Saturday, September 12, 2015

Day 30: Praha Part 1

Our hotel comes with breakfast included. Whoever first decided to do this was probably a parent. One of the hardest things about traveling is figuring out breakfast. You're hungry. You don't know the area. You don't want to spend money on cereal. So, included breakfast is super nice.

The breakfast at our hotel is lovely. All sorts of breads and danish. Cute yogurt in little glass jars with a "yogurt bar" to snazzy it up (honey, jams, fruit). A coffee/espresso machine that will make you an espresso, coffee, cappuccino, and other drinks, at the push of a button (yeah, "fake" drinks, but still, cool to get it at a push of a button!) Eggs, meats, cheeses, and more. Very nice.

The changing of the guard (noon) and
the poor band that aren't as popular.
While the kids were finishing up their meals, Chris went to ask the front desk  how to get to the Pražsky Hrad (the Prague Castle). With several transportation tickets in hand (they are good for 30 min once you validate them), we headed out for the train. Just as we got to the tram stop, we see a tram there. Is it ours? We're not sure. We hesitate, and just as it pulls away, we realise it is our tram and we see how to validate the tickets... but too late. So we wait for the next one.

We take the tram to the transfer stop. And we get on the next tram (same stop). But after a few stops, we realise this new tram is the wrong one (which now makes sense, someone asked if this went to the castle, someone else said, no, the other side). Sigh. We get off our tram, look at Google Maps and figure we can just walk from here. We may or may not make the changing for the guards (that happens at noon and we have about 10 minutes for a 13 minute walk, so who needs a tram anyway?)

Don't smile. Don't sneeze!
As we approach the castle's front gates (using Google Maps a lot to walk the short walk), we see people lined up on either side of the entrance, leaving a path. Just as I say it's probably for the changing of the guard, here they came! About 20 uniformed men with bayonets came marching through the path. They walked through the gates. We looked to one another. Was that it? Many left, so we figured that was it. We proceeded to enter the castle grounds to have a look.

The front entrance to the castle grounds. (top)
Who knows... we decided it was a wishing well (bottom)

St. Vitus Cathedral, immense and impressive with details, stopped us in our tracks. We oogled the building along with the many others. Music (a live band?) played in the background and we enjoyed ourselves. As we made our way around to the next courtyard, doh, we saw that the music we were hearing, was the changing or the guard continuing in grand fashion. At this point, it was almost over, and the crowds were so deep, we couldn't see anything. We were about to stand on part of the cathedral until we saw a guard come over and tell those, already there, to get off. So, the "Entitled American" in me was mad. Why don't they have bleachers so we can all see what's going on? Many had their phones high above their heads to get a look. I tried this too but it didn't work well. Poor Xander, the shortest in the family, could only see the backs of those in front of us. The "Cynic" (or "Survivalist"?) in me figures it was just a stupid march of men in baby-blue suits, who cares. Nothing we can do anyway.

Images of St. Vitus Cathedral of its entrance and its back (from the "square")

More photos around St. Vitus Cathedral and the square. 

To make ourselves feel better, we decide to try to enter the Cathedral (is it free or do you pay?) Chris found the price to climb the tower. OK! And we were off to climb the 287 steps to the top! Side note: When walking up narrow steps in a tight spiral, your inner-right leg gets more tired than the left leg. All the huffing and puffing was worth it. Beautiful views from the top. We got to see the largest bell in the Czech Republic while ascending the steps (along with stained glass and small rooms where priests(?) used to live/work) and, at the top, the mechanism that rings the bells.

Stained glass window you can see while climbing the 287 steps (left)
One of the many bells, but not THE bell (middle)
I enjoyed watching the clock mechanism click the seconds and then ring on the hour (right)

Views from the top of the bell tower on St. Vital Cathedral.

Looking out some windows at the top (top), Zoomed in to see Charles Bridge (left)
See the tiny tower (on left)? That's the Petrín Lookout, we're headed there tomorrow! (right)

After safely returning to ground level, we searched for lunch (using The Lonely Planet travel book) and found a great café (one of many) on the castle grounds (which are enormous!) Today's meal? Schnitzel and goulash. Both very yummy.

lunch restaurant with regional-traditional
dish of goulash (top and left)
Chris bravely ordering trdelniks for the
 kids. See how he captures the attention
of the man behind the counter! (right)

With full tummies (another big meal where I'm leaving overstuffed), we meandered through the gardens of the castle grounds enjoying beautiful view after beautiful view. We also passed a good-looking (if "Amazon-tall") newlywed couple. What a good groom for holding his bride steady. I do not understand how women walk around over all these cobble stone sidewalks without catching a heel in a groove or breaking their leg as they fall sideways. Flat-bottomed shoes are more than sensible, they seem necessary for survival.

The kids enjoyed their first trdelnik (a local treat) and we window shopped as we returned back down the hill. As you walk the "touristy" route, you might be accosted by someone handing out free-samples of their trade. So we tasted free chocolates and free gingerbread. Chris bought some of the chocolates to bring back to his office, but we skipped the gingerbread store (even though the guy handing out free samples was very persuasive... if you don't eat it, it makes a very good decoration!)

It's pretty crowded here, not quite a crowded as Venice, but pretty crowded. It probably helps that it's a little off-season as well as the sidewalks are way wider than the alleys in Venice. Yet, while it's so crowded, we don't have to wait in long lines, tables seems easy to find (although we didn't get the terrace seats we wanted at lunch, but still, we ate outside) and it's just not too bad.

Thank goodness they speak English. We did a quick study on how to say "Thank you" and.... well, that was about it. The Czech language is a slavic language, so nothing at all like German. It sounded a lot (to my untrained ears) like Russian, and some words overlapped, but I guess it's only a distant relation, so I'm not much help here either. But it is confusing when I hear someone say something and it sounds a lot like "Good Morning" in Russian. I find my brain freezes, thinking I can return in Russian, but then remember it's not the same and that German won't work... and by this time, they speak English to me.

Once again, it's good, for us, to have English be the international language (even though it continues to make us feel dumb being a monoglot - look it up, I did!)

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