Okay, up and at ‘em this morning. We were in Prague with Viking in 2006 and took a tour then so we decided to skip this tour. So we waved goodbye for a while to our fellow travelers and we took off hoofing it into Old Town Prague. Point of clarification – there is Old Town Prague and there is New Town Prague. To give you a sense of perspective – New Town is 600 years old. In other words, it’s the kid. Old town goes back into the “B.C.’s.” Both areas are wonderful but Old Town is pretty special.
The temperature was in the 40’s and it was l little windy – not bad. Of course Joye loves cold weather so she was trippin’ the light fantastic. A fair amount of Old Town is closed to traffic which makes it a great walkin’ adventure. There are many old narrow streets that tend to converge at open squares. The squares have a mixture of small vendors, rotisserie cooking, and musicians. Many of these squares are ringed by open air cafes. They are great places to sit and take all this in and also enjoy great people watching – which is what we did. Just come upon a square, plop down at on outdoor café, have a Czech beer, and take it all in. Then stroll until you come upon another square and repeat the process. Then, what else, repeat the process. Works really well.
We were sitting at one of the cafes and all of a sudden heard what sounded like Dixieland jazz music. In the States, sure, not unusual to hear that – but in Prague? – come on. We looked out onto the square and, I’ll be damned, there are five Czech guys really goin’ at it (a singer who doubles as a horn player, banjo dude, drummer, bass, and clarinet). The singer had something resembling a small megaphone and was doin’ his best to belt out “When the Saints Come Marchin’ In” like Louis Armstrong. He was getting’ the raspy voice down pretty good. They were really a crowd stopper.
Switching topics, Prague has been known (so they tell me) over the centuries as home to European artisans especially those specializing in crystal and cut glass. And there are quite a few such shops in Old Town running the gamut from cheap souvenir type stuff to the very high end. We avoided the cheap joints, looked at the high end (impressive) and bought at the “nice stuff” level. Mainly small items for the family and Joye’s office staff.
Speaking of buying, that brings me to the subject of money. The Czech Republic is not on the euro. Their currency continues to be the koruna (pronounced “crown”). When you hold in your hand a 500 koruna bill you think “I’m wealthy, I’m fabulously wealthy.” Then you remember that the exchange rate is about 20 koruna to 1 U>S> dollar and you realize what you have is 25 bucks. The feeling of wealth quickly disappears.
But the Czechs aren’t hung up on their koruna. You say “Gee do I have to exchange my currency for koruna to pay for this meal? No. “Do you take American Express?” Yes. “How ‘bout VISA?” Sure. “Dollars?” You bet. “Euros?” Sure. The Czechs have really gotten into this capitalism thing.
We polished off the afternoon by heading back to the hotel to wait for the folks on the Prague tour to return. It had turned a little windier and cooler so it seemed the thing to do was to slide into the hotel bar. And a couple of Irish Whiskeys later we were feeling just all nice and toasty. Then the tour groups returned and it was time to shove. Rats!
So, this is the Elbe river cruise but have you noticed that we haven’t mentioned the Elbe yet? We knew you had. You’re sharp. Prague is relatively close to, but not on, the Elbe. We have to hop a coach and motor to our ship.
But before you ride with us, let us take a moment to say just a little more about Prague. You probably didn’t get a good sense of Prague from what we did today. But you really have to get to Prague. We were first here in 2006 and it just might be our favorite city. So, here are a couple of quick highlights from our 2006 tour that are “must sees” if (make that when) you visit Prague.
The Charles Bridge
Connects Old Town to Prague Castle. Named for Charles IV, it’s 700 years old. It’s got statues of kings, bishops, and other important types all along from one end to the other. The bridge is around 500 – 600 yards long but it can take you quite a while to get across if you have a guide since there are so many fascinating and intriguing stories associated with it (Like the priest who was the Queen’s Confessor. The king had his tongue cut out on the bridge and then he was thrown into the river – nice guy that king.).
Prague Castle and Surroundings
Castle’s been around for over 1000 years. It’s really somethin’ – and make sure you take in the Royal Palace. That darn thing is so big that they used to hold jousts in it. No kidding.
The Main Square in Old Town
Largest of the squares we mentioned earlier. Check out the Astronomical Clock that strikes on the hour – revolving disks, celestial symbols, figures of the 12 apostles al rotate on the hour. Nice to see – once But we prefer the vibrancy of the vendors, musicians, and movement of people to and fro on and around the square.
Gotta tell ya’, if we ever decided to leave the States (highly unlikely), our new home would probably be Prague.
Okay, okay, enough of this. We gotta get to our ship docked on the Elbe. Time to board a coach for a 30 minute ride to Melnick where the ship is – or that’s where it was supposed to be. But there are lock and high water problems around Melnick so the ship is located further up river at Decin, a 1½ hour ride. Well, it is what it is – go with the flow, so to speak.
Away our driver goes – on to Decin through small villages, farmland, and old industrial areas. Turn here, turn there, navigate a round-a-bout. About an hour later someone pipes up and says “Hey, didn’t we pass a suspension bridge just like that a little bit ago?” And that industrial building looks familiar. We went by a guy chopping wood and he looked at us as if t say “You guys again?!”
What we feared was confirmed when the driver turned down a road and there facing us was a low tunnel – to low for the bus to enter. Yep, our driver was lost.
Okay, back-up, turn around, retrack make a left instead of a right and so forth. Finally we spied our ship docked – on the other side of the river Turn left, turn right, wind around and, whew, here we are. Well, at least there was no charge for this added “excursion.”
So our bus trailed way behind the other two and we were by far the last to arrive. Just had time to set down our luggage and head off to the Captain’s Welcome Briefing held, thankfully, in the ship’s lounge/bar. We got the “welcome champagne” and Joye quickly followed that up with two martinis. All of a sudden she was feeling a lot better. And I know a number of you won’t be surprised when I say I went for the Drink of the Day. Viking features a special drink each day, known as the Drink of the Day. I have made it a ritual to do this. And, as always, I give a tip of the hat (or glass in this case) to Bryan Dold who led the way on this when he and Sherry travelled with us on the Danube in 2006.
Today’s Drink of the Day: Golden Dip (Gin, white vermouth, and orange juice) Rating: 3 stars (out of 4)
Oops, one other thing. Our ship, Viking Schumann, is one of the older of the Viking ships in service - launched in 1991. And the cabins are, shall we say, small. Like 150 sq. ft – total. (Sherry/Bryan – That’s smaller than those you and we had on the Danube. So you can just imagine….). But Joye found all sorts of nooks, crannies, and small shelves for storage. Amazing – we have enough room. And the shower is integrated with the rest of the bathroom. If you have been in an RV with what is known as a wet shower, you know what we’re talkin’ about. You have to pay attention when you shower or the whole bathroom will be like a wading pool. But it’s not as hard as one might think. Just a quick wipe up of the floor when you’re done.
Now that we have told you more than you wanted to know, we’ll say “good night.”