Along the Vltava: My Trip to Prague

Alan says this blog is dying but it is not!!! I’m just soaking up Singapore before I embark on my last year at Penn (sob). Life has been a depressing blur of moments pre-last year-at-Penn and the thought of real life beckoning is just eating away at me so yes I have been irrationally emotional and lazy and basically not living life properly.

But anyway, before Bangkok, there was Prague (and also Vienna, but that’s a post for later). The trip there was supposed to be an escape from the Olympics: London’s burdened Tube network, and all the tourists who never realized that everybody stands on one side of the escalator there.

HOWEVER. When I am met with extreme (okay lah, I use the word very loosely) weather, I react with complete silence (when it’s cold – Alan’s favourite), or utter grumpiness (hot). Prague was incredibly hot.

“Yup, you were THIIIIIIIIIIIS much of a bitch to me during the trip.” — what Alan was probably thinking

Truth be told, I was wondering what the big deal about this place was for the first two days. Everybody I know who’s been to the place raves about Charles Bridge (Karluv Most, in Czech) and when I saw it I was like, this is… just a bridge.

It’s a 10-metre wide bridge with 30 statues on it which I suppose makes for good photo opportunities.  The above picture doesn’t really do justice to how crowded it could be in the day, but just as well! It was Too Hot and you know what’s worse than Heat? Heat and Sweaty, Sticky People. Have you ever touched somebody’s clammy arm and felt like throwing up? (I don’t know how I survived a summer in Beijing.) Ok making myself feel sick now moving on.

This is the statue of the saints John of Matha, Felix of Valois, and Ivan. It’s apparently the most expensive sculpture on the bridge (but the original is in some museum), but it wasn’t so much its supposed price that intrigued me but the expression on the Turk-guard’s face, contrasted with the captured Christians in the cell. Here’s a close-up:

Gotta love his freaking bochap, can’t-be-bothered, siandiao-to-the-max face

And here’s A rubbing the statue of John of Nepomuk who, besides his funny-sounding birthplace, is famous for getting executed via drowning (off this very bridge) because he refused to divulge the contents of the Queen’s confessional to King Wenceslas. Apparently if you rub the plaque you’ll have good luck but the last time I petted a shiny tortoise in a Vietnamese temple I didn’t see any change to my grades, so.

One of “funniest” moments on the trip was our visit to the Mirror Maze on Petrin Hill. There is a tower at Petrin Hill that you can climb to get a (supposedly) great vantage spot of the entire city. It was hot and we didn’t want to exercise, so we ventured slightly further down to the maze, which kinda works out to the equivalent of ‘labyrinth’ in Czech. Naturally we were excited, imagining hedges of The Secret Garden kind… Instead we were greeted with a disappointingly short, tokenistic display of several mirrors, like so:

I think we literally walked the equivalent of 8 or 10 metres when the ‘maze’ ended. Now we know why the ladies at the counter were smiling so much when we paid $2.50 for our tickets.

Prague is also famed for its Jewish heritage, so Alan and I fit in the Jewish Quarter into our itinerary. We didn’t enter any of the synagogues though. Anyway the word ‘quarter’ is a very mild term; ‘ghetto’ would be more apt. Basically all the Jews were forced to live in one area so their actions and their trade could be monitored. You can’t see it in the picture below but now the whole place is very snazzy, lined up with international brands and restaurants charging almost at least double what we managed to get in other parts of the city.

If I had to choose one place to visit in Prague, it would be Prague Castle, or Prazky Hrad. I’m not sure whether it was the infinitely cooler weather we had that day or the gorgeous sights, but I was in a better mood and will probably always remember Prague with semi-great fondness now.

If you walk the route that we did – which I can’t remember now, sadly – and see a whole bunch of steps you’ll be sure to pass by this hole-in-the-wall bakery which sells trdelnik, which I suppose can be considered the Czech pretzel?? Except the dough is wrapped up into a cylinder and can be served with cinnamon or chocolate sauce (have both! it’s delicious) or basically whatever fruit+ sauce combination you want:

The castle is an institution of political power (though you Eastern European history buffs would probably know that by now) but there’s something for everyone – goofy camwhores like me can um take stupid pictures with the guards.

When you enter the castle grounds, sooner or later you’ll find yourself at St Vitus’ Cathedral, which was actually one of the few churches in Prague that did not give me the heebiejeebies. There was a genuine sense of reverence in spite of the tourists and the shutter clicks, which I think you lose in a lot of Catholic churches these days. The ones that get to me are those with the gift shop near the front of the pulpit… And the ones that sell postcards of baby Jesuses in fancy costumes just plain creep me out.

Architecturally it’s an impressive building and my pictures don’t do justice to the intricate detail surrounding it.

And this is outside St George’s Basilica, of which I can offer zero tidbits about the place. It’s only here because… I like the colours. >< Oh but wait Wikipedia says it’s the oldest surviving church in the castle complex – and trust me, the castle grounds are sprawling.

Even if history and architecture isn’t your thing, Prague Castle’s a great place to relax and read…

… watch the city unfold below and around you…

He proceeded to drink straight from it. And laughed when he saw us staring heehee.

…or ogle other people doing the same. Haha!!

While walking along the riverbank, we passed by the Museum Kampa (which was closed by the time we got there 🙁 )…

… As well as the Franz Kafka museum. Beginning to see a trend here…

(I was pondering the visual and symbolic significance of the statues’ penises rotating every 30 seconds or so. It was all very strange and worse, hypnotic…)

I think everyone’s visit to Prague ought to be capped off with a ride along the Vltava River. We paid $12.95 to rent one of those self-paddling boats. It was unexpectedly therapeutic and awesome. Alan and I paddled to one of those riverside cafes to listen to an English acoustic band serenade us with Top 40 hits, then we headed to the edge of the dam (well, or at least as near as we were allowed to), drank cider and beer, read our books, frightened about half the ducks in the river with our maniacal paddling… From a distance you could see all the tourists on the Charles Bridge passing back and forth like animated dots.  

Sigh. I could do with a nice relaxing evening by the river. I’ve been so high-strung of late I look in the mirror sometimes and wonder who’s that crazy woman staring back at me. 5 days left to my return to Penn and it’s bittersweet. The end of college is the end of our youth as we know it, an end to carefree years, and.. I’m not sure what else.

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