I found out that first morning in Prague that the National Gallery’s main branch was free on Wednesday, from 8 AM to 3 PM. It would seem strange to you, that an entire day, or an entire itinerary could be planned around the fact that one museum had different hours … and a different price … on one different day … but that’s how it works sometimes. It’s simply what you do to make the most out of the situation you’re in.
The plan was to go to the National Gallery, then walk through Letenske Sady, a large park across the river from the north side of town. Then I’d stop at the US Embassy and ask about absentee ballots and top it all off with a visit to a camera shop downtown.
The museum was close enough to the hostel that I decided to walk. It wasn’t a particularly pretty neighbourhood, or a nice day for that matter, but it was still nice to get out. I got to the museum about 30 minutes early, so I had a coffee at a bakery across the street before heading in.
The museum was amazing. Definitely in the top 5 of best museums I’ve been to. I spent about 4 hours there, but could have easily spent 7 or 8. There were about 5 floors of exhibits, each floor an immense space. They had everything from Frank Gehry building models and furntire to contemporary and classic art. They devoted entire floors to Czech artists and another floor to classic art, much of it French. They had sketches by Rodin and Picasso, as well as rooms showcasing just their work, along side Degas, Cezanne and Monet. There were photography exhibits, installations that focused on clothing and set designs from operas and shows by famous designers, even a very cool looking motorcycle. I’ll spare you the rest of my gushing, but suffice it to say, I was impressed. They even let me take my camera in with me, at no extra charge. So I’ll let some of the pictures tell you the rest of the story.
Bathroom Art in the lobby: I really wanted to use the one in the middle, just to see the look on their faces
Frank Gehry Chairs: Most interesting not for their design, but the fact that they’re made out of corrugated cardboard
Vaclav Vavra Custom Bike: Check out the fluid drips underneath the bike, the tire marks near the front tire and the foot prints to the right of the middle of the bike — so you know she runs
After the museum I walked through the park and came across a beer garden that sat right on the edge of the park, with a perfect view of the city across the river.
After my beer I walked on and came to one of Pragues attractions: the giant metronome. Now I know what you’re thinking, a novelty-sized metronome would’ve had me jumping up and down, but it wasn’t quite the same. It was kinda strange, actually, and I couldn’t find any placards telling me why there was a giant metronome on a hill in Prague. Though I guess if I did find one, it wouldn’t have been in English.
I took a few more shots of the city before moving on through a really nice part of the park with trees that were filling in with bright colors.
I went a bit further, looking for a way down to the street level, since I had to start making my way to the Embassy. The only thing I found was a large highway with no way of crossing it, separating the King’s Gardens from the castle. The Gardens themselves were very nice, well maintained and peaceful. I didn’t see much of them, as I was running around trying to figure out how to get out, but it would’ve made a great venue for an afternoon in the sun or a picnic.
I finally figured it out, the road that ran along the castle split off and came up right near the Gardens. And just alongside the road was a path that led down to Mala Strana, a rather trendy neighbourhood at the base of the castle. And then I got lost again trying to get my way to the street that the Embassy was on. I’m usually very good with following directions and using maps, but I just got turned around a bit and ended up walking in the wrong direction.
At long last, after walking for so long, I saw Old Glory up a slight hill, and was relieved. I had finally made. And the two Czech security guards who stood outside informed me that the Embassy was only open from 8:30 to 11:30. It broke my heart, but I found myself soon thinking that Embassy workers in Czech had a pretty relaxed workday.
I crossed the Charles Bridge (Karlova in Czech), which was packed with tourists, stalls selling tacky souvenirs, and buskers. I walked through the main square (more later), past the astronomical clock (more later) and all the shopping districts. I finally found the street that the shop was supposed to be on, and without much hassle, the shop itself. It was well stocked with exactly what I was looking for: a zoom lens. I found the one that I had researched and wanted to get, made a note of prices and then left.
I was scouting the area outside of the main tourist zones for a outdoor cafe where I could grab a beer. After all that walking I needed a break off my feet, and it was such a great day I wanted to sit outside. But street after street, I simply couldn’t find one. The only one I saw was more expensive than the beer halls at Oktoberfest! Which is why I was avoiding the tourist areas to begin with.
I ended up walking all the way back to Holesovice, which is quite a hike. Under overpasses and over bridges, along the river and next By the time I got there, I quickly sought out the closest bar, sat down and had a couple pints of Gambrinus. Even though I was inside (below street level, even) and surrounded by cigarette smoke, after such a long day I couldn’t care less. I had cold beer and that’s what mattered the most.