We are on the train, heading out of Prague, on Saturday. Our stay was shaped, really managed, by our hotel keeper Kristina. We arrived at dusk on Monday to her small "aparthotel" in Prague. She sat us down with croissants and cappuccino, spread a map out and told us how to use our three full days in Prague, which she said was way too little time for the most spectacular of cities.
I told her we needed to set aside two half days for school. Rubbish, she said. There is no time for desk work when you are in Prague for only a few days! The kids cheered. She planned out three days for us, and encouraged us to drop our bags in our room and head out for an evening walk that night. I am so glad we did. The city was magical at night. We took a long walk over one bridge and then up toward the center of town. We went to a vegetarian restaurant, seemed like it was in a medieval home. The food was delicious. Had myself a Pilsner Urquel, from the Czech Republic, and a spicy curry, the kids had spinach rolls and apple juice and the check total was less than $20. The walk, meanwhile, was a multimillion dollar walk. So gorgeous at every step.
For the next three days we walked, and walked. We went into a large park and walked up, up, up to a small Eiffel tower, a monastery, and down to the Prague Castle and its surrounding district. We walked up, up, up in another park on another day to where Prague was originally settled around 900BC. We walked all through town, each day the promised rain never showing up.
There is a wide river that runs north/south through Prague, the Vltava. There are several bridges that cross the river, making for lots of nice scenery and easy walking around. The most popular and touristic bridge, the Charles Bridge, takes you right into the Castle District, an entry which makes you think this is where fairy tales were made. The number of intricate facades, careful architectural touches and both grand and small statues was endless. Six or seven of the photos I took were taken from the same point, just in different directions. We oohed and ahhed all over that town!
A lot of Prague walking is hard on the feet, as the sidewalks are either marble chunks or cobblestones. But, we did it! We followed Kristina's recommendations and had a wonderful time. Food and coffee (!) we're cheap, too, which was a great bonus!!
We wanted to follow Kristina's suggestions because they seemed to hit the highlights, involved way more walking outside than inside, and because Kristina was so infectiously insistent! On our first day walking, Henry said we had to go to a certain place in the park. Well, I said, if we happen upon it, fine, but let's try to get back on track (we were lost, something that happened a lot in Prague). But, Henry said, Kristina said we HAD to go there! The kids loved her, wanted to get her flowers before we left, and gave her huge hugs when we did depart. She showered them with love right back. A wonderful kids playroom. Yummy hot chocolates. Endless croissants and yogurts. She kept telling them she'd give them a test on Prague. She never did, but it kept them on their toes!
Street signs have become more and more difficult to find as we progress on our trip. This has contributed to our getting lost frequently. Nothing tragic or the-metro-is-closed-now lost, but just over-eager exploring that puts us 20 or 30 minutes off track. Language barriers have not helped either. Sloppy reading of maps, where one street only differs from another by and "e" somewhere in its name, has also contributed. That's also resulted in some unintended purchases. Thought I was buying lemon sparkling water but got the store brand sprite, diet I think. Thought I was buying Henry a juice but we got a pitcher of juice.
We are in Vienna now, Saturday evening, all checked into our hotel and just got back from a walk and dinner. Yes, we got very off track coming home from dinner. Coco wanted to navigate the map home and I was only half helping. I really though we were totally on track, taking pictures of Vienna's pride and joy, St. Stephen's cathedral. Well, turns out that wan't the $?&'#¥ cathedral at all. We had walked clear to the opposite side of the town center and were photographing the city hall! Yes, gorgeous. Just absolutely NOT where we thought we were! The hotel is great. A queen bed and a single on the side.
St. Stephans cathedral, Vienna
A family on our train from Prague was from Vienna. The dad, seemed like a nice guy, told me I'd like Vienna much better than Prague, that Vienna was much safer, and, oddly, that Vienna was much more "ready tourists" than Prague. He seemed like a laid back person and on the 4.5 hour train ride, but there was a certain one-up-manship in his voice, a slight snobbery.
It's now Sunday. We have seen a lot of the central downtown area. Not only did we visit (ie, did not get tickets to the sold out performance but viewed horses from the sidewalk) the fancy Spanish horses at the palace, we checked out the real St. Stephen's cathedral and the Mozart house museum. Mozart lived in 11 places in Vienna but the museum building includes the apartment where he spent his three most prolific and profitable years. Very interesting. Again, audio guides helped. They even had a "kids" version of the audio guide! We also did some school work today, a good thing.
We are hoping for a dusting of snow tonight.
This is indeed a beautiful city. Much more prosperous than Prague. Seems like if Prague had the resources to shine up its endless beauties, there would be no comparison between the two. We did a ton of walking in Prague, day and into the night. I alnways felt very safe. Kristina told me there were no off-limits in Prague. While i listend for my instincts to speak up, i did always feel safe. it was odd that we'd walk blocks and not see anyone, but at night i'd just migrate to populated streets. Things are much more crowded in central Vienna and all the statues and monuments more polished.
The Czech Republic is also only recently getting out of communist rule. I saw no references to Vaclav Havel in Prague. Isn't that odd? We did see Wenceslas Square, where the main protests were held, and the memorial to victims of communism. But, nothing about Havel.
Both cites we're bombed during World War II, Vienna much more extensively. As far as I can gather, Vienna was bombed by the Germans, the Allied Forces and the Soviets. Prague was bombed right near the end of the war, by the Americans and by mistake. We thought we were bombing Dresden, which is just north of Prague. The weather was terrible, navigation abilities low and no one listened to the few who said it wasn't Dresden. We didn't realize it until the next day, after only civilians were killed. Kristina said there is no doubt by the Czechs that it was a mistake.
There are reminders of the war everywhere. Our fist stop on German ground, a transfer at the Hamburg train station, was eery. The sound of muffled German over a bad P.A. System threw me for a moment. Coco is reading a biography of a Polish girl who survived the camps. We discuss the war, the holocaust and the effects most places we go.
Obviously, i don't have to choose between Prague and Vienna. I happen to like them both, very much. But if i had to pick just one....
Mozart house museum, Vienna