Prague 2016 – Day 7 – Running out of time

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Wednesday unfortunately marks the final day of our holiday, with our plane booked for 9:30pm. Our airbnb hosts were nice enough to let us keep the room a few hours longer than we were meant to, so we could stay in the warm until 4pm at least, so we kind of planned our day around that.

We considered going into central again but honestly im not sure what we’d end up doing there other than freezing to death, so we decided on just doing a few things around vinohrady and chilling in the flat.

After some lunch we went to Questerland, a nearby Escape room game, it’s one of the higher rated ones in prague and has the added benefit of being in walking distance from our flat and pretty damn cheap (800czk for the both of us, or about £27). There were quite a few scenarios but I thought i’d go with the bank vault escape, where you’ve broken into a bank but the door has closed behind you. We had great fun, there were lots of secrets and interesting puzzles, and the place was empty so our host was pretty chill with us taking as long as we needed.

Walked through a czeck market on the way back to the flat, definitely not geared towards tourists because hardly any english there, was pretty interesting to see what kinds of things they were selling.

Lunch was traditional, some variety of meat in a cream and dil sauce with bread dumplings, of which I don’t think i’m ever going to get used to. We’d chill and then finally collect our stuff before leaving the flat for the last time.

But we weren’t done with Prague just yet….
Due to a pretty fundamental misunderstanding of what a Thai Massage is, we were booked in for one at one of the better parlours in Prague. We arrived and were promptly whisked into a side room with 2 beds ready for us, where we were then asked to strip down to our underwear. The next hour consisted of a Thai lady tenderizing my back like how you’d loosen up beef, a lengthy mix of overly forceful kneading of my flesh with plenty of forced bone cracking. At one point she straight up just stood and walked all over me, standing on the back of my calves, my ass, my back and shoulders… At another point she sat on my ass and then tried to snap me in half from behind… There was also a move which involved her grabbing my legs and inserting her heel in that spot just inside your inner thigh (read: right next to my balls). It was definitely up there with the most painful paid sessions i’ve had in my life, and I only have myself to blame. At least I felt refreshed afterwards right? Well… not really, and it was a bit weird to walk for a little bit, the soles of my feet in particular felt like they had an arch forcefully sculpted into them (I have flat feet).

After being thoroughly brutalized, we headed to the airport for plenty of waiting around, and eventually our flight back to England – where we would end up stuck at Gatwick for ages because of a stupid southern rail strike.

 

Prague 2016 – Day 6 – Old and New town

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We’d spend the majority of the morning randomly wandering around Pragues old town, cobbled streets and tall buildings with some random castle towery things interspersed (presumedly to keep the trolls out or something). Unintentionally ended up back at the old town square back where we were the other night. The square was probably just as busy, but now the sky was a lovely bright blue instead of the blackness we had seen last night, the downside of course is that the tree looked way less impressive.

We peeked into a few of the churches around the square which we hadn’t seen the other day, St Nicholas church across the street had a rather impressive big ol’ chandelier thing in the centre, and some pretty nice ceiling art.

Back outside we started to notice a very large congregation of people around the astronomical clock, 12o’clock was drawing close so we figured there would be some huge fanfare when it struck so we joined the crowd and waited it out.
The bells rang, accompanied by some tiny statues moving along and ringing smaller bells, a bit unimpressive if I’m being honest.

Lots of christmas market food for lunch, including bavarian crown, some hotdogs and some amaretto punch. We tried visiting the large church at the back of the christmas tree, but it was closed for a lunch, still took some pictures of the inside though through the glass.

*Wandering around intensifies*

We’d do some winow shopping, take a break in a chocolate shop, went to ‘moser crystal’ which was a super expensive shop filled with crystal and glass – some centrepieces being in the £100,000’s, didn’t take any pictures as we were being watched the whole time. We also went into Hamleys which is actually a british toy store, however the interior of the Prague branch was very impressive with a carousel and slide between floors. We’d stumble upon another christmas market with donkeys, a Jewish synagogue (which was closed for hibernation) and an old style shopping plaza, before finally ending up at the dancing house towards the south of central prague.

We arrived around 4pm just when the sun was starting to retreat, so got some pretty nice sunset shots around the river, it’s a shame it wasn’t the same side that the castle was on.

The rest of the night is a bit of a blur, Cordelia wanted to go into a place called Nightmare horror bar, which is themed on old horror films, it was really cool inside and all of the cocktails and shots were spooky themed. Unfortunately I underestimated the cocktails and had a bit too much to drink, and subsequently felt very ill for the rest of the night. Dinner was at a restaurant nearby where I just had some goulash and bread, and then had to take frequent pauses on the trip home to play the ‘burp or vom?’ game with myself (thankfully, all burps).

Prague 2016 – Day 5 – Castle district

A frosty morning would greet us as we opened the door to be greeted by minus 4 degrees weather, the czech weather certainly does not play around.

It was a fairly easy train ride over to the castle district, where we would be spending the majority of our day. The station is actually kind of outside of the castley area, so we’d have to take a bit of a trek uphill to get there, to be met by armed guards and airport style equipment to search all who were to enter, the czech appear to still be using the castle as some form of actual fortress by the looks of things.

The view from the top of the hill was impressive, giving a great overview of many of Pragues landmarks, there were droves of tourists of course which was a bit of a shame, but I guess you can’t have it all. The castle was actually more of a small town or collection of huge buildings if you would prefer, cobbled roads lay inbetween tall buildings with some castle remnants spread inbetween the gift shops and cafes. Of interesting note was some random statue of a guy with a gleaming penis, a small crowd gathered around it with people taking it in turns to rub his dong.

Further on up the hill we would come across a small Christmas market and an incredible church – the Cathedral of St Vitus. Unbeknownst to us, you can actually see this cathedral atop the hill from most places in Prague, and for good reason, it was seriously gigantic.

After taking pictures of it’s impressive exterior we made the mistake (?) of paying a little extra to climb up the belltower – which turned out to be a a real challenge, I’ll be honest and say was actually expecting to turn the corner after the ticket booth and see a lift, but nope, only a narrow spiral staircase maybe 1.5m in Diameter, with 287 steps (approx 90 meters – an average 2 story UK house is approx 8 meters, for comparison). People coming down the staircase were actually cheering the ascending people on, that’s how rough that shit was. The view from the top, thankfully, was breathtaking, with pretty clear views of all of Prague.

Back down on the floor, we looked inside the Cathedral but didn’t feel like paying the additional entry cost as we could already see most of the goods from the entrance. Some real size to the hall, and some lovely detailed stained glass windows, the church was actually only completed in the 1930’s so I guess that would explain some of the interior detail.

Some christmas market lunch (delicious chorizo hotdog and some trdelnik [Chimney cake] ) and then we were off again to another church, this time the Loreto, which was a Marian pilgimage site with church and treasury inside. The entrance fee was kind of steep, and they actually didnt even want us to take photos inside without paying another 100czk for a ‘photography pass’ but the place wasnt very policed so we had our way with it, the main church area at the back was quite nice and completely empty. The treasury upstairs was a nice bonus as well, featuring a piece called the ‘Prague Sun’ which is a monstrance encrusted with 6000 plus diamonds.

Yet more walking! Downhill this time and eastward back towards civilisation, we stopped off at a chocolate cafe because we were freezing. We ended up at the Prague chocolate cafe and bistro – Cordelia ordered a chocolate beer and I thought i’d try their speciality – a hot chocolate.
What arrived in front of me was very literally hot chocolate – barely even classified a liquid, it looked almost as if thy had thrown a small bar of chocolate into a mug, warmed it up and called it a day, or perhaps my waitress confused the containers for chocolate fondue and drinking chocolate? Regardless of the case, I ended up with a mug of super sweet melted chocolate which I just could not drink to save my life out of fear of sugar overdose.

St Nicholas church would meet us at the bottom of the hill, yet another large church to marvel at, this one featuring a beautiful bright painted ceiling and some very impressively huge statues. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

We’d wander around a little more and stumble upon the John Lennon wall, a rather strange place to put it, given that the Beatles are British, and so is John Lennon but hey ho. The wall itself was graffiti’d from top to bottom with various colours and optimistic quotes.

We had finally concluded our activities west of the river, and could finally make our way across the famed Charles Bridge, the huge paved bridge adorned with various statues which you may have seen upvoted on reddit once or twice. It was equally impressive in person, especially because the Cathedral and castle district sit high upon a hill in the background, making for some really nice pictures (I hope ). We were on it long enough that eventually a huge man with a cloak and cape strolled down the whole bridge and manually ignited all of the lamps on the bridge.

My camera battery was starting to flash by this stage, unsurprising given I had taken almost 300 photos by this point in the day, and didn’t bother charging the battery yesterday. I had hoped to not go to anywhere massively impressive until tomorrow out of fear that I wouldn’t be able to photograph it.

Then as we wandered through the cobbled sideroads, we came across Old Town Square, filled with it’s golden astronomical clock, a massive Christmas market, the largest and brightest Christmas tree I’ve seen all holiday, and some form of church in the background. We blitzed them all, intending to come for a second round tomorrow.
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful, have some kind of underwhelming pork for dinner and then back to the flat to rest and defrost.

Vienna/Prague 2016 – Day 4 – Intermission

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Our journey over from Vienna to Prague was fairly uneventful, and took far longer than we expected it to. We checked out of our airbnb fairly easily, essentially just leaving the keys in the room and sending a whatsapp message to our host, and then headed towards the station, grabbing a few snacks along the way before ending up a McDonalds for lunch (I know, I know). To my surprise, the Maccy’s was actually pretty nice with some interesting changes from our british menu, like a chicken and guacamole burger.

We were a little early for our train and so had to wait around for a little while, before eventually boarding and then struggling to work out how the seats were arranged, as we suspect some of them had been booked, but not being able to read much german we were kind of at a loss.
The train ride was long, approximately 4 hours or so, I filled the time mostly by using the trains onboard wifi and playing some android games (Colossatron), I think I may have dozed off a little in the middle as well.

We eventually hit Prague (or Praha), the sun had now set and Prague central station was enveloped in a creepy fog. It took us longer than expected to work out how to use the ticket machines at the station, primary because the bastard things only took coins and we were fresh into the country and stacked with 500 notes.

After some getting lost on the tubes and streets, we arrived at our next accomodation for 3 days, hosted by a lovely lady called Denisa, she showed us to the room and introduced us to some maps and how to get around, before actually giving us some basic food for breakfast (eggs, ham, cheese, bread, etc). The room itself is a good size and most importantly was nice and warm, we had not expected Prague to be any colder than Vienna but apparently that was a mistake.

Dinner was at a small Vietnamese place a few streets down, where a nice hot bowl of Pho would help to warm me up, the prices were insaely cheap after staying in Vienna for a few days, with Dinner for two coming to just over a tenner GBP.

Vienna 2016 – Day 3 – Museums

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Nice little lay in today, I don’t think we properly really got moving until 11am or so. We’d start the day by heading back towards Stephensplatz so I could pick up a magnet for my fridge (tradition now) before heading down south towards the treasury and national library. I had seen some quite impressive looking pictures of the library online and wanted to check it out, however upon entering, we were kind of unable to find where to go, all we could see was a museum which you had to pay to enter, and the actual library itself which had turnstiles and multiple notices saying ‘we are not a tourist information centre’.

We gave up on the idea eventually, and just kept exploring outside. We hadn’t checked this segment of vienna on the first day so it was all pretty much new to us, wide open spaces and huge fancy buildings everywhere – the aforementioned library was insanely big and fancy in its architecture.

A little further south we’d come across the museumsquartier, where we’d end up spending the majority of our day. A pop up Christmas market in the middle of the plaza, flanked by two gigantic museums and a third at the end of the plaza in front of us. The shops were the usual fare, though it was a Saturday so we didn’t really stick around to browse too much as it was just so incredibly busy.

We ended up going into the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which is technically an art museum I believe. Entry was a very steep 15 euros, so were pretty worried it might be shit and not worth the money, but the initial area we could see from the front door seemed promising so we went for it. It was a good thing we did! the museum was incredible inside (and actually #3 for Vienna attractions on Tripadvisor, unbeknown to me at the time), the internal architecture and detail in every single one of the rooms was super impressive, let alone all of the things on display. Whilst the upper level was indeed mostly paintings, the lower floor had a collection of roman and egyptian antiques, majority of which were super impressive – detailed glasswork, pottery, jewellery, statues carved from ivory, bone and bronze..
We spent hours looking around, before spending a bit of time sitting in the cafe to try Vienna’s signature Sachertorte, which is a chocolate cake with layer of apricot jam and topped with Dark chocolate, it was nice though perhaps not as great as I was expecting – it certainly wasn’t any Blackforest.

After thoroughly exploring the museum, we’d venture back out into the museumsquartier where it was now dark, the museum opposite had projections on the face of it, and all of the christmas lights were in full bloom, making for some nice pictures (I hope).

We’d set out north looking for an early dinner before landing in another austrian restaurant. This one was pretty good though, had a lovely main of Roast beef with onions and an incredible gravy… Yum.

Rathaus plaza was our next destination, which had been very impressively lit up and adorned with it’s own christmas market and gigantic ice skating rink. This Ice rink was like nothing I had ever seen, it wasn’t a normal oval but rather like it had just enveloped a small forest, with multiple paths around the trees, as well as long single channel paths and even a roundabout, it all weaved and interconnected to smaller more tradional rinks.

The market was similarly huge, which was just as well because it was absolutly heaving with people – being a saturday night and all. We were at the mercy of the crowd at some points, and trying to take pictures without some tall austrian’s head in the way was a real challenge. Stopped again for some more cake, Mozart cake this time, which I believe is chocolate and pistachio – as usual I could only really taste the chocolate…

We’d wander around for a while, taking pictures of all the lights as well as Rathaus from afar, before eventually wandering down towards the Vienna parliment building to check that out as well. By the time we were done there, the cold was really starting to get to us, and so we would head home.

Vienna 2016 – Day 2 – Schönbrunn and Prater

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Day 2 was basically designated as our Schönbrunn Palace day.The Palace is widely regarded as the must see attraction in Vienna, and comprises of a huge palace which may have been home to a Johann Strauss,  an imperial horse carriage museum, a bunch of cafes, and palace grounds and gardens which must span around 2 square miles.

This palace grounds are actually walking distance from the airbnb flat we are staying in,  albeit a long walk –  so we headed over in the morning by foot while getting battered by rain and then had the joy of spending about 20 minutes or so queuing to get tickets…  Only to then find out that we would not be allowed into the palace for another hour and a half due to the way they stagger people’s entrance.

So while waiting I thought I’d grab tickets for a nearby apple strudel show, basically 10 euros lets you watch some chefs make traditional Viennese apple strudel –  the queue for this was again about 15 minutes or so,  but it was all so badly explained that when I arrived,  it turns out you can’t just buy some strudel there (despite it being a huge cafe with trays of apple strudel literally just sitting behind the last behind the counter) –  you have to watch the show to get the food, and apparently you can’t just buy tickets for later on, you have to pay and catch the next show,  which was in 40 minutes and would clash with roughly when we were due to go into the palace…  The woman was so incredibly rude that It just pissed me off and I ended up saying forget it and walking out,  this rudeness unfortunately seems to be pretty common in the country.

We’d spend an hour or so in the imperial carriage museum nearby, featuring the carriages used to ferry royals about the street, all rather impressively detailed and in gold trim. One of the funeral carriages in particular were really impressive,  there was also a bunch of garments on display.

Eventually, we headed to the palace to have our walk around, we skipped the audio guide because honestly I don’t think either of us cared that much for the proper history of the place. We had purchased the grand tour tickets, of which there is an imperial tour which has 22 rooms, and the grand tour which has 40 rooms.

The interior of the palace was a bit underwhelming, perhaps because I went to Nueschwanstein Castle last year which was basically the same thing but way more impressive, but the rooms were nice and royal but not particularly jaw dropping. There were a few rooms which were impressive of course, and I tried to sneak a picture even though you aren’t supposed to.

Outside the main palace was a huge pop up Christmas market, where we’d have a wander around the shops and get some food for lunch. Plenty of interesting things to eat,  we had goulash is bread bowl, a hash brown thing, and Cordelia bought some form of dumpling thing called a Germknodel which was interesting… It was filled with spiced plum filling or something. We also popped into a small cafe just to warm up and have a bit of a sit down, I regrettably ordered some Apple strudel there, which was a bit soggy and not really impressive at all. We’d spend a few hours walking around the palace grounds until we got tried, we’d keep stumbling upon these gigantic structures as we were walking around which would slow us down from getting back home, as we’d inevitably have to take photos.

Back to the flat after this, where I’d apparently pass out for an hour or so from exhaustion.  My legs were killing me from all of the walking and standing, as aside from in a cafe we stopped in, we had been on our feet walking or queuing all day. Evening quickly rolled by as we rested, and we were soon out and about again,  this time headed by train to Prater, which is like a fairground which is open all year around. We thought we’d better eat dinner first, and so stopped into a restaurant along the way,  where I had an unimpressive looking,  but good tasting Lamb Ragout with croquettes.

The parts of prater which were open were fairly small,  with half of the park turned off and in darkness, I couldn’t help but think of that ‘now this is a ghost town’  quote from call of duty as we looked around the off section. More towards the north side,  things were more alive, with shops selling snacks and mulled wine and punch, and some attractions (swings and wheel) being great fun to photograph.

We thought what the hell and went on the Ferris wheel,  despite it’s very steep price of almost 10 euros per person. It was a nice ride around but on the short side for sure,  it did however let us get some nice photos from above. Things were starting to close by the time we got off the wheel, as it was close to 10pm by then,  we played around with our cameras some more before starting the journey back home.

Vienna 2016 – Day 0+1 – Stephensplatz

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Our flight and arrival was actually on the 30th, catching a 5pm flight and arriving at Vienna international Airport around 8pm. From there it took us admittedly ages to work out how to get to our airbnb accommodation, as neither of us had really researched how to get there from the airport. The Airbnb host and flat are quite nice, a little on the small side but everything we need,  I’m really not enjoying the bed covers and pillows though,  which are just kind of awful. It probably says something that on my first night I had to change the duvet covers and pillowcase before even attempting to sleep, and then opting to instead get rid of the pillow and throw some towels in a pillowcase.

We went out to try and find some late night food but really struggled to find anywhere open, we ended up just grabbing some schnitzel and chips in a box from some kebab shop, then on the way back it started snowing like crazy, it didn’t settle or last long though sadly.

 

 

Our first proper day in Vienna was spent wandering the city centre around Stephensplatz, we are two trains away from central central Vienna. The main streets of the city itself being very fancy and clean, with some very impressive architecture on even mundane shops and buildings. We were almost immediately harassed to buy concert tickets as soon as we left the station and almost bit. We spent ages trying to find somewhere to eat lunch, before eventually failing and just settling for some bratwurst in bun.

From here we’d wander aimlessly around, and stumble upon Stephensplatz, St Stephen’s Cathedral, St Peter’s Church, Ruprechts Church and Freyung Christmas Market. With ample wandering and nibbling between. St Stephens and St Peters were very impressive to look at, with Stephens being absolutely gigantic (and in the middle of service) and St Peters being adorned in incredible amounts of gold, it was almost overwhelming to look at.

The weather here is absolutely freezing, I’m wearing 3 layers, hat and gloves and it’s still so cold, and the streets are so wide that there is basically nowhere to hide. The main streets around Stephensplatz also seem to be their equivalent of bond street, filled with designer shops and jewellery showrooms. Freyung Christmas market was quite nice, though it was somewhere disappointing after visiting the ridiculous markets of Nuremberg Germany –  I guess I’ve been spoiled.

Dinner was some traditional schnitzel –  the local favorite dish, it was nice though I guess a bit underwhelming, being a little bit similar to a gigantic chicken nugget really. Back to the flat afterwards to try and better plan the rest of our stay in Vienna.