Today (Sep 21) was the first day of our official Eastern Europe (or as this region is more popularly known, Central Europe) tour. But before the actual start at 3pm we had time to see and do a few Prague-ish things. We joined forces with my sister and brother-in-law at breakfast and decided to walk down to the river and see the Charles Bridge and look into river cruises. The weather was great – blue skies and temps in the 80’s – so the walk was super pleasant. The Charles Bridge was (as always, I guess) crowded but not crazy and the view of the other side of the river (Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral) was spectacular. One disappointment: the famous astronomical clock in the Old Town Square is under renovation and not operational. No dancing apostles for us! I guess we did get some special photos: most people don’t get to see it covered in tarps and saran wrap. There are several companies that offer river cruises of varying length and after looking at a few we opted for Prague Boats. The Czech fellow we bought the tickets from was randomly very familiar with and had visited Pittsburgh where my sister and brother-in-law live, so a funny old home week conversation ensued. They offered a one-hour cruise that explored the most popular stretch of the river. We had a neat view of the Charles Bridge from the boat and got to see what was on the other side of the river from the areas we had been exploring (Old Town and New Town).
After the cruise we went to a riverfront café on the castle side then went back across the river and did a little shopping at a Swarovski store (Swarovski, it turns out, was a native son and Prague has more Swarovski stores than I’ve seen, well, anywhere ever). They had some amazing pieces that we had never seen before (yes, we bought something) and we learned about the 2018 Christmas star (it’s going to be beautiful!). Having farted around a bit more than we intended, we had to hustle back to the hotel for the 3pm orientation and meet and greet with the group.
There is a total of 27 in our group, 28 counting our intrepid guide Esther. Most of us are newbies but a few couples are repeat Rick Steves folks – this is the ninth Rick Steves tour for one couple (and they actually had Rick Steves himself on one of their tours! This elicited enough oohs and ahhs from us all that you’d have thought Bruce Springsteen had been on the tour. Pretty funny! Old Rick has quite the fan base.). After the orientation we hit the road with a local guide and spent the rest of the afternoon walking around New Town, Old Town, the old Jewish quarter then down to the river and the Charles Bridge. We had a group dinner near there at the Relief Restaurant which is located in the cellar of the former Knights of the Red Star Monastery. They served traditional Czech food (we had beef in gravy with potato dumplings – with cinnamon coated cottage cheese-y little cakes for dessert, yum!). For entertainment some local musicians played and sang a mix of traditional folk songs, and some classical pieces on a flute and an accordion. They were a hoot!
By the time we left the restaurant the temperature had dropped into the 60s and it was raining (okay, full disclosure, sprinkling), so our walk back to the hotel was at hustle pace (a brief pause was in order when we passed a fire in Old Town Square – apparently either an outside grill or heater exploded, very exciting!). We passed a marionette store on the way back – apparently Prague is well known for its marionettes and puppets. From early childhood I have had a horror of marionettes (I think it’s the weird faces and the strings, or maybe it was that movie with Anthony Hopkins), so this store mildly freaked me out. From the forecast it looks like the warm weather will be leaving us for a while so it’s time to break out the long pants and jackets. Oh, and in super exiting “wouldn’t it be cool” news, they are filming Terminator 6 in Budapest and Arnold Schwartzenegger is in town. A Governator sighting would be an odd treat!