Prague, Czech Republic
We saved the big one for last. Accommodation was our first priority in Prague, and amazingly we found a residential street full of small campsites. All the blocks were unusually long, so many owners had the bright idea of converting their spare space into camping spots, holding up to a dozen campervans/ caravans each. We chose one advertising WiFi and found it had everything we needed. Surrounding us were apple trees, and every few minutes we could hear a "plop" as another one hit the ground. I was sure one was going to hit me on the head, but somehow they avoided me. They also miraculously missed our van too. It really should have been called "Newton's Campsite".
Our first stop on the tourist checklist was Prague Castle, a huge structure overlooking the rest of the city. The were views from almost every point along the southern wall - I must have taken a hundred photos (much to Danny's dismay). The Castle was an odd mix of grand buildings, with additions being built at different points in time. In the centre was an imposing Cathedral, which didn't seem to match the other buildings with its Gothic architecture. At the ticket office we learned we couldn't buy a ticket solely for the Cathedral; we had to buy a ticket to four buildings within the Castle complex, plus a separate one just to climb the tower of the Cathedral. I wonder how long our budget will last here.
After buying our overpriced tickets we ventured inside the Cathedral, along with hundreds of others who didn't have tickets. It turned out we could enter half of the Church without paying a cent, and only needed a ticket to walk around the back of the Cathedral, which didn't particularly interest us. Frustrating. Anyway, it was lovely inside, with stained glass windows dispersing the sunlight into colourful patterns. The view from the top of the tower was breathtaking - we could almost see the entire city. With our tickets we also visited the Old Royal Palace, which was fairly boring with its grey slab walls and antique furniture, and Golden Lane, a small street filled with tiny, brightly coloured houses selling handmade souvenirs. One shop sold body products made from beer, such as shower gel, shampoo and lotions. I learned today that Danny doesn't buy every type of beer he comes across.
We left the Castle and walked over to Wallenstein Palace, home of the Senate. The peaceful gardens contained a variety of free-flying birds, as well as caged owls (why did the owls have to be caged?). We were able to walk through several of the Palace rooms for free, and we felt they were far more interesting than the Old Royal Palace. Afterwards we took a quick walk through a few souvenir stores (Bohemia crystal overload) before jumping on the tram and heading back to our apple-bombing campsite for dinner.
The next day started out overcast, but blue skies eventually came out as the day went on (the photographer in me was delighted by this). It was all about the old town today, starting in the Old Town Square. It was a decent size, full of well-maintained buildings and hundreds of tourists. Tour groups had completely overrun the area, especially outside the clock on the Town Hall where they were waiting for the hourly show. It was a nightmare to navigate through. We pushed past the crowds to climb almost 70 metres up the Town Hall Tower, allowing us to see across the city all the way back to the Castle.
After leaving the Square we sped through a couple of churches, and stumbled upon a small courtyard containing an Indian restaurant. Danny and I took one look at each other and we knew we would be back here at dinner time. Don't ask us why, but we had a deep desire for Indian food. It was then over to the Municipal House, an Art Nouveau building that offers expensive tours. We could see enough from the cafe and entrance hall not to fork out the money.
Back outside we walked past yet more souvenir shops (the whole city was one gigantic souvenir shop) and we found one specialising in Russian dolls. These weren't ordinary Russian dolls thought - instead of decorative girls they were painted with players of various sports teams from around the world. Incredibly, they made dolls for Australian sports, including AFL. Although they were ridiculously expensive, I could not leave without buying a Carlton one (even though they looked nothing like the players they named after). This was, without a doubt, the best souvenir store I had ever set foot in.
This was the point where I lost Danny. He had waited long enough and now he had to go on a local beer hunt, despite stating only two days ago that he was cutting back on his beer intake. Meanwhile, I continued playing tourist and taking in all the sights. I walked through the extremely long Wenceslas Square, with its modern buildings on one side and an enormous palace at the end, and along the river for great views of the Castle. I made it up to Charles Bridge, where every inch of space was taken up by tourists. I wasn't sure why this bridge was so popular, other than being really old, but every person with a camera was there to see it.
Once I forged my way over the bridge I found a sculpture/fountain called 'Piss', which was literally two life-sized bronze men peeing into a pond in the shape of the Czech Republic. The pelvis of one of the men moved around in circles. It was hilarious. I couldn't believe Danny would rather drink beer than see this.
After a good laugh I took a quick walk through the Jewish quarter, full of synagogues and mansion-type houses, before meeting Danny in the Old Town Square. Together we returned to the river to watch the sun setting behind the Castle and Charles Bridge, and waited for the lights to turn on. It was beautiful watching day slowly become night, and seeing the changing face of the iconic sights of Prague (along with a thousand others).
Once I had taken my daily quota of photos we could then hit the Indian restaurant we passed earlier, which we were oddly excited about. I had read somewhere that the European version of spicy is not at all spicy, so I asked for my vindaloo extra hot. It still wasn't spicy enough, but it did taste fantastic. All the food we tried was wonderful, and fulfilled the Indian cravings that had been building up. After dinner we wandered around the streets, taking photos of the main sights lit up at night before heading back to the caravan park.
The first stop in Prague the next day was the Fair Trade Palace, home of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. It was massive. Five storeys, 10 ginormous rooms – it took us several hours to get through it all. Some of the more contemporary “art” we whizzed through, but the modern paintings were fantastic. Many Czech artists were featured, who were completely new to us. Overall, it was sensational.
Next we headed to the centre of the city, where Danny stopped in at the Mucha Museum. I wasn't overly enthusiastic about an Art Nouveau museum dedicated to a single artist's work, so I caught a tram down to the southern end of the city to visit Vyšehrad Fortress. It was basically parkland on top of a hill with walls around it, but it did offer sweeping views in most directions. It was also the only spot in the city that did not have truckloads of tourists. I didn't think such a place existed.
On the return trip I took a tram up the east side of the river (on the opposite side to the old town) and discovered what I would call the local's city centre. It was exactly what a normal city looks like, with no tourists or souvenir stores taking over the streets. If I lived here, this is probably where I would hang out. On this side I also found the John Lennon Wall, a regular concrete wall covered with Beatles-inspired graffiti, peace slogans and lyrics. It must have been too far from the main sights for most people, as it was almost as quiet as the Fortress.
Once back in the Old Town Square I found Danny and we explored the dozens of food stalls that had suddenly popped up (they mustn't be open on Mondays). I managed to restrain myself to one grilled cheese, although it was a bloody good grilled cheese.
Back at the car we decided to find a park for the night on the outskirts of the city, to get a head start on tomorrow's drive. Stupidly, we had forgotten to put our awning all the way in after last using it. Only a small section was sticking out, but this was enough for the poles to suddenly pop out when we went over a bump while driving down a motorway. Danny jumped behind the passenger seat and stretched his arms out the side window, holding on to the poles while I tried to change lanes and find somewhere safe to pull over. Eventually I located a service station where we could stop and inspect the situation. We found that we had lost the retractable part of one of our poles, making it almost useless until we can find a replacement. It was disappointing, but mostly we were relieved that we didn't hit another car in the process.