Related posts: I'm posting artsy mysterious photos from the trip over at the Gargoyle Girl photography blog on Mondays for the next several weeks. I'm also writing up a separate blog post about delicious healthy eating options in Prague and Paris for cancer survivors, vegetarians, and others with food restrictions—coming next week.
We flew into Prague. I had been to the city once before, for only two days right after college. I had always wanted to go back, but at the same time I wasn't sure if my memories had romanticized the city. Was it possible it wouldn't be as intriguing as I imagined? I'm happy to report it was even better than I expected. The sites, the people, the food, the gorgeous architecture... The whole vibe of the city was wonderful. If Czech wasn't such a difficult language to learn, I would be very tempted to spend a sabbatical living in Prague.
Views of Prague from the Klementinum (National Library) Tower.
Whenever I travel to a country where English isn't the primary language, I try to learn at least a few words of the language, both to communicate and to be respectful of the fact that the world is a lot bigger than my home country. Czech was more difficult than I expected, but by the end of the week I had about a dozen key phrases down. The problem? Unlike the French, who often switch to English upon hearing my accent, the lovely Czech people were so happy I was speaking Czech that they'd try to keep speaking to me in Czech! I had no trouble finding English-speakers, though. It's true that most young people speak English. But I did use "mluvite anglicky" ("do you speak English") quite a bit once we left the touristy center of the city.
We spent nearly a week exploring the city and surrounding areas. After visiting the requisite sites—e.g. Old Town Square with the amazing clock tower, the hidden underground level of the city, and the Prague Castle complex that includes the towering St. Vitus Cathedral covered in gargoyles—we headed further afield, including hiking down to the old fortress ruins at Vyšehrad and checking out some alchemy sites for the mystery novel I'm currently writing.
Views of St. Vitus Cathedral in the Prague Castle complex.
The Vltava River, from Vyšehrad.
Astronomical clock tower in Old Town Square.
ON TO PARIS
From Prague, we caught a City Night Line train into France. The train station deserves a blog post of its own, if not a whole mystery novel, so for now I'll just say that it's fascinating how different the old northern train station is from the new main train station. I'm pretty sure we were either in a Twilight Zone or Doctor Who alternate reality. But the train still showed up, and a wonderful porter got us set up in our sleeper car at the very end of the train. He explained that the train would be split up in Germany during the night, with destinations in Germany, Switzerland, and France.
On the sleeper car, I felt like we were in an Agatha Christie novel! (However, no jewel thefts or murders took place on the train ride. As the husband had to remind me, that was a good thing.) We spent the evening watching the scenery go by.
Autumn in Paris: Luxembourg Gardens.
We stayed at a hotel in the Marais neighborhood (4th Arrondissement), the perfect central location for leisurely walks with frequent breaks at cafes that provided excellent coffee and even better people-watching. I love the presentation of coffee in Europe, where elegant little trays that give you everything you could need for your coffee, including a tiny chocolate.
Cafes in Prague and Paris. Below, Mama Coffee in Prague, full of laptop-users; Les Deux Magots in Paris, with an interesting literary history; one of many random street cafes where all the seats face outward for blatant people-watching.
Street art in the Marais.
Since I've spent a lot of time in Paris before, this trip was for relaxing more than sightseeing, but we did wait in line at Notre Dame to climb the 387 steps to see my favorite gargoyles.
With the gargoyles at Notre Dame.
This post is long enough, so I'll stop now and you can catch more photos at Gargoyle Girl!