It’s been such a long time since my son’s and my visit to Prague over Christmas vacation, that it seems almost a lifetime ago, when in reality, not even three months have passed. As I write and relive this latest travel adventure with my son, my heart is a bit heavy, knowing this trip will likely be the last time in a long time that I take a “big” trip with my son as he is now readying to embark upon his career and life upon his May graduation from school and commissioning as an officer with the U.S. Army. Sigh. But I digress….
My son’s and my arrival to Prague on TAP Portugal through Lisbon was pretty much on time with little ado making our way through customs and with no harrowing suspense awaiting our luggage arrival (as was the case with my last European flight….thanks, Iberia), as our bags made their appreciated appearance at baggage claim in the blink of an eye, which was a novel eventuality.
Devan and I found our way to the Airport Express shuttle, which, we discovered, did not run exactly on time (every 30 minutes) as advertised, and we became slightly concerned about how long it would take us to catch a shuttle since once one did arrive at the stop, it was jammed to the gills, forcing us to wait for the next shuttle to arrive. All was well as it turned out, but there were some moments of concern since the shuttles were not precision, causing us to consider the necessity to find alternate transport via the public system or private taxi. The shuttle did deposit us without incident to Náměstí Republiky, quite close to the Hilton Old Town. After just a bit of orientation, we ambled our way over the cobblestone with our luggage clacking along in tow, past the Christmas market and onward to the hotel where we were efficiently given our key cards along with what turned out to be an excellent recommendation for our first meal in Prague at Kolkovna Celnice, as I had checked in online.
The hotel services were some of the best we’ve experienced with Hilton brand hotels, and we enjoyed every moment of our stay thoroughly. By virtue of the practically sycophantic treatment on behalf of the Hilton Honors lounge staff, the extras we received due to my Hilton membership and the overall amenities and location of the hotel, Devan and I have zero complaints about our Hilton experience, despite my usual preference to patronize more local, boutique type of accommodations.
Because Prague is fairly compact, Devan and I mainly hoofed it during our stay in Prague, with only an occasional hop on the Tram system to cover some ground more quickly between points of interest. This trip was even more “WanderFull” than usual since, as a major departure from my typical behavior, I didn’t make much of an itinerary, even a loose one, for this trip. Devan likes walking (sometimes all together too fast for even my liking, since he’s quite used to hiking for miles on end carrying a 40 pound rucksack) and actually enjoys taking the “wrong turn” here and there just to see what might be around the corner. We basically headed for areas of town, e.g. the Castle District, Old Town, the Jewish Quarter, Vyšehrad, etc. and directed ourselves in only a general fashion to various points of interest during our stay.
As with our other two stops of Vienna and Budapest, it was our mission to sample the local food and libations, which included a good many lagers during our visit. We enjoyed seeking out local establishments, mixing with the locals and muddling our way through ordering when the staff wasn’t as proficient with English as other stops during our trip. As usual, we attempted courtesy with a “Prosim” or “Děkuji” when English was in limited supply, and also as per usual, we were never treated discourteously in return. English was plentiful most places so it was easy to communicate, even though during our trip we encountered very few other American tourists, since English seemed to be the common denominator for communications with other international. multi-lingual tourists.
It’s difficult for me to pinpoint what the highlight of our visit to Prague. The sights and architecture were spectacular, the level of hospitality was unexpected and the gastronomical delights were endless. While I’m not sure it qualifies as THE or even A high point, our spur of the moment visit to the KGB Museum was as entertaining as the reviews I read on TripAdvisor suggested it would be. The proprietor of the small museum personally walks the group through the artifacts collected, giving background and commentary in vivid detail as we went along. He was so animated and enthusiastic about the history, he kept the group’s rapt attention, even as he slurred his R’s in a peculiar fashion (as it seemed to make us wonder as to his level of sanity). My son and I both noticed his scars, both on his face (knife wound?) and his arms (bullet wounds?), again making us question his current or former affiliation with and seeming affection for the KGB and Stalin, in particular (his eyes lit up with glee and reverence every time he mentioned Stalin’s name). The KGB Museum was definitely worth the price of admission and wait for the owner to grab us and have us join the tour in progress (and then circle back to cover what we’d missed with the rest of the group).
The view of the city from the look out tour atop Petřín Hill as the sun was setting was amazing and the visual stimulation in every direction was perpetual. The Charles Bridge, Old Town Square, the Christmas markets throughout Prague in the town squares, St. Vitus Cathedral, Golden Lane and the Castle District, the Jewish Quarter, Mala Strana, the Torture Museum, the Lennon Wall, Kampa Island, Vyšehrad Castle, the Vinohrady district, Strahov Monastery and the Spanish Synagogue were just a few of the sights we took in during the trip in between just wandering the cobbled streets (at the far too brisk pace Devan set for us), catching a tram and enjoying a variety of Czech lagers at the Beer Museum, the Strahov Monastic Brewery and a variety of other breweries around the city.
The three and a half days we spent in Prague passed by way too fast, and soon we were on our short walk from the Hilton Old Town to Florenc Bus Station to catch the Student Agency bus to Vienna. We had prepurchased our tickets online; the bus ride was comfortable, included wireless service and beverages, and took just shy of 5 hours to arrive at Busterminal Stadioncenter, Engerthstrasse, in Vienna via one short stop in Brno.
Prague had been close to the top of my to-do list for many years, and I felt incredibly blessed to be able to share my visit there with Devan. Prague most certainly lived up to my lofty expectations for its beauty, culture, architecture, friendly locals and gastronomy. Upon our departure, I could only hope that our subsequent stops would similarly not disappoint. (Spoiler: They didn’t, either.)