Entering the Czech Republic by road is one of the best ways to experience the surroundings of Europe. I was travelling from Salzburg to Cesky Krumlov in the first week of October. The weather was cold and Cesky Krumlov (CK) received us with a mild shower.
A quaint little town, CK is best seen by walking around. Our bus dropped us quite a distance from the hotel. The roads are stony so make sure you wear comfortable footwear and don’t have very heavy luggage to lug around. A walk down the lanes brought us to the main square of the town. Our hotel was right there. The square was replete with cafes, souvenir shops, jewelry shops and showrooms selling bohemian glass ware. The shops are cozy and you would enjoy the experience here much more than you would in a busy square of big city. The Czech Republic is most famous for the Granat stone (Garnet in English) and all the jewelry stones boldly displayed their Granat handiwork.
The hotels in CK are like caves inside. The exterior façade would not be more than a room’s wall but as you walk inside you realize that the properties are big and artistically done. We stayed at the Zlaty Andel hotel. While the square looks deserted in the evening, the eating joints are open till late. Do some research earlier as you may not find too many people to ask on the road late in the evening. We went into Laibon restaurant for dinner. The owner of the restaurant is a Bollywood fan and he has a few Indian fusion items on the menu as well. They serve a chilli sauce/pickle that makes every dish really yummy. The restaurant feels like one is entering a cave. It’s a small place. Can accommodate about 20 people at a time inside.
We went to see the castle in CK the next morning. The castle is a bit uphill to walk to. Its built on a rock and is one of the biggest castles in the Central Europe region. Photography is not allowed inside the castle like other many other castles of Europe where it is banned. The original artifacts dating centuries ago are maintained as is in the castle. You would feel as of someone was still living there. There are legends of the ghost of a princess being seen there frequently. The castle is vast. One of the most interesting parts was the ball room which had human figures painted on the wall. It is said that it was a prank to confuse people whether they were dancing with a real person or an image. From the castle you can see beautiful panoramic views of Cesky Krumlov.
CK is a place to be enjoyed in laziness. Grab a coffee, chat around in one of the eateries, or walk around to buy knickknacks from the charming stores.
From CK, we went to Prague which was a total contrast. Well connected through the local train network, Prague is awake till much later in the night. The Old Town Square is resplendent with shops, eateries, Thai message centers, touristy rides on vintage cars and horse carriages.
This place is the hub of the city and be prepared to walk a lot. There is a lot to do here, or rather, if you have nothing else to do in Prague, you can always spend time at the Old Town Square. Tram tickets are available in grocery shops near the station and it is the cheapest mode of transport. Ask your hotel to let you know which stop to get down at else you may end up on the wrong route. If you are buying Granat at Prague, most shops offer discounts and if you tell them you are a tourist, they would reduce the tax for you if you pay in cash. Do feel free to bargain and also check the price in different outlets. The only catch is to buy from a shop that gives you a certificate for it being authentic Granat.
When at Old Town Square do not miss the Astronomical clock. A wonder in itself dating back to the 14th century, whenever the clock strikes the hour the figures of Apostles around the clock come into action. There is a typically a crowd near the clock to watch the phenomenon when it strikes.
Two of the most noteworthy things to see in Prague apart from the Astronomical clock are the Prague castle and the Charles Bridge. The Prague castle is a fortress. The cathedral inside has some of the best stained glass paintings that I have ever seen. The castle enlivens the history for you, from the royal rooms to the torture chambers. Photography is allowed inside the castle so you can capture the memories of anything that catches your fancy. There is a café inside the castle where you can try the famous hot wine.
Charles bridge, known for the sculptors lining it is one of the most touristy places of Prague. A must do. During the day it is extremely busy. There are no vehicles allowed on Charles bridge. It was quite cold on the bridge even during the day so be geared up when you plan to go there.
There are many other things to do in Prague like concerts, cruises, haunted tours etc. We saw the black light theatre. While conceptually it was interesting as it essentially created the show out of laser lighting on florescent costumes, something we see a lot on dance shows these days, the script was pretty childish. Black light theatres happen in many places in Prague so you can take a shot by researching a bit more. We couldn’t get tickets at the one our hotel recommended and it’s possible that the one we went to was not one of the best ones.
Prague should be explored on foot. The city is full of beautiful sculptures in the most unexpected corners. Other things worth seeing are the Rudolfinum auditorium, the Franz Kafka statue and the famous John Lennon Wall. For the food lovers, all kinds of cuisines are available to suit every palate. Lastly, don’t worry about Euros not being acceptable there. They were accepted by almost all shops and outlets.
It was my first trip to Central Europe and there couldn’t have been a better start than Prague to explore the beauty of this magnificent continent.