator." For my purposes, it was just perfect though. It was clean. It was central. It had a nice view of the area below.
From there, I just wandered around a bit, trying to take it all in. I felt like I was in every single fairy tale ever written, except those that took place in the woods. The castle up the hill, overlooking the city could have been Cinderella's castle. The stories about rich and poor and nobility could have taken place in any of the manors on the cobblestone streets of Prague. Even the swans in the lake could have been the ugly duckling swans. (Yeah, I know Hans Christian Anderson isn't from Prague, but it doesn't matter.) The city was just so incredible. I understand why everybody wants to come here.
Actually, I spent quite a bit of time with the swans. They were pretty captivating to the point where they had drawn their own crowd. Also, I was trying to get in on a boat ride tour of the city, but all of the small boats won't leave without at least 4 people, and none of them had 3 others who wanted to go. After a while of waiting and watching the swans, I gave up on the boat ride and realized that I probably should see a little more of the city than just some swans.
I walked around that shore of the river, which is apparently the "artsy" area. There were plenty of artists working and selling in that area, as well as a ton of Pilsner bars. For some reason, there is a bridge that is covered in padlocks like some sort of art display. About this time, I realized that maybe I needed to use a restroom, so I headed towards Charles Bridge, where there are a ton of restaurants, including a McDonalds. I have to admit that while I don't usually eat at McDonalds, I somehow feel entitled to use their bathrooms and wifi anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, the restrooms at this McDonalds had a sign on them saying that they cost a few koruna. Wait. What? Non-free McDonalds bathrooms? I was so shocked and shaken off my game by it that I allowed a person standing outside of a different restaurant to draw me in. To be fair, the menu was very reasonably priced, I saw some vegetarian options, and I wanted a restroom. Still, it was clearly a touristy restaurant. I ended up getting "traditional" dumplings and a cheese "shnitzel." The dumplings were basically just like a really chewy slice of white bread with the crust cut off- pretty plain and boring. The fried, breaded cheese was much better, but mostly because it came with tartar sauce, which lent some tang. Also, the bathroom here had a sign that it cost something, but they didn't end up charging me because I was a customer. Maybe they also didn't because they got to overcharge me twice elsewhere. First, they refused to give me tap water and would only serve me bottled. Second, they brought out bread that I didn't order and then charged me for it as a "cover." Still, I was completely full when I left and paid less than $10, including tip, so I wasn't too stressed.
Next, I walked over Charles Bridge. This is the famous bridge in town and is full of artists selling their art work, as well as statues and sculptures. Some of the artists were actually quite good, although I didn't buy anything. I did some more walking around the town, again, just struggling to take it all in because there was so much to take in. One thing I noticed and loved is that there seems to be a book store on every corner. Some are used, some are new. Some are Czech, some are multi-lingual, but there are sooooo many of them! The other two stores that I repeatedly saw were marionette stores and glassworks stores. I do have to say that while some of the marionettes were cute or looked like Disney's Pinocchio, some of them were pretty creepy. I know Prague is famous for Marionetter Theater, but I actually didn't know it was famous for its glass. I did know it was famous for having an exciting clock at town hall. I saw the famous clock at the Town Hall. On the hour, there is a huge crown in front of it, all waiting for it to move. It's cool, but not as great as everybody says it it. Basically, the little skeleton comes and rings a bell.
I also climbed the clock tower, or at least part of it. There is an elevator that takes you up some of it. At the top is a great view of the city as a whole, but also of the immediate area surrounding the tower. I don't know if there's usually anything there, but today, there was an Easter Market, so there was actually something to watch other than just a new of the city.
The Easter Market consisted of a variety of stalls set up in the area. Some had toys and crafts. Others had a variety of foods, including a potato cut into a spiral, stuck on a stick, and deep fried. Yummmm. I also saw a street performer playing some instrument that I couldn't even identify. He was really good and I enjoyed the music a lot though, so I left him a few coins.
By this time, it was evening and time for the Marionette Show. When I stopped by to buy tickets earlier in the day, the guy had said to get there really early for the show since it is open seating. If you didn't have a ticket, I agree with him. The line to buy was pretty long. However, since I already had a ticket, I could basically just go in and didn't really need to be there before 7:45 for an 8pm show. The theater itself is pretty small, so all of the seats are relatively good seats, but I was able to get one in the middle with a good view and no tall people sitting in front of me. While I waited for the show to start, I admired the theater. It is a very old-looking theater and I could totally imagine the fairy tale of Pinocchio taking place here or at least having been inspired by this. I also noticed that I was hearing a lot of English. Most of the other patrons were clearly tourists as well. The show itself (Don Giovanni) was done in a very cute manner. It was my first time at the opera, and I was very glad that there were puppets, or I admit that I probably would have left during the intermission from boredom. However, they used a Mozart puppet for comic relief between acts, which added some excitement. Also, I think they tried to make it as funny as possible so that all of us who didn't understand a lot of Italian could still follow what was going on and be entertained. Still, I was glad I looked up the show on wikipedia beforehand or I probably would have missed a lot. All in all, I recommend it for people who have never done opera before, but I probably wouldn't bring kids unless they could understand Italian.
After the show, most of the stalls for the Easter markets were shut down, but I was able to get one of the cheese patties in a burger. It seemed that the only places that were open were money change facilities, bars, and glass stores. I saw a lot of bachelor and bachelorette parties going on, so I get the bars and money change places, but I wonder how many people are out at 11pm to buy fine glassworks. In any case, I was not part of a party and I wanted to get up early to see stuff, so I headed back to the hostel and grabbed some sleep.