This post is a continuation of a series documenting our time in Central Europe. We had spent the last 24 hours is Cesky Krumlov and were now headed in a shared CK Shuttle towards the capital of the Czech Republic, Prague.
Ever since I started travelling to Europe three big cities were on my to do list – Paris, Rome & Prague. Having visited the first 2 in previous trips I was happy that I was finally completing this short wishlist that I had set for myself.
The shuttle weaved through the outskirts of Prague dropping off people who had booked hotels here. As we moved parallel to the same Vltava river the beautiful skyline of Prague with the Castle as the cherry on top came into view. Even though we would be here for 3 days I couldn’t resist taking a photo from the shuttle.
As is my habit I had booked a small family owned hotel, the Hotel Hastal smack in the middle of Old town or Josefov and we were the last to be dropped off. We checked into our room, quickly freshened up and left excitedly to start exploring the city that I had heard so much about. But first we had to stop for Lunch, it was already past lunch time and we were really hungry after the exertions of the morning walks in Krumlov. So we stopped at what looked like a decent cafe close to our hotel and satisfied our hunger with two surprisingly good plates of pasta, spaghetti with tomato and cheese sauce for the better half and tagliatelle with rage for me. The pasta was downed in no time and we left towards old town square only to be chased down by our waitress who returned my brand new phone that I had forgotten in the cafe! That was a lucky break!
This was a Sunday afternoon and the Prague Marathon had just concluded few hours ago. On normal days the Old town is known for it’s teeming crowds, the marathon made it worse and almost all of old town had barricades and temporary structures for the marathon. I thanked my luck that the marathon was over and with European efficiency the structures would be gone by tomorrow morning. ( Fingers crossed!)
I knew Prague would be crowded but this was really smothering even for us Mumbaikars used to crowds every day. So without a single photo at the completely overrun old town square, we navigated the crowds and went towards Charles bridge. The main street towards Charles bridge, Karlova was so crowded that I made a mental note to return using an alternative route.
Soon we reached the famous Charles bridge, even though it was a beautiful sight with the statues lining it and the beautiful skyline on either end, it was too crowded for my taste.
The Charles bridge has towers on either end which one can climb for the views. Looking at the crowds I expected the top of the towers to be packed too. But when I peeked into the ticket office for the tower at the Castle end of the bridge there was not a single person in line. So we quickly ducked inside bought the tickets and climbed up to the top of the tower. Lo and behold we were the only ones there!
It was very surprising that of the hundreds of people crowding the bridge below no one thought of coming up for the view. Maybe it’s the effort of the climb or that you have to pay an entrance fee that dissuaded people but I certainly wasn’t complaining! We enjoyed our time on top identifying monuments, taking photos and just enjoying the view.
Looking at the crowds from up above, we realised that only the main touristic route was crowded and that even a lane away from this main arterial road connecting old town to Prague castle was relatively calm and empty. So after enjoying our solitude up on the tower we descended back into the chaos below and moved away from the main street.
The area that we had entered was called the Little Quarter and had embassies from all countries. It was great to get away from the crowds so we wandered the streets identifying the embassies from their flags in front. After winding through the pretty lanes of little quarter we stumbled across a board which advertised a UNESCO heritage Baroque terraced garden on the slopes of Petrin hill.
On a quick look inside it looked good and more importantly, empty! So we paid the entrance fee and entered the Vrtba gardens. The first pavilion just after entering was a colourful frescoed one and it made me glad that we had stumbled across this gem of a place.
We entered the multi tiered terraced gardens and started clicking away to glory. Each tier had its own unique character. The fountains and well trimmed hedges of the first tier were perfect for photography.
As we climbed up the tiers the red tiled roofs of little quarter came into view with the Prague Castle and the huge Dome of St Nicholas Church dominating the skyline. The whole stair case and railing was lined with different statues which made it a great place for photography. This had turned out to be a great discovery.
As we got higher and higher up the tiers we got more and more trigger happy with the camera. As you can see from the photos there were only a handful of people enjoying this treasure of a garden with us.
The second tier was a well manicured lawn with some well shaped bushes and a gravel walking path.
From there a staircase led to the top tier where there were a few people enjoying the great view without getting pushed around. We could see Little quarter, the towers of the Charles bridge and even the unmistakable twin towers of the Tyn Church in Old town. It was a view worth savouring and we sat on the bench on the top terrace till it was almost time for the gardens to close for the day.
This lucky discovery had provided us sanctuary from the Sunday crowds and we descended down with a big smile on our faces.
We then walked out and towards the square called Malostranska Namesti which is one of the numerous beautiful squares in Prague. This one is dominated by the huge St Nicholas church which we had seen from the garden terraces.
The better half wanted to have some dessert and a quick search through the Rick Steves guidebook pointed us towards the Malostranska Beseda. This was an old cafe right on the square popular with the locals and one of the oldest restaurants in the area. We got a table outside and asked the cheerful waiter for the gooey chocolate cake with strawberries & cream and a mug of the famous Pilsner Urquell beer for myself.( Just couldn’t resist!)
The cake was so good and the service was so cheerful and nice that we decided that we would be back for a meal some other time during our stay.
Thoroughly refreshed we decided to take the long non touristic route back to our hotel. So we went away from Charles bridge and towards the Manesuv bridge / Most that was the next bridge across the Vltava. As expected this route was peaceful and we didn’t have to jostle through crowds. It would become our regular route during the crowded mid day hours during our time in Prague. The Art Nouveau buildings all over Prague are a treat to photograph and I had a great time doing exactly that in my 3 days in Prague.
We reached the Manesuv Most (bridge in Czech) at a time when the Sun was going down and showing us why Prague is called the Golden City of a hundred/ Thousand spires! The view was glorious and pretty as a post card!
It had vindicated our decision to take this alternate route as the Charles bridge looked far better from here and we didn’t have to search for a spot to stand on the bridge railing, it was completely empty!
We crossed the Manesuv Most and walked into the old town and towards our hotel. The Rudolfinum on the old town end of the bridge was beautifully lit up with the golden sunlight and we took a few photos before eventually reaching the crowds.
By now it was 8 pm & the efforts of taking down the railings and structures erected for the Marathon was in full swing. So we returned to our hotel and rested our feet for a while.
There was no point in going to Old town Square that night because it wouldn’t be completely cleared and we still had two more nights in Prague after this. It had been a long and tiring day so we decided to have an early dinner and retire for the night.
We went to the famous Lokal bar which was right next door to our hotel for dinner. It was packed and we luckily got a shared table. It was as far as our luck would go that day. They had run out of most of the vegetarian options and we were too tired to find a new restaurant. So the better half graciously settled for a local chocolate dessert and a tall glass of lemonade while I got a typical Czech Svickova ( Steak with cream sauce) which was delicious. Obviously when in Prague you have to have beer with your meals so I ordered a mug of the local Pilsner.
Satiated but tired we walked back across the road to our hotel and promptly slept off for the night without any difficulty.
As per my habit I would wake up early the next day and walk around the Old town and the Charles bridge without the irritating crowds. But that is topic for another post some other time, some other day, this one has gone on for far too long.