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Prague By Bike

Prague By Bike

I fell in love yesterday… with this glorious city of Prague.  My soul is swimming in all the magnificent things I have seen and learned since I’ve been here.  It is far too much to try to capture with words.  I will do my best to convey a tiny bit of the magic.

 

 

 

Standing outside Praha Bike Tours.

Standing outside Praha Bike Tours.

If a city tour and tour guide could be custom crafted just for Craig and me, that is what we experienced yesterday.  Before we left St. Louis I booked a full day bicycle tour of Prague with Praha Bike through the internet.  It sounded fun but we really had no idea what to expect.  Our tour started at 10am so we left an hour early to walk two miles to the Praha Bike office from our hotel.

We got a little lost on the way there.  A street map of the old town area resembles a psychotic spiderweb of haphazard intersections.  There are no blocks and no right angles.  All of the buildings are at least four or five stories tall, squeezed tightly together along the narrow cobblestoned roads.  You feel a bit like a rat in a maze and it’s easy to get turned around and hopelessly lost.  But after much map checking we eventually found Praha Bike Tours, a tiny office nestled within a courtyard off of Dlouha Street.

In the Town Square.  Lots of tour companies give tours on silly Segways.  Craig and I won't be taking any of those tours anytime soon.

In the Town Square. Lots of tour companies give tours on silly Segways. Craig and I won’t be taking any of those tours anytime soon.

Our guide was Vladimir, a Prague native, and it would just be the three of us for the six hour bike tour.  A private tour of Prague!  We were fitted with bikes, put on our helmets and biking gloves and took off after Vladimir down the bumpy cobbled streets.

I had been worried about biking on the streets of Prague.  The traffic around the hotel was pretty crazy.  The metro tram (trolleys on tracks) shares the roads with cars and motorbikes and everyone seems to drive really fast.  There were bike lanes in some places but they were too narrow and alongside lines of parked cars which is not safe.  But traffic back in the old town was much lighter and slower going through the tight narrow streets.  We did ride through some busier areas but following along after Vladimir was no problem at all.  In Prague you can bike wherever you want… sidewalk, streets, between the metro tram lines.  Anywhere.  So we zipped around from street to sidewalk, whichever was safer or less crowded.  On this day the drivers seemed watchful and respectful and would often stop to let us pass.  I felt very safe.

Vladimir discusses the Dancing Building.  Beautiful unique building but very bad planning.  They try to use it as office space but the strangely shaped interior spaces don't work well for offices so they cannot ever get tenants.

Vladimir discusses the Dancing Building. Beautiful unique building but very bad planning. They try to use it as office space but the strangely shaped interior spaces don’t work well for offices so they cannot ever get tenants.

For the morning half of our tour, Vladimir took us through the eastern side of the city and showed us the Town Square, the Powder Gate, the National Museum, Charles Bridge, the Dancing Building.  All the standards.  Vladimir obviously loves his city and his knowledge of the history and architecture was astounding.

It was so wonderful having a private tour with just the three of us because he didn’t have to stick to his standard spiel and we really talked about so much… politics, the current Czech president (sounds like a rather stupid fellow), life after communism, Czech sense of humor, art and music.  We also talked about his wife from Mongolia and their two young children, his background and education in Mongolian culture.  We told him a lot about our lives as well.  We shared a lot of the same likes and dislikes including our distaste for “touristy” things and our aversion to Segways.  We thoroughly enjoyed his company and I hope he felt the same.  It’s a tough job he has but I hope our tour was fun for him.

It's impossible to take a bad picture here.

It’s impossible to take a bad picture here.

We took a break at lunch time and he took us to a “non-touristy” Czech restaurant where we tried Czech meatloaf, neck of beef, and bread dumplings at his suggestion.  Vynikající!  (Delicious!)  Czech sauces are divine–so rich and creamy.  If we lived here we would both become terribly fat.

After lunch we toured the western side of the city including the famous Prague Castle and the huge metronome that replaced the statue of Lenin (the largest Lenin statue ever created) which was dismantled in the 1950s.  We saw the John Lennon memorial wall and shared some beers in a small smokey pub (very non-touristy).

Mozart performed here.  Some of the Amadeus movie was filmed here as well.

Mozart performed here. Some of the Amadeus movie was filmed here as well.

Most of the architecture here is either highly ornamental baroque or medieval gothic.  Everywhere you look is visually stunning.  We pedaled up to a couple of the highest points in Prague where we could look out over the layers and layers of spires and towers, churches, castles and villas.  How can so much beauty be concentrated in one small space?  It seems impossible.  And everything is so OLD!  We saw buildings built in the 9th century, in the 1100s, 1200s… In the states we think something is old if it was built in the 1800s.  We simply don’t understand what old really means.

The exquisite National Theater is the consummate example of Czech architectural magnificence.  Notice the ugly gray boxy building behind it which is of Communist design.  Big difference, eh?

The exquisite National Theater is the consummate example of Czech architectural magnificence. Notice the ugly gray boxy building behind it which is of Communist design. Big difference, eh?

 

 

Our tour ended at 4:30 and we turned in our bikes, said goodbye to Vladimir and began the walk back to our hotel.  It had been a most amazing tour, the most perfect way to experience the city.  Everywhere the two of us go we try to ride bikes.  There is just no better way to really experience a place… smell the smells, hear the sounds, meet the people, take it all in without a layer of metal and glass between yourself and your surroundings.  This was the first time we had ever had a tour guide on a bike with us and we loved it.  I had no idea such a thing existed before.  We’ll certainly look for bike tours for our future travels from now on.

Two guards stand outside the Prague Castle.  They aren't supposed to move or respond to anyone.  This guy was good!  The other guy kept moving his eyes around.

Two guards stand outside the Prague Castle. They aren’t supposed to move or respond to anyone. This guy was good! The other guy kept moving his eyes around.

When we left Praha Bike, we confidently set out toward the river.  We didn’t even check our map because we thought we knew how to get back.  Well you know what’s coming next.  Turned out we had no idea where we were going and got really lost again.  It’s one thing to get lost when you know you are lost, but being lost when you think you know where you are is altogether different.  You can get into a lot more trouble that way.  We confidently strode down the narrowed cobbled streets toward the river and we got to the river alright.  Only it looked completely different than it looked when we had passed that way only a few hours before.  We give up!  The map needed to be consulted… We had gone the wrong direction when we left Praha Bike.  It didn’t even take us one block to screw up.  So when we got to the river it was the northern section of the river where we had never been before.  The river curves around through the city and our hotel was actually on the other side of the southern part of the river.  OUCH!  We ended up walking over three miles to get back to the hotel.

The Cathedral of St. Vitus is gothic architectural in all its glory.  Freakish gargoyles lear down at us from every corner of the roofline, each one is unique.

The Cathedral of St. Vitus is gothic architectural in all its glory. Freakish gargoyles leer down at us from every corner of the roofline, tongues extended as they protect the building.  Each one is unique.

Our feet and bodies were tired and aching by the time we got back.  We were too tired to go anywhere for dinner so we ate in the hotel lounge which was actually completely fabulous.  Then we limped back up to our room and passed out exhausted around 8pm.  I couldn’t even keep my eyes open long enough to write a single sentence in my blog.  What a fantastic day!!

 

 

The huge stained glass windows in the Cathedral were breathtaking.

The huge stained glass windows in the Cathedral were breathtaking.

 

 

 

 

 

I had booked the bike tour on the first of our two full days in Prague because I wanted to be able to then make a more educated decision about what we should do the second day based on what we learned in the tour.  That plan worked perfectly because we both knew exactly what it was that we wanted to do the next day… ride bikes!!!  The plan was to hike back over to Praha in the morning and rent bikes just for the two of us to tool around town on our own.  Stay tuned!

 

Sensational view from one of the highest points in Prague.

Sensational view from one of the highest points in Prague

The John Lennon Memorial Wall.  The wall is constantly changing as more tributes to John Lennon are added by fans of the late visionary musician.  The Knights of Malta, who own the building, allow the graffiti to remain although it was frowned upon by the Communist government.

The John Lennon Memorial Wall. The wall is constantly changing as more tributes to John Lennon are added by fans of the late visionary musician. The Knights of Malta, who own the building, allow the graffiti to remain although it was frowned upon by the Communist government.

The hilarious peeing men statue by the famous Czech artist, David ?erný, is a great example of Czech humor.  The moving sculptures are controlled by microchips and they spell out famous quotes with their "pee"

The hilarious peeing men statue by the famous Czech artist, David Cerný, is a great example of Czech humor. The moving sculptures are controlled by microchips and they spell out famous quotes with their “pee”

We crossed over the ancient Charles Bridge on our walk back to the hotel from Praha Bike.  Sadly this ancient romantic bridge has been ruined by seas of kitsch vendors, beggars and pickpockets.

We crossed over the ancient Charles Bridge on our walk back to the hotel from Praha Bike. Sadly this romantic bridge has been ruined by seas of kitsch vendors, beggars and pickpockets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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