The first two months of my abroad experience have been spent entirely within Turkey. Due to government regulations, we are required to get a residency permit before we are allowed to leave and return (our visas are single-entry). Mine arrived to the Post Office on Friday and I picked it up on Monday. Three hours later, I had a flight and hotel booked in Prague, Czech Republic. I had only heard of Prague four or five times in my life, and had no idea where it was or which country it was in, but it was the cheapest last-minute trip I could make and I knew many people taketrips to see it. It turned out to be a fantastic decision.
Prague is VERY different than Istanbul. When you imagine a typical “European” city, Prague could fit the description nicely. It has large, uniform stone buildings lining wide streets and narrow cobblestone alleyways. It’s clean, green, and has a modern tram and metro system to get you where you need to go. Dotting the city are large stone cathedrals that tower over the surrounding neighborhoods. A river cuts through the center of the city, and on top of the nearby hill is a magnificent castle.
First things first: Czech immigration is SLOW. Officials had 7 lines open at the Prague airport and one plane-load of people to process. It took an hour to make it through- which translates to about 5-8 minutes PER PERSON. Compared to Turkey, which processes people in less than 30 seconds apiece, my first impression was an airport nightmare (seriously though, shout out to Turkish immigration officials for doing their jobs efficiently!).
After that experience, it was nice to find the public transit system is easy to use. Purchase a ticket, get on the bus, stamp the ticket, and away you go. A short ride to the metro, another short ride to Old Town, which is the location of Bed & Books Art Hotel, the hotel/hostel I’m staying at. It’s a small, back-alley converted apartment that has modern private rooms but shared living spaces. It’s the perfect combination for me- while I like having my own space, I want to have the chance to meet people (although everyone else here is invisible). The location is the best part. It’s right in the middle of everything, a 300 meter walk to one of the biggest squares, and another 500 meters to the Old Town Square, which serves as the central point in the tourist area of Prague. I was able to wake up this morning, spend five minutes looking for breakfast, and then hit one attraction after the next for the rest of the day.
I still don’t understand everything I saw, but some of the highlights included the square, which was surrounded by beautiful buildings and had an Easter festival going on, with shops and live music. It’s home to the astronomical clock that Prague is famous for (honestly, I thought it would be bigger). When I returned to the square tonight, I spent a good deal of time watching a local high school band perform several songs, including “Lion sleeps tonight”. There was also Charles Bridge, which is historic and lined with statues of famous religious figures. The bridge also takes you to Prague Castle, which is the largest attraction by far, featuring a massive cathedral, historic weapons and armor, and great views of the city. Unfortunately, the treasury was closed for the day (I wanted to see the jewels) and Topkapi/Dolmabahçe back in Istanbul kind of ruined the experience for me, because those palaces are much larger and grander- and you get to see all of them, instead of the great hall and two rooms. I also thought that the Palace catered too much to the zillions of tourists. Istanbul’s commercialization stops at the gates, but there are shops and street performers everywhere within the walls.
One of the highlights of Prague has to be the food, and mostly because it’s so different than Turkish cuisine. Breakfast was a major shock to me, because nearly everything included meat. The buffet featured bacon-stuffed pastry, pork hummus-like substance, sausages, ham, and more. Compare this to Turkey, which includes three types of cheeses, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, bread, an egg or two, fruit, and a few slices of salami. I have a feeling it’s healthier for you, and surprisingly just as filling as all the protein. However, I was a very happy carnivore today! For lunch, I had pork and cranberry, foods I have not been able to eat since early January back in the states. Dinner was a Czech hot dog (which in turn was a sausage), the most delicious hot dog I have ever eaten.
Prague is a one-day city, and lucky for me I am flying out tomorrow. It was a fun weekend trip and a good start to my Europe adventures.