A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Without wanting these blog posts to become predictable, guess what I did last weekend? That’s right, I took a cheap flight from Eindhoven and went travelling again. This is the last time, I promise. In fact, I’ve made a pact to myself to not go away until I leave Leiden. Quite the martyr, me.
So where this time? The Czech Republic! Prague is one of those cities that I’d never been to but always felt as if I should have. Beautiful architecture, wild parties, a plethora of museums… Prague is meant to have it all. We flew to Brno in the southeast of the country; the Czech Republic’s second largest city and the home of famous composers Korngold and Janáček. Arriving at the airport did feel a little like arriving in the back and beyond as one glance at the arrivals board told you that the airport only saw three planes gracing its runway a day – our plane from Eindhoven and a couple of Ryanair flights from the UK. However, a bus into the city centre led us through pleasant streets to a main square with cafés and restaurants and, eventually, to our hostel.
Brno seemed relatively quite during the day, however a brief chat with our newly acquainted Irish dorm-mate and it sounded like the city could actually provide a pretty fun night out. He recommended Výčep Na Stojáka for some beers, a traditional Czech restaurant for something to eat and Naproti, an absinthe bar, to get the party started later. Výčep Na Stojáka was cool; the concept was that the bar had no chairs, forcing you stand and/or lean at one of the high tables with your large glasses of beer. This may sound like a safe haven for Brno’s local drunks, but it was a friendly place with couples, friends and even whole families gathering round the tables supping beers of various shades. The restaurant was also a very pleasant surprise; a labyrinth of corridors and vaulted rooms and the food that arrived (we had no idea what we’d ordered) was phenomenal – a huge skillet overflowing with different meats and sausages, all resting on piles of red and white cabbage and with three different types of dumplings nestled in the middle. Did I mention that all of this, plus two large litre glasses of rich, dark beer set us back approximately €7 each? The Czech Republic was only going up in my estimations.
After dinner we headed to the absinthe bar and were met with a menu listing no fewer than 15, (yes, 15…) different types of absinthe ranging from 50 to 80 per cent proof. It therefore came as little surprise to me when I woke up the next morning with little recollection of the final details of the previous night and with my wallet mysteriously missing… Several phone calls later (and I mean several; I stupidly had no fewer than six different bank cards in that wallet) and with all my cards cancelled, we made our way towards the station to catch the train up to Prague. The train journey was enjoyable as the weather was glorious and the countryside wooded and rolling; a far cry from the endlessly level plains of the Netherlands. We reached Prague a few hours later and swung from free McDonalds’ wifi to free McDonalds’ wifi until we found our way to our hostel and home for the next two nights, ‘The Mad House’. Yes, it sounds awful, and yes, we found it by googling ‘party hostel Prague’ but it was definitely a good shout. The guys in charge made sure that we knew everything we needed to know about Prague and organised daily nights out so there was no chance of you being bored in the evening.
Our nights were therefore planned for us and involved much, ahem, ‘merriment’ and visits to some of Prague’s coolest clubs. That left us to amuse ourselves during the day, which we managed with little problem. The sun shone on us for our full 48 hours and we saw the usual sights (the King Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, the Astrological Clock) as well as seeking out some more ‘off the beaten track’ haunts. Being a music buff/geek/saddo, I was keen to go on the trail of some of the Czech Republic’s most famous musical exports and was more than satisfied by the city’s eagerness to point out, with the help of little plaques, where Smetana lived, where Janáček worked and the sink in which Dvorak once brushed his teeth etc. We also made it to ‘DOX’: Prague’s sleek-looking modern art museum where spent a good couple of hours in the fascinating exhibition of propaganda posters from over the past hundred years. My favourite would have to be one of the French ones from the time of the Cold War, advising citizens of the Hexagon not to take cigarettes from Russian people in case they are, in fact, not cigarettes but tiny guns, loaded and ready to shoot them in the chest (difficult to explain, see below). If you make it to the museum, don’t forget to venture outside of the building as well; installation art adorns the inner courtyard, the roof and the walls where there is currently a giant shiny skull rotating endlessly, a weathervane in the style of the Czech flag and an enormous homage to the crucifixion made entirely of secondhand shoes. DOX is most definitely worth a visit, despite not being in the very centre of the city, and a day of cultural education enabled us to feel less guilty about spending the final part of the day lounging around on the Vltava river on one of the rentable pedalos which offer a fantastic view of the King Charles Bridge from a totally different angle.
Due to the last-minute nature of our booking and our eagerness to find the cheapest flights, our flight back to Eindhoven took off neither from Prague nor, even, the Czech Republic, but from Wroclaw in Poland. Nope, it’s not pronounced ‘Roar-Chlor’, as we thought, but ‘Vrot-Slav’: asking myriad people where the bus to ‘Roar-Chlor’ departed from to be met each time with looks of utter confusion led us to eventually investigate said city on Wikipedia where we were enlightened as to the accurate pronunciation… Due to our ETA in Poland and the time of our flight back to the Netherlands, we hadn’t actually anticipated being able to spend any time in the city. However, a text from WizzAir informed us that our plane was delayed by approximately five hours and so would be taking off late afternoon rather than the scheduled 11am. For most people, this was probably a grave inconvenience, but for us it enabled us to add a quick exploration of Poland to our getaway excursion. There may not have been an enormous amount to see in Wroclaw but it gave us that chance to indulge in another enormous plate of deliciously cooked meat and cabbage and a cold beer in a sunny square. It’s surprises like that that make any feelings of guilt over gratuitous trips abroad melt away completely…