Saturday, July 28, 2012

Vienna, Prague, and back to Bratislava.

Sadly, my brother had to cut his trip here short due to work-related reasons, forcing him to fly back Monday morning out of Vienna, while my dad stayed until Friday morning, as originally planned. We got to see Jon one last time on Sunday afternoon/evening in Vienna, after he and my dad returned from their stint down in Belgrade and Montenegro. We wandered Vienna's streets a bit and had a filling and tasty dinner in the Spittelberg neighborhood. Jon seemed to agree with me that, although nice and clearly full of appealing and diverse culture (and home to a cool looking cathedral), overall Vienna feels and looks a bit too sterile and soulless compared to cities like Budapest or Paris.

At any rate, my dad really wanted to see Prague, so he and I took a short trip up to the spire-specked city, and I played tour guide once again (I'm happy to report I no longer need a map to navigate the labyrinthine streets of Prague's Old Town), hitting a lot of the major sites but venturing through a few less traveled areas as well. 

I have to say, though, that in the past I have only been to Prague in the winter, during which the streets are far less crowded, and you can actually walk across the entire Charles Bridge in a straight line. This time, during the grind of peak tourist season, Prague was quite predictably mobbed, which is something I had yet to experience. Charles Bridge was crammed full of ambling tourists, all of them wandering circuitously in a million different directions, understandably in a constant state of being distracted by some amazing detail they'd just discovered. It was worse in the afternoon/early evening; at least at 10:30 in the morning the bridge was manageable. The inside of St. Vitus cathedral, too, was absolutely mobbed, making it a bit difficult to enjoy.

But still, it's quite easy enough to avoid the clogged tourist arteries. Basically, it comes down to avoiding Charles Bridge after 12:00, and the adjoining Karlova street at pretty much any time of the day. Just walking down one of the old streets parallel to Karlova gives you a completely different and infinitely more laid back vibe (and you can also avoid all of the hideously tacky tourist tchotchke shops that line Karlova). I don't know if there's a better time to check out St. Vitus, though.

Despite the hordes of tourists (and who can blame them, Prague is a dazzlingly beautiful city, particularly due to having survived both WWII and communism mostly unscathed), I still love the place, and my dad really seemed to enjoy and appreciate it. He found the Museum of Communism particularly interesting, and he was impressed by the lovely main Old Town square as well as the sprawling Vaclavske square, the dramatic interiors of the centuries old churches, the narrow cobblestoned lanes, and the panoramic views of the city's spire-studded skyline from the castle.

He also dug the food and accompanying beer: both at Terezia's and my reliable standby U Parliamentu, and at a new place I hadn't tried before, called Hospoda u Novaka, located a block or two behind the National Theater. U Parliamentu, in particular, is a fun place because in addition to serving genuinely good food, it's typically full of these boisterous, pipe-smoking, shaggy-haired, local university professor types in their 60s who look like they meet here every evening. 

This is where they put tourists who amble
obliviously in front of you when you're trying
to cross Charles Bridge.
The hotel we stayed in. 

We headed back to Bratislava Wednesday and got back about the same time that Terezia returned from spending a few days with her parents in Podrecany. 

I had to work all day Thursday (yes, work! I'll get into the details of that in a future post), but Terezia didn't, so she hung out with my dad on his last day here and took him to Devin. Tony was nice enough to drive him (and us, to say goodbye) to the Vienna airport early Friday morning.

Overall, I think my dad thoroughly enjoyed his trip. He said that the couple days spent in Podrecany for the reception probably made the biggest impression on him, but he really liked all of the cities he visited for fairly different reasons. I was sad that Jon wasn't able to stick around to see Prague, but that just means we'll have to coax him out here again and rather than venture south, we'll head north instead.

An amusing anecdote: back in Budapest, when Jon, my dad, and I were floating in the soothingly warm waters of the Szechenyi baths, we talked about the fact that the three of us absolutely would not have been out here together were it not for my meeting Terezia, and that we owe this whole experience to her. It's funny how meeting one person can really alter your life trajectory!

(Click here to see more photos of Prague from this trip!)

(Click here to see my personal favorite set of photos of Prague, taken back in winter!)

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