Jan 07 2008

Prague Free Guided Tour? Czech!

Published by at 7:44 pm under Prague

IMG_3175It’s a rare event for us to be seen taking a guided tour, because we’re both cheap, and convinced that we already know everything there is to know. But of these two character flaws, cheap always wins out, which explains how we came to join the ranks of camera-toting tourists in Prague’s FREE guided city tour on the morning after Christmas. (or “Boxing Day” for you Canadians/Australians/other non-American purchasers of English language calendars.) We motivated ourselves to roll out of bed at a decent hour in order to take the four hour walking tour, all in the name of a bargain.

Monica, our Czech tour guide, first led our gigantic group of misers through the part of the city known as the Old Town, but I was too preoccupied with 1.) the numbness in my frozen toes, and 2.) calculating our money saved by taking a FREE tour, to really retain any of the facts I was supposed to be absorbing here.

But Monica captured my focus when we entered the old Jewish Quarter, as she conveyed the history of Prague’s Jews during World War II. Much like back on Crete, the Jewish population here was almost entirely decimated by Nazi-led deportation to death and concentration camps. It can be difficult for those of our generation to remember just how recent this history really is, but the point is painfully driven home by the Pinkas Synagogue in this part of town, which displays pictures drawn by Jewish children in the nearby concentration camp, Terezin. Terezin itself can be visited as a day trip from Prague, which is an excursion we did not take, but one that came with an emotional recommendation from a fellow hosteler.

Continuing through the Jewish Quarter, we also heard from Monica about a Jewish legend that likely goes back through the centuries: the tale of Prague’s Golem. For those not indoctrinated into the nerdy fantasy realms that occupied the majority of my childhood twenties, a Golem is a lumbering giant made of stone. Prague’s Golem was mystically created by a character named Rabbi Loewe, who ordered the Golem to protect Prague’s resident Jews. Sadly, the Golem proved too powerful for its own good, and Rabbi Loewe was ultimately forced to destroy his creation. There are those who believe, however, that the Golem eluded destruction at the hands of the Rabbi, and is still hiding somewhere in the Jewish Quarter today. I didn’t find the Golem, but I did find the official Golem Coffee MugTM in a tourist shop, and promptly purchased the very necessary souvenir.

Street Jazz on the Charles BridgeMonica’s tour took us over the famous Charles Bridge, where we found street jazz musicians entertaining the crowds, exactly as all Prague guidebooks promise. I liked the hep cats, the street artists, and the foggy river views. I did not like the epic nation of seagulls that engulfs the bridge, rabidly dive-bombing those who dare cross, all in the name of their quest for tasty saltine crackers.

Our tour wrapped up at the Prague Castle, which provides a satisfying view over the entire city. The main attraction at the castle is actually the church that it surrounds, and since we’ve been desensitized to ancient churches after four months in Europe, we hastily appreciated it, and then beat our own path toward some more culturally rich destinations. I couldn’t make out exactly what the Czech people were calling our next few stops, but it sounded something like “toureest trahps.” Presenting…

Prague's 1/3 Size Replica of the Eiffel Tower!The 1/3 Size Replica of the Eiffel Tower!
I don’t know why a 1/3 Size Replica of the Eiffel Tower! was deemed necessary in Prague, but I can tell you that it comes exactly as billed. I’ve yet to see the actual Eiffel Tower, but if the experience of climbing to the top of Prague’s swaying replica is only 1/3 as terrifying as the real thing, then I may need to enjoy the Paris original from the safety of Earth.

Tiny usThe Labyrinth of Mirrors
Right next to the 1/3 Size Replica of the Eiffel Tower! is the so-called Labyrinth of Mirrors, which does not exactly live up to its billing. It’s more like a Hallway With a Few Turns, But No Choice of Path of Mirrors. Some interesting photo ops (see inset), but not really worth the trip even if it were free. And it isn’t free.

The Largest Equestrian Statue in the World
Prague’s aggressive tourism industry wasn’t finished with us quite yet. Multiple city brochures reference the “Largest Equestrian Statue in the World” as one of Prague’s can’t-miss attractions. It’s even indicated on our city map by a picture of a horse that looks ready to crush downtown underfoot, Godzilla-style. It wasn’t until boarding the metro that would bring us to the LESitW that I even questioned our zombie-like ambition to visit the monument.

“Uh, Brittany, are we sure we want to see this thing? Have we ever even cared about equestrian statues? This sounds an awful lot like The World’s Biggest Ball of Twine to me.”

“Of course we want to see it! It’s the Largest Equestrian Statue IN THE WORLD.”

“Hmm, I guess you’re right.”

Brittany and the LESitWFor the benefit of those who may come after us, it turns out that the LESitW really IS a whole lot like The World’s Biggest Ball of Twine. Once you get there and see it, you can’t remember why in the world you came. Who is the man on the horse? What does this commemorate? Why would anyone be interested in seeing the Largest Equestrian Statue in the World? These questions may never be answered. Fittingly, we would later read that no one actually knows if this equestrian statue is the largest in the world. In other words, Prague simply makes the unsubstantiated claim, and no one else in the world can imagine caring enough to challenge them on the point. Prague Tourism Industry 1, Ben and Brittany 0.

Next time, on a very special episode of Euros Ate My Dollars, suffer vicariously through our 24-hour bus ride from Prague to Barcelona. But until then, practice your Czech with this beginner’s language guide!

Dobreh Den = Hello
No = Yes (good luck with this one!)
Ne = No
Dekuji = Thank you
Prosim = Please/You’re welcome/Can I help you?/Fo shizzle my nizzle
Pivo = Beer

NEXT: Vlog: 24 hours on a bus »



5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Prague Free Guided Tour? Czech!”

  1. Elen Pragueon 08 Jan 2008 at 7:55 am

    :D Heh, the no-yes is pronounced more like NOooo with falling intonation ;)

    Petrinska rozhledna is not directly a model of Eiffel Tower, but it has some distinct features. It was inspired by the Tower, though, but built on Czech budget. :)

    Unfortunately, the Chinese have a bigger Equestrian Statue, but we could call it the Largest Czech Equestrian Statue in the World… Anyway the riding guy is Zizka, and he won the only war in the Czech history, as we are a nation of god-damned hippies and so lose every battle possible…

    Good luck on your ride to Barcelona, Brittany. I tried a similar bus ride from Prague to London and I was a-sto(u)n(d)e(d)

    Btw, hasta luego y ¡Buena Suerte!

  2. Ryanon 08 Jan 2008 at 12:57 pm

    pivo, got it! thats the only word I’ll need that week.

  3. Davidon 09 Jan 2008 at 11:40 am

    Did your share your love and knowledge of Slavic folklore with the rest of the tour group?

  4. Davidon 09 Jan 2008 at 11:43 am

    And is the equestrian statue really bigger than the one at Patterson Putt-a-Way?

  5. Angeliaon 11 May 2009 at 10:08 pm

    I have just stumbled upon your website and it’s great. Good for you guys taking the plunge into the unknowable abyss of traveling! I am from Richmond too, and when I saw the mock up Eiffel, I couldn’t help but think of Kings Dominion. Fun times, indeed! Welcome back, too!

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