Originally published January 26, 2010
I spent two and a half days in Prague. I wish there had been more time, because my brother Chris, our two travel companions and I got completely lost almost immediately after parting ways with our tour guide.
In Europe, when with a guided tour, getting lost is a very serious problem. If we had unlimited time, it wouldn’t have mattered. Chris and I got lost quite a few times in London when it was just the two of us, but we really had nowhere we needed to be.
In Prague, we had one partial free day, one whole free day and then we needed to get back on the bus and head to Munich. Therefore, lost time equals lost sightseeing, and I wanted to see as much as possible. (HOW we got lost was silly anyway. We passed our stop but didn’t get off. The stops the tram made were announced aloud, and were also written on a wall. However, Czech is quite a difficult language to understand. A nice woman tried to help translate for us, but I don’t think she spoke English very well. It took us an extra hour and a half to reach our desired destination, and by that time we were all hot, sweaty, and slightly pissed off.)
We’d done quite a bit of sightseeing the day before, including St. Hedwig’s Cathedral, St. Charles Bridge, Old Town Square, the Astronomical Clock, Wenceslas Square and a famous Jewish Cemetery. Our free day was dedicated to shopping. Prague is known as the cheapest city in Europe, and it absolutely lived up to this legacy. Our main mission was to find my friend – and later, myself – amber jewelry. It was apparently very common in Prague, and tripled in value once you crossed into North America.
The streets in Prague are tiny, and wind in many different directions. We slowly worked our way through the city with a huge crowd of tourists. We went in and out of many different stores, but didn’t quite find anything that caught our eyes. Then, we walked by a small pashmina store and decided to go in. It was one of the best decisions I made the entire trip.
We were greeted by two very friendly Turkish men. They switched to English as we looked around, and one of the men asked us questions. He was so friendly and welcoming, and we began to feel very at home. I had also just had some of my money stolen from a very rude cigarette saleslady, so I was happy to be talking to a local person who was actually nice to me. He was from Turkey, but came to Prague to open a business and, hopefully, make money for his family. Each of the pashminas in the store was handmade, and between 70% to 100% cashmere.
Our friendly store owner showed me how to properly tie a pashmina. He said that if I was going to wear a European pashmina, I must tie it and wear it like a European would. He also demonstrated a trick to determine if a pashmina is 100% cashmere or not. If it is, you can thread it through a ring. After we each bought a few pashminas from this gentleman (and by a few, I mean MANY), the second man emerged with a steaming tray of espresso. We all stood at his cash register counter, sipping espresso and sharing stories of travel and life. It was wonderful.
After the espresso, he took us down a winding channel of passageways to a wholesale jewellery store. He wanted to help us find the best amber for the best price. We spend a good hour – if not more – in the store, and I walked away with the most beautiful necklace. I still treasure it to this day.
In the evening, our tour guide took us to a place called The Beer Factory. If you are a beer lover, pay close attention to this next paragraph…
The Beer Factory is a huge bar in a basement directly off Wenceslas Square. Inside, there were a number of large, wooden tables lining the walls of the room. At each table was a beer tap with eight or nine spouts. There was an electronic scoreboard on the wall. The entire bar was competing with one another – table against table – to see who could drink the most beer.
Each time you refilled your glass from one of the spouts, the scoreboard updated how much beer your table had consumed. We were going at it for hours, and I am happy to say that we won! Beer is also very cheap, and after the lovely Czech to Euro exchange rate, we were spending about one Euro per beer. That works out to under $2 Canadian. Not too bad, if you ask me.