【Travel】Prague, Czech Republic

Prague: 7 – 11 Nov 2015

Our Itinerary:

Singapore > Berlin KLM, transit via Amsterdam
Berlin > Krakow Air Berlin, budget air
Krakow > Prague Leo Express, coach + railway
Prague > Singapore KLM, transit via Amsterdam

It took us a while to find a satisfactory connection from Krakow to Prague. We wanted the shortest journey possible, indirect or direct, and not to arrive in Prague in the wee hours of the morning. The night trains, both Polish and Czech, typically take 8 hours and you would expect to arrive at about 6am in the morning. Day trains that bring you into Prague at ‘better’ timings, would take up to 15 hours.

That was when we finally found the Leo Express option. With a combination of coach + train, it would take us only 6 hours to reach Prague.

The bus from Krakow Main Station departs from the upper floor of the RDA station (where there are many ticket counters). It is not hard to identify the bus as the logo is printed on the exterior of the bus. The ride was comfortable, with complimentary coffee and wafer. There was also free wifi.

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We were dropped off at Bohumin Train Station at the Czech Republic (which is a very small station) for our train to Prague.

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The train was slightly delayed by 20 mins but announcements were consistently made in English to keep us updated. So we had no issues with the short wait. The train was clean, new, and service was excellent.

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On top of that, it was so affordable that we had decided to purchase the business class seats since it included a choice of drinks and sandwiches, plus, we could nap comfortably for the 4-hour train ride. The tickets were purchased online from their website with no fuss, and you get to choose your own seats! If you buy early like us, you get to pick the only single facing seats in the business cabin. Great value for money.

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GETTING AROUND PRAGUE

Prague is a city that is easy to navigate. With an efficient network of metro and trams, you can pretty much get around everywhere on your own. We had bought the 3-day transport pass from Praha Station when we first arrived in Prague and subsequently bought basic tickets (90min) whenever we needed. However, as some tram stops do not have ticket machines, you might want to purchase the 1-day pass if you are intending to conquer a number of points in a day.

The best part of all, Prague’s metro stations are beautiful.

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The chic, long escalators of the Prague metro. Train lines are marked distinctively by colour and labelled, A, B, C, making it extremely easy for tourists to navigate, even if you are new to the city.

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There is even a station named after me. Hahaha, of course not.

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And if the weather is great, let your feet do the walking. Prague is enchanting, everywhere you turn.

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OLD TOWN SQUARE

Most of the tourist sites can be found in and around Prague’s old town square. By day, the square bustles with activity, with street buskers, children playing and also, many vendors trying to sell tours to the mass of tourists who congregate there.

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It was also a popular place for demonstrations and garnering support for social agendas.

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By night, the square takes on a mystical, almost Disneyland, fairy-tale-like feel.

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The Astronomical clock and the Church of our Lady before T’yn in the background. A scene so breathtaking we could look at for hours and not tire of.

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ASTRONOMICAL CLOCK

The astronomical clock stands tall and prominently in the old town square where it is the constant attention of tourists gathered around, looking up and admiring its rustic charm. At every hour, the clock will sound, with death (represented by the skeleton) ringing the bell, followed by the apostles presenting themselves.

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Installed in 1410 on the Old Town Hall, the Prague Astronomical Clock is also the oldest medieval clock in the world that still still works.

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Below the clock face is a calendar display representing the 12 months of a year.

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The clock looks even more majestic lit up at night. In the day, the sun on the clock face remains in the upper horizon, which is the sky; and at night, the sun moves to the darker lower horizon.

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CHARLES BRIDGE

Walking from Old Town Square, we weaved through narrow old streets filled with cafes, souvenir shops, all brimming with tourists, and headed for Karlův Most (Charles Bridge). The sight that greeted us across the Vltava river was just spectacular.

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As we walked across Charles Bridge for the first time, we fully understood why Prague would be so packed full of tourists. The medieval bridge is the oldest bridge in Prague and definitely one of the most beautiful spots in the city.

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We walked across the Charles Bridge on a weekend afternoon and found it abuzz with musicians, artists, souvenir vendors, tourists and even a couple doing their wedding photo shoot. The lively atmosphere was fantastic and everything looked exceptionally beautiful against clear blue skies.

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There are 30 mostly Baroque statues on the bridge, of saints and patron saints venerated in the 17th century.

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Under the sunlight, the river looks like it’s glowing.

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Lots of people gathered around to watch this musician who is a one man band. 

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We spent some time trying to observe how he controlled everything with his arms and legs, but just couldn’t figure it out. He was too good! And very entertaining.

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TRDELNIK

Located in Old Town Prague at Karlova 44 and en route to Charles Bridge, is Krusta Bakery. It is an old artisan bakery that sells freshly baked baked goods and is well known especially the traditional Czech pastry, Trdelník.

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The trdelník is a traditional Czech pastry that is made from rolled dough wrapped around a stick and baked till golden brown. You will find many variations in little stalls around Prague, some  trdelník coated in chocolate, some stuffed with ice-cream.

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The first time we dropped by Krusta, we tried the original trdelník, without any fillings. The pastry was delish, its texture flaky, crisp, and rich. It was so good, we returned another day to buy other baked goods back to the hotel for our after-dinner dessert.

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PRAGUE CASTLE

Another day of great weather as we headed uphill on a tram from Malostranska Metro Station to Prague Castle, one of the largest ancient castle complex in the world. The castle dates back to 880 and consists of buildings with varying architectural styles from different periods. 

There are three types of tickets to choose from: Circuit A, B, or C depending on how much of the castle grounds you would like to see. We opted for Circuit B which includes entrance to  St. Vitus Cathedral, the Old Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica and Golden Lane. We spent about 2 hours on this circuit.

Don’t worry if you had not gotten your tickets at the entrance as you can still get your tickets at various points of the castle complex outside key landmarks, like Golden Lane.

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Ed thinks that the guard on duty that day looks like Captain America.

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Upon entering the castle grounds, we are immediately greeted by this towering structure. The beauty of St. Vitus Cathedral is beyond words. This cathedral is an excellent example of Gothic architecture and is the biggest and most important church in the country.

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We are dwarfed in comparison to the cathedral.

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The interior of the cathedral was even more stunning. No photo we took could really justify its grandeur and beauty, especially with the sunlight illuminating the ceiling and shining through the huge stained glass windows.

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One of the stained glass windows and a wall mural depicting the baptism of Christ.

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The intricacies of the architecture include these candle light bearers.

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And a very ornately decorated crypt.

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You can have a breathtaking view of the city and Charles Bridge, from Prague Castle. This area is located outside Golden Lane and near Daliborka Tower, Prague Castle’s former dungeon.

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Golden Lane is a small street of colourful tiny houses within the castle complex, initially built to house the castle’s marksman and their families. The houses later become home to artists, like Franz Kafka who lived in house no. 22 (now a souvenir shop) and Josef Kazda, in house no. 12 which now is a noteworthy exhibit of his efforts in saving many films that had been ordered to be disposed off during WWII.

There is also a rather cool exhibition of medieval weapons and armory on the second floor of the houses. The experience of climbing up the cramped stairways and walking through the small houses was interesting in itself.

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KLEMENTINUM

A climb up the Klementinum’s mid 18th century astronomical tower was one of the highlights during our visit to Prague. Used by Jesuit scholars for astronomical and climate observations, the tower was an important point of astronomical study until the city of Prague became more populated by heavy traffic and light pollution.

The tours are conducted by a guide and tickets can be purchased from the entrance located near the Mirror Chapel.

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This old clock that is housed in the Klementinum is just one of the few preserved there. 

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There are more intricate ones within the Baroque library hall, which itself is one of the most stunning old libraries we have ever seen. It did not allow photography and the light within the library could only be turned on for a short period of time, for very good reasons of course, but you could borrow books out of the collection.

Photo source: boredpanda

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In the Meridien Hall, there was a line on the floor that marked the Prague Meridien, enabling astronomers to determine and inform the people when it was high noon by waving a flag from the tower.

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We then had to climb up old spiral staircases and steep wooden ones, a total of 172 stairs, to get to the top of the tower. We wondered how the astronomers could make that climb daily.

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But the view at the top of the astronomical tower was well worth the climb!

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As entry to the Mirror Chapel of the Klementinum was not included for the tour (we were only given a glimpse from one end), we came back another night for a Mozart Concert. This was what I was looking forward to the whole trip.  There are also many other classical concerts held in other venues around Prague daily that you can choose from, and tickets can be bought from the Prague Ticket Office – Via Musica shop at Old Town Square, near Tyn Church.

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This old organ is said to have been played by Mozart himself. It was also used in the performance we watched.

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For tickets that cost just SGD30 each, we were treated to top notch musicality and professionalism. The quartet included a pianist/organist, a violinist, a soprano and a tenor.

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WENCESLAS SQUARE

Wenceslas Square, the historical site of demonstrations, celebrations, and other public gatherings. The square was used by the Nazis for mass demonstrations, and the site of protest against the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union where two students had set themselves on fire. There is a bronze cross in the cobblestone floor at the bottom end of the square that acts as a memorial to the students, Jan Palach and Jan Zajic.

You might be underwhelmed by the actual physical space as it is really just a square with the statue of King Wenceslas perched victoriously on a horse. But read up on the history before you go there to better understand the significance of the space. 

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JOHN LENNON WALL

The John Lennon Wall is a short stretch of wall that since Communist days, has been covered in graffiti, often politically focused messages. The wall is located in Mana Strana, a short walk from Charles Bridge.

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You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

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Not by coincidence, a John Lennon Pub close to the John Lennon Wall.

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THE DANCING HOUSE

The Dancing House, also known as Fred and Ginger, with its non-traditional architectural design, stands out strongly among the other Baroque, Gothic and Art Nouveau buildings in Prague. Set along the picturesque Vltava River and next to Jiráskuv Most, the house is built on the same site where a house had been destroyed by a US bombing of Prague in 1945.

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As its name suggests, the design represents a man and woman dancing together.

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The contrast between old and new, rigid and fluid, is an art in itself.

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LEGO MUSEUM

We chanced  upon this Lego Museum opposite MY, Národní that was initially not in our itinerary. But being huge fans of Lego, we knew we had to visit (despite the expensive entrance tickets at 200kr each). We were certainly not disappointed as we saw many pieces from our childhood.

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It was almost like a huge private collection, with trains you could move with a push of a button, and old sets from our childhood.

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Star Wars fans would love this place, because they had a whole section full of star wars figures (with the Star Wars theme constantly playing in the background).

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Ed said that he had these when he was young. Lucky boy he was.

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FRANZ KAFKA MUSEUM

We did not visit the Franz Kafka Museum but dropped by to have a peek at this rather controversial and hilarious statue, called ‘Piss’, by David Cerny. In case you are wondering, the statues do move side to side and seem to be peeing on the Czech Republic itself.

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CZECH ARCHITECTURE

History and Art is everywhere you look in Prague.

The Gothic Powder Tower on the left, one of the original 13 city gates in Old Town, Prague in 1475 then used to store gunpowder in the 17th century. And the Art Nouveau Municipal House on the right.

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The architecture, colour and typeface of the Grand Hotel Europa caught our eye, on our walk to Wenceslas Square.

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CZECH CUISINE

If you are on a budget and would like a tatse of traditional Czech food, go to Havelska Koruna Cafeteria, a local canteen-style restaurant conveniently located near Havelske Trziste (Havel’s Market) which we feel is not worth visiting as it is overly touristy. The ordering style is much like Marche where you are given a card as you enter. You pick out the food and drinks that you want, and the staff would mark your orders on the card. Then you pay only when you exit the restaurant.

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We had the highly recommended Svíčková (beef with Czech dumplings that taste a little like steamed bread), pork collar with potatoes, fried cheese, and Czech beer (because its cheaper than water). It was cheap, good and so fulfilling.

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For our last dinner in Prague and also our last meal of the long trip, we decided to indulge ourselves in a good meal. So where better than to hop on a floating restaurant next to Charles bridge, at Ristorante Grosseto Pizzeria

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It was also close to sunset, so the view was fantastic!

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We had wine, swordfish tartare, salmon ravioli, and smoked duck risotto, plus excellent service, all just for the price of SGD70 (including tips)! — It was really good value for money.

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SWANS!

While we were having dinner at Ristorante Grosseto Pizzeria, we realised that there were many swans gathered on the shore across the river from where we were. So we crossed the bridge for some close interaction with the swans.

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BOOKSTORES, BOOKSTORES EVERYWHERE

Prague is littered with bookstores, it was just a pity that we could not read Czech. We passed by this quaint little bookshop on our way to the Klementinum.

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And we found a bookstore full of English books! at Globe Bookstore and Cafe. Lots of books by Czech writers there as well.

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While taking a slow walk from the Franz Kafka Museum towards Charles Bridge, we found another English bookstore, named Shakespeare and Sons. We were immediately attracted by the sign that said, ‘thousands of new & used English books’!

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This one was super cool with a basement area where you could sit to read. I really could spend my days there if we had more time in Prague.

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It was freezing cold the day we left for Prague Airport and we were waiting for the Airport bus when we encountered these two little ones shivering in the bag. This was our longest trip abroad yet, 16 days and we couldn’t have been more glad to be going home to some nice sunny (hot) weather, and our most loved Asian food =).

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