My previous write-up on Prague touched on my top five spots to visit, but this piece focuses on the Prague Castle itself, because when you’re a first-timer looking at web sites, then being accosted by people on the street hustling tours, it’s a bit overwhelming.
On that note, in the last two years, the number of folks trying to get you to buy a tour has skyrocketed. The potential of being scammed has grown accordingly, getting so bad it warranted coverage on the Netflix show Scam City. If you want to be really unnerved, watch the episode covering Prague. Because of this, I feel it’s my moral obligation to give you the street view of the American tourist.
Left: the view walking across the St. Charles bridge up to the Castle, Right: turning around, looking back towards town as you keep going
Be informed and be vigilant
Two things right up front.
1). Don’t purchase a tour from someone on the street, and
this doesn’t apply to just Prague. It pretty much holds true for any city, from
Cancun to Rome. Street tour sellers invariably promise a personal meeting with
the Pope (I kid you not) to seeing the inside private rooms of the castle. Be
smart. Buy your ticket the office at the castle entrance and learn more on the main web site.
Saving the potential $10 Euros just isn’t worth it.
2) The cab fairs are set and standard in the city. It’s max
of 40 CZ plus 28 CZ per kilometer per the
laws. Some cabs are honest, others are not. (This aspect was
profiled/caught on tape on Scam City as well). Do yourself a favor and print out the law so you can contend with
the cab driver as required, as some will tell you the law is wrong. Tip: the wise traveler will get in, ask
about, and confirm the fair, then get in.
On the other hand, you can walk. As I mentioned in my other blog, you’ll see Starbucks, pay for the entrance to the castle and you are on your way.
Upper left: When you reach the top of the walk, take a breather (note the Starbuck’s Coffee. I think that’s morally wrong, but hey, they gotta earn rent somehow right? Turn around and snap some photos from whence you came (upper right) and then Bottom: the city
St. Vitus Cathedral is a great picture taking environment. Beautiful sunlight, lots of color and few crowds depending on the time of day (we prefer twilight). It’s impossible to miss is one can just stand in front and take a breath. The girls were impressed.
Tours are offered of most of the top spots at the Castle, but we missed the last tours, and a few we wanted to go on were booked, but that was OK, since we did Golden Lane (below).
Golden Lane is another must do. Originally created for the goldsmiths and servants, these colorful, small homes are like a miniature town. It’s seriously like a Lilliputian experience, and the kids absolutely loved wandering through the streets, taking pictures then finding hobbit-hole sized corridors leading to and from other points in the castle. (Actually, in hindsight, maybe Rog enjoyed it the most. He’s def transported back to his 14-year old self whenever I took out the camera).
Golden Lane is exactly what it looks like in the pictures! We were thrilled.
Three different towers exist, but I don’t have any pictures as it got too dark. The black, new white and Daliborka Tower. The Black Tower was used for prisoners (and got it’s nickname from a fire that blackened the outside), the White Tower was used to imprison nobleman, and the Daliborka Tower was a jail for noblemen and later for other members of the upper echelon of society. I still haven’t figured out the difference between a jail and a prison, and I’m struck that even back then, the class system (rich vs poor) was entrenched.
One of the back/hidden passage ways leading to the castle from Golden Lane (workers) area.
As you can see, the “crowds” were practically non existent. Either the cloudy-cool weather turned them off or we got lucky, or both.
After visiting the Castle, we bowed to the demonic pleas of our children and made a b-line to the gerbil balls on the Vltava River, which I’ve mentioned several times already. For roughly 4 dollars, 15 minutes of exhaustive pleasure is worth it.
The girls on the water–note the Castle in the background. How cool is that? More so because I was eating the world’s biggest Czech hotdog and Rog was basically sleeping in a chair.
Close and far, Karlstejn and Cesky are not to be missed
When we were visiting the Karlstejn Castle outside Prague, I
had roughly ten minutes of wait-time while Roger waited in the ticket line with
the girls. Me being me, I’m scoping the scene before me, immediately zoning in on
a tall man with a slobbering bull mastiff by his side. I wander over, dropping down
to my knees, asking if I can pet his beautiful male mastiff. His eyebrows
raised, and then it occurred to me I was awfully arrogant thinking the man
could speak English.
“Of course, you may,” he replied in perfect English albeit with
a Czech accent.
We get to talking because I’m an author, I ask questions, and learn the dogs name is Saffron, as in the herb. The reason he was outside the castle instead of in, was because it has a no dogs allowed policy, which he didn’t know. I learn he’s a contractor who specializes in private homes, and was a wealth of information what to see and visit.
The wonderful man who told us about Czesky and let me pet his beautiful mastiff Saffron!
“Have you been to Cesky Krumlov?” he asked me. Before I could answer, he told me I definitely need to go. “It’s the best thing you’ll see in the Republic.”
That was quite a statement, especially since we’d been in
and around Prague, but he was so fervent I told Rog about it, and after we finished
with our day at Karlstejn Castle, we cleared the deck for the next day and
This is a castle on the smaller side compared to Czesky Krumlov and the Prague Castle, but it has features we enjoyed. The 30-minute walk up on the white stones, and the tour takes less than an hour. The services are quite limited in terms of food and gifts, but the views are lovely. Because of its convenience to Prague, and it’s Gothic structure, it’s considered one of the top tourists’ destinations. You might think it would be really busy, but it wasn’t. We walked right up, and twenty minutes later we were in.
The walk up to Karlstejn almost resembles this rocky terrain–kidding–not kidding. It’s the opposite of Cesky
A few of my favorite snapshot memories are the small gardens
below the walkways connecting the two buildings that were used for the ladies
of the castle. The tour was also fantastic. We were incredibly grateful the
majority of our small group of 12 spoke English (we were with a group of
Australians) or we would have had to hear the tour in German and their rules is
The original walkways connecting the buildings and the outer gardens below
What struck us most about this building were the size of the rooms, which are all compact, but we understood why when we got to the staterooms. The original, wooden beds where the King slept was sooo small!! And the height of the doorways was also very small. Back then, the people overall, were quite a bit shorter than we are today. The paintings were amazing, and we were most struck by the room where all the portraits of the royals hung around the room. The chapel stands out, and above all, near the end of the tour, we saw the replicas of all the tiaras and jewels. The real ones had long since been replaced with fakes, but they were still pretty neat to see (boy, those real jewels are HUGE).
Cesky Krumlov and the town of Cesky
According the history, the town of Krumlov was created around the castle by the Lords of Krumlov. Over 300 medieval buildings surround the town, along with the Vltava River. The grounds are large, the river wandering around the base of the castle goes through the town and beyond. We parked probably ten minutes from the castle, and walked through the town to get to the castle. Unlike the short tour of Karlstejn, this castle and town requires a day trip.
An original lower entrance for Cesky, and the Vltava River where you can boat, canoe or swim alongside
Forty buildings reside in the castle complex, with
galleries, towers, churches, most open to the public. We thought one of the greatest
parts was walking up the long entry way used by the previous Lords of the
castle. Imagine being in a horse-drawn carriage and entering a long, stone laid
driveway that’s 100% covered, the ground treatment perfectly laid and matched
in the color of muted yellow. As I mentioned to Rog, it was the medieval
version of the Batcave entrance except above ground.
The drive for those in the carriage might have been a few minutes, but to walk, it was about twenty. You go up, and up, and up, and I regret not taking pictures, but I was working hard!
Sorry about the iPhone pics but this was the best I could do! Left: the restaurant we ended up eating at (where they were nice–keep reading), right: walking from town to the Castle.
Then the levels and options within the castle are many, as
are the perches, each providing unobstructed views down to the town. The original
Lords knew how to position the castle, but we didn’t see a single view which
Almost lost a daughter
One of the things we love about Europe is the general lack of rules, restrictions and sometimes, guardrails. If you see a dangerous animal and want to put your hand it, no second line of protection stops you. It’s more like the universal DNA test of nature; if you are dumb enough to stick your hand in, then you deserve to lose it.
Colorful and quaint is the town
So, it was with Cesky Krumlov. No long-fanged carnivores, but multiple ledges without protective rails. My precocious six-year-old jumped up on one ledge and nearly toppled over the edge, which would have been a 700-foot drop to their death. I’d been partially turned to Rog when she leapt up, turned just in time to grab her foot while my other daughter caught her waist. We were able to stop her forward momentum, my oldest daughter at nine and myself just held her tight, and then I pretty much lost it. Never before or since have I ever gotten that close to death, and all I can say is this: watch your kids because it’s Europe, and I’m pretty sure I was the one who’d have been arrested for not being mindful.
A pic of the town of Cesky through a peek-hole, and the embrace after our youngest almost fell off the ledge….still shaking.
The trip is going to take you roughly 4-5 hours, because we
kept to the speed limit and it was 4.5. We arrived around eleven, just as it
started to sprinkle, but it stopped as we were inside, and we thought the grey
clouds totally romantic. The tour we took was in English and completely worth
We then went down in to town for dinner, taking our time to
walk up and down the streets. From the small, original bridges covering the brooks
and streams to the bistros, cafes and restaurants, we were enchanted.
We had only one unfortunate experience during our time in Cesky, and this actually was relatively common in our journeys: it’s what I call kid-discrimination. The fact is that not all destinations, restaurants or eateries welcome kids, even those who are quiet and well-mannered. We entered to two restaurants—not bars, mind you, but actual eateries, and at the first, the hostess said: “We don’t serve children.” As we saw teens probably 13 and above, we were perplexed, but left. We walked a few doors down and although the male host scowled when he saw our girls, he sat us anyway, but get this, not on the main floor, next to the water, where four tables sat open (picture the windows open, the stream going by—enchanting), but he put us upstairs, in the far corner where the windows were closed and no air conditioning. Again, we were perplexed but went with it, right up until others were being served and we weren’t-water or menus. Finally, after about ten minutes, we just got up and left.
On the way out, Roger had a word with the host, and he
straight up told Roger that restaurants are for adults and we should have known
better. Well, then!
Culture is culture, and we weren’t delusional enough to think that we could change opinions and attitudes, so we adjusted our approach. Very politely, we approached the next restaurant, also by the Vltava River and still in town, asking the host if they minded children. He smiled and said “Of course! Come in!” We proceeded to have the most glorious, authentic dinner of pork, potatoes, noodles, soups and my favorite, hot chocolate that was more like thick, hazelnut mousse.
This is how happy I am when the chocolate hazelnut mousse is as thick as pudding. Yum!
Cesky was, and still is, hands down, our favorite town outside a castle, and we have another full day booked for our upcoming trip this summer.
Couldn’t help myself–I’d taken another selfie with Saffron just to show how big he was and how much he slobbered. LOVE that dawg
Feature photo: taken from one of the decks at the Karlstejn Castle
“At Waterloo Napoleon did surrender…oh yeah….And I have met my
destiny in quite a similar way…”
ABBA was before my time, but the long-lost lyrics of Waterloo came rushing back as we drove up to “The Waterloo” in Belgium. Did you know the battle of Waterloo is actually in Belgium? Neither did we. In our ignorance, neither did we, but before I digress upon my lack of education (can I blame that on age?) let’s back up. How did we end up in Waterloo in the first place?
Blame it on the rain
Not to go Milli Vanilli on you, but it really was the rains fault. There we were, in a beautiful suburb of Brussels, looking out the home we’d rented, watching the rain hit the pool, we just couldn’t believe it. After an hour, we had consumed all the chocolate in the house (when one is in Belgium, one must consume copious amounts) and then we got on our phones. What else can we see? Ten minutes later, we had piled in to the car and were on the road.
Just off the freeway
Located 30km south of Belgium, Waterloo is off exit 25 from Ring East Road (the Butte du Lion” on the Ring O). What that means is you zip along at European speeds, see the side, take a right, flip around and bam, you have arrived. You are going to notice the craziest scene- a car on a roof, and thanks to my ever-present camera, I took the snap for proof the French have a quirky sense of humor, although Rog conjectured it was some crazy ex-pat American. There is literally no way to get lost on this journey. For new visitors who don’t have a car and trying to figure out transportation to Waterloo, use Rome2Rio for options specifically about getting to Waterloo.
The final battle
Napoleon was short. We knew that. But when you are standing next
to a life-size replica of the little man, you get a full appreciation for the
greatness of the miniature conqueror himself. Just behind the plexiglass
covered timelines stands the grass-covered pyramid-esque monument in the
background. Tip: go an hour before closing or it’s like the Coba pyramid in the
Yucatan. The security guards don’t let you start because they know you’re
inclination to take selfies at the top will result in the site being open
Why should you go?Why you should go?
If you aren’t a history buff (which I am) you may see Waterloo for bragging rights. How many people have you ever met who can say they’ve been to the place where the French forces, led by Napoleon Bonaparte, fought the coalition of British, Belgian, Dutch and German? A lot of people recognize the name “Duke of Wellington” but don’t always know why. It was he and Gebhard Leberecht von Blüche of the Prussian forces who led the battle and won. In all, 250K men from seven countries fought, 11K dead and approximately 33K wounded in what’s considered the largest and bloodiest pre-twentieth century battles.
Climb to the top & the Museum
The Butte de Lion, or The Lion’s Mound and panoramic painting of the Battle of Waterloo are the main sights to see on a day-trip to the battlefield (Champ de Bataille). Smaller monuments are scattered around what has been returned to predominantly grass fields. The museum has a 3D movie and lots of artifacts.
Food and parking
The parking is free and right on site, no long-distance walking. The cafeteria is modest but the food perfect as always. It never ceases to amaze (us Americans) that even the dingiest road-side stops in Europe offer fresh mozzarella, prosciutto in a panini sandwich which is better than most of the higher end restaurants in the US.
Local eateries and Monasteries
True to form, we finish up at Waterloo and decide to explore. For the next hour, we drive up and down the backstreets surrounding the battlefield and found restaurants and a monastery that weren’t even listed in our guide books (or Internet). I love that; French food and historical buildings, both hidden except to the locals.
The strange weather of Belgium
While it poured in Brussels, it only drizzled at Waterloo. As we
left and decided to explore the surrounding area, the rain stopped entirely. It
wasn’t until we started back to the city, the rain kicked in. When we returned,
we asked a few locals of the weather. You know what we learned?”
“The weather is a lot like Seattle, Washington,” an older man
said. Rog and I just stared in wonder and disbelief, because at the time, we
were living just outside Seattle.
“Is it always like this in the summer?” I asked, keeping my face
“Always. Raining and overcast with some sun breaks.” Huh. No
wonder we’d gotten a five-bedroom house with a pool for so little! (another
topic for another blog).
Rain or shine, Waterloo is a must see destination if you are anywhere near Brussels, and frankly, it’s so easy to get to from Cologne and Aachen, Germany, or a quick drive from Luxemburg and even Lille, France (great shopping! More to come on that).