Running on Empty … and Still Prague to Go

You get to the point in any long vacation where the sameness takes over. This vacation’s unfortunate victim of this phenomenon was Prague, an 11-hour, two train and a bus journey from Paris. But Marilynn received a Fulbright grant to give a talk at Charles University in Prague, so to Prague we went.

We stayed at the university hotel in a huge room on the second floor, with high ceilings, a wood floor and intricate painted beams that date from the Baroque period—and a view of the Thai massage parlour across the street that started early and went late. Old Town is the center of tourist way in Prague, so we had a front-row seat to the crowds, the revelry and the loud stag parties. Fortunately, the room had solid wooden shutters, and our sleeping areas were a good 40 feet from the windows.

The first morning, Declan and I checked out our immediate surroundings while Marilynn gave her talk. In addition to those massage parlours and too many souvenir shops to count, we found a small storefront shop that sold babushka dolls for nearly every professional football team imaginable. English Premier League, lesser English leagues, La Liga, national teams—there had to be hundreds. The store also has nesting dolls for popular movies (Harry Potter) and TV shows like “The Big Bang Theory.” It was a breath of fresh air amid the stale sameness.

Time to head home

After lunch with Marilynn and her university hosts, we walked to the Old Town Hall to watch the medieval astronomical clock chime the top of the hour. The clock, installed in 1410, is the oldest working clock in existence. At the top of the hour, Death chimes in, while the Apostles pass through two windows above the clock face and rats look on from the edges. Other dial faces show the sun, moon and astronomical details, while the third marks months. It attracts large crowds, so you have to jockey for a good look. Since we were staying close, Marilynn nipped out that night for another look when the crowds had lessened.

We also climbed the Petrin Tower, a one-fifth size replica of the Eiffel Tower that sits atop a steep hill. The tower and surrounding park are served by a funicular (think Incline Railway in Chattanooga) using timed tickets that also work on the city’s tram/bus/subway system. The tower affords impressive views of the city both at the midway point and at the top of 299-step structure. Disabled folks (and the wimpy) can take an elevator to the top, but that’s just cheating if you are able-bodied.

The Charles Bridge, dating from the 14th century and begun by King Charles IV, is another Prague highlight. It’s closed to vehicular traffic, giving people plenty of opportunity to peruse the 30 replica statues that line the sides and watch the Vltava River flow by (or take selfies). Three impressive bridge towers “protect” the structure.

This Bud is true

At a Chinese restaurant that was doing a booming business among the Asian tourist trade, Marilynn and I tried our first Budweisers, the original Budweiser beer that predates American Budweiser by nearly a century. All of the Czech beers we tried were delicious, but Budweiser stands out because it is so much better than the US version, which I use only for grill marinades.

Declan and Marilynn visited the Old Jewish Cemetery, the largest in Europe, that last accepted interments in 1786. Declan particularly liked the twisted grave markers and the realization of how old the cemetery is. They also toured three decommissioned synagogues, including the “really cool” Spanish synagogue, Declan says. They took lots of pictures for me, and Declan kept his commemorative yarmulke.

We tried to visit Prague Castle, the 9th century castle considered the largest in the world, but there simply were too many people. On the last day in the last city before starting the return trip, it was too much to attempt. Instead, we circumnavigated the castle walls, saw what we could see, and called it a day.