Travis and I are really still such outdoor folks at heart that sometimes it’s hard for us to get excited about trips like our Easter road-trip to Prague. Despite typically having a laundry list of fantastic attractions to see, planning a trip to a big city requires an attention to practical details we’d much rather avoid – the necessity of pre-booking accommodations; weighing the hassle of figuring out public transportation in an unfamiliar city vs. the convenience of driving but having to do so in heavily populated areas with the inevitable struggle to find parking; knowing we’ll be visiting popular attractions with thousands of others in a constant crush of humanity; and the dilemma of what to do with our dog when she’s with us and we have a mixed itinerary of dog- and non-dog-friendly sites to see.
Rather than a weekend in London or Paris, our ideal weekend getaway involves driving as far from people as we can get, ditching the car on a mountain road, and backpacking into the wilderness for a week of dirt, cold, and wild animals that want to eat us. Those kinds of trips also suit us because they typically involve little to no planning, other than remembering to pack enough fuel for our stove so we’re not eating soggy, cold re-hydrated meals. The tent’s pretty important too. We actually both forgot it on one camping trip. But the stress alone of just planning a big-city trip sometimes leads us to procrastinate right out of going.
When we woke up at Triocamp our first morning in Prague, it was almost with relief that we poked our heads out of our tent fly and realized the gloomy weather hadn’t yet lifted. It was an easy decision to postpone visiting the city in favor of first driving to the nearby town of Kutná Hora, small and more manageable, to spend the morning at an indoor attraction out of the rain. After a thoroughly enjoyable half day exploring Sedlec Ossuary and the Cathedral of St. Barbara in Kutná Hora, it was finally time to drive into the heart of the big, bad beast – Prague.
With trusty map app in my hand and Travis bravely at the wheel, we entered the city from the east, driving straight toward its famous Old Town district. Impressed by the light traffic on the Saturday before Easter, I actually started to wonder if folks had left Prague for the holiday weekend. (In reality, they had all just beaten us to Old Town!) We were doing great until our route abruptly ended in a barrier across the road with no marked detour. A mass of construction blocked our path. With no place to go, Travis abruptly turned right down a narrow cobblestone lane, drove up a few stairs, and a block later, descended a curb to return to the main road from where he’d been driving on the sidewalk. I think we’re even now for my mishap driving down the train tracks in Zaragoza.
Minutes after pulling over to scope out a new route on our map, we were back en route. Not five minutes later, we crossed an intersection and entered a one-way street the wrong way. Immediately realizing our error, Travis pulled wide to swing a U-turn out of the way of oncoming traffic, pulling up right in front of a parked police car. When they immediately hit their lights, I started fishing around for our car registration, already expecting a ticket. (At least Travis hadn’t been driving on a sidewalk while entering the one-way illegally.) One of the officers approached our car, listened briefly as Trav explained our mistake, and realized we were obviously tourists. Nodding in understanding, he waved us on our way. But that wasn’t the end of it.
Incredibly grateful and eager to put some distance between the police car and us, we heaved a joint sigh of relief, then allowed them to pull out in front of us. Falling in behind them, we turned left in the direction they had pointed. They turned left also. At the next intersection, we still were unsure where to go but continued to follow them, afraid to make a colossal driving error while behind a cop. We were still behind them several blocks later when they came to a near stop in our lane, put on their blinker to go left, then slowly continued straight. Even though they didn’t know for sure where we were going, they’d led us back to the main highway to downtown, even signalling us where to turn. On Easter weekend somewhere in downtown Prague, we received a personal police escort. A million thanks to the helpful police officers of Prague!
After finding a spot in a parking garage where we could leave our car for the rest of the day, we hoofed it to Old Town Square, where we were first met with the Old Town Hall’s 600-year-old Astronomical Clock. Every hour between 9 am and 11 pm, the 12 apostles appear to mark the passage of time.
Immediately across the square, the Gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn towered over the numerous booths vendors had set up for Easter.
Another massive cathedral, St. Nicholas’, squared off with Our Lady before Týn – because one imposing cathedral in a square is never enough.
We spent a couple of hours wandering among the rows of vendors selling handmade wool slippers, silver jewelry twined around gemstones, and delicately painted eggs for Easter.
The sweet smell of trdelniks cooking over a bed of hot coals filled the air. Similar to the kürtőskalács we had in Romania, trdelniks are a sweet pastry, a spit cake made of dough grilled around a wooden stick and brushed with sugar and often crushed walnuts.
Though we didn’t see any Becherovka for sale (a Czech bitters recommended by a friend), we saw plenty of stands selling hot apple cider, punch, and medovina, a type of mead.
Beneath a tree hung with brightly colored Easter balloons, a petting zoo was set up with a handful of farm animals. We watched in amusement as a feisty horned goat rammed full-on into the perimeter fence to ward off an obtrusive Husky.
After exploring the Old Town Square, we set off toward the waterfront, then followed the Vltava River to the Old Town Bridge Tower at the entrance of Charles Bridge.
Standing since the 12th century, the bridge was once a path for kings during coronation. Now, it’s an incredibly popular tourist attraction.
From the waterfront, we watched the sun set over Prague Castle above the river on the west bank.
Returning to the Old Town Square in search of dinner, we arrived to find the Church of Our Lady before Týn lit up in Gothic splendor.
Hungrily devouring chicken and vegetable kebabs from a street vendor in Old Town, we were still tempted upon passing an entire pig roasting on a spit outside a nearby restaurant.
Our final fun sighting during our walk back to the car was a shop window with a gal and her son enjoying a fish pedicure, a practice that’s growing in popularity across Europe and Asia but banned in a handful of US states.
Back at the parking garage, we sank gratefully into the VW’s semi-comfortable familiar seats and plotted a course for “home” – Triocamp. The next day would be Easter, another fun-filled day exploring Prague Castle, sampling our first “stuffed chimneys”, and for me, getting my first bona fide Czech spanking. Yes, you read that correctly. I got spanked at Prague Castle. And Trav let it happen.
Know Before You Go:
- Parking options near Old Town Prague
- If you’re visiting on Easter weekend or during other festivities when street vendors are set up in Old Town Square, it’s a good idea to bring some local currency – the Czech koruna (also called the Czech crown or written as CZK). If you don’t have it, some booths accept euros and will give change in korunas.
- Official site for Prague (and it’s in English!)
What’s up next on our agenda?
Easter at Prague Castle, Guinness Book record-holder as the largest castle complex in the world!