Before I say anything else, let me start with this: AVOID DRIVING IN THE CITY AT ALL COSTS!
a) The roads are a thousand years old and were never designed for cars.
b) The traffic is INSANE.
c) Signs marking street names are placed in such a way as to make them invisible from the road and/or are not actually there at all…
d) Parking is redonkulously expensive. If your hotel’s website says they have parking, what that means is they have a place you can park you car for a nominal fee of €40 a day.
e) There are police everywhere, and your international driver’s license doesn’t magically make you familiar with the local street signs. (Same goes for stepping off a plane and renting a car. They will rent any asshole a car.) If you’re lucky, you will only make a wrong turn and get yourself a ticket.
If you’re smart, you will hitchhike, bus, or yellow cab it. Ok, so the cabs aren’t yellow for the most part, but they do have a fleet of beige Mercedes cabs which are quite nice. Either park outside the city and take a cab in, or just take some kind of public transportation from home.
St. Charles Bridge
St. Charles Bridge other side.
I’m a super Nerdy McNerdpants… Shocking. So the very first thing we did upon arriving in the city was the MindMaze. (http://www.mindmaze.cz/en/home-en) I do not have any pictures because I didn’t think they would want me giving their secrets away, but it was SO COOL. It’s a live action puzzle solving game. You get locked in a room, which is supposed to be the lab of an alchemist, and you have to solve a series of puzzles to find keys, combinations, random other things in order to get to the philosopher’s stone, which will allow you to get out of the room. You have an hour to get it, you work as a team, and it’s incredibly hard. 30% of teams make it out, no one ever without a hint… And teams of 2 almost never make it out. We didn’t make it out and it totally bruised my ego a bit, but there you have it. You must make a reservation, and the building is hard to find and NOT clearly marked. If you are taking a cab, make sure you have the WHOLE address to show the cab driver. Most of the cab drivers, in our experience, do not speak English or German, but do speak some Russian, HOWEVER, it is somewhat offensive to speak Russian with them for historical reasons.
Your humble narrator, hamming it up for a photo op near the bridge
By the time our hour at MindMaze was up, after a whole day or driving and a frustrating 2 hours (seriously) of unsuccessfully navigating the city, we were starving. We asked for a restaurant recommendation, and the MindMaze girl asked if we like Indian food. Hah. I’m pretty sure if I visited India (which I would love to do) I would gorge myself until my stomach exploded. Likewise for my husband. So we ate here http://www.tikka.cz/, waitstaff was friendly, food was delicious.
A beautiful-Ugly puppet outside a marionette shop
On our way back to our hotel, we discovered the Sex Machines Museum (http://www.sexmachinesmuseum.com/). Luckily for me, my husband had a liter of strong, Czech beer in him, so I was able to coerce him into visiting it with me. No photos, again, for obvious reasons. It was very entertaining. They have a small theater where they play a couple of Spanish porn flicks from the 1920’s, and a vast variety of toys, garments, and devices. We left equally amused and terrified, then found our way to our hotel and succumbed to exhaustion.
The next morning, our first stop was Havel’s Market, which had excellent reviews on Trip Advisor, and I LOVE markets. It was an enormous disappointment. Every stall has pretty much exactly the same stuff, all of it touristy souvenirs. But they did have these creepy little bastards:
In my state of mild melancholy at the market failure, we wandered over to the Jewish section of town to see the Synagogue and Old Jewish cemetery. But it was Saturday, so DUH, it was all closed. I should have realized that. Le sigh. But the Synagogue was beautiful from the outside.
So we wandered some more, and discovered the Medieval Torture Museum near the St. Charles bridge. Very educational, and disturbing. Worth a visit. My husband is still chuckling to himself because there was a very spiky chair on display… And somebody left a note in the guest book saying , “The chair was comfortable.” So my husband wrote nearby, “Worst. Ikea. Ever.”
Worst. Ikea. Ever.
Crossed the bridge and found our way to Středověká krčma (which no English-speaker will ever be able to pronounce without a few hours of lessons) for lunch. It was AWESOME. Very kitschy, and the interior is clearly artificially aged, but the place has actually been open as a tavern since 1375. They do a medieval show in the evenings, but lunch was quiet, and nice. The beer was fantastic. Maybe the best beer we’ve ever had. True story. http://www.krcmabrabant.cz/index_en.php
Full of beer and fresh river trout, we got in a cab looking for a store for my husband to shop for his collection… Which ended up being closed… And we completely by accident found our way into a festival dedicated to the celebration of meat. Welcome to Eastern Europe. Loads of fun. There was a band playing American songs, lots of food carts, archery, and even a mobile butcher. We got some fresh pasta from these guys http://www.cerstvapasta.cz/ and it was AMAZEBALLS.
After a nap back at the hotel, we got dinner at a very forgettable Czech restaurant. I don’t even remember the name. The service was lousy, the non-smoking section was still terribly polluted, and they charged us for the bread they brought out to the table, which they did not ask us if we wanted, and we did not touch. The food was actually quite good, but not worth it.
Whatever else you decide to do, you must take an underground tour of Prague. Because of the flooding there, the older buildings are actually underneath the street level buildings. It was excellent, and we learned a lot of history.
We caught the metro the next morning, to an enormous flea market on the outskirts of town. The metro was surprisingly easy to figure out for non-Czech speakers. Clean, friendly, and SO CHEAP. The flea market was fun. Lots of random, crazy stuff. Kind of in an industrial wasteland. A way more authentic Eastern European experience than Havel’s market. Also of note: the had an entire adult toy stall, because you can’t beat flea market prices on sex toys… ::Shudders::
Then we visited the Alchemy Museum, which was small, but pretty. Interesting, but VERY heavy on reading and no real exhibits. Ghosts and Legends Museum was next, and much the same but with less too look at. http://www.muzeumpovesti.cz/en/muzeum-alchymystu-a-kouzelniku-stare-prahy/about-museum/ http://www.muzeumpovesti.cz/en/muzeum-strasidel-a-legend/about-museum/
Venice of Prague boat tour
At this point, our feet were pretty much ready to stage a revolt, so we hopped on a boat tour to sit for a while. It was neat to see the city from a different angle, and they give you a different segment of the Prague history.
St. Charles bridge from the water
On our way out to find dinner, we ended up in a wax museum. They had a little section on ancient Prague, which was very cool. The dude really enjoyed the museum because it wasn’t all pop culture icons, there were a lot of historical figures too.
Einstein experimenting with Swing Theory
For our last evening in Prague, we had dinner at restaurant that serves you in their underground bit, which is 805 years old and used to be a Templar Monastery. They don’t actually play that up very much though. The food and service were both excellent. I got a traditional Czech dish, and the dude got Italian. http://www.utemplaru.cz/
Overall, our experience was phenomenal. We left for home the next morning with our wallets a bit lighter, and our feet aching, but with a whole new understanding of Prague. The city is spectacularly beautiful, with a rich and extensive history. Just, park your car somewhere else.