Prague: Traveling on a Budget

“Prague ….. was a city of alchemists and dreamers, its Medieval cobbles once trod by golems, mystics, invading armies. Tall houses glowed goldenrod and carmine and eggshell blue, embellished with Rococo plasterwork and capped in roofs of uniform red. Baroque cupolas were the soft green of antique copper, and Gothic steeples stood ready to impale fallen angels. The wind carried the memory of magic, revolution, violins, and the cobbled lanes meandered like creeks. Thugs wore Motzart wigs and pushed chamber music on street corners, and marionettes hung in windows, making the whole city seem like a theater with unseen puppeteers crouched behind velvet.”  (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor).

 

Prague

Prague

 

Prague: A Glimpse into Its Early History

Known as the City of a Hundred Spires, Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, is often described as  one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Many travel sites list it among the top Medieval tourist attractions. Steeped in rich history, the Czech Republic was settled during the Paleolothic Age. Its first inhabitants are believed to have been the ancient Celtic tribe, the Boii, from whose name the land known as Bohemia derived. Later inhabitants included the German Marcomanni and the West Slavs.

During the 14th Century reign of the Czech King Charles IV of the Luxembourg Dynasty, Prague became the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, and King Charles was crowned as its Emperor. The name of Charles’ son, the Duke of Bohemia, is familiar to many in America. We sing Christmas carols about him during our most holy days, praising  his bravery in overcoming a terrible winter blizzard in order to provide alms for the poor during the Feast of Stephen. Saint Stephen is regarded by many to have been the first martyr of Christianity after having been stoned to death for the crime of  blasphemy.  The carol in praise of King Charles’ son is entitled  Good King Wenceslas.

Prague‘s Old Town

In the heart of Prague’s Old Town just above the famous Charles Bridge, a tourist can visit one of the largest royal residences in Europe, the Prague Castle, the seat of emperors, presidents, and kings for more than one thousand years. However, one of the castle grounds’ most dominant features overshadows the Prague Castle. The St. Vitus Cathedral is one of the most imposing structures one could ever expect to see. Within its massive walls, highlighted by gorgeous stained-glass windows, rest the remains of the ancient kings and queens of the Czech Republic, including those of Good King Wenceslas.

Adjacent to the cathedral, in the shadows of its intimidating stone ramparts, one can visit the Golden Lane, a maze of miniature houses that legend tells us were inhabited by Medieval alchemists who sought the illusive Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixir of Youth in order to extend the life of the Czech King Rudolf II. Although cast in the shadows by the St. Vitus Cathedral, visitors should not neglect the Romanesque Basilica of St. George, the Renaissance Summer Palace of Queen Anne, and the Royal Gardens.

Prague Castle

Prague Castle

 

St. Vitus Cathedral

St. Vitus Cathedral

 

St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague

St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague

 

St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague

St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague

 

The Golden Lane, Prague

The Golden Lane, Prague

 

Central and Eastern Europe on $14 Per Day

Like most of my travels, voluntourism provided the base for my adventures in the Czech Republic.  During this first half of my trip to Central and Eastern Europe, I utilized the simple budget-saving strategy of using my volunteer positions to explore other nearby countries.  After arriving in Warsaw, I spent one week in an Angloville English immersion session in a beautiful resort in the  Lesser Poland Voivodeship.  I followed this with an inexpensive flight to Prague where I spent five days sightseeing. Afterwards, I returned to Warsaw for a second English immersion session in a resort on the Bug River near the Belarus and Polish border.

In all Angloville sessions accommodations and meals are provided free of charge. Travel sites that estimate approximate costs indicate that tourists traveling on a budget in the Warsaw area will spend an average of $35 each day. Thus, my twelve days in English immersion sessions saved me approximately $420 in expenses. Those days were filled with delightful friends, yummy meals, games, laughter, intriguing conversation, music, and walks in the forests.

To clarify for those interested in volunteering for Angloville in Poland and Hungary or for Diverbo in Spain and Germany, volunteers do not teach English. Their role is simply to provide an opportunity for non-native English speakers to converse with native speakers in order to develop fluency, understand idioms, and become accustomed to various dialects. It is not necessary to possess a college degree or be an English teacher; nor is it necessary to speak any language other than English.

The average cost of tourism  in Prague per day for those who travel on a budget  is about $40. Additional expenses included my flight and  a tour of Kutna Hora’s St. Barbara’s Cathedral and the Sedlec Ossuary (The Church of Bones). My entire cost for visiting Prague was about $400; thus, the first seventeen days of my Central and Eastern European adventure averaged costing me $25 each day.

One month later, after completing a volunteer experience  in the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Osweicim, Poland, my over-all cost would again be significantly decreased. Living in a nice quiet dorm on the  grounds of Auschwitz allowed me to save on accommodations and  spend only what was necessary for meals. A small, quiet restaurant a short walk from my dorm served delicious, family-type meals (with lots of cabbage of course) which seldom cost me more than $3 per meal. Total costs for the thirty days during which I provided volunteer service at Auschwitz cost only $240. Therefore, the total cost of my six weeks in Europe averaged $14 each day. As I have stated in my previous posts, I utilize credit card sign-up bonuses and rewards to pay for my flights.

Prague‘s Charles Bridge

Although there are many more tourists in Prague than in much of Eastern Europe, its ambiance,  history, and charming Old World square provide an unforgettable peek into times long past. Charles Bridge, built during the reign of King Charles IV, is considered one of the most romantic sites in Europe. Lined by galleries of Baroque statues, paved with cobblestones, overlooking the enchanting Vltava River that sparkles beneath the lights of the city, and filled with artists, mimes, and entertainers, its charm is undeniable.

All history contains both dark and light, shadows that remind us that the charm of the past is not always bathed in beauty. While lovers may delight in Charles Bridge, hidden in its history lurks a terrible tragedy of the 17th Century when the executioner Jan Mydlar executed 27 Bohemian rebels for conspiracy against the Hapsburg emperor Matthias. Not content with the simple executions, Mydlar displayed the heads of the nobles, burghers, and scholars on Charles Bridge as a warning to other Protestants who were tempted to usurp the power of the emperor.

 

Entry to Charles Bridge, Prague

Entry to Charles Bridge, Prague

 

Charles Bridge Statue

Charles Bridge Statue

 

Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge

 

St. Salvador Church of Charles Bridge

St. Salvador Church of Charles Bridge

 

View of Prague from Charles Bridge

View of Prague from Charles Bridge

 

Prague‘s Old Town Square

In the heart of Prague’s Old Town, one will find the best sites of all in Staroměstské náměstí, the Old Town Square. Pastel-colored Gothic and Romanesque buildings line the streets, busy outdoor restaurants tempt passersby, street vendors and shops sell marionettes, Bohemian crystal, and every imaginable object a tourist could want to purchase. Staroměstské náměstí’s magnificent churches, street musicians, and other entertainers provide lasting memories, rich with sights, sounds, and scents that are intriguing and extremely evocative.

One of the most popular tourist attractions of the Czech Republic can by found on the southern wall of the Old Town City Hall. Prague’s famous Astronomical Clock measures three times: Eastern European, Babylonian, and Sidereal (time measured by the earth’s rotation in relation to the placement of the fixed stars). At the beginning of each hour, hundreds of tourists from all over the world stand motionless, with cameras ready to flash.  A mechanical dance begins with twelve apostles appearing in the clock’s windows to greet the citizens of the city and the visitors who have arrived to witness this Old World treasure. A skeleton rings his bell, a miser holds his bag of coins, a Turk (the traditional enemy of the Czech Republic) shakes his head, and Vanity peers into his mirror in order to see his beauty. As the clock strikes the hour, a huge bell rings and a golden rooster crows, warning the demons and ghosts who might be lurking in the alleys and shadows of the city to flee, for they are unwanted in the lands of the Czechs.

 

Old Town Square, Prague

Old Town Square, Prague

 

Prague Old Town Square

Prague Old Town Square

 

Prague Old Town Square

Prague Old Town Square

 

Prague Old Town Square

Prague Old Town Square

 

Prague Old Town Square

Prague Old Town Square

 

Old Town Square, Prague

Old Town Square, Prague

 

Church of Our Lady Before Tyn, Prague

Church of Our Lady Before Tyn, Prague

 

Prague's Astronomical Clock

Prague’s Astronomical Clock

Mysterious Prague: The Golem and Karl Jaenig’s Obsession with Death

For those tourists who seek the mysterious, it is not necessary to travel to the Church of the Bones in Kutna Hora. One need only visit a gravestone in the old Jewish cemetery in Prague. Beneath the stone rests the bones of the Jewish Rabbi Loew ben Bezalel. According to legend, the Rabbi, in an attempt to protect the Jewish citizens of Prague from the anti-Semitism rampant during Rudolf II’s reign, created Golem, a  monster made from the mud of the River Vltava. The Golem, however, did such an excellent job of keeping the Jewish community safe that after a while he was no longer needed, and the Rabbi deactivated him and locked him in the attic of Prague’s Old-New Synagogue. Legend also warns that even today the Golem still lies within the attic. It is rumored that during World War II, the Old-New Synagogue was spared destruction because of the Nazi’s fear of awakening him.

When one tires of the Golem, whose face and figure can be found  throughout Prague, in statues, on post cards and t-shirts, and even in the name of a popular restaurant, he or she can investigate another unique character who dwelled within the city. In a Baroque mansion called the Faust House, which received its name because throughout the years those who dwelled within its walls were involved in alchemy, chemistry, and astrology, many mysterious characters lived out the dramas of their lives in most unusual ways. Faust House’s most famous inhabitant was the eccentric Karl Jaenig. Jaenig was rumored to have spent his nights sleeping in a coffin which was surrounded by walls covered in funeral texts. In his obsession with death,  it is said that Jaenig collected human bones and even had a gallows erected in his home.

Prague: The Rapture of Being Alive

The great American mythologist, Joseph Campbell, stated in his remarkable book, The Power of Myth, “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life……….. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive…………so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.” Campbell’s “rapture of being alive,” describes my emotions as I walked the ancient pathways of Prague, intrigued as if in a dream world by its charm and beauty.

Even with legends such as the Golem, Prague is a city that makes one dream of less stressful times. Momentarily, the tourist forgets the difficulties of life during the Medieval era. Mesmerized by the legends of heroes, the pageantry of the monarchy, the sacred beauty of the cathedrals, and the rich abundance of ideas which were leading civilization directly along the path  toward the Renaissance, it is era that fills us with a yearning, a need to simplify our lives. For me, my time in Prague was truly a gift for the soul.

Suggested Resources 

Czech Republic: Land of Stories

 

Return to Homepage