PragueI planned to stay in Praha (Prague in English) for five days. However, it took me three checkouts before I escaped from the Boathouse Hostel. It was the Hotel California all over again. You would stay too, once discovering that beer is cheaper than water. Really good beer at that, since the Czechs created Pilsner lager (in Plzen of all places).
Now that I think about it, it was probably the night life. Things don't pick up until after midnight, and they go until daybreak. Since you have to sleep past the 10 am checkout, this creates a viscous cycle from which you cannot escape.
In general, Praha is seductive (once you learn to ignore all the other tourists). Two out of three people I met here changed their plans at least once to extend their stay. Prague's skyline is dominated by the castle on the west side. Though the castle itself is unremarkable, the St. Vitus Cathedral is quite impressive. A gothic building, half of the structure dates back to the 1300's. The Charles Bridge spans the Vltava, connecting the castle district to the Old Square. It was finished around 1400, and supported wheeled traffic until after World War II.
Baroque, Rococo, and Cubism abound in Prague, though the Dancing Building is a modern addition, designed by Frank Gehry and a Czech architect whose name escapes me. Charles IV decided to build up the city to be the jewel of the Holy Roman Empire--since he was the emperor, he could pretty much do what he wanted. On the right are rococo facades facing a statue of Jan Hus, a church reformer who predated Calvin and Luther, who was of course executed for speaking out against the church. The protestant movement used his sermons a century later when the world was more ready to listen. Also in this square is the Old Town Hall, not to be confused with the "New" Town Hall of the Defenestration of Prague (actually there have been three apparently). The New Town Hall is no longer new (by centuries), nor the town hall any more.
Back to the Old Square again... One of the tourological marvels here is the Astrological clock. Every hour the crowds gather to see it ring. It tells four distinct details of time. First it gives the hour and minute of the day with standard hands. One of the hands is a sun which moves along the length of the arm, and crosses into areas which represent daylight, sunrise and set, and night. There is also a calendar which indicates the day. Somewhere you can also find the signs of the zodiac and the equinoxes. On the hour the skeleton figure turns over his hourglass and rings a bell signifying that we are one hour closer to death. The Minstrel, Moneylender, and Man with Mirror, representing laziness, greed, and vanity, all shake their heads in protest. Meanwhile the apostles all march past two windows at the top. Legend has it that the creator was blinded once he finished so that he could not reproduce this masterpiece for another town.
Five of us rented a car one to see Chesky Krumlov, a UNESCO protected 17th century village to the south. On the way we stopped in Cherny Budjovice for lunch, once a silver mining town with a pretty central square. Chesky Krumlov is a well preserved little village that makes you feel like you are in another time. I have yet to hear a person regret a trip there, though most regret leaving. So if you are thinking of heading to Prague, be sure to leave enough time to visit here as well. And bring your bathing suit to go tubing in the river!!!
Floating and rowing a boat on the Vltava is another great way to while away the time. For a more sobering experience, visit Josevof, the former Jewish Quarter. Hitler originally intended to create a museum of an exterminated race here, so he brought many artifacts to Prague. There are several synagogues converted to museums which chronicle Jewish culture. Again I would recommend a walking tour for full appreciation of what this city has to offer.
Next stop: Budapest