We spent a lot of our final day in Prague in the Prague Castle complex. They aren’t kidding when they say it’s the largest castle complex in Europe. It took about four hours to see most of the buildings and St. Vitus Cathedral – a spectacular neo-Gothic building (parts go back to the 14th century but other parts are from the 19th century). The last part of the tour took us to the Golden Lane, a very old lane built basically to hug the outside wall of the castle. The buildings were originally built by castle riflemen who could live there with their families. They houses are all businesses now, selling all sorts of odds and ends. One of them was home to Franz Kafka’s sister and Kafka stayed with her for bit so it is now filled with copies of Kafka’s books and other Kafka memorabilia. There was also an armory where there was quite a large display of suits of armor from all periods of history. They were also doing a crossbow demonstration (3 shots for 50 korunas). Chuck tried it and (of course) did quite well. His first shot went wide, second shot was in the target area and the third shot was a near bullseye. They also had a display of torture devices in the lower level of the Golden Lane – there were a few “museums” of torture in Old Town Prague, but we had passed on those as they looked pretty cheesy. The display in Golden Lane, while not huge, had the devices in situ, as it were, so you could get a real feel for how they were used. Pretty gruesome – the roasting-alive pit was particularly grim. We toured the castle as a group. From the looks of it, most people tour the castle in groups, and there are a LOT of them – navigating some of the tighter spaces was a real challenge. If this is the shoulder season, I’d hate to see what some of the popular tourist destinations are like in the summer!
The afternoon and evening to do our own thing(s). Our first stop was the Wine Bistro which was a nice little café just outside the castle grounds where we had lunch with Louise and Tony. They were heading back to Old Town to go to a few museums but we decided to head up Petrin Hill to see Petrin Tower, which locals call their “little Eiffel Tower.” You can see it from Old Town and New Town, sitting on the top of the hill. It was built as an homage to the actual Eiffel Tower in Paris. Up close it doesn’t look much like the real thing, but you can go up it and the view of Prague is spectacular. We got lost on the way there and took a big detour through Lesser Town (the part of the older city that sits directly below the castle grounds). We had tram tickets so were using public transportation and foolishly Chuck was swayed by my theory of which way we needed to go (why he listened to me, I have no idea – I have gotten lost in pretty much every place I’ve ever gone in the world). By the time we got to Petrin Hill and the funicular railway that takes you to the top and the tower we had already done a lot of walking so opted out of climbing the 286 steps to the top and paid a bit more to take the lift. The elevator was really small – comfortably fitting four people. They crammed six people in (including the operator, thank goodness we weren’t big!). Based on the looks of the people who took the stairs as they summited, we made a good choice. There was much heavy breathing and sweating. Up at the top we were rewarded with an amazing 360-degree view of Prague – on one side there was the Old Town and on the other modern Prague which stretched pretty much out as far as the eye could see. Pretty impressive! When we got back to the bottom we rewarded ourselves with an ice cream cone then headed back down the funicular railway and made our way back by tram and on foot to Old Town and once again, I got us lost. It was sort of fortuitous as we somehow ended up walking by some sort of political parade/demonstration that appeared to be about equal rights but also involved a lot of really loud music and drinking. WE finally made it back to the hotel just in time to meet Louise and Tony for dinner. We went back to Kolkovna (well, a different location but the same menu as the other place we ate), the restaurant we ate at on our first night in Prague. I finally tasted Czech goulash as were were told you need to compare the Czech version to the Hungarian version. The Czech version was quite good, involving potato pancakes and dumpling with stew meat in a very yummy gravy. And of course we had beer (beer is big in Czechia – we learned that the per capita consumption is 160 liters).
Louise and Tony went to the Black Light Theater, a big thing in Prague). Chuck and I opted for a night in as jet lag and a long day was making us both sleepy and when we heard the first thing they do is turn out the lights, we knew this wasn’t for us as we would have slept right through it (which takes me back to an astronomy night class I took in college that I basically have almost no memory of as the first thing the professor did every class was turn out the lights which put me immediately to sleep). We watched Ocean’s 8 and slept through a lot of the first hour but amazingly didn’t really miss much of the plot (this doesn’t say much about the movie, I think). We both slept well for the first time and woke to a light drizzle and a travel day. We are taking a bus from Prague to Krakow (this is the sort of transit day that makes me like tours – having to get from place to place on our own would be exhausting, IMHO). So far I think the Rick Steves model is great – while there are group activities (we have a group dinner tonight), there is a lot of free time built in for you to do your own thing at your own pace. Yesterday was supposed to be one of the more “strenuous” days, and while there was a lot of walking everyone was able to keep up without a problem. Our guide Eszter (correct spelling finally) is wonderful – informative and helpful but not too hovering. All in all, I’d give the tour two thumbs up!