We planned our trip several weeks ago, but then cancelled upon seeing the news that the Vltava River that runs through Prague was flooding. I was so disappointed. The Czech Republic has been high on my list of must sees for awhile now. We watched the Central European weather reports and even got some Czech news translated for us. Right before we needed to leave we heard that the river had returned to near normal levels and that travel to Prague was fine. Prague was a go!
We rented an apartment in Prague 2. Prague is broken up into numbered neighborhoods (much like Paris with it's arrondissements). The historic old city is located in Prague 1 and that is where the majority of the sights are. The name of our apartment was the Residence Bêlehradská. Find their website here. It was a 2 bedroom apartment with a kitchen that slept six. Perfect for our family. It was clean and well decorated and the staff was kind and spoke great English. It was located right on the Prague 22 tram line which takes you through the old town and to the castle. We used the tram for all our travel in Prague and found it a great way to get around. Warning - The Prague 22 tram line is known as the "tourist line," and also, as the "pick-pocket line." All the travel books I read on Czech and Prague (Lonely Planet and Rick Steves) warn you about pick-pockets on this tram line. There are even signs in the tram cars alerting you. So consider yourself warned.
Our first stop in Prague,or Praha in Czech, was the Strahov Monastery and the castle on the hill. The skyline of Prague is dominated by these two buildings.
See? Here we are on the banks of the Vltava River looking up.
Next, on to the castle.
Prague Castle, or Prazký hrad, is the largest ancient castle in the world. Kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman Emperors, and presidents of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic have all ruled from here. My kids were really excited to see the biggest castle in the world. As we walked around the castle squares they kept asking, "Where is this huge castle?"
"You see those buildings? That is the castle." The castle is a winding, long series of buildings built in different styles of architecture. My kids were expecting a castle like they've seen in Germany. If that is what you are looking for, you're not going to find it here. Even though it isn't a castle with soaring spires and towers, it's still impressive.
The castle is still the working office of the Czech Republic and it is heavily guarded.
The castle might be less than impressive, but this surely isn't. This is the St. Vitus Cathedral, or Katedrála svatého Vita in Czech. It is situated entirely in one of the main squares of Prague Castle.
The cathedral was started in 1344, but wasn't finished until 1929. That is a span 585 years. And you thought road construction took a long time. The cathedral holds the remains of St. Wenceslaus of the Christmas song, Good King Wenceslaus, who was a prince of ancient Bohemia in the 10th century. The land of former Bohemia lays almost entirely in the eastern two-thirds of the current Czech Republic. So if something is described as Bohemian, it's really Czech.
And look at this! Upon seeing this, I immediately thought of this guy here. Our stone friend above may not have the wings, but you can't doubt the resemblance. He looks like he is going to leap right off the building. Yikes...
And look at these flying buttresses. I get the whole "Gothic architecture" thing, but this just looks like overkill. And no doubt the whole building could use a good power washing to take off the 700+ years off black film which just makes the cathedral look not only a little scary, but a little depressing. Just a suggestion from me to you, Prague.
Speaking of scary, the same travel books (Lonely Planet and Rick Steves, again) also warned us about travel in and around Prague and the Czech Republic. My husband Matt was telling me that several car rental companies in Germany don't allow their rental cars to be driven over the border into the Czech Republic. Our friends who have driven to Prague all gave us good recommendations on where to park our car so it wouldn't get broken into, or even worse, stolen. So I started thinking, was there really a dangerous element about traveling to Prague? Here is what I found out-
1. Prague has a high rate of car break-ins and car theft. Our fix - We parked at a secure, well lit parking lot provided by the Residence Bêlehradská for €10,00 a day. It had a person there 24 hours a day watching the cars. We also emptied our car of everything not permanently attached to the car.
2. Prague has a high rate of pick-pocketing and muggings. Our fix - Matt carried his wallet in his front pocket and I wore a cross body bag that I could drape in front of me for more protection. Matt often wears a back-pack with water, books, snacks, and our iPad when we travel. We left the iPad back at the apartment and put nothing of value in the backpack. The manager of the apartment that we rented also suggested just carrying photo-copies of our passports, not the actual document, when traveling out in town. We also left a few credit-cards in the apartment so we would have access to money just in case anything did happen.
3. Prague has a high rate of hotel and apartment burglaries. Our fix - Our apartment we rented actually had a hidden safe that we used to store our items we left in the apartment. We also hid items in the apartment that we didn't want stolen just in case someone did manage to get in and do a quick sweep.
4. Prague has a high rate of restaurant bill padding. We read that many restaurants will make a bill for tourists higher or give them an unfair currency exchange. Our fix - We memorized the current exchange rate of 20 Czech Republic Koruna (CZK) to 1 US dollar and made sure all our bills added up to what we actually ordered.
5. Prague has a high rate of credit card number theft. Our fix - We only used cash in all of our transactions. There were plenty of ATM's around and it made it much easier to take out some CZK to use for food and purchases rather than worry about anyone with our credit card. The travel books warned us not to let anyone out of our sight with our credit card.
In spite of all these "warnings," we found Prague to be a delightful and beautiful city to visit. We felt safe the whole time and never had a problem.
Don't we look happy? Well, most of us look happy. My son, Aidan, on the right looks extremely pouty. Maybe he was tired of hearing me say, "Let's go Czech. Czech. Czech. Czech it out!" Coming up next, our time in the historic old city of Prague. Stay tuned!
*Na shledanou is Czech for good-bye.