I always like to start a travel journal with the “background story” – of all the places in the world, how did we end up here and with this itinerary? This one started with an invitation from Avalon Waterways to experience one of their new “Active Discovery” itineraries. Avalon is the line on which we sailed from Paris to Normandy in 2016, and we loved that experience. They have a new program which has includes a shorter route with multiple stops each day, and excursions that include active (bike riding, hikes, running tours) and discovery (painting classes, Roman games or clothing workshop) options, as well as Classic (walking tours through towns or visiting historic places).
The invitation was for the Rhine River, going from Frankfurt to Amsterdam. A typical Rhine river cruise goes from Switzerland to Amsterdam, but again this is the new modified itinerary. There were a few dates offered, and we chose August 12-19. We wanted to add on an additional city/country before the cruise, and we narrowed it down to Budapest Hungary and Prague Czech Republic. I’ve heard a number of people say that Prague is their favorite city in Europe, so we decided to add that to our trip.
The plan: fly Washington DC to Prague, spend 3 nights there, full day train ride from Prague to Frankfurt Germany, board the Avalon Felicity just outside Frankfurt for a 7-night cruise ending in Amsterdam, spend one night in Amsterdam, and fly home.
Wednesday, August 8, 2018 We have arrived in Prague Czech Republic!
Our hotel is the Carlos IV on the edge of New Town (which is ONLY 570 years old compared to Old Town which dates back to the 700s). It has an interesting history – it was built as a bank, and then it became a post office, and finally a hotel with the Boscolo brand, which was purchased last year by Marriott.
First we asked about a concert for which I had seen a pamphlet on her desk – classical music including Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. She found a venue at which it would be playing tomorrow night at 6pm, in the Church of Mirrors near the Charles Bridge. We also asked for a dinner recommendation after that, and she made a reservation for us at a restaurant just across the bridge overlooking the river, Kampa Park. We asked about a place to go for a run on Friday morning, and she recommended we head north out of the hotel up to the river, and across a bridge to a big park. Finally, we asked for a place for dinner tonight near the Old Town Square with healthy options, and she recommend Al Riso.
There are many street vendors, but our favorite were the ones selling fresh fruit cups (only 150czk, which is just over $6) but it was big and full of truly fresh fruit. We need more healthy fast options like this in the US.
We walked down to the Old Town Square, and the walk was very nice. The town reminds us a lot of Krakow Poland – that old “medieval” kind of city. We found Al Riso relatively easily – it’s a gluten free Italian restaurant, and they make everything from bread to pasta with rice! We decided to sit outside and eat, even though it’s uncommonly hot here – in the 90s!
After dinner we started to walk toward the river and were almost there when it started to downpour raining. We found a balcony to stand under, and after about 10 minutes we left to stand by the river. Pretty pictures as the sun was starting to shine through even though the rain hadn’t stopped. We walked along the river, and then back to our hotel. Vic picked up hot water for our tea, and apple strudel (yum!), and with the time change and lack of sleep last night, it was time for bed.
We drove first to a place where we could look out over Prague, and the views were very nice. We went from there to the castle, where our guide purchased the entrance tickets (included in tour cost) and then we entered. We went first into the St. Vitus Cathedral – the original part was started around 925AD, and then the back end was started in the 1300s and finished about a hundred years ago. There were many references to King Charles, and to Duke or Prince (not King) Wenceslas (who was also not very good). We went through various parts of the castle and found it to be rather austere.
We left the castle, walking down the hill to where John was waiting with our (air-conditioned) car. We drove near the Old Town Square, but when we told our guide that we had wandered through there last night, she had him drive on. We went into the Jewish Quarter, where there are many synagogues still standing. We drove past the Jewish Cemetery, which she said holds 70,000 gravestones.
The concert was in the Church of Mirrors in the Clementin church area. The music was wonderful – a string quartet, then joined by a lead violinist and keyboard player. It was beautiful and they were truly very talented.
It was a quick walk to our dinner cruise location from there. We got our tickets and went on our boat at pier 8 where there were welcomed onboard with a glass of champagne. The hostess led us to the premium section, the waitress took our order (it was a fixed menu with 3 choices for each course) and gave us bread and complimentary wine. And the ship started to sail.
We went back to the room and grabbed a few things, then headed out. We walked down to the Old Town Square, and the walk was very nice. The town reminds us a lot of Krakow Poland – that old “medieval” kind of city. We found Al Riso relatively easily – it’s a gluten free Italian restaurant, and they make everything from bread to pasta with rice! We decided to sit outside and eat, even though it’s uncommonly hot here – in the 90s.
Kampa Park was absolutely wonderful!! The service was excellent, the view was awesome, and the food was amazing!! We had an incredible experience and were happy that it all worked out to have this experience (instead of the dinner cruise).
Friday, August 10, 2018 When we asked the concierge for a good running route, she had recommended running north, crossing a bridge, and through the big park. So that’s what we did, and the views were beautiful! We decided to keep going and make our way down to the Charles Bridge, so we kept running along at the top of the hill through the park, onto the roads when the park ended.
We walked to the Powder Gate (so named because that’s where they stored gunpowder) to meet our tour guide. He showed photos of the Nazis coming in to Prague from the very square in which we were standing, coming through the Powder Gate, and going into Old Town. He pointed out the little gold colored metal squares in the sidewalk that commemorate a location from which a citizen was taken to Terazin, a local camp/town that the Nazis created. They started with Jews, but eventually wanted to take all the Czechs out of Prague and make it a city for German residents.
We walked up to the Old Town Square and saw more photos of what it looked like during the war, including what the Astronomical Clock (which is covered for repairs) tower building looked like – it is now just the tower, but before a fire during the war, there was a large building to the right side. Then we went into the entrance to the tower and down into the area below (which can only be accessed on a tour).
The city was once much lower in elevation, but after much flooding they raised the city level and built the buildings on a higher ground level. Below the tower are a series of tunnels and rooms and the remains of what used to be the original doorways and buildings. During the war these were guided by the Germans, but after they lost the war in 1945, they were used by the resistance to move around under the city.
We then walked to the Jewish Quarter, where we peeked in a hole in the wall to see inside the Jewish Cemetery – incredible how many head stones and there are more graves in there than head stones! We ended the tour by the Intercontinental Hotel, across from a University building that the Nazis and then the Russians used as a headquarter. He told us that the Intercontinental Hotel was built in the 1960s, when the Russians were in power and had their headquarters across the street. When the interior of the hotel was remodeled after they won their freedom in 1989, they found all kinds of wires and recording devices built into the hotel rooms.
The last area we wanted to see was the Lesser Town or Little Quarter. Again, it was here that the nobility lived, close to the palace, and which now houses many embassies. We had driven up one of the streets on the way to the castle and it looked charming. So we walked down along the river and across the bridge to that area.
We checked out the church of St. Nicholas (which we discovered was closed for a concert that was about to begin) and then take the tram back to the hotel. Good tip – use Google Maps, and select public transportation to know which tram to take. We were to take #15, so we got our tickets at the tabak shop next door to the Starbucks – 24czk, about $1.07 each only.
We found the tram stop, so when it pulled up a few minutes later we got on and used the machine to stamp our tickets, then sat down. The tickets are to be stamped when you get on board, but it’s an honor system as you can get on in various locations throughout the tram. I have to say that probably only maybe half the people stamped their ticket.
We got off a stop early as Vic wanted to see the Marriott hotel. Not very impressive – “modern” on the outside, an unremarkable lobby. We left and walked back to our hotel. Our dinner in the lobby restaurant was excellent, and the service was wonderful! We have been very impressed with our hotel – the charm of the décor, the history of the building, and the outstanding service – we would definitely stay here again and highly recommend it.
I hope you enjoyed this recap of our Prague trip. Feel free to contact me with any questions before you plan your own trip to Czech Republic.