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We arrived in Prague after a 7 hour train journey unhappy to find there was a supposed problem with our room at Hotel Hastal in Prague's Old Town that required us to be moved somewhere else. Other people have complained about this on Trip Advisor.
However, after spending a night in another place up the road we were back the next day and enjoying an upgrade, a bottle of bubbly, and a bunch of flowers by way of apology. It turned out to be a charming little hotel, close to the centre of the city and serving a nice breakfast.
Prague was teeming with tourists, not surprising – it is an amazing city with many beautiful old buildings and endless souvenir shops, art galleries and restaurants.
The Old Town Square was only a small walk away from our hotel. It was lined with many historical buildings from different architectural eras and was a great place for people watching, and sampling local specialities at the many food stalls. One lunch time John spied an enormous hot sausage in a baguette that proved irresistible. He was back for more the next day.
Prague is a fashionable place for Chinese weddings. While waiting at the Town Hall for the astronomical clock to chime we counted four wedding couples. The brides were dressed in long white dresses and parkas to ward off the cold.
A Free Walking Tour
We joined the Free Walking Tours of the City. These are not really free (but still very reasonable) as you should give a decent tip at the end if you have enjoyed it and we certainly did.
Our guide was Eva, a university student majoring in English so spoke it fluently. She was a great storyteller and told us how her parents had coped with the restrictions during the communist era and how different life is now, as well as taking us to see many of the historical buildings and points of interest.
The Communist Museum and the Charles Bridge
We walked through narrow streets to visit the communist museum – it's hard to imagine that until 1989 this was a communist country with all the restraints that that implies, and that the parents of all the young Czechs in the streets would have lived under a completely different regime than what exists today.
Then we walked over the Charles Bridge, which is for pedestrians only and is lined with a series of large statues depicting saints. John had had the foresight to bring a Prague Travel Guide and recounted the history of each statue as we walked along.
Most of the saints died in rather horrific fashions. The bridge was also the place where many executions of one sort or another have took place over the centuries. We humans can be a blood-thirsty lot!
A Day at Prague Castle
It was worth spending a whole day at Prague castle – covering about 70,000 metres, it’s the largest castle complex in the world.
Instead of taking the scenic tram we decided to take a slow half hour walk up hundreds of steps and enjoyed some great city views. On arrival we caught the changing of the guard. Once home to royalty, the President of the Czech Republic now lives at the castle.
Some of the highlights included the huge 14th century St Vitus cathedral that was only completed in 1929, the even older St George's Basilica which dated back to the 10th century and the royal palace from the 14th century.
Below Prague Castle there was a formally landscaped royal garden, established in medieval times. Here we escaped from the tourist hustle and bustle and strolled around enjoying the serenity, the plants, the fountains and sculptures.
At the end of the journey we pondered which of the East European cities city we had loved the best and would most recommend. The answer was not an easy one as each had their charms. But if we could only visit one of the cities it would have to be Prague. It is obviously a much wealthier city, so they've been able to restore the buildings beautifully and they really are magnificent.
The main drawback with Prague was the tourist crowds (and yes I know that we added two more). They were everywhere, particularly groups of 20 – 30 people from various countries following a guide with a flag and a loud-hailer. And it was shoulder season for tourists when we visited so heavens knows what it would be like during the summer.
After Prague it was train time again, a 5 hour trip to Berlin. Time had gone very quickly on the trains as they were very comfortable, and especially so when accompanied with our bread rolls, cheeses and ham, together with a bottle of red wine that miraculously seemed to appear from our bags each time.