This weekend did not fail to live up to expectations: it was chock full of beauty and history, and we enjoyed every single moment of it.
Jacob and I got to the station fairly early and thus boarded the train with plenty of time to spare. In spite of our efforts to be on time, the train was delayed for 45 minutes, so we just ended up sitting there trying not to go stir crazy. Being the loud Americans we are (pfft, right), we attracted some attention from down the hall. A guy (whose name we never caught) from Manchester was a few compartments down and he went in search of the English-speakers (as he'd said), obviously finding us. We chatted for a while, he telling us how he had been travelling with his school buddy around Europe and was now headed to Prague, and that "Bratislaver is bloody mental" and that we absolutely needed to go sometime ("one euro vodka shots!" he reasoned, quite excitedly).
By the time our new English friend had gone back to his compartment, the train had finally started moving. The route was such that we passed both Visegrád and Esztergom, so we got to see the castle on the hill and the Basilica, respectively. The train chugged along a little too slowly for our tastes, but after a painful seven hours, we arrived in Prague and were confronted with yet another language we did not even remotely understand. Due to this (at least, we'll pretend it's due to this...) we got on the tram going in the direction opposite of that which we needed to get to our hostel, the Czech Inn. We figured out the problem fairly quickly, so we got off, switched directions, and made it without trouble (unless you consider the evening's light rain trouble). After checking in at the Czech Inn (this joke was cracked so many times; it's awful, I know), we went straight up to the room (it was this gorgeous loft apartment shared with two girls who had the upstairs bedroom) and crashed for the night, after having quickly mapped out a game plan for the next day.
We woke fairly early on Saturday and were quickly out the door and ready to explore. We took the metro near the Saint Ludmila church in Náměstí Míru to the Muzeum stop, which lets out right in front of the Czech National Museum at the top part of Wenceslas Square. We walked from the top part to the bottom part (it's really more of a boulevard than a sqaure), and from there we followed our map to the Powder Gate and the Municipal House. The Gate serves as one of the several entrances into the Old Town, so we made our way through the labrynthine streets to the Old Town Square. Emerging from the narrow streets and into this huge, open square really blew our minds. Everything was so beautiful and there were people everywhere (there was an autumn festival being held in the center). We saw everything: the Týn Cathedral, and St. Nicholas Church, several beautiful buildings and statues, and--of course--the famous medieval Astronomical Clock. A huge group was gathered by the clock, since it was almost noon, so we found a spot in the crowd and waited. It was pretty cool; the figures on the clock all moved and the bell was pulled by a little skeleton. A trumpeter in the tower also sounded a few blasts to indicate the hour, and almost immediately after he had finished, the crowd dispersed. We kept moving, too, and went to the Vltava River and crossed over to the other side via the Charles Bridge. The Bridge is absolutely gorgeous and is lined with countless statues, and the views from it are stellar. On the way across, we saw a small jazz band, so we stopped for a few minutes to listen; they were really good!
Anyway, the part of Prague on the other side of the river, much like Budapest, actually, is very hilly and steep. We stopped for lunch at this place underground that was made to look like a cave and the walls were covered with fantasy paintings. It was kind of weird, but the food was good. After our quick lunch, we continued up the hill and past several foreign embassies, slowly heading higher and higher toward the Prague Castle. After a good climb, we made it up and joined two ladies (Jacob and I think they might have been Welsh) for a tour around the castle complex. The place is huge! There are more than a few palaces on the grounds and we saw some churches, most notably the massive St. Vitus Cathedral. Our guide spouted off factoids all along the way (how true they were, though, we don't know), but I was more engrossed in taking photos than listening to his comments.
When we split from the guide and the maybe-Welsh ladies at the end of the tour, we got to see the changing of the castle guards. It was awesome, and one of the guys smiled, which was funny, since they're probably not supposed to do so. We took in the view from the top and, after sufficient oohs and ahs, we walked down the Old Castle Steps to the bottom of the hill, where we took a much-needed break in a small park. Once rested, we went onward, crossing another bridge back to the east side, where we saw the Rudolfinum, the home of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. We didn't go inside, but the exterior is stunning.
We explored part of the Jewish Quarter, but since it was Shabbat, everything was closed. We went back to Old Town Square and retraced our steps from there, and returned to Wenceslas square for some coffee. After that, we went back to the hostel for a nap, only to leave again a couple hours later for the best dinner of life. We went to this traditional Czech restaurant not far from the hostel, and it was one of the best decisions we made the whole trip. The food was drop-dead amazing, and the atmosphere was cozy and inviting. Following dinner, we again returned to the hostel--stomachs near to bursting--and turned in for the night.
Yesterday was a lot less closely-packed than Saturday was. We checked out early and went across the river to find Mozart's house. Because I suck at map-reading, apparently, we took the most roundabout route imaginable; we went all the way up this gigantic hill and it turned out to be completely unnecessary. The icing on the cake of it all was that the house ended up being closed for renovations, so even after close to an hour of searching, it didn't even matter. Shrugging it off, we took a tram to the base of Petřín Hill so we could take the funicular up to see the observatory and the Petřín Lookout Tower, but our plans were foiled once again when we realised that the funicular doesn't run on Sundays. There was no way that we were going to climb all the way up to the top of the hill, so we stayed closer to the bottom and relaxed for a while in one of its many parks.
We left the park on the hill and went back toward the river to find the Lennon Wall, a long wall that has been painted and repainted with graffiti of John Lennon-related stuff and Beatles lyrics since the late 1980s. Jacob and I added a quote or two of our own in blue sharpie, and went on to find a café for lunch. After eating, we went back up to the Charles Bridge and saw another jazz band (a different, slightly larger one) and a few other performers. We meandered around the Old Town and we saw this cute widdle Yorkie puppy that was so adorable that if we had stared at it for any longer than we did, we might have died from its sheer cuteness. The fact that it had bounded out of a shop to catch its owner so fast that it nearly tripped over itself in its excitement definitely added to the cute factor, that's for sure.
Since our night train wasn't going to leave until 11:11 that evening, we still had far too much time to kill. We got some delicious ice cream (tiramisu and chocolate; yum!!) and hopped from one coffee shop to another, spending a couple hours in each, and going in and out of stores around Wenceslas Square. Once the time had finally arrived to go back to the train station, we were exhausted and ready to go home. How I ever thought I was going to sleep comfortably on ten hour long train ride, I have no idea. I ended up on the floor of our compartment at one point, and I must have looked like a mess to anyone who opened the compartment door. At some other point in the journey (I think it was right before crossing into Slovakia, so around two in the morning), a couple policemen came in and asked for our passports. It was kind of scary and I was really out of it... maybe they were looking for someone? Whatever the issue was, it obviously wasn't with us, so they didn't stay too long. Some guy joined us in our compartment, so I couldn't attempt to sleep on the floor anymore, which meant I didn't sleep at all (though even after he left, sleeping on the floor just did not cut it). The train split sometime during the night, with our part attaching to another bound for Budapest. Many restless hours later, the sun rose over the Hungarian countryside, and it was definitely one of the more beautiful vistas I've ever seen. There was mist in the mountains and the light was such that it gave the dew-covered landscape a slight golden glow. We had missed the Basilica in Esztergom, but the castle perched atop the hill in Visegrád looked strangely ethereal with all the mist and morning sunlight. It was the perfect way to end this trip, even if I was beyond exhausted and physically aching.
The train arrived at Keleti around fifteen minutes past the projected time, so I had to rush from the station to the university in order to make it for class. I still got there half an hour late, but I hadn't missed much, thankfully. I feel as though I should have just skipped class, however; I kept nodding off and I don't think I my dead state of mind was very conducive to learning...
So all in all, this weekend was fantastic. Prague is one of the most historical and awe-inspiringly beautiful cities I have ever had the privilege of visiting, even if only for two short days. I understand that words can't do the city's amazing quality justice, but just believe me when I say this: