Prague: Beer, CouchSurfing.com, and an Impromptu Kayaking Trip
Here is Minnesota, the signs of an early Spring are spotted on every street corner. I see the green of emerging crocuses peeking from under the soil and the robins and cardinals are singing their Spring tunes. It is a nice feeling to wake up in the morning to the whistling of Northern Cardinals fighting for their territory; it means Spring is fast approaching. Though it is April, I must mention one thing from March. March is my birthday month and now I am 27 years old. I am thankful to my friends and family who made my birthday very special this year, specifically mentioning the surprise birthday party my partner and a friend planned for me. It was a welcome surprise and it reaffirmed to me that I am happy here in the Twin Cities because not only do I love this city, but I also have a love and appreciation for the people in my life.
Well, this post will be my last installment in my 2016 Euro Trip series. Please enjoy.
My sister, named Colleen, posing on Charles Bridge with Prague Castle in the distance.
Prague: Beer, CouchSurfing.com, and an Impromptu Kayaking Trip
In my last post about my Euro Trip, I wrote about my experiences in Munich, specifically about my short visit to the Dachau Concentration Camp and Memorial Site just outside of Munich. After spending a day in Dachau, Colleen and I returned to Munich and stayed in a hostel near the train station. It was the Wombat’s City Hostel. Colleen and I were not in a social mood that evening, but I would recommend this hostel to any traveler, especially those who want to meet other travelers.
The following morning, Colleen and I awoke early to catch a train to Prague in the Czech Republic. In total, the trip would take about five hours. While in-transit, I read some, but mostly I looked out the window and daydreamed. I also spent time reminiscing about my first time in Prague, which was three-and-a-half years prior. Prague was my first European stop (aside from Russia) during my 7-month around-the-world trip. I had met my father and brother then, so it was only fitting to be traveling there with my sister now.
Colleen and I walking through Prague’s Old Town during sunset.
Here is a short video of Colleen walking across the bridge.
We arrived in the evening—due to train delays—and walked from the main train station all the way to our hostel called Hostel Santini Prague. It was a glorious 40-minute walk that led us through a sliver of the Jewish Quarter and then through Prague’s Old Town. Colleen was in awe of the architecture and kept her head mostly looking up throughout the walk—except for looking down to avoid the occasional uprooted cobblestone. We walked across Charles Bridge and the from there watched as the evening’s sun turned from sunset into twilight. The rest of the evening included meeting a stranger off the street, who happened to be an Argentinian named Martin (his Instagram name is @martinignaccio), and having dinner not far from the hostel. It is one of the benefits of traveling, you get the chance to meet people from all over the world, people you would never have the opportunity to meet otherwise. We shared beers (fun fact: beer is cheaper than buying a bottle of water in Prague), ate goulash, and talked till the late evening.
Our second day in Prague. We walked through Old Town and went inside St. James’ Basilica.
The following morning, Colleen and I walked back to Old Town Square to find a free walking tour. We were fortunate to find an amazing tour guide, through Prague City Tours (the people in the bright blue shirts). On the tour, he educated us on important events that occurred throughout the city and pointed out fun architectural facts. One that comes to mind is what sets Prague apart from other cities is the architecture of Prague is not consistent, meaning one building may be from the medieval century, while the building adjacent may be from the renaissance, while the building adjacent from that may be from the baroque period. When he pointed that out, I noticed all throughout my time in Prague that most of the city is a mishmash of different types of architecture.
Couchsurfing: meet and adventure with new friends from around the world. From the blog Backpacking Diplomacy
After the tour, Colleen and I split up for the rest of the day. Colleen went to a Prague Castle tour (I didn’t go because I had been before), while I went the opposite direction to attend a meet-up through CouchSurfing.com. I had checked out the Prague Couchsurfing web page and realized that Colleen and I were in for a treat. I learned that the Annual Prague Couch Crash was that week/weekend and that there were events planned every day that Colleen and I would be in town. That day was an afternoon beer and chat with locals and other couch-surfers. (For reference, almost every major city has an annual Couch Crash, which is an all-weekend event that is run by locals to pick the best places to go, the best things to do, and the best restaurants to eat at for people in town visiting for the Couch Crash).
It was refreshing to get outside of the town center (Prague 1) and to go to another neighborhood in the Prague 10 district. What I like about couchsurfing.com is that not only do you get to see places that tourists don’t know about, but also the website generally brings together open-minded and open-hearted folks from all over the world. So, it usually feels like meeting close friends who I have never met before. While at the event, I had a fantastic time eating and drinking with my fellow couchsurfers and I looked forward to the other events throughout the weekend. Colleen and I decided to go on a kayaking/canoe trip the following day with a gaggle of couchsurfers.
The next morning, Colleen and I awoke early in the morning to catch a train with eight other couchsurfers to go on a canoe/kayaking trip. To be honest, since I didn’t plan the event, I am unsure of which waterway we boated on and I am unsure where our entry point was. But, I can say, the trip was a success and that Colleen and I—and eight other surfers—had a blast! Our couchsurfing leader originally planned to boat on a different part of the river, but due to a low water flow, we ended up on a more rugged, less manicured section of the river. So, instead of an easy-going boat trip, it turned into a quasi-whitewater experience, which made the trip even better! The trip leader and I had the most boating experience (one of my part-time jobs is being a kayak instructor), so with four canoes and one kayak, all of us wound our way through one of Czech Republic’s beautiful scenic river valleys.
Some highlights from the boat trip include going through several rapids (I would consider them level III, but I don’t have enough whitewater experience to know for sure). In between the higher level rapids were the occasional eddies and level I rapids. I had learned from friends on how to whitewater paddle (Thank you Anne and Scott!) and they had even taught me the basics of how to read a river. While on the river, all their advice seemed to come back, which I was thankful for because there were parts of the river that were unpredictable and I’m sure we would have flipped or would have had troubles if we hadn’t avoided those sections.
A photo of me on the scenic train back to Prague
The second highlight was taking a scenic train back to Prague. It was an old train car that stops in every town and then follows the cliffs of the river valley, resulting in epic views of the river below. All of us couchsurfers were glued to the windows, watching as the scenery changed all around us.
Inside the Pinkas Synagogue, the names of the 78,000 Czech Jewish victims killed during the Holocaust is written on the walls.
On our last day in Prague, Colleen and I went to the Jewish Quarter. We visited the Old-New Synagogue and the Pinkas Synagogue to see the Holocaust Exhibit and the Old Jewish Cemetary. I learned a lot that day, pertaining to the persecution of Jewish people. On our museum tour, I learned the Jewish Quarter used to be a ghetto, mostly because this area would flood. So, a lot of refugees and immigrants would settle there because it was the only place in the city that was cheap enough to live in. Also, I learned that the reason why the Jewish Quarter was left—mostly—unscathed during World War II was that Adolf Hitler decided the Jewish Quarter should be left standing as a relic, so when all the Jewish people were eradicated that there could be a museum for their extinct faith and culture. Fortunately, the Jewish faith was never eradicated, but to know that the reason behind why the synagogues of the Jewish Quarter are still standing is gut-wrenching.
Prague Castle at night
Colleen and I ended our time in Prague by walking in the Old Town with some friends we made at the hostel. We ate dinner at a classic beer hall and then indulged in some Czech treats. It was a beautiful evening spent with beautiful people. It was a great way to end our time in Prague.
The following morning, Colleen and I split ways. Colleen caught a plane to Scotland to hike the Scottish Highlands and I caught a train to Berlin, so to catch a flight the following day to the USA. Fortunately, my final night in Berlin was spent in good company. When Colleen and I had first arrived in Berlin, Irina introduced us to a handful of her friends. Freddy was one of them and he hosted me in his flat. He also took me out for one final German night-out! We ate falafel at one of his favorite restaurants and then we sat outside with a pint of beer and talked till the late evening. Freddy, thank you so much for your kindness. You really made my final night in Europe very special.
And that is the end of my 2016 Eurotrip series. I hope you enjoyed reading them.
All the best,
A video from our final night in Prague. Enjoy!