Eurotrip 2011: Prague

A view of Prague.

It was raining for most of the six days I was in Prague, and I was really absorbed in the book I was reading (Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, which I’d been meaning to read for a long time), so I spent most of the first half of my stay lounging around my hostel. I was lucky that it was one of those hostels that puts a reading light on the wall by every bed. I was so into the book that I hardly even spoke to anyone.

It didn’t help that the hostel, Sir Toby’s Hostel, was in sort of a dull neighborhood far from the city center. I usually prefer walking to public transportation, and the walk from the hostel to old Prague took at least half an hour and required crossing many busy, pedestrian-unfriendly streets.

Apart from the location, Sir Toby’s was an A+ hostel, with a friendly staff, free computers, a well-stocked kitchen, and several balconies and a garden area to hang out in. There was even a free barbeque on Canada Day – the first time a hostel has offered me free non-breakfast food. Strangely, there was no barbeque for the 4th of July, which I celebrated by buying a Zlatopramen beer – I wanted to buy an American beer, but I couldn’t find any.

After it stopped raining, I spent a lot of time simply wandering around Prague, admiring its beauty. As I mentioned in my entry about Vienna, Amadeus was filmed in Prague due to its abundance of 18th-century architecture. Most of the buildings in the old city are the kind you would see in the background of that movie.

Prague is also a great city for Gothic architecture. Scattered here and there are big, black, menacing tower-gates. In the center of the city is the Old Town Square, constantly jammed with tourists, with a Gothic cathedral and a clock tower from which a man blows a trumpet to mark every hour. There are numerous alleys branching off the square, and I had a lot of fun turning into one of them at random and seeing where it led me.

The clock tower in the Old Market Square.

One of Prague's gothic towers.

Prague’s most famous landmark is probably the Charles Bridge, a Gothic bridge with one of those scary black towers at the end. Unfortunately, it is always crowded with tourists and people making money off them – much of the bridge is occupied by caricaturists. Across the bridge, on the same side of the river as my hostel, is the Prague Castle, which contains within its walls the Saint Vitus cathedral, one of the most impressive cathedrals I’ve seen in Europe. It was so big I couldn’t fit it all in one picture.

The Charles Bridge.

The difficult-to-photograph Saint Vitus cathedral.

The only museum I went to in Prague was the Communist Museum, which told the story of the Czech Republic’s communist era and the 1968 Prague Spring revolt which was brutally suppressed by the Soviet Union. I enjoyed the Communist Museum, but it was one of those museums that doesn’t have many real artifacts, only paragraphs on placards on the wall, so going to the museum is sort of like paying to read a Wikipedia entry. They did have some communist propaganda posters, however, which I always find fascinating and actually sort of inspiring in their earnestness. They obviously tried to make the posters as striking as possible in an effort to inculcate the masses with communist values.

The text says, "We are building communism, we unmask the saboteurs and enemies of the republic, we are strengthening the front of peace!"

Like with Budapest, communism didn’t seem to leave much of a mark on Prague, architecturally. There is one leftover of communism in Prague, though – its affordability. You can get a half-liter beer in a bar for the equivalent of just over a euro, and in a convenience store for about 50 euro cents. My hostel cost only 15 euros a night, a really good deal for a top-quality hostel in July.

On July 6th, I left Prague on an overnight train to Krakow – hopefully, the last overnight train I will have to take on my trip.

Eurotrip 2011: Budapest

Eurotrip 2011: Vienna

Eurotrip 2011: Hamburg and Munich

Eurotrip 2011: Berlin

Eurotrip 2011: Copenhagen

Eurotrip 2011: Bruges and Amsterdam

Eurotrip 2011: Lisbon and Porto

Eurotrip 2011: Madrid

Eurotrip 2011: Barcelona

Eurotrip 2011: Rouen, Le Havre and Paris

Eurotrip 2011: Paris

Eurotrip 2011: Nice and Marseille

Eurotrip 2011: Venice and Milan

Eurotrip 2011: Interlaken

Eurotrip 2011: Florence and Pisa

Eurotrip 2011: Rome pt. 2

Eurotrip 2011: Rome pt. 1

Eurotrip 2011: Palermo

Eurotrip 2011: The Journey To Palermo

Eurotrip 2011: Santorini and Athens

Eurotrip 2011: Athens

Eurotrip 2011: Istanbul

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Eurotrip 2011: Vienna

A public square in Vienna.

I only booked three nights in Vienna because someone told me it was ugly. I don’t remember who told me that, but the idea took root in my head. I imagined a bombed-out city of wide streets, awkward green spaces and glass office buildings, like the worst parts of Berlin and Hamburg.

Actually, Vienna was an exceptionally beautiful city, and I regretted not spending more time there. Maybe the person who misled me about Vienna held a personal grudge against the city because he was mugged there. Maybe he was thinking of another city that was ugly. Or, maybe I was mistaken and it was another city he said was ugly.

A surprisingly high percentage of Vienna’s center consists of beautiful baroque buildings, giving it an architectural uniformity almost equal to that of Paris. While walking through the crooked streets downtown, I often had a flashback to the scene in Amadeus in which Mozart drinks a bottle of wine while walking to his apartment past horse-drawn carriages and street-performers. The architecture in Vienna was so similar to that of the movie that I assumed it was filmed there – especially since it takes place in Vienna – but a look at the IMdB page shows that it was filmed in Prague, where I will be soon.

A typical beautiful building in Vienna.

The Stephansdom cathedral.

The Votivkirche, blocked by an unfortunate advertisement.

There are also a few magnificent Gothic buildings scattered about, including two cathedrals and a Rathaus. Unfortunately, all three of these wonderful buildings were undergoing renovations during my visit, and one of the cathedrals had an advertisement hanging rudely from it. I also stopped by the Secession center, an Art Nouveau building used as a meeting place by artists like Gustav Klimt who rebelled against the conservative establishment in Vienna’s art scene in the late 19th century.

The Secession building.

One of my favorite buildings in Vienna was Karlskirche, a baroque church framed by two triumphal columns inspired by Trajan’s column in Rome. According to Wikipedia, the columns illustrate scenes from the life of St. Charles. I think it’s very interesting, although probably not totally appropriate, that an architectural form originally used to trumpet the military exploits of an emperor is used to tell the story of a Christian saint.

Karlskirche.

My hostel – the Hostel Ruthensteiner – was wonderful, with a great kitchen and a beautiful courtyard with plenty of comfortable chairs. However, it became so crowded during breakfast and dinner-time that it was difficult to cook or meet people, simply because of a lack of space. Luckily, I already had a friend in the city. Dhika, the Indonesian student I met in Florence, is completing her Masters in Vienna, so she showed me around.

The day I arrived Dhika took me to the Schonbrunn palace, once the summer getaway for the Holy Roman Emperors, now surrounded by urban sprawl. It reminded me a lot of Versailles. We strolled through the gardens to the top of a hill with a great view of Vienna.

Schonbrunn

The last day of my stay was the first day of Donauinselfest, an annual rock concert held on an island in the Danube river. That night, Dhika and I took a train there to watch a German rap-rock group perform. They weren’t playing my kind of music, but they weren’t bad. I had a good time despite cutting my hand while attempting to open a bottle of beer with a key.

Donauinselfest

Later that night, back at the hostel, I was awoken by someone who seemed to have had too good of a time at the festival – one of my roommates was puking onto the floor by the window. Everyone in the 10-bed room seemed to wake up, but no one said anything as he heaved a few times and walked casually to his bed. I simply returned to sleep so that I would be well-rested for my bus ride to Budapest the next morning.

Eurotrip 2011: Hamburg and Munich

Eurotrip 2011: Berlin

Eurotrip 2011: Copenhagen

Eurotrip 2011: Bruges and Amsterdam

Eurotrip 2011: Lisbon and Porto

Eurotrip 2011: Madrid

Eurotrip 2011: Barcelona

Eurotrip 2011: Rouen, Le Havre and Paris

Eurotrip 2011: Paris

Eurotrip 2011: Nice and Marseille

Eurotrip 2011: Venice and Milan

Eurotrip 2011: Interlaken

Eurotrip 2011: Florence and Pisa

Eurotrip 2011: Rome pt. 2

Eurotrip 2011: Rome pt. 1

Eurotrip 2011: Palermo

Eurotrip 2011: The Journey To Palermo

Eurotrip 2011: Santorini and Athens

Eurotrip 2011: Athens

Eurotrip 2011: Istanbul