Sometimes we catch a break. In this case we received an upgrade to our apartment because the one we reserved needed maintenance. As the apartment owner showed us our home for the next 4 nights, the kids were bubbling with excitement. Running from room to room, calling “dibs” on different beds and bedrooms. The 7 hour train ride from Budapest had pushed them to their limits of quietly sitting in one place. I guessed the apartment at about 1500 square feet of living space with 12 foot high ceilings, crown molding, and 3 balconies. After the old, cramped and dusty apartment in Budapest, it was a palace! Now, don’t get the wrong impression, this was certainly a “rental palace”. The furniture was likely quite nice in its day (about 100 years ago), but as often as not each piece is missing a knob or screw. The apartment has antique wardrobes, rather than closets in each bedroom. The windows are the old double hung type, with a full window or french door on the exterior and another full window/door about 8 inches into the sill. This creates an air barrier to provide insulation in inclement weather; however, the weather was warm and wonderful – so we just threw open the windows most of the time. The walls are all about 18 inches thick – similar to what we encountered in most of the older buildings in Germany, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. The TV worked after some futzing by the owner, but half the channels appeared to feature “call a date” business at all hours of the day; we were never able to find the Olympics.
Prague, like Budapest, has great photo opportunities. The old town is more compact than Budapest, so the vistas tend not to be as dramatic. The old buildings are very clean and well maintained for the hordes of visitors moving through the cobble stone streets. I had Alex by the hand as we navigated the crowds when I asked her if this reminded her of Disneyland. She put on a little mischievous smile and said “Dad, it has been so long since we have been to Disneyland, I don’t remember what it looks like.” I replied, “Poor kid, you never get to go anywhere fun.” We had a chuckle together as we walked hand-in-hand into the center of Prague where a tower containing a 12th century astronomical clock and an awe-inspiring Gothic cathedral opened up to us. We will find time to get to Disneyland one of these days.
The food and beer in Prague are about half the price of Budapest and a quarter the price of Germany, so we took advantage and treated ourselves to some great meals and sampled the beer. Let’s just stay that we didn’t lose much weight during our stay in Prague.
Prague is an ancient university town, being the home of the Charles University, one of the oldest universities in Europe. It was originally chartered by an Emperor of the Roman Empire, King Charles the IV, in the mid 1300’s. Old King Charles was one of those overachieving monarchs (like Fredric the Great in Potsdam) who left his mark on his part of the world in a big way. The Charles Bridge is a useful monument King Charlie built over the river in Prague. We walked the bridge shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of other tourists, took a few pictures, had the kids rub the base of a “lucky” statue of a priest who was tossed off the bridge for keeping the Queen’s secrets from the King (not King Chuck). When I see this type of monument, I reflect that many leaders have built stone monuments that may last 1,000’s of years – the epitome is Mt. Rushmore in Montana USA. However, I think it is a superior achievement to charter and launch an institution like the Charles University that remains relevant and valuable for centuries. I assume the Charles University folks would say they remain relevant and valuable, but I’m using a little hyperbole here since I don’t have direct experience with the university.