November 6, 2014

A Bohemian Rhapsody

Since I moved to Muscat two years ago and found a lot more time (i.e. earned leave) and funds to my disposal, it was a part of the agenda to ensure that I take an annual trip with the folk to places we have always talked about.

Jet. Set. Go! We got our Schengen visas a day before we were to travel – so yeah, a couple of very tense weeks..

In 2013, we covered a lot of Western Europe in a rather rushed manner and this time around, I wanted to do it differently. Also because the agenda here was different; the trip was woven around my father’s wish to visit Auschwitz in Poland, a pilgrimage of sorts for those passionate about WW II, like us. I was educated about the Holocaust very early in my life – with books and stories, which ensured that I grew up knowing of these atrocities and wanting to pay homage in person.

Hence, the ten days of Eid that we blessed expats in Oman receive during Eid ul Fitr was to be dedicated towards checking this off the bucket list, and since I’ve always wanted to step foot into Prague, the Czech Republic was also added to the plan!

Česká Republika, or as we know it Czech Republic is rightly called the ‘heart of Europe’, given its landlocked location as well as it’s reputation for being a treasure chest of the past. As you delve deeper into this country, you stumble over Bohemia and Moravia, the two ancient lands that now make up the modern borders of the nation and end up unearthing a large piece of the history of Europe itself.

Even those remotely interested in history will be fascinated by the transformations that this country and its people have witnessed. From the first existence of a state under a Holy Roman Emperor to being a part of the largely restrictive Austro-Hungarian (Hapsburg) Empire after 1867 to setting up an independent sovereign nation of Czechs and Slovaks called ‘Czechoslovakia’ – all the above seemed like a peaceful makeover compared to what was to follow.  After the Nazi occupation of the country in 1938, Czechoslovakia was split, only to be restored after the war, but not without major territorial loss. The most eastern part was annexed by the Soviet Union, followed by a change of regime and brought the country under the international communist movement which locals claim took the nation back by more than a decade. It was only as recent as 1990 (Gasp!), during the Velvet Revolution when this changed and in two years from then, the Czech Republic became a separate federal republic.

It amazes me that even after so much turmoil, the country remains so liberal – opening its doors to welcome people from all over the world to share in their history, culture and lives.

We flew to Prague, the capital city via Frankfurt and landed in the morning at Vaclav Havel Airport, to be promptly picked up by our airport transfer. Before you exit the airport, remember to stop by the little red kiosk to the far left of the arrivals lounge which is the best place to pick up local transport tickets – one ticket works for buses, trams and the metro – but don’t forget to get it validated (stamped) when you first use it. More on that here.

In Prague, we were staying at the Archibald at the Charles Bridge – a delightful little boutique hotel in the best location ever possible! It is so rewarding when one’s travel research pays off, and I couldn’t be more proud of myself for choosing this property. Located just three minutes away from the Charles Bridge, it is close to every major attraction, and at the same time quiet and with character.

Charming!

The neighbourhood – a band would play every evening in the square

🙂

After a little break to check in and unpack, we set off to explore the city on foot – which is the best way to see Prague. The first stop was the renowned Lennon wall – a symbol of freedom and rebellion against the communist regime in the 1980´s. Once a simple wall, it is now covered in John Lennon-inspired graffiti, lyrics from Beatles’ songs, little chits with messages. We lingered for a bit, taking photographs and listening to a man humming ‘Imagine’ on his guitar – what’s not to love!


Bring on the selfie sticks!

“Imagine all the people, living life in peace”

Next, we walked down to the tram stop at Malostranské náměstí, which also happens to be the main square of Prague’s Malá Strana (Lesser town), hopped on to Tram number 22 which took us to Ujezd where the Funicular railway transported us to Petřín Hill – home to the famous Eiffel-esque lookout tower. 299 stairs (or an elevator ride), about an hour of your time and 50 CZK is the price you pay to get to the top of the 60 meters high observatory – and is probably one of the top places for a panoramic view of Prague, which will leave you breathless at 318 metres – take a look for yourself..

On the perpetually packed Charles Bridge!

Lovely overcast day

Tram stop Uzejd

Public transport day pass – the stamp at the bottom is proof of validation

The Eiffel look-alike Petrin tower

Petrin rose garden

The fog hampered visibility, but what a view it was!

Prague Castle and the gothic St. Vitus Cathedral

Posing parents

The Funicular

Lunch at Nebozizek Restaurant, which is the middle stop of the Funicular and offers the most stunning backdrops was next on the agenda. The temperature was in the low twenties and while Baba insisted that it was time to bring out the monkey caps, while sipping on his locally brewed Pilsner Urquell – it was the best sort of the weather, if you asked me.

Bengali winter mode ON!

My mum prettiest 🙂

Lunch!

That massive lunch needed some digesting, and so we walked across the Charles Bridge which was beautiful and packed as always to the next bridge – Čechův Most where we were supposed to board our cruise boat that would take us for a spin on the Vltava River. I had pre-booked with Cruise-Prague for a two-hour float-a-thon to see some of Prague city from the river, take some very entertaining Hyperlapse videos, with a side of dessert and coffee. We had a red-eye flight from Muscat and we were all quite glad to sit down for a bit and still be able to see Prague. It was almost sunset when ‘Cecil’, our boat dropped us back to the dock and we strolled along the river, stopping occasionally to listen to street performers – a man playing the piano accordion with the most serene expression on his face, or a lady in an Amish-like outfit turning the wheels on a hurdy-gurdy.

Swans leading the way

Vltava!

Teatime, chaps?

Cruising

The Castle and Cathedral

The next morning, we met our city guide – Andrea, who was going to show us her city and share its most intimate secrets – ones which no Lonely Planet can tell you about. In Europe, I prefer to hire the services of a well-read tour guide, I’ve found that without them you leave without knowing what you just saw. We would have just walked past a million important places if we didn’t have Andrea telling us about them. She met with us at the hotel and discussed what we were really interested in (BIG pro for private guides!) and then led us onto a very well structured visit of the Prague Castle, it’s grounds and gardens, Old Town square, Jewish quarter and the iconic Wenceslas Square.


For anyone exploring Prague by themselves, this would be the best route to follow – especially because it feature minimum uphill walking *punchestheair* and a lot of photo-stops!
Towering copper domes
Purple and autumn! 

Castle grounds and manicured gardens

St. Vitus in the distance

With Andrea..
Some extremely pretty looking berries

Front gates of St. Vitus Cathedral
The gigantic adorned interiors
Exquisite stained glass work

The trio

Downhill to the vineyards

From the castle veranda – some hell of view the King had

Autumn blossoms
Sigh.
Grapes?
And more vines
Prague Castle is said to be the largest ancient castle in the world. Built and renovated during 13 centuries, the complex includes churches, gardens, alleyways and royal residences that have their own trivia and fables. The highlight for me was the towering St. Vitus Cathedral, in the centre of the premises. Among all the baroque architecture, this massive Gothic cathedral with water spouting gargoyles and Art Nouveau stained-glass windows will leave you open-mouthed for quite a while. A half day is the least you must dedicate to the Castle and if you visit during autumn like we did, you might just fall in love with Praha, just looking out to its old-world charm.

Portraits on Charles Bridge

Wi-Fiiii!

Cobblestones 🙂

We walked along the Castle vineyards, spellbound by the vines turning crimson and the Vltava twisting and turning, dividing the city into two. Another short saunter across the Cech Bridge, we saw the oldest standing Synagogue in the midst of the cemetery, which was closed due to Sabbath. Onward to the old town square, we were just in time to get to the Mozart Café (yet another of Andrea’s brilliant ideas) for a little bit of rest, coffee and an unobstructed view of Prague’s magnificent Astronomical Clock which was going to chime five times! If there’s anything I love more than the weather in Europe, it is their town squares- as lively as I can imagine them to be when they were firs inhabited, they are the life of every city. Prague’s Old Town was no different. Dated back to the 10thcentury (Yes, I kid you not), this square has largely remained unchanged and the environment is electric within. Lined with cafes, live performers, the Old Town Hall Tower (which houses the Astronomical Clock) – there is no better thing to do than sit yourself down with some delicious mulled wine (my discovery this trip and new obsession) and absorb.

Mulled wine…slurrrp
The Astronomical Clock
Restaurant in a tram
Kafka’s home, now a cafe

Bubbles!
Wenceslas Square

It was almost evening when Andrea said goodbye to us, at Wenceslas Square and we really felt like we had made a new friend. But we had plans for the evening, and Baba was very excited – we were attending a Czech quartet and modern ballet performance at the Estates Theatre or Stavovské divadlo. Prague has always been known for a thriving culture and fervor for music – but what was most special about this theatre was that it is the only theatre left standing where Mozart performed. In October 1787, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart conducted the world premiere of his opera Don Giovanni here and it gave us gooseflesh to step into the same space more than 200 years afterwards. Those familiar with Czech director Miloš Forman would also like to know that his Oscar-winning film Amadeus was also shot in bits here! After three hours of fulfilling music, and modern ballet (which I must confess that I don’t really get) – we idly walked back to our hotel, wrapped in our best winter clothes and jubilant hearts.

Estates Theatre
Beautifully baroque

Artistes taking a bow
The next day, we took a trip to Český Krumlov – a small city in South Bohemia, almost touching the Austrian border. I first saw it on World of Wanderlust – a blog I ardently and enviously follow and made a mental note, because this would probably be the closest to a Disney fairy tale town that I would get. Our chaperone for the day was Jiri, and he was one of the most delightful persons I met on this trip – full of stories and jokes. He drove us for two hours through rolling hills, carpets of green and little wooden cottages to the UNESCO World Heritage Site where we spent the day exploring the gigantic 13th century citadel, its Versailles-style grounds and the quaint, cobblestone lined town on the horseshoe bend of the river that lay at the foot of the castle. Although there isn’t much to do at this little town, a visit to Czech Republic would be incomplete without it – if you need any more convincing, watch this! It truly is a place where time stands still.

Enroute

The first glimpse
Archways in abundance
Fascinatingly old statuettes

The walls were painted as though to create an illusion of bricks – an Art Deco fad

In panorama

The gardens – though slightly underwhelming

Did you know that Bata was a Czech brand? Here it is called ba-cha

The town crest

Old Town Square

For the laundry slackers

Beer boys

Captivating

With only three days to cover the country, as always, I’m sure there’s lots more to see. But what I thought would be just another European city, captured my heart and Prague is now among the top two on my list – competing only with Vienna. I’d love to return here in winter someday – when the red roofs would all turn into white and there would be magic in the air.

Děkuji, Praha.
Comments

0 thoughts on “A Bohemian Rhapsody

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *