|Wenceslas Square by day.|
The four of us checked into our hostel (which was located right in the city-centre on Wenceslas Square and probably one of the nicest hostels I’ve been to thus far – booyah) and climbed the stairs to our room. Since some of the others on our tour wouldn’t be arriving until early Friday morning, only one of our roommates had checked in. Kimberly was a sweet, friendly Southern girl from North Carolina who joined in with our jokes about as quickly as she’d introduced herself. We all hit it off right away. We knew daylight would come much sooner than we’d like since we’d be sharing one bathroom with one mirror and one shower with at least eight people the following morning, so we decided to head to bed. Minus a stint around four in the morning when our remaining roommates joined us (Question: when is munching on Pringles while the entire room is attempting to sleep ever okay?), we all slept soundly on uncharacteristically cushy hostel pillows, with visions of Prague dancing in our heads.
|Wandering the streets of Prague on a chilly November morning.|
After breakfast we met up with our tour guide and the rest of our group from WSA to kick off the weekend. One cool thing about WSA is that in each of their tour cities, the guide is a young adult who actually lives there and usually has lived there his or her whole life. This means you get the full tourist experience, but with a unique local twist that many miss out on in such a quick trip in a foreign city. Our guide in Prague, Iva, was an absolute gem. She went to college in the States but has otherwise spent her entire life in Prague. Iva knows her lovely hometown like the back of her hand. That is, if the back of her hand also doubles as an encyclopedia and history textbook, because WOW does she know a thing or two about Prague. All weekend long, she effortlessly rattled off names, dates, and places wherever we went. Her enthusiasm was contagious and kept us going when the walks got long and the air got chilly. Basically we loved Iva so much we wanted to take her home to London with us by the end of the weekend. Chick is that good.
|Photo-op with our fearless leader.|
Continuing on in the spirit of things out of the ordinary, Iva pointed out a rather peculiar sculpture hanging from the ceiling: a kingly figure riding on an upside-down dead horse. Its creator, David Cerny, is an Andy Warhol-esque artist whose controversial pop art can be found in odd and unexpected places all throughout Prague, poking fun at others with Cerny’s sarcastic social commentary. In this case, the victim is the Czech president, who is said to be the horse’s rider. Within the weekend, we stumbled upon two other works of Cerny. We found one rather freaky piece high above our heads while walking back from dinner later on: Sigmund Freud, one hand casually in his pocket and the other gripping a beam that he’s hanging from. Another was located outside the Franz Kafka museum, and it features two moving statues peeing on a map of the Czech Republic. His mother must be so proud.
We climbed down just in time to watch the clock go off at noon, putting on a show like a super-size cuckoo clock. There are little figures that pop out, like the biblical Twelve Apostles and an angel of death and Saint Wenceslas. I’ll admit the clockwork show was a little on the creepy side, but the clock itself was cool overall. After the rooster crowed to signify the end of the spectacle, Iva led us to a restaurant called Lokal for a traditional bohemian lunch. She walked us through the menu, pointing out her favorites and what foods make the best combinations, until we were each able to decide on something we’d like. I went out on a limb with pork knuckle goulash and bread dumplings, which was actually pretty yummy and very filling. We London girls were especially happy to discover that a good meal in Prague is quite cheap. Our wallets thanked us profusely.
|The Astronomical Clock Tower.|
|A peek inside the book sculpture.|
Our last stop on Friday before we took a break was the Museum of Communism, which, I might add, is located in a casino. By this point we had been walking for so long that our movement would better be described as sleepwalking, so I can’t say that this museum was particularly engaging. I did, however, get a little history lesson on communism in Prague. Here’s the short version: The Soviets enforced communism in the Czech Republic from after WWII, when they saved the Czechs from Nazi rule, all the way until 1989, when the people revolted and dissolved the communist regime in Czechoslovakia. By then, the Soviet influence had long overstayed its welcome, leaving this small country in a mess that would take them years to recover from. I would imagine the Czechs waved goodbye to the oppressive regime with something along the lines of, “Don’t let the door hit you on your way out!”
|Warming up with a turtleneck.|
|Bundled up and snuggled in tight on the Charles Bridge, with Prague Castle in the distance.|
After crossing the bridge we entered into another area of the city and found the famous John Lennon Wall. A bit smaller and more tucked away than I had expected (or, should I say, imagined), the wall was in a quieter area, lending the mural a more thoughtful and introspective air. Some might be surprised to know that John Lennon never actually made it to Prague; he was supposed to go, but his untimely death prevented this visit. During the Communist Era, the Beatles’ music was banned in Prague, thus inspiring the creation of the wall. Since the 80s, young people have been coming here to tag the wall with their hopes, dreams, and words of inspiration. It’s not even considered vandalism.Iva surprised us by bringing along cans of spray paint so we could join in the tradition and tag the wall ourselves. Caroline, Kayla, Abby, and I painted our initials together in honor of our travels together, and then individually we made our own contributions to the wall. I chose to write, “Be here now.” Those three words have continued on as my personal mantra for my time abroad, sticking out in my mind as a constant reminder to be present. Not only does this phrase carry personal significance, I learned in my Modern Popular Music class that this seemed to be a theme for the Beatles’ songwriting. Lennon and McCartney didn’t believe in writer’s block. In fact, if they had walked into Hotel Chocolat last week while I was struggling to crank out a blog post on Ireland, they would have looked at me quite puzzled. You can always write, they’d say. You just have to look inside yourself and write whatever it is that’s on your mind or on your heart in that very moment. Considering their musical success, these guys just might be on to something.
|Leaving my mark.|
Iva gave us a little over an hour for a lunch break – plenty of time to grab a quick bite before continuing on with Saturday’s festivities. Or so we thought. She had also warned us to eat a light lunch, because dinner was going to be a three-course bohemian meal for FREE. With the hallelujah chorus echoing in our minds, we walked into the Bohemia Bagel, which came highly recommended. With Iva’s advice in mind, the five of us (Kayla, Caroline, Abby, Kimberly, and myself) sat down and kept it simple with our orders. I ordered a whole-wheat bagel with PB and J. Easy enough, right? Wrong. The five of us sat in the tiny restaurant for over thirty minutes waiting for our meal, watching other tables that ordered after us receive their meals long before we did. Something was amiss. Also, restaurants seem to have this odd effect on me. I walk in totally fine, not even hungry actually. But by the time my meal request has left my lips, I am immediately famished. So that was happening.
|I'm telling you, ALL the buildings look this cool.|
We spent the rest of the afternoon popping in and out of little shops. One of my favorites was an actual gingerbread museum, the perfect place to be with Christmas around the corner. The shop was filled with thousands upon thousands of cookies, in all shapes and sizes. They were incredibly intricate, covered in icing with highly detailed designs. The shop carried a massive variety, too: cookies shaped like elephants, princesses, fish, flowers, Christmas trees, and anything else your sweet little mind could imagine. They even had the city of Prague made out of gingerbread in a huge table display – a total shoe-in for any gingerbread-house-making contest.The winding cobblestone paths wrapped their way up the side of a hill until we eventually reached Prague Castle. Prague Castle encases a complex of royal palaces, cathedrals, gardens, etc., and it holds the Guinness World Record as the world’s largest ancient castle. Before venturing inside, we stopped at the top of the hill for a while, pausing to take in yet another captivating view of the city. It seems as if everywhere you look in Prague the sight is even more delightful than the last.
|Looking down the oldest street in Prague.|
|Prague is so cool it even has its own mini version of the Eiffel Tower.|
|Prince William and da ladiez.|
Once our visit was over and we had some time to peruse the gift shop and casually chat with the prince, we gathered the troops and made our way to our dinner destination. The meal was absolutely, positively scrumptious and set in the coziest of restaurants. The heavy wooden tables and the massive wood-fire oven in the corner created an atmosphere much like a mountain ski lodge. We were treated to a delicious three-course meal of garlic soup, pork steak topped with poached pears and blue cheese with greens on the side, and for dessert: raspberry apple strudel a la mode. As it was the end of the tour, Iva gave us the sweetest, teary-eyed goodbye and hugged us all. It was the perfect conclusion to one fantastic weekend.
|Old Town Square.|
Let me just say that Prague was easily one of the most enchanting cities I’ve ever met. If you ever get the chance to visit, take it. As I said before, I honestly had no clue what I was in for. And when I think about it, that glorious state of unknowingness couldn’t have been a better mindset going into the trip. Certain cities come with certain expectations. We can’t help it. We can’t help it that the Olsen Twins traveled the world before we did and infused our minds with preconceived notions of what Paris is supposed to be. Or what Rome is supposed to be. Or, let’s be real, what virtually any foreign city is supposed to be. We are victims of the media and slaves to our own presumptions. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve adored all the cities I’ve visited since the start of my travels, but each one seemed to come with its own set of expectations. Prague was the opposite. You don’t really see a lot of movies based in Prague (except, fun fact, Mission: Impossible) and it’s not the most obvious item on a list of famous travel destinations. Prague was truly foreign to me. I had no idea what to expect. The little world that I discovered, then, apart from plans and expectations and premature judgments, was truly magical. So here’s my two cents on travel, and I guess on life in general: erase your expectations and give people, places, and things the chance to be exactly what they are. Give them the chance to astound you on their own terms, and they just might do it.