czech

The Best Day Trip from Prague: Cesky Krumlov

The one place on this trip that I had absolutely zero expectations about was Cesky Krumlov. To be honest, I didn't even know what country it was in. At best, I figured it would be a pleasant surprise like my day trip to Girona on my Barcelona trip, and at worst, I figured it was only a quick stop on our way to the next big city on our trip. 

I won't bury the lead here - Cesky Krumlov was by far the most magical stop of our trip. Magical meaning it gave me ~feels~ like I got in Stockholm - like this was a place I would be content to stay forever. It wasn't just the quaint cobblestone streets or the beautiful castle or the winding Vltava River that seemed to be giving the city a hug - it was also a feeling of perfect contentedness - of slowing down and not feeling like there were 23842 "must see" things and specific "must eat" dishes. All we had to do for 24 hours was appreciate this incredible little town in the Czech Republic - and appreciate it I did! I wandered its streets when all the day trippers had left, napped in a sun-filled log cabin and hiked to the top of a grassy hill overlooking the picturesque city. 

But let's start at the beginning! 

Cesky Krumlov

We had two cabs waiting for us when we got off the train and they took us to the Krumlov House - a hostel situated super close to the center of the city. After stepping through the elaborate wooden dragon door we were greeted by an American who checked us in and let us know that we would have the hostel to ourselves for the night. Once we got up to our second floor suite, I think it sunk in just how unique this hostel was. Dad had been raving about how much he loved this hostel - and that he was so glad we were getting to go there. And it was immediately clear why he had been so excited. Everything was handmade from wood and it had the most incredible light streaming in. It was so tranquil. 

Krumlov House Hostel

We didn't have too much time at that moment to get comfortable though, because we all headed to the grocery store up the street to buy some snacks for a picnic in a park next to the river. Sitting on a shady bench looking up at the castle I was incredibly zen.

Cesky Krumlov

David had set up a tour for us with one of the locals who he promised we would absolutely love. As we walked to the center of town to meet her, David told us stories about different townspeople, stores, restaurants, etc. I loved the small town feel of Cesky and the fact that David was passing people he recognized on the streets. He popped into a restaurant whose owner he knew so we could use the bathroom before the tour started and knew the artist who had made some of the metal-work outside of a bar. 

It felt a little bit like we were walking through the "Little Town" scene in "Beauty in the Beast."

Our tour guide was so lovely - she was such an upbeat, happy person and Allison and I loved chatting with her as she showed us around town and promised us that later in the day, things would clear out and we would have the place to ourselves. A lot of day trips come through but leave around 3 or 4. 

Everywhere we turned there was cool artwork or beautiful views. There were so many little things that she pointed out to us , like these little paint tube fingers that I loved for some reason. 

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As we wound through the cobblestone streets, down to the river and up to the castle, we marveled at her ability to conduct the tour wearing wedges. 

The views from the top of the castle were stunning and we could have stayed there taking pictures all day. The one thing I didn't love was that there's a bear in the moat of the castle and while there used to be more than one, now he's all alone down there and it made me really sad. 

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When the tour was finished, Allison and I wandered around a little longer through the streets before heading back to our beautiful hostel. At this point in the trip, everyone other than me was feeling under the weather, and there couldn't have been a more peaceful place to take a nap. 

I wasn’t quite ready for go inside though, so I chatted with the woman working at our hostel and asked her what her suggestion was for a short run/hike. She knew exactly where to send me- I went for a nice little loop and when I finished that, I started the hike up to the church. It was a good incline that got my heart rate going (as did the dog that started running at me at one point). I felt totally alone, which was nice after constantly being with people for days on end. At the top, I found a relatively flat area of grass and did a deck of cards workout before heading back to the hostel.

Run in Cesky Krumlov

I made myself some tea, an orange, and granola and just sat in the kitchen soaking in the incredible sunlight coming through the windows and making all of the wood work look golden. The woman working at the hostel started chatting with me and it turns out she was from California and had been visiting the Czech Republic when she stumbled upon the hostel in Cesky Krumlov - while she was staying, one of the employees had quit. She was offered the job and took it - and had been there ever since! Talking to her didn’t make it seem so crazy…

Krumlov House

I went back up to the room eventually and dozed for a little bit before it was time to get ready and go with the group to dinner at a place Dad promised we would love - for a full “Bohemian feast” at Krčma U dwau Maryí . We stopped for many photo opportunities along the way - it was my favorite time of night, SUNSET TIME.

Cesky Krumlov Sunset

We were thrilled when they seated us at an outside table along the river. We ordered the chicken version of the feast which comes out for the whole table - it had chicken, smoked meat, millet, potato dumplings, potato cake, potato and vegetables. I didn’t really know what I was eating, but it was good! It was very traditional food from the days of feudalism.

Also traditional to the Czech culture is mead - so I figured sitting outside along the river on a crisp April evening would be a good time to give the warm, alcoholic drink a try. Sadly - I was not a fan of the mead. It was soo strong. It reminded me of back in the day when I hated the taste of every alcoholic drink that I tried because it burned my throat.

At least now I know to never order mead again!

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We were definitely full after dinner, so it was nice to walk around and look at the castle and town all lit up. We seemed to be the only ones left in town!

Cesky Krumlov Castle

I woke up earlyyy the next morning so that I could get a picture from a wonderful viewpoint as the sun rose and it was a nice, quiet moment but also sad, because Cesky looked so so beautiful and I didn’t want to leave!

Cesky Krumlov Sunset

But alas, “Vienna Waits for You…..”

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6 Countries in 17 Days: Prague

While I was sad to say goodbye to pierogies - so many people had told me that they loved Prague, and we were excited to see what was next in the Czech Republic!

Prague City Guide

The highlight of the journey from Krakow to Prague was definitely the salad we had picked up the night before from Krakow's Fitagain Cafe. 

For the 17 days we explored Central Europe (they don't like being referred to as Eastern Europe!) I ate a lot of bread, a lot of meat and a lot of cheese. I truly cherished every vegetable I consumed. 

And this salad from Fitagain wasn't just your average salad - it had all my favorite things like apples and chickpeas and sweet potatoes and sunflower seeds. 

Fitagain Krakow Poland

When we arrived at the train station in Prague, David took us down the platform to take a look at a statue. It was of two kids with their father and a suitcase, and the story he told about what the statue represents was amazing! It's a tribute to Sir Nicholas Winton, who helped 669 Jewish children in Prague find foster families in Britain to save them during the Holocaust. 

Sir Nicholas Winton Tribute Statue Prague

Winton never told anyone about the lives he had saved until nearly 50 years afterwards. David showed us an incredible video of Winton unknowingly surrounded by the people he had saved that you should definitely watch if you feel like getting emotional!

That quick little detour upon our arrival in Prague is just one example of why David was the best tour leader ever! 

After our stop at the statue, David helped me get some money exchanged for a fair price before leading us out to walk through a park to the tram. We waited awhile in the sun before loading all of our things onto the car. I'm sure locals cringed whenever they saw our group coming - especially Allison and I with our massive suitcases. 

After a quick ride, we walked the rest of the way to get the keys to the apartments we would be staying in. I'm so sad I can't remember the woman's name, but a precious little lady walked Allison and I a little further into the center of town and taught us how to get into the apartment - it included the unlocking and re-locking of approximately 80 doors before loading into the world's most terrifying elevator (we screamed 9/10 times we rode it over the weekend). 

We didn't realize we would be sharing the apartment with her - so that was a little weird to realize at first - but we very much had our own private space with a bedroom, living room and bathroom. We shared the kitchen and 1/2 bath with our host (and her dog - which was a little annoying since Allison is allergic and they never asked if anyone had allergies). 

She had us lock and unlock the door a bunch of times until we figured it out and let us know in her very limited English that if we had to go "ka-ka" we should use the 1/2 bath in the kitchen. Personally, I was trying very hard not to laugh during this entire thing. We were also both reallllly hoping she would speed it up on her whole spiel because we were desperate to eat and get ready before meeting up with the group. (Josh and Heidi were staying in another apartment just a ways down the street). 

Finally she left and Allison and I started getting ready. 

We met up with everyone back at the rental office and from there, walked into Old Town Square. We were staying SO CLOSE - that was one of the things I loved about this trip and the way it was planned. We were always steps from the center of town which saved so much time as opposed to constantly having to get on subways and buses every time we wanted to get somewhere. We could almost always walk to the biggest/most popular sights. 

Prague Old Town Square

Prague's Old Town Square was still done up for Easter with lots of stalls and vendors selling all different kinds of foods - entire turkey legs, spiraled potatoes on a stick, candy, etc. Dad gave us some warnings about buying anything from these stalls - they tend to really jack up the prices or do things like weighing the turkey leg and charging per ounce.  

You could tell that Dad loved Prague, because he spent a looong time on our orientation tour. He was disappointed that some of his favorite stops were closed on the weekend, and also to find that the Astronomical Clock, one of Prague's most popular tourist stops, was under construction. 

Despite that, we still saw quite a lot, including lots of art by contemporary Czech artist David Černý. I've come to realize that I absolutely love contemporary art - and my favorite part of Prague was definitely all of the hidden art throughout the city. I loved stopping and seeing all of the odd little pieces by Cerny and others. 

We stopped for awhile to observe his piece "Head of Franz Kafka." This is a giant sculpture made of steel with rotating panels that move around and eventually come back together to create a face. It's mesmerizing to watch!

Cerny Art Prague

Of course walked along the water so that David could point out the incredibly famous, and photogenic, Charles Bridge - though it was the prime time of day for the bridge to be overrun by tourists. So we just looked at it from afar and David encouraged us to wake up early the next morning to enjoy the bridge with fewer people. He also told a funny story about a couple in one of his tour groups who got engaged on what they thought was the Charles Bridge - only to find out they were one bridge over, on the Mánes Bridge (a mistake Allison and I also almost made the following morning). 

We continued our walk and on the way to Wenceslas Square made a quick stop to see the Cubist Lamp Post and passed the Velvet Revolution Memorial.  Wenceslas Square was bustling and seemed to be the Times Square of Prague - it was a little too touristy and crowded for me - at one point we passed a window where people were sitting and having their toes eaten by fish ("fish pedicures") - 10/10 would not recommend. I was fine with never coming back to this part of town. 

Wenceslas Square

Our last stop was to see another one of Cerny's pieces - Statue of King Wenceslas Riding an Upside-Down Dead Horse. It hangs from the ceiling in the Art Nouveau Lucerna Palace (Lucerna is also a big dance club where they play 80's/90's music and music videos on Friday and Saturday nights!) 

Cerny Art Prague

With that, our orientation tour was done and we were left to do our own thing around town. I had been told to get a drink at the rooftop bar of the Hotel U Prince for stunning views of Old Town Square and while we had to wait about 10 minutes to be allowed up, it was well worth it for the classy vibes, good drinks, and beautiful views. We seemed to have arrived at just the right time, because once we sat down in the hotel lobby to wait, the hostess started sending everyone away! There was such a steady stream of people - this is absolutely a very popular spot and I would recommend making a reservation for lunch or dinner if you definitely want to get in. 

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We enjoyed a cheese plate and drinks and shamelessly took tons of pictures until we had the perfect Instagram shot. This is the kind of place that just begs to be 'grammed. 

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When we felt we had outstayed our welcome on the roof, we headed out in search of my first doughnut of the trip at a place called Donuterie. When we arrived, there was ONE DONUT LEFT in this adorable little shop which she gave us at a discount and we all enjoyed a few tasty bites of. I honestly don't remember what it was - but it was fruity/citrusy and I was very content. 

Donuterie Prague

Next stop was the Prague Beer Museum which was...an experience. The museum itself seemed like it was a joke - first of all, it was empty. Second of all, it was dingy and everything looked like it hadn't been touched in 100 years. We sped through the laughable exhibits in the dark, musty basement in the hopes that the entrance fee would be worth it when we got our free samples of beer. Turns out, it was - we got 4 free beers and were seated in the most bizarre drinking environment ever - we dubbed it the "Communist Bar" as there was propaganda playing on the television screens and mannequins wearing uniforms. I think the picture below accurately portrays the room. We were sharing the space with a bachelor party from Germany which made for a funny hour or so while we drank our beers. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this as a must-do in Prague (OK, I definitely wouldn't) but it didn't end up being as horrible as we originally thought when we first stepped into the museum. 

Beer Museum Prague

On our walk back to the apartment we realized just how many bachelor parties were walking around Prague - the streets were just filled with European men and Allison and I committed to going out having fun. But first - we needed dinner. 

We ended up going to a vegetarian restaurant around the block from us that was pretty good - but the quiet, tranquil vibe of the restaurant left us struggling to find that "Let's go seize the night" attitude we had had an hour ago. Maitrea was a much needed break from meat, potatoes, bread and cheese.

After, we mustered up the energy to go to a bar that David had pointed out during our tour - saying that it would be filled with hockey-loving locals. Sadly - when we got there it smelled like chicken wings and all we saw were other women...so we halfheartedly looked around for a more poppin' spot only to decide bed sounded like the best option. 

It was a good decision - because the next morning we were up at the crack of dawn - literally, it was still dark out when we set out for our own private exploration of Prague and it was the best decision ever! 

Old Town Square was completely deserted, the air was crispy and cool, the moon was still hanging in the sky, and we were one of only a few people when we reached the Charles Bridge.

Prague Old Town Square

The sun was starting to rise and we decided we would sit on the bridge and watch for awhile. It was slow, and we got a little antsy, but everything turned the most amazing golden color. People were lined up across the bridge taking pictures - but it was still so much emptier than any other part of the day.

Charles Bridge

After enjoying the sunrise, we crossed over the bridge to Malá Strana ("Little Side of the River") where we wound our way up look around at the churches and castles (and saw the Starbucks with the world's most impressive view). It was so crazy how empty it was up there - it was us and the guards! 

Prague Sunrise

We walked back down and along the river for a picture of The Dancing House ("Fred & Ginger") which I was really excited to see. It was designed by an American-Canadian and Croatian-Czech architect duo. It would have looked better in the sunshine, but I still really liked it! 

Dancing House Prague

We also loved the colorful buildings along the Vltava River. 

Prague Colorful

We walked back through Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square, where it was still very quiet and stumbled upon a cubism-themed restaurant called "Černá Madona" where we enjoyed a delicious breakfast. I was overjoyed by a yogurt parfait with granola, honey and fruit after days of bread, cheese and meat for breakfast (I will never get used to a ham and cheese sandwich being breakfast). Ah, the simple things. 

Cerna Madona Prague

Afterwards, we went to see the Jewish Quarter ("Josefov") and the Old Jewish Cemetery - there were really long lines but we were able to peer through the fence to see the headstones dating back to as early as 1439. Jews living in Prague were given so little space, that the cemetery holds 100,000 bodies - some piled up to 12 deep. Insane. 

On the walk back to the apartment we stumbled upon a sculpture that I loved by Jaroslav Rona - it supposedly depicts beloved Czech author Franz Kafka. 

Prague Sculpture

By now it was 11 AM - and we had been walking around for HOURS. Part of the deal I'd made with Allison for getting out of bed at 5 AM was nap-time! So we got comfortable at our apartment and passed out for a few hours. I love naps. I am also GREAT at naps. 

Eventually we got ourselves up and walked around in search of some lunch/dinner to bring back and eat while we got ready for our drinking tour. 

We stumbled upon Country Life Restaurant which had a salad bar that I thoroughly enjoyed. We ate and got ready and set out in search of the Prague Riverside Party we had signed up for - with a quick stop to take a picture of Heidi on her princess balcony! We had a lot of trouble locating the actual start of the tour - a fratty, dark, dank basement bar called the "Recovery Room." 

The Prague Riverside Party had come recommended to me by a friend and I have mixed feelings about it. Overall, I like it and would recommend it - but I would only recommend it after letting people know what they're in for. The premise is that you get a tour from a bunch of foul-mouthed/comedian type "tour guides" while drinking free alcohol. The guides are your typical bar-crawl leading/hostel working types - you're not sure if they're homeless and you're not sure why they're acting like 16 year old's when they're clearly approaching 30 but at the same time you kind of wish you could live their carefree, travel the world life. We called ours drunk Jesus. 

Prague Riverside Parties

The Recovery Room bar where we started smelled like mold. I was fairly certain we were all going to leave with a disease. The "free alcohol" was really really bad beer, or really really sweet/poisonous "sangria." We sat down and were immediately greeted by a man who stumbled out from some back room and was fifty shades of fucked up. He let us know he had been out sine the previous night, which was 100% believable. Soon, he was joined by his girlfriend and they proceeded to make out and tell us about all the sex they had been having. Heidi, Allison and I laughed along with them but inside we were all cringing and couldn't wait for them to retreat to their back room. 

Eventually Drunk Jesus started the night by explaining to us that we would be using Exacto knives to create stencils of whatever our hearts desired. He was definitely under the impression that saying "fuck" 3 times per sentence made whatever he said hysterical, and most of the people in the room seemed to agree with him. 

We made our stencils and handed them in and soon were lead outside to start the tour. I was very happy to be out of the Recovery Room and into the fresh air. At that point the tour got better - we stopped at the glowing embryo on the side of a building (Cerny, of course!), and the Rudolfinum where our tour guide told us the plot of Weil’s Mendelssohn Is on the Roof as if it were fact and not a novel. 

All the while, guys biked behind us with carts filled with endless supplies of shitty beer and sangria which we happily sipped on because #FREE (well, we paid for it, really). 

Prague Riverside Parties

Another stop was the Winged Lion Memorial before walking across the Charles Bridge where we learned that many of the statues are not, in fact, the originals. The originals were taken down to preserve them and replicas were put up - after attempting to make them look aged and worn out. 

At this point in the night we were desperate for a restroom - and luckily when we got to the other side of the bridge they let us into a restaurant that the group clearly has some sort of agreement with. After that, it to the pleasantly named "Piss Statue" - literally a statue, complete with running water, or two men facing each other and pissing. We were all encouraged to take inappropriate photos with the statue which many people were more than happy to do.

The pack of us continued along the streets, probably irritating everyone we encountered as more and more beer and sangria was consumed. We got to a bridge and sat down under it and were served our meat pies - no joke - dinner is included in the tour and dinner is homemade meat pies that honestly were out of this world good. Even our Aussie friend agreed. While we ate we finally took some time to talk to other people on the tour - including two guys from Canada who knew people killed in the tragic Humboldt crash that had happened that day. 

The grand finale of the tour was getting to spray paint our stencils on the John Lennon Wall - which was honestly pretty damn cool! The wall is owned by Malta, and it's pretty awesome that they have kept it open to the public for spray painting all these years! 

Lennon Wall Prague

Afterwards, we took a group picture and were invited back to the Recovery Room where for a small fee of 10 euro or something, you could drink for another hour before starting a bar and club crawl. The thought of having to ingest any more horrible beer and having to breathe in more of the mold from the Recovery Room was enough for me to vote hell no on that proposition.  

Instead, Heidi, Allison and I slowly made our way back to our apartments - eyes peeled for some place that pulled us in for another drink. But, as often happened to us, our bed's seemed to call the loudest! 

Overall, Prague didn't do it for me. I'm not sure what exactly it was. Just how I felt! It was the weekend, it was crowded, it was touristy - by far my favorite part was getting to walk around in the early morning hours before the streets were filled! But there will always be some great Prague memories - communist bars, a twerking T-Rex, our host barging in while I had no pants on, and proudly looking at the Islanders logo spray painted on the Lennon Wall. 

Charles Bridge Prague

We didn’t have to arrange for our accommodations for this portion of the trip, since Geckos (now Intrepid Travel) set everything up for us - but here’s an article with some of the best hostels in Prague! One of the spots on their list, “Hostel One” Prague, is the same chain that I stayed at in Barcelona and absolutely LOVED.

Next up, Cesky Krumlov!