For me personally, I like to go to newer destinations over places I’ve already been to. After all, there’s something exciting about walking streets for the first time! However, there are times where certain cities bring about a sense of giddiness, if not needed comfort. Prague is one of them, and it so happened I got the hat trick of visits earlier this month. There was a combination of both good and bad, with the latter occurring mainly during the first few days, but overall it was a fun reminder of why Prague receives so many visitors every year.
The entire reason why I was there in the first place was due to sports-I was participating in a Gaelic football tournament hosted by the Prague Bohemians. My team, the Moscow Shamrocks, sent both our men and women’s teams, meaning we had a decent turnout, which was augmented by two awesome lads from Setanta Berlin and our girls combining with Vienna. Unfortunately, given our lack of tournament experience combined with other teams having far more Irish players (it makes a huge difference, believe me), both sides finished last. (The guys team lost in our placement team to the Slovaks by a measly point. That stung, since we had them on the ropes at one point. Next time though!) Getting to the pitch was a mere 20 minute tram ride from just outside our hostel, and it was neat seeing the residential side of Prague compared to the touristy stereotypes perpetuated in your chosen media form. And in a wonderfully Czech detail, there was a bar on the grounds; I’m sure they made oodles of cash over the course of the day, because there was a steady stream lining up to make visits. Despite being held off the win column, everybody came away with a fun time gaining needed exposure to other European teams. Or maybe that was the beer talking. Hey, I’m not complaining!
The tournament was a single day event, meaning I had plenty of time to revisit old haunts and blaze new trails. Heck, even the after party was at a place I’d been to six years prior! Sure, I could have gone back to Moscow once the dust settled, but for the cost of the tickets, I opted to extend my trip until that Wednesday. To be honest, at times that felt like a bit of a mistake since having been there a few times before, I did all the touristy things (and most websites that cover Prague constantly rehash the same things) so there wasn’t a ton to do beyond patronizing a single few places. Yeah yeah, I know there’s a lot more unexplored local places that I for sure missed, but I tried my best to uncover lesser-known cafes and entertainment. One of the highlights was an English-language bookstore a few minutes from Charles Bridge. Called Shakespeare, this place was a book lover’s dream! Scattered over two cozy floors was something reminiscent of the Diagon Alley found in Harry Potter. Each section was unique, and I would kill to know how they got their selection, because man oh man did they have some incredibly niche authors/books. Being the nerd I am, it is no stretch of the imagination to say that I doubtlessly could have spent the rest of the day camped out in that place. Or for that matter, have blown through my meager bank account with buying too many books; it’s one of those rare cases where not having a ton of extra cash lying about came back to help me out. In the end I did end up buying the book with the eye catching title The Manuscript Found in Saragossa by Jan Potocki, which at the time of writing this post, has been a wild and entertaining read! My recommendation? Budget for spending two or more hours in here, since conveniently enough there’s a reading lounge downstairs. Consider yourselves warned.
One thing that was a bit frustrating was being unable to connect with my local friend. I realize that something might have happened, but she promised me to lend her the use of her apartment since she lives with her grandparents. Thus, I initially didn’t bother to book a room in the hostel, the excellent Czech Inn, as I thought I’d be in the wonderful situation of being covered for lodging. Said friend was coming back from a trip to Slovenia on that Friday, so I figured that sure, it was normal if she got back later. Around 10PM or so I was starting to panic, which wasn’t helped by the fact that I’d been walking around in the ungodly hot weather for half the day. Thankfully my teammates had spare beds available in their private suite, so that meant I wasn’t going to be homeless for half of my trip. Ultimately I ended up booking a different room in the hostel for the remaining days, and while I did have the cash to spend, it wasn’t ideal. This also reminds me that thanks to my American bank’s snafu, I spent two hours on Friday frantically emailing my mom/calling the bank’s hotline. In a nutshell, I asked and received a new debit card to replace the one that would expire by the end of March. As we both later found out, because my mom hadn’t gone in within a week of the card being sent out, it was cancelled. This led to a bunch of unnecessary emails, but the worst part was that the new card wasn’t in the online system to put in a travel notice. Yeah, not fun. After panicking, things got resolved, which helped placate my then-growing sense of deja vu (I’ve always had something go wrong when I visited the otherwise fantastic country). Thankfully I had a room and an early bedtime awaiting me to push aside these bad vibes. Looking back on it several weeks later, I’m glad that when push came to shove, nothing too serious happened. Kicking things off on the wrong foot never is fun, but despite that, things recovered nicely.
Furthermore, when my friend ghosted me through what I could and still assume as events outside of her control, that meant that I wouldn’t be taken for a local’s tour of the city that Sunday. While it would have been nice to actually have seen the Prague beyond the glitzy facade presented to 99% of visitors, I was able to find other interesting things to occupy my wide open schedule. For starters, the first thing I did was pay a visit to the museum of one of my all-time favorite painters, Alfons Mucha. Seriously, if you haven’t seen his artwork, it is vivid beyond words! The museum, tucked away just off of one of the city’s main roads, was small, but there was enough to keep you engrossed for an hour or so. Plenty of work with the background behind them were on display, which gave me an even better appreciation for how he justifiably became one of Europe’s preeminent painters during his lifespan. The icing on the cake was a marvelously made biographical video on his life and his works, and I distinctly recall walking away with my appreciation for him having grown larger. Other neat little things included finding a rotating statue of Franz Kafka, a sight I couldn’t have neglected to stop by and snap of picture of after reading his brilliant The Metamorphosis. There was the infamous “pissing statue” that hilariously was placed directly outside of the Kafka Museum, and I absolutely have the picture to prove I saw it. Belatedly, I remember that I could actually have had this statue “write” a message into the water if I texted it, but alas, my phone conveniently was out of data to accomplish this. Still, if anybody reading this does end up doing just that, you’re welcome for that heads up.
Hostel life has gradually expanded to include events in each ones’ amenities, and Monday evening was the time for the classic pub quiz after happy hour. (Let the record stand that having a half liter of beer cost ~$1.30 is a surefire way to guarantee the bar is packed, in addition to encouraging patrons to fist and double fist beers to their heart’s content.) I teamed up with Mitch, an Australian in my room, and another Aussie to form Team Huge Jackedman, a homage to one of that country’s finest actors. Long story short, we came in third place after losing out on a tiebreaker (“How many words were in the first Harry Potter book?”), and instead had to settle for a consolation prize of a free round of beers. Along the way, we met some Canadians from Saskatoon, and even some very recent college graduates from Virginia! Events like these are a great way to bond with perfect strangers, and even before and after the quiz we were all chucking random nuggets of information at each other. Gotta love it all! The last notable event pertaining to the hostel occurred by pure chance. Tuesday was my last full day in the city, and I decided to head over to a beer garden situated just across from one of Prague’s many bridges. However, as I had just stepped out onto the street, I met an Indian guy who’d just arrived and was looking for company into town. Shaunak, as it turned out, was in Europe as part of a vacation to escape what I’m told is the sweltering Indian heat/decompress from working in his family’s business. Together we crossed off the main tourist sights in a circuitous route, and I even got to show off my knowledge of the city by filling the role of a tour guide. It also should be noted that together we combined to prove the worth of good old paper maps (me) and 21st Century technology (aka his phone’s Google Maps), which was a nice little source of juxtaposition. Did we take unnecessarily longer routes? You betcha! Did we mind that? No, because it’s all part of finding this intimate aspects of the Czech capital’s history. After climbing the little hill to Letna Beer Garden (which was another place I’d visited last time), we were treated to a wonderful view of the city’s horizon. Coupled with the fact that he insisted on buying me beers while I sat down in the shad, one could argue that a grand ol’ time was being had. Time seemed to pass by in the blink of an eye once we started chatting, and I truly wish our conversations could have kept up. However, the increasing sense of falling into a stupor meant we had to begin our long hike back to the hostel. By that point I felt content that I had done all I was meant to do, and before I knew it I had passed out to cap off the last day.
Try as I might to think of something clever or poignant to write about the trip, all I can say is that it was exactly what I needed: a chance to drink a lot of my favorite Pilsner beer, play some sports, and meander around needlessly in a city I’ve been to before. And get tanned. That too. So, dekuji, Praha!