On the way to Armenia several years ago, I had the good fortune of getting two long layovers (the best kind) sandwiching the trip in Prague. Two separate day trips to Prague did not bother me at all, so when the second layover stretched serendipitously into 3 days after a flight cancellation, I was definitely not complaining.
Prague is known to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, maybe even the world. Having strolled through its winding cobblestone streets taking in the art nouveau “graffiti” on its medieval building walls, I can vouch for that statement. It is like stepping into a 19th century painting.
The great thing about Prague is that it’s so very walkable. You don’t need a particular itinerary to discover its beauty, just wander the meandering streets and marvel at the completely unhidden treasures of this absolutely beautfiul city. (And in case you want to venture out and explore outside the Old Town, the transit system – both bus and metro – is really convenient.) That said, I did my usual research on Google to find out what is slightly off the beaten path and doable in a few layovers. What I found that hit the bullseye was a street artist with a sense of irony: David Černý. Going through his installations online, I decided I must see the crawling babies on the Žižkov TV Tower. Operation Babiespotting and art nouveau were now underway.
Prague Layover No.1: Old Town, Romeo & Juliet, Astronomic Clock, Charles Bridge, Cesky Krumlov, and the Vltava
No sooner had we dropped our bags off at our temporary airport accommodations (this being a layover) than we hopped onto the bus leading to the Old Town to uncover the beauty that awaits. We got off near Staromestska station and walked confusedly wondering where the actual square was. The pretty buildings were a distraction and we didn’t seem to mind where we were headed because everywhere we walked there was something to admire.
We stumbled upon Franz Kafka’s old house serendipitously. We took a few more steps toward the South and suddenly the street opened up in front of us and there was the Church of Our Lady of Tyn in all its gothic glory. I had seen pictures of it before arriving and it hadn’t left much of an impression on me. I was more interested in the Astronomic Clock. But now that the church (the spires of which are nicknamed Romeo & Juliet) was staring me in the face, I had to admit it fit right into pretty Prague. Two steps to the Southwest and there was the Astronomic Clock I had so wanted to see. So many intricate details cause a sensory overload that leaves you standing in front of this large clock tower a lot longer than you had thought you would. And then. A golden rooster pops out from the top to announce the passing of fifteen minutes.
Once we’d had our fill of the Astronomic Clock, we headed further into the streets of the Old Town, turning wherever we found something interesting (this happened a lot). We ended up at the foot of the Charles Bridge where the crowds thickened, so to avoid the mass we decided to climb up the towers bookending the bridge. Up we went the narrowest staircase I had ever been in, but once at the top the views were amazing despite the cloud cover that had pulled in.
We crossed the bridge, walked around Český Krumlov (Prague Castle), had a quick bite and drink. The effects of jetlag finally catching up to us (I in particular hadn’t slept a wink in the plane and was going on 30 hours without sleep), we hopped on a boat tour of the Vltava River feeling it was a good way to rest and see the city from a different vantage point. It was just what the doctor ordered: peaceful and quiet, I would have fallen asleep if it wasn’t for the beauty in which I was entrenched. Did I mention Prague is beautiful? I did? (It’s gorgeous really) Operation Babiespotting would have to wait until the next layover.
Prague Layover No. 2: Josefov, U Fleku, David Černý, and babies
Cut to 15 days later and we were back in a fairly deserted Prague fresh off a red-eye flight from Yerevan. We napped and then had a fun dinner at one of the oldest beer halls in Europe: U Fleku. The atmosphere was a wall of antlers short of the beer hall scenes in Beauty and the Beast. The food was also something I remember to this day. Bread dumplings remain emblazoned in my mind to this day.
The next day we set about our original plan of having no plan at all (aside from Operation Babiespotting) and wandered our way to the old Jewish ghetto, Josefov. The buildings in this area are – you guessed it – gorgeous. In addition to the beautiful architecture, this area boasts a lot of the higher end shops like Jean Paul Gaultier, Lacoste, and Dior with their fun window displays.
Scenes from Josefov (clockwise from top left): vintage car driving through the quaint and narrow streets, gates to the Jewish cemetery, a fun window display
After our stroll through Josefov, we hopped a bus to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and ended up at the Botanical gardens to the north of the city. Like stepping into an urban oasis, beautiful gardens surrounded us as we decompressed from the busy trip that was mostly behind us at this point. While this may not be on most travellers’ list of spots to hit, check the photos below and judge for yourself.
You might be wondering what happened to Operation Babiespotting. It was alive and thriving during the whole two days of our 2nd layover. We just needed to figure out when we could make the trek out to the Žižkov TV Tower. Now refreshed from the brief botanical break, we hopped a bus and then went underground to get to the babies. Once we were back above ground, we turned down one street that was meant to lead us to the babies. We could see the tower (and the babies) but somehow had taken a wrong turn and couldn’t get TO the tower. Around and around we went, feeling pretty silly at the fact that we couldn’t arrive at a destination we had our sights set on. We had almost given up, feeling like we were going around in circles when we spotted a reflection in a puddle.
Babies! We had arrived at David Černý’s installation! It was worth seeing something so wacky and unique, making art of a commonplace structure like a TV tower. We should do that more often… If there’s one thing that Prague taught us, it’s that regular city streets and structures can be transformed to satisfy form as well as function.
And with all that complete, operations art nouveau and Babiespotting were now scratched off the itinerary and we were left free to experience whatever came our way. Good food, drinks, and times were had by all in the city within an art installation otherwise known as Prague.
Check back for facts about our layover(s) in Prague!