Prague is a lovely city, and like Amsterdam, it has a wide variety of architectural styles. In fact, they refer to Prague over here as "the Amsterdam of the south." Maybe, but if that's true I would say Prague is Amsterdam's somewhat grungier cousin. While the city center is beautiful, the outskirts of town have a decidedly former soviet block feel. The area I'm staying in is very nice, but areas I pass on the way here are often dirty, run-down, and graffiti filled. Even in town, graffiti is everywhere. Since it's all in a language I don't understand, I have no idea if it's crude or funny, but it feels more angry than festive. There was some graffiti in Amsterdam, too, but it was colorful and beautiful to look at...more like the work of modern street artists than what I see here. This graffiti looks like protest...although, admittedly, I could be wrong about that since I can't read it.
After I had gotten things put away and settled in to my apartment, I took the train back into Prague's central station. From there I walked through a little of the old town and down to the Charles Bridge. Prague sits on the Vltava River, a wide waterway that separates the old and new towns from what is known as the "lesser quarter." I'm not sure why it's called that because that side of the river is home to the Prague Castle and its 3 imposing cathedrals. The Charles Bridge is the most famous bridge crossing the Vltava. It spans almost 1/2 a mile over the river and is 33 feet wide. When it was built by Charles IV in 1357, it was the only bridge connecting the two sides of the city. It's built in gothic style, with towers at either end, and there are 30 baroque statues lining the bridge on either side. It's an impressive sight even now...for nobles who crossed it to visit Prague castle in the past, it must have been an imposing example of the power and ingenuity of King Charles.
The center of Prague is bustling with people. This is the most crowded place I've been so far. I must have seen a dozen or more large Italian tour groups yesterday. I wondered if I should run off to Italy next since apparently no one is there right now...they're all in Prague! I wandered down what must have been the main shopping drag for tourists near the new town. It had all the usual stores, Marks & Spencer, the Gap, lots of Starbucks, but the local stores all seemed to be selling cut crystal of some sort. It's a very big thing here and you can buy a wide variety of things in cut crystal...everything from vases and goblets to replicas of the Charles Bridge and other famous sights in town. Even the smallest little tourist booths had beautiful crystal for sale.
I went into a little restaurant a bit off the beaten tourist path and had goulash with dumplings, the traditional food of the Czech republic. It looks like beef stew, but tastes different. It has a smoky, slightly peppery, paprika flavor to it. I enjoyed it even though it is very different from our beef stew with its tomato and veggie based broth.
Everything here is a great deal. The currency of the Czech Republic is the koruna, or koruny in the plural...also known as a 'crown' and confusingly abbreviated as both Kc and CZK. Another confusing thing is that the "cents" equivalent to the koruna are called hellers, (abbreviated as hal), but even though some items are advertised with a price including hellers, they no longer use them at all here. If something is advertised as 99.50Kc, you will pay 100Kc for it. I'm not sure why they even bother to advertise the change part. The good news is that the exchange rate is easy to master...20 koruny = about $1. My goulash plate with salad and drink was 185Kc so that's a little over $9. I stopped on the way back to the apt and picked up a sandwich, soda, and dessert in case I got hungry here later...it was less than $5 for everything. A 3-day pass for unlimited rides on all trains, trams, and buses was about $15. You can't beat the deals! Hey, maybe I'll buy that watch here.
And, finally, some pics from my first day in Prague:
The small train station in my neighborhood.
Looking towards the national museum from the big shopping street.
A Prague street market near one of the squares.
This is a better view of the cute little booths. These remind me of the Christmas booths in Paris.
Crowds of people everywhere!
I liked this view of all the different roof lines. You can see how the streets twist and turn.
Marionettes are also very popular here. There are theatres and stores dedicated to them everywhere. This marionette theatre is doing the opera Don Giovanni.
This is the Charles Bridge, although not a very good photo. The sun was in the wrong place for me to be able to get a decent shot, but this gives you some idea how massive it is.
Looking across the Vltava towards the castle.
Another group of love locks on a bridge.
This is one of the many statues lining the Charles Bridge.
Here's another. Most, like this one, have some kind of gold incorporated into them.
The tower at one end of the bridge, entering the lesser quarter.
A typical street in the lesser quarter.