Český Krumlov, hunting down beauty

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We are hunters of beauty, chasing grace wherever we find it, devouring everything there is about it to the last bite. We continuously point our camera at charm and shoot it down, trying desperately to acquire a piece and claim it as our own. Yet, beauty can have no owner, it’s something that lavishly offers itself to anyone even though most of us view it as our potential property. Český Krumlov is a small town in the heart of Europe where beauty has taken shape, inviting anyone to adore it. Our third day in Czech republic proved a little bit tricky, since we wanted to visit this charming little town, but we had not booked our tickets in advance due to certain difficulties back home (With capital controls enforced, we could not buy anything online for weeks, therefore the last arrangements for our summer trip could not be made).

You can review the previous part of our trip here

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After a good nights sleep and a tasty breakfast, we walked to Florenc bus station to catch a ride to Český Krumlov. To our astonishment though, we discovered that there were no available tickets to the place until two o’ clock. Plus, we would have to catch that specific bus at Anděl, reach Český Krumlov at five and be on our way back to Prague at eight. We thought about it for a while and even though the thought of skipping Český Krumlov crossed our minds, we decided to stick to the plan and boy, were we glad we did!

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We had to spend some time hanging around Anděl though, since we were told that there might be a slim chance to find two seats on one of the earlier buses. Anděl seemed like an interesting place at first, but we got bored after a while, so we were constantly checking if the time had passed. After leaving the metro, we found a farmer’s market there and we hanged around, tasted some juice, ate something, grabbed a coffee and some refreshments and that was pretty much it. Then boredom kept whispering that we should have stayed in Prague and forget about  Český Krumlov, whose charms began to fade in our minds as monotony was taking over. Luckily, we resisted the urge to stay in Prague and boarded our bus, but unfortunately the bus company recruited an older vehicle to meet the needs of passengers and that kept us a bit disappointed.

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This picturesque town is easily reachable from Prague, as well as Vienna and Linz. It’s center maintains its medieval beauty in a fairy-tale like manner as the Vitava river gently crosses through. The castle and its bears are the main attraction (You can feed them some watermelons and contribute to their happiness, ah great times to be a bear), while there’s also a museum dedicated to the art of Egon Schiele.The town is a great place to buy moldavite, a semi precious stone, encountered only in Bohemia, the result of a meteorite impact on neighboring Germany millions of years ago.

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The three hour route was tiresome yet the scenery once there seemed that would compensate us for our trouble. However, once we got off the bus, nothing could prepare us for what we were about to view, since the bus station is actually some sort of parking lot and a small hill hides the town from that point. So we climbed on top of that hill and we were faced with beauty…

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Not words nor pictures can depict accurately the town’s beauty. We went downhill to reach the small town center and rushed to make the best out of our limited stay on the place. Since we arrived late there was no way we could visit the castle on time, but we walked all the way up there just to have a view of the town.

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By the time we got there, visitors kept still crowding the place although their numbers were slowly declining as the hour was getting late. We explored the place without being in a hurry and paid a visit to an antique store, where I started my own tradition of trying to collect a book from every country we visit. So, I acquired a Czechoslovak translation of a Norwegian writer’s work. Afterwards we grabbed a bite at a small restaurant and we enjoyed another Trdelnik, while in Czech republic. The place seemed lively and we ‘ve heard that many festivals take place in the summertime, but we guess that the place is beautiful when snow embraces the tiny village as well (at least that’s what we think, looking at some pics taken in wintertime).

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There were also many small details all around us that gave the place an artistic tone. However, we could not afford much time around the sights and soon we found ourselves reluctantly returning to the bus stop. We bought a couple of souvenirs and observed a hot air balloon rising above the roofs, as we made a quick stop on the top of the hill that stands between the bus station and the village.

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As we were waiting for our bus back to Prague, I saw the sun going down showering the castle tower in a glowing light. Now, usually Catherine does most of the photo shoot, but I thought I ‘d give this one a shot, so, I zoomed in and got a pretty great photo.

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Our way back to Prague was more comfortable since our student agency bus was a better option than the one that got us to Český Krumlov. The seats were equipped with screens that we used in order to watch series and listen to music, while we purchased some coffee and snacks on the bus. As we arrived, we decided to return to Zizkov and have a drink there, since we liked this suburb from day one, yet we had skipped on every chance we had to enjoy a drink there. After a while, we walked into one of the small bars and got comfortable on some stools. The place was not crowded and we were the only non Czechs around, the music was not intense, yet some of the customers were talking loud and that gave the place an authentic look. It was really an average working class bar, addressed mostly to locals just like the ones back home. We enjoyed a beer and I noticed a bottle of slivovice behind the counter, so we asked the bar lady for a shot and invited her to have a drink with us. We raised our shots and yelled “Na zdravi” and “yia mas” and engaged in some small talk before calling it a night. In the morning we would catch our bus to Vienna to spend the weekend there…

Check the next part of our Central European adventure here

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Highlighting Prague

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Prague is one of the most exciting places in Europe and definitely one that can entice any kind of traveler to pay a visit. This city preys on everyone as it is certain beyond doubt that no one gets bored there, we mean there’s no way that you won’t find anything up to your liking. Most certainly you will long to return and experience even more, since Prague is not really a city, it’s more of an addiction. If this sort prologue did not make you feel the urge to book a trip to this great place, maybe images will…

Check out more images of our stay in Prague here and here

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The old town square is the city’s soul, encircled by restaurants and cafes, steadily crowded with people. You ‘ll get the chance to watch some street performers and a couple of the city’s main landmarks. A Jan Hus memorial statue stands on its center, as if it is about to get caught in the crossfire (oh, the irony) between the immense architectures of Our Lady before Tyn cathedral and the Prague city hall.

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Our Lady before Tyn, is a Gothic church and probably the most easily recognized building of the city. It’s twin towers rise 80 meters up the sky and each one is topped by four spires, while you can also visit the grave of Tycho Brahe, the famous astronomer, who lived like a saint and died as a fool.

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Prague city hall and the astronomical clock (Orloj) stand opposite our Lady before Tyn and if you climb up the city hall’s top level, you will have gained a great view of the city (Before the top floor the staircase gets a bit narrow though). Apart from the view, you can get information on the Orloj’s structure and function. The Orloj is a medieval astronomical clock and it’s figurines and crafty details embroider it with a stylish, embellished design. Crowds gather to catch a glimpse of the twelve apostles on each hour change, but even without the apostles’ walk, this monument would leave you speechless.

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Charle’s bridge used to be the means of connecting the city to the castle, the king’s seat. Completed in the dawn of the 15th century, with a length of about 500 meters and replicas of the original 30 statues on its sides placed along the way (the originals are in the National museum). As is the case with many sights in the city, the place is constantly crowded and there are many performers along the bridge (we saw a band, a puppeteer, painters etc). On the Castle end you can also find tours on the Vitava.

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Prague castle complex. Lots of interesting places on this one. First of all the beautiful gardens, which are a great bet to relax and have a great time on a sunny day. Many trees, flowers, fountains and statues and a great chance for some inspiring photos if you don’t get too enchanted by the place (we did, so, not that many photos on this one).

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Then there are the churches, but among them stands out St. Vitus cathedral, a huge Gothic edifice, which you can admire for hours and keep discovering things you hadn’t noticed at first glance. Stained glass-work, statues, inscriptions, you name it! Of course there’s also the Royal palace, the seat of the Czech president (we would have lots of fun next year, with the Estonian presidential residence, but that’s another story) and the Rosenberg palace as well as the alchemist’s lane (you have to pay a 10 euro fare to get there though. Now that’s alchemy! Paying to cross a small street that takes pride on people who never actually lived there). The castle offers a great view of the river and the city and you are sure to enjoy taking some photo shots, while there.

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Republic square (Náměstí Republiky) is a less crowded yet important square, with two shopping malls, the municipal house and the nearby powder tower. There’s also a small market, where you can buy souvenirs (some wooden pieces are a good bargain) and grab a bite (We were introduced to Trdelnik at this spot). One of the kiosks acts like a blacksmiths workshop and its easily recognizable from the armor replica in which you can pose as a knight in shining armor.

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Campa island and Lennon wall are situated on the castle’s feet next to Charle’s bridge. The wall has a fascinating story, one of resistance against a cruel totalitarian regime and it’s becoming something of a symbol of constant change. Heraclitus’ everything flows attitude is ideally expressed on this ever changing surface. Campa island is a busy place, equipped with a lovely place with food kiosks that run for about 50 meters or so, between two shady lines of trees.

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The Da Vinci exhibition at Lucerna palace. Well, this Lucerna place is not much to look at, especially compared to any average Prague building, but the exhibition is a great way to view replicas of Leonardo’s inventions and learn a couple of things about him. The building does not do much justice to the items displayed though and the place is in need of a renovation.

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Letna park is situated next to the castle hill and will enable you great views of the city and the chance for shooting good photographs that goes with these views. The football ground of Sparta is close by. We enjoyed our walk among the trees and monuments that exist on the site.

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The great bars of the city. Czech republic is home to some of the greatest beer produced worldwide. We weren’t planning to drink till we drop nor did we wish to, so we could only have a small taste of the country’s best product. Luckily, many Czech brands can be purchased even in our small town, so we didn’t run amok upon our return. We also tried some slivovice in a casual street bar next to our hostel and there are also many absintheries, so if you want to chase the green fairy go for it. There are also many traditional pubs, the golden tiger is the most renown among them, where you get to sit on wooden benches, sharing a table with other guests and enjoy beer drinking.

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Street food is something that may not seem as a highlight but let’s be honest. Experiencing a city is best when done in every sense possible, taste included. The streets are an ideal place to weigh the advantages and flaws of local cuisine. The mouthwatering smells and sights kept us constantly busy, as we encountered ham cooked over open fires, trdelniks, haluskies and so on. Of course everything is accompanied by local beer.

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Žižkov, used to be a separate city but it’s now integrated into metropolitan Prague. We had no idea what to expect and prior to our arrival, staying there seemed just a good choice regarding budget and proximity to the main sights. We were astonished to find a lively neighborhood, a place with great architectures, among which stand the eerie alien babies climbing the TV tower and the dazzling Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord, as well as the Jan Žižka monument. We enjoyed a night out on our last night there and got a chance to have some drinks among some great local folks.

We also enjoyed the city’s metro which had an exotic beauty, since it seemed like we were descending vertically underground, while on our way back to the surface it seemed as if we were flying. There are lots and lots more to see while in the city though. The National museum must be a great sight, alas we could not visit since it was under renovation at the time and it opened a year later. You can also visit the Rudolfinum, Josefov, which is the old Jewish neighborhood, the museum of Communism and Vyšehrad castle. Inside the city you can encounter some weird looking statues like the broken men, the men pissing on a map of the country and others. Furthermore, since Czech republic is a rather small country, equipped with a good road network, visiting cities outside Prague is a great idea. We thought about going to Kutná Hora, or Karlovy Vary, but eventually we visited the lovely picturesque town of Český Krumlov …

Prague, more than a romantic destination part 2

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We reached near our destination, since the Prague subway system (map) reasonably enough did not climb the castle hill and after grabbing a cup of coffee ascended towards the hilltop (There’s also a tram going the route though). After entering, we headed to the castle’s Royal garden, an Italian Renaissance styled garden, which was filled with colorful flowers, statuettes, fountains and trees. This huge place was pretty crowded with visitors walking on the garden’s designated paths and taking photos. After walking for a while and taking many pictures on this garden, we decided to advance to the main castle complex, so we went back towards the exit and we could already observe the massive St. Vitus cathedral outrival the castle walls.

back to our first day in Prague

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As we approached we noticed the changing of the guards was taking place on the main gate and we delayed our entrance to have a look. Such ceremonial parodies take place in many places across the globe and since the castle is the seat of the Czech president we were bound to face their Czech version at the spot.After a while, we entered the huge complex and leaving the treasury and the gallery behind us, rushed towards St. Vitus. This Gothic cathedral, is nearly 100 meters high and contains the tombs of some kings and emperors. We marveled at the wonderfully crafted building, walking around it and finally waiting for a while in line to enter. The interior was as dazzling as the outside view and we observed the artwork for quite some time. Even after we left the place we hanged around the square which lays between the Cathedral and the old royal palace, unwilling to leave the spot.

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We also encountered this guy…Pretty sure there’s a James Bond film about him, Nah..not Goldfinger, but quite close. We’ve also heard that the Bohemian crown jewels are kept somewhere in the castle…

Eventually, we left the place and continued going downhill, viewing the rest of the castle. Then, as we had almost reached the bottom of the hill, for no apparent reason, idiocy that is, we walked right back where we came from. Well, that was a bit exhausting, but we had the chance to walk into Letna park before descending once more to reach Charle’s bridge. We encountered some old fashioned cars that give tourist a ride to view the sights. We were in no hurry to cross back to the old city though and we walked to the Lennon wall, situated on the tiny Kampa island. The story has it that during the last years of the communist regime, someone painted an image of John Lennon on that wall and the officials deemed it right to erase it as they regarded it an act of western decadence. Yet, the portrait reappeared along with some slogans written on it, so the officials erased it once more, but then more people expressed their resentment towards the authorities by writing on the wall and so on. The wall constantly changes and I find a resemblance between these people’s struggle and the ones who started the gnome trend in Wrocław . Of course we noticed many travelers on the site and we also saw a couple of Lennon-like figures playing the guitar, or even the Sitar. It seemed fun at first, but that was all there was to it. So, we moved to a spot where we had spotted some street food kiosks, passing by a small bridge with love padlocks on it. As we hadn’t been familiar with the notion of couples placing locks with their names inscribed on them and throwing away the key in order to make their love stand the test of time, we were excited. Some years later, having witnessed the same practice around many cities, we think it gets a bit boring. We got interested in a small shop that displayed various marionettes and it proved a fun artistic place, which gave a scent of the middle ages. We couldn’t fault any of the items on display, they were all products of great craftsmanship.

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Our excitement grew stronger though as we caught sight and smell of food and beer. Anxious to taste some local street food we walked along the narrow road that had kiosks on both sides and chose a spot to eat. We tried some Halusky among other treats and had some beer.

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After resting a while, we decided to cross the river and explore the old town, so we politely refused a couple of times the offers for a small cruise on the river and climbed on Charle’s bridge. Finally, we visited Lucerna palace to Check the Da Vinci inventions excibited. The palace was not exactly a building up to its name, yet the exhibition was great and we enjoyed the replicas of the various machines. We left the place, passing by some absintheries, and headed back to the old town square. Our last goal for the day was to climb on top of the Orloj tower and we waited a bit in line to get some great views of the city.

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It was about time to chill out for a while and we enjoyed a beer at Alternatiff bar, which was an underground place with a great interior and an easy going attitude. The walls were filled with writing and we were granded permission to add our own stuff on them, so we inscribed our names. After a few beers, we decided to continue beer drinking some place else, so we went up the stairs to the surface and walked about ten meters to Bílá Velryba (white whale).

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We thought it was funny that in order to visit the bathroom you ‘d have to ask for the key. It came with a large wooden fish on it. So, if you spot someone running on the city’s cobble stoned streets, holding a huge wooden mullet, that person probably has stolen a toilet key and someone else is doing their best to control themselves not going to the bathroom, while on the same time beers keep being consumed.

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After that, we enjoyed some Trdelnik, which is a candy like a donut, cooked over an open fire and topped with chocolate, jam or powdered sugar. I also had some spicy noodles on Republic square and we returned to our hostel in Žižkov, encountering some Sparta fans on the subway returning from the teams match. The next day was going to be a bit troublesome since we were planning to visit the magnificent town of Český Krumlov, but we were unable to pre-book our tickets while in Greece (capital controls and such) and we had to find tickets while in Prague. Despite the disturbances we faced our next day proved even greater than the previous ones …

Our journey continues here or you can check our highlights from Prague

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Our central European adventure continues – Prague, more than a romantic destination

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Once in Prague, we exchanged some currency in Florenc and hired a cab to get to our hostel in Žižkov, which is a suburb of the Czech capital, named after Jan Žižka, a Hussite leader whose peasant army defeated the Holy Roman emperor’s troops (Hell, Yeah! Power to the people!).

Read all about our first day on this trip here

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Jan Zizka overlooking his turf

The place is crowded with pubs and every turn of a corner we took we were faced with hanging beer signs. We stayed in lovely Pension 15 near Viktoria Žižkov’s football ground (Karel Poborsky played for them, I’m more of a Sparta fan though, Greek name and such) and though we had to walk a bit to get downtown Prague we can proclaim our choice of accommodation a great one.

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Looking across Viktoria’s ground, from our hostel window, we noticed to our amazement this enchanting lady having a cup of tea in her garden. Genuinely, a hidden gem of this marvelous city.

After settling in, we took to the streets to finally have a taste of Prague. After passing by the old train station, we got to Republic square which stands as some short of border between old and new Prague (if there’s such a thing as new Prague, since one can find beautiful old buildings all around the city). We exchanged more euros to Czech Korunas (which Catherine kept calling kopeks) there and we were ready to let ourselves loose in Prague. Over there, we encountered a small but pretty open air souvenir market and street food as well as street beer. Catherine rushed into a mall (the Palladium) to get something to keep her warm (I guess she paid in Kopeks) since the weather was a bit chilly and then we walked around the square and checked for some souvenirs before carrying on to the city’s main hub, the old town square.

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There are four figures on the top sides, standing for vanity, greed, lust and death. When death signals the hour, the others show they are reluctant to leave life. On the lower part’s sides there are four more figurines, a philosopher, an angel, an astronomer and a chronicler. Atop all of them, one can admire the walk of the apostles.

The old town hall and our lady before Tyn, dominate the place with their size and beauty while many people gather to see the Orloj figures at every hour change. The place was continuously crowded and many street performs took advantage of that in order to show off their talents. We actually spent some time watching one of them the next day and it was fun.

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We passed the Jan Hus statue and left the square behind us to explore the surrounding streets. We saw many architectural gems along our way, but after a while they started to become hidden, since our eyes were becoming overexposed to the city’s beauty and we felt like we had been living there for ages, therefor the buildings started to impress us even less as time went by. Still, we were having a blast and every remorse about spending so little time in our previous destination had vanished.

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After finding some great Czech pubs (we believe they are called in a special way we don’t seem to recall right now) and bars, we returned to the main square after a while, encountered lots of street food but decided to have lunch at a restaurant on the square. We found ourselves a table outside the building and a waiter came by to receive our order. When we told him we were Greek, he advised us to have a table inside the place since the prices were a third of what we would have to pay at an outside table (The Greek economy had collapsed once more a month ago). There was not much of a difference though, since the prices were already fair enough, but the guy’s argument convinced me.

“Why buy one beer, when you can have three for the same price?”

So, inside we went and it proved to be a great choice as the place was wonderfully decorated, more quiet since we got rid of the street fuss, while Czechs were most of the other banqueteers. We enjoyed a lovely meal and a couple of beers. I also wanted to try a local drink other than beer, but the waiter looked at me puzzled, stating that Czech Republic is Beer country and he did not know of any other local drink. Fortunately, I got my drink a couple of days later.

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On our way back, we passed through Republic square again, where we visited the church of St Joseph, before hanging around the place for a while. We also saw the municipal palace, the site where the Bohemian king resided for a couple of years (the building on the site is a later construction) and eventually getting back to our hostel to call it a night.

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In the morning, we had a flavorful breakfast and a great mood. The lady at the hostel was listening to a Czech adaptation of Willie Nelson (Michal Tučný – Cesty toulavý), humming along the tune. She had tons of positive energy to spare and she did it to the fullest possible. We left our accommodation in high spirits to visit our neighborhood, Žižkov, before venturing into Prague once more.

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The area’s highlight is the famous television tower, dominating the city’s sky. What’s so important about a tower you say? It’s quite tall as it is erected at 216 meters, but that’s not what’s so great about it. It’s the babies! Quite a few babies crawling up the immense structure, the magnificent work of sculpture David Černý, famous for his London booster and Entropa among other things. These babies look eerie and otherworldly and although the tower and them are modern artworks they blend in the city’s surroundings great. Czechs have much to admire in their past, yet they do not get stuck to it. They advance. The babies’ “father” explained that “Babies are larger than the real, are all the same and their faces are different from a normal person, are sketchy. It means people of the future will have all the same genome, which all have the same DNA” (source).

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The vision of these sculptures was a great way to continue our day and we headed near the Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord to get to the Prague metro. This Catholic church is designed by Slovene architect Jože Plečnik, who also designed Ljubljana’s triple bridge.

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Then we visited a small farmer’s market at the station’s entrance and we descended into the depths of the Prague metro, which we must say enjoyed watching people climbing up and down the stairs, since the staircases angle is almost vertical, people walking on them while the stairs are moving, seem to take huge leaps.

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Our next destination, was the other side of the Vitava river, where we would visit Prague castle. The day had started greatly and it was about to get even better. Prague would allure us with its captivating charm and there was nothing we could do about it (neither did we want to). The city stands firm on its medieval past, tries to make the best out of its 20th century history and looks ahead to the future. Great city, great people, great food, but most important great beer…

continued here

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