Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Prague and Cesky Krumlov in October

Warning: this is a very long and photo-heavy post. 

A few weeks ago Anthony and I made a last-minute decision, and jetted off to Czech Republic for a short one-week break. I've always wanted to see Prague, but with so many other destinations on my travel bucket list to cross off, I just never got around to it. Plus flying into Prague is no walk in the park: there is no non-stop flight from Toronto to Prague; the thought of having to rush from one gate to another to catch connecting flights was off-putting. Nevertheless, I toughened up and decided to give this connecting flight business a try. I am so glad I did. We flew Air Canada into Frankfurt, then Lufthansa into Prague. The entire round-trip journey was a breeze, and I might just add I loved Lufthansa! Their jets were so clean and the air quality was actually not bad; their attendants were courteous and very helpful. Wasn't that refreshing for North American travelers?

 Picture above: Prague Old Town Square from the Old Town Square Tower, Church of Our Lady before Tyn

 Picture above: Prague Old Town Square from the Old Town Square Tower, Church of Our Lady before Tyn

I am going to summarize our trip into the following categories: weather, what to pack, hotel, transportation, architecture, art and food. 

We really lucked out on it while we were there. I've heard not so positive stories about Prague's moody weather in October including a rainstorm which led to shutting down Charles River so I was a tad concerned. September is supposedly the best month in the fall to visit Prague:  the town would be less crowded with tourists after the summer break; you'd get long hours of sunshine with little chances of rain; temperature would be mild and air be crisp. But we weren't free to get away in September so we had to give first week of October a shot. While we were there, the temperature hovered around 20C during the day, and 10C at night, a very typical and pleasant fall weather. It was cloudy at times but mostly sunny with a greyish blue sky.

 Picture above: the iconic Charles Bridge at night all lit up. Night sky in Prague was clear while we were there, perfect for photo ops.  

Picture above: Charles Bridge at night with Prague Castle in the far back. 

Picture above: Charles Bridge from the west bank of the Vltava River in Mala Strana 

Picture above: Charles Bridge from the west bank Mala Strana 

What to pack
Packing for Prague weather in the fall was a bit tricky. Mornings and nights tend to be chilly so you are going to need layers. It can however get pretty warm during the day when the sun comes out. So I packed a quilted hooded jacket and a short trench as outwears, and shirts and jeans for all the rest. 

Also pack very comfortable shoes, preferably those with air cushion and thick rubber soles. You can thank me later. The streets in Prague (or mostly the Old Town) are cobblestoned, and they are so harsh on your feet. Not to say that the unevenness forced our bodies to adjust our gaits to compensate - it worked different parts of our leg muscles so hard that at the end of the day our entire body was all achy and sore. 

 Picture above: the cobbled streets in Prague

Picture above: cobblestone streets in Cesky Krumlov

 Picture above: a mile long cobbled staircase leading up to Prague Castle

We stayed at Hotel Kings Court near the Municipal House, and it was one of the nicest hotels we've ever stayed at in Europe. The bedding and mattress was comparable to that at home - this means a lot to a person like me who is very picky in that department. We received a free upgrade to an executive suite, so rooms were airy and spacious. And the L'occitane Verbena toiletries were just the cherry on the cake! Breakfast buffet was sumptuous with so many selections that I lost count. Since our dollar goes so much further in Czech, I would suggest only booking a five-star hotel like Hotel Kings Court. 

Picture above: Hotel Kings Court in Prague

Other than the flights mentioned earlier in this post, there's not much to write about because we pretty much did everything on foot while we were there. My iPhone tracked my averaged daily steps at 15,000 while we were there. My husband took care of all the transportation so all I could remember was that it was smooth sailing all the way. He booked airport pickup and drop-off with Prague Airport Transfers. They were very reliable and their limos were very clean. 

We also took a couple of subway rides just to get the local experience. Prague Metro is probably the most efficient and cost-effective way to travel for places that are too far to walk to. A 24-hour day pass only works out to be CAD$6 (details on ticket fares please go to this link). There are three clearly colour-coded lines (red, yellow and green) with Mustek being the hub for the yellow & green lines; Florenc for red & yellow; and Muzeum for red and green. 

Picture above: graphic motifs at Prague subway station

People visit Prague for different reasons, but appreciating their architecture is always among one of them. Prague wears its history on its sleeve. Different empires and regimes left Prague a rich collection of architectural styles so broad that it can put London and Paris to shame. While walking through the Old Town, you can easily spot architectural styles such as Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Art Nouveau, and the list goes on. 

 Picture above: Prague Castle Matthias Gate, Titan sculptures. Did you notice that early arts and sculptures in Czech were pretty violet and depressing?

 Picture above: Obecní Dum (Municipal House), a typical Parisian Art Nouveau building

Picture above: Prague National Theatre, Renaissance Revival style

Prague Dancing House, Deconstructivism style

Picture above: Prague Kostel sv.Antonína, Gothic style

Picture above: Prague Goltz-Kinsky Palace, Baroque style

Art is everywhere in Prague, but you can find more contemporary art away from the heavily touristed Old Town. 

Picture above: love & peace locks at the Lennon Wall, Mala Strana

Picture above: enormous (and creepy) crawling baby sculptures by David Cerny at Museum Kampa

Unlike Museum Kampa which was cramped and stuffy and had very limited collections (and very rude staff to top it all), we had a much better experience at the National Gallery at Veletrzni Palace. It has five floors of arts tastefully curated by time and artist: most of them are permanent exhibitions of Czech artworks with some interesting short-term ones like Egon Schiele's avant-garde Expressionism artworks. I could've easily spent an entire day there if I wasn't pressed for time.

Picture above: Prague National Gallery at Veletrzni Palace (Fair Trade Palace)

Picture above: the famous Egon Schiele's expressionism self portrait, short-term exhibition at the National Gallery

Picture above: "The First Serially Produced Schizophrenia" by Jiri Cernicky

Picture above: probably the best-known Prague statue, the St. Wenceslas Monument at the Wenceslas Square

We were pleasantly surprised by how great the food was in Prague. There are numerous restaurants which allow you to go high or low to suit your food budget. We tried both with high at 2,500 CZK (approximately $140 CAD) for a 3-course dinner at a restaurant inside a five-star hotel; and low on average at 800 CZK for a quick lunch or dinner. You will comfortably find plenty of restaurants fitting in the 800-CZK range for a very pleasant lunch/dinner with an appetizer, a main dish and a drink. Tips were not expected but appreciated. An extra 100-CZK meant little to most of us but would certainly brighten up the day for those hardworking restaurant staff. 

Picture above: Beef goulash stewed in light beer with potato pancakes from Malostranská beseda

Picture above: Beer roasted pork knuckle, horseradish and mustard @ Restaurace Mlejnice

Picture above: inside the 100-year-old elegant Cafe Louvre

Picture above: Ricotta cake with lemon zest @ Cafe Louvre

To sum up our trip to Prague, I would say we loved it a lot. Anthony put it among the Top 3 European cities we've ever visited. I had only wished we had more time and perhaps we could've made a longer trip out of it by going to Vienna, Salzburg and Budapest as well. Alas, I don't do so well with a multi-destination trip because I hate to pack and unpack again and again. I am the type of traveler who likes to settle down and explore a place down to its last grain of sand. 

I will be back to write about our trip to Cesky Krumlov, a fairy tale town 3 hours away from Prague. 

Picture above: Cesky Krumlov, Vltava River

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