Despite the fact I had barely even managed to recover from the coupon trip, in early August it was already time for another mini-getaway. Since most of my nearest and dearest are scattered around Finland and the rest of the world, it usually takes some extra time and effort to arrange a rendezvous. (Poor souls still fail to realize the true potential of Turku as a place of residence.) This time, my friend Redds and I had two options: a camping trip to Nuuksio National Park or a weekend in a random European city. We chose the latter, no contest, and ended up in Prague.
Neither one of us tired slaves to the wage had bothered to make any plans for our three-day trip, but at least we had managed to book a hotel room in advance. We arrived at the Prague airport late Friday evening and immediately marched up to an ATM to get some cash to last us the whole weekend. While fumbling around with the machine, it quickly dawned on us that we had no clue of the exchange rates. The ATM, apparently geared towards the wealthier folk, gave us a handy list of round withdrawal sums to choose from. From those, Redds gravitated towards 40,000 CZK which she was almost quite absolutely positive corresponded to ~160 EUR. Beep, beep, boop! As the old saying goes, never trust a friend with your decimals. The machine announced it was about to annihilate my account and spit out 1600 euros worth of shiny Czech money. Fortunately, it was still possible to cancel the transaction, since I ended up having real trouble with spending over a hundred euro on anything.
Although my unwavering trust in Redds’s expertise had already begun to waver just a tiny little bit, I still let her lead us to our hotel, which to her credit she did splendidly. Anyone familiar with my magnificent sense of direction (or lack thereof) knows it’s best if I just follow quietly. The bus connections from the airport to various parts of the city are pretty good. However, the queue to the only ticket machine accepting chip cards was frustratingly long, since each tourist took their sweet time gawking at all the different options. Protip: Take an NFC card with you and you’ll be able to use the other two ticket machines with nonexistent queues.
A night well slept and a breakfast buffet thoroughly devoured helped us power through the first actual day of our holiday. The three things I noticed immediately while wandering around the city were:
- Architecture. I could admire the ornate buildings forever.
- The heat! My face already began to melt after a few hours outdoors.
- Tourists everywhere. And I do mean everywhere.
As my Absolute Best Friend* Andrew so eloquently put: “Prague is not just tourist central, it’s tourist parade, tourist galore, tourist bosom, the bullseye of tourists.” I have been to some other big European cities before, but nowhere else has it ever been nearly as crowded as it was in Prague. It was impossible to fight the masses, so we had to join them.
Our first destination was Petřín Hill, the bullseye of parks. The three-day public transportation tickets we had bought at the airport would have allowed us to take the funicular to the top of the hill. However, a mere glance at the queue leading to the funicular suddenly made the stairs look irresistible. It only took us about 20 minutes to sweat up the hill, whereas queueing probably would have taken at least twice as long. Mad props to the genius who had thought to sell ice-cream next to the queue!
On top of the hill we figured out where all the waves of tourists were heading. We joined them and climbed all 299 stairs to the top of the Petřín Tower, aka the Eiffel of Prague. The views over the city were pretty decent from up there.
Back down on solid ground, we took a little fries & cider themed break in a most idyllic environment: right next to a row of portable toilets. All the other benches were obviously taken. Our daily queueing quota had already been exceeded on the way up to the tower, so we skipped the rest of the main attractions, mirror labyrinth and whatnot, but stayed a while longer to wander around the parks and rose gardens.
The simple joy of chasing down giant bubbles is always the same, no matter where you go. Our best find, though, were the bountiful fruit trees with tons of free snacks up for grabs. We also came across the worst kind of tourism ever: groups of dumb-dumbs on Segways. Those two-wheeled devils kept trying to run us over at every chance. People evolved to have legs for a reason, so use them, damn it!
After a successful escape from the most hazardous Segway zones, we allowed ourselves a brief moment of comatose on the tram. Then it was high time to brave the crowds in search for food. I wish I could say the crowds disappeared towards the end of the day, but it didn’t happen until very late at night. However, with our bellies full of food we kept on pushing on, wandering by the river, around the city centre and the old town.
The more you see of Prague the easier it gets to understand why approximately every tourist on this fine Earth wants to be there for the same summer weekend. The city is absolutely packed with sights. Personally, I like the way old and new architecture is merged there. It is impossible to avoid a healthy dose of art, and anywhere you look, you’re bound to spot an interesting statue or two. The actual city centre is still relatively compact in size and easy to navigate. Public transport works like a charm, food and drink are plentiful and cheap, and the weather warms the body and soul of even the weariest of Northeners. As a bonus, all the most important sights and buildings are beautifully lit at night. How could you not enjoy all that?