After more than two weeks of European explorations in Austria and Mallorca, another highlight of my 2009 European odyssey was waiting for me: a three-day trip to Prague, one of the destinations I have been wanting to visit for a long time! As I had always heard, Prague was supposed to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and I definitely wanted to see that for myself.
So early this Monday morning, my brother and my sister-in-law packed me in the car and went for the hour and a half drive to Vienna from where I was scheduled to take my train ride to Prague. I had booked the train ticket a couple of months ago with the Austrian Federal Railways, and at 29 Euros for a ticket from Vienna to Prague I had really lucked out with a great price.
My train is ready for departure
We stopped briefly at the restaurant at Vienna’s Südbahnhof (Southern Railway Terminal) and had some typical Austrian soups as a late breakfast: Fritattensuppe (pancake strip soup) is always one of my favourites, and it was going to tide me over for the next few hours.
Shortly before 10 am I got on the train and said goodbye to my brother and my sister-in-law. Departure was delayed a little bit because apparently there had been a train accident where a person had got hurt, but about half an hour later we started rolling through the suburbs of Vienna. Through the flat landscapes of lower Austria we quickly entered into Czech territory and after some time we passed by the capital of Moravia and the Czech Republic’s second largest city, Brno. A young Czech woman entered my compartment and we started to have a great conversation about life in Central Europe.
View of Brno’s cathedral from the train
Helena told me that she is studying in Berlin and loves that city’s multicultural cosmopolitan flair. We also touched on Czech food, German food, and right-wing extremism that has become a problem in some parts of Europe. But Helena has been living in Berlin for the past five years and loves it. It was great to connect with her and get a bit of an insider’s perspective.
A nice welcome at the Hotel Jalta: a glass of champagne
The train finally arrived in the Prague Holesovice train station and I started to make my way to my Hotel. I was staying in the Hotel Jalta, an upscale hotel on Wenceslas Square, right in the heart of Prague’s New Town area. Although I do not speak a word of Czech, I had no problems whatsoever navigating my way through the subway system of Prague. As a matter of fact, people in the Metro were all very friendly and helpful.
The National Museum in Prague, one of my first impressions of the city
Four subway stops later I exited at the “Muzeum” Metro station and enjoyed this daytime look at Wenceslas Square, one of Prague’s most important public spaces. I arrived at the Hotel Jalta, a four-star hotel propertyh, and as I was checking in I was greeted with a glass of sparkling wine. I went up to my room which was very spacious and featured all kinds of amenities. My favourite feature of the room was the balcony from where I had an excellent view of the Square and Prague’s National Museum with its elevated position at the eastern end of the Square.
Great view from my hotel room over Wenceslas Square
After freshening up a bit, I met my tour guide Jitka Simkova who had brought a young colleague by the name of Karel. Jitka is the founder and owner of Prague Walks, a company that provides guided walking tours of Prague. Karel explained that Wenceslas Square originally was a horse market and today is the centre of New Town, one of Prague’s four main central city districts.
Karel and Jitka, my two local experts
The architecture dates mostly from the early 20th century, and Jitka explained that one of the architectural gems of this area is the famous Hotel Europa whose Art Nouveau interior has been almost completely preserved, simply because of dispute among the owners that prevented them from renovating the hotel.
Prague’s Hotel Europa, an Art Nouveau gem
Two old streetcars are located in the central area of the square and are used as snack vending booths. Karel and Jitka pointed out the Lucerna, a popular historic concert hall that has launched the career of many Czech bands. The Koruna building on the Old Town side of Wenceslas Square is another stunning historic building and has been turned into a shopping centre and office building.
Two streetcars are now snack vendors on Wenceslas Square