Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Where the Beer Is Cheaper Than Water: Praha

During our Eastward trip, one of our amazing destinations was Prague. While once upon a time Prague was the major destination for the 'alternative' study abroad student who wanted to go someplace off the beaten track in eastern europe, these days Prague has become quite a typical study abroad choice. Known for its cheap beer, party culture (as well as its amazing communist history and velvet revolution), Prague really seems like a perfect study abroad destination.

We of course did not have a perfectly stereotypical 20-year-old trip to Prague, but rather one unique GSG experience. Ok well, parts of it were pretty stereotypical. The first (and pretty much only) stereotypical part of our experience in Prague was our free walking tour. Well there are two little details about surrounding this walking tour that did make it rather GSG specific. It was the very first thing we did when we arrived in Prague after arriving from Berlin at 15:26 (Rutherford time right there) and traversing town to check into our hotel. Of course our tour was scheduled at like 7, and with barely enough time we ran across town to make it to the tour.

And when I say we ran, we ran. Literally, our professor was running ahead, as the rest of us ran desperately behind him. For the end of the leg, I was in the front looking out for his blue jacket in a sea of tourists and occasionally looking behind me and waving my new Liberty handkerchief to show the rest of the group the way. So that was the stress element, classic GSG. The second detail is that the tour was supposed to be geared towards revolutionary Prague aka the Velvet Revolution to solidify our studies in our Democratization seminar. We're cool.

Our tour guide was this quirky little nerdy man who was not nearly as engaging or funny or amazing as any of our tour guides in Berlin. But he tried, so I guess I'll give him that. But his generally overly theatric tour style just made me think he was trying too hard and gave me horrible flashbacks of the drama kids in high school. During our tour around Prague, we noted the beautiful Baroque architecture that just made me think of Disney Land (well, I guess that makes sense. Classic princesses were probably from that era), saw one of the most disappointing tourist sites in the world (Prague's cookoo clock), and looked at a statue that looked like a Death Eater (a reference that merely made me a stage two nerd) commemorating Mozart's opera Don Giovanni. 

By the end of the tour, I had completely tuned out the tour guide. All I remember is at the end of his tour, he tried to say that he was very close to the Velvet Revolution because his parents were going to go to the movies that day around where the protests started but then I think he pooped his pants so then they didn't. So basically, he pooped and ruined their chances of being a part of a huge historic moment in Prague. However, I'm pretty sure he presented this picture in a positive light. I don't know how he managed that. 

So while we only partially listened to our guide as he talked about pooping his pants, we were all either completely zoning out or taking pictures of each other. Look how cute we all are! By the way, if you are wondering who the random dad looking guy in the blue jacket is. That is my professor!
After our two hour walking tour, we were famished (reminder, we had also just arrived from Berlin that afternoon). Strangely enough, our first meal in Prague was Mexican. We were already rather far into our semester abroad, and we were beginning to crave some Mexican. However, I really don't trust Mexican food in Europe and I guess no one else really did either because none of us had had some good mexican food for months. However, multiple people had recommended this one Mexican restaurant in Prague as some of the best Mexican food they had ever had that also required reservations weeks in advance. It was probably the reservation requirement that convinced me that this restaurant was legitimate. Nothing says it's good like competition and lines! 

Due to our hunger level and our cravings for Mexican food there is no photo evidence of this meal. However, from what I can remember, it was pretty good. I think I had a steak burrito and a virgin strawberry daquiri (don't yell at me, this meal was covered by Colgate and they wouldn't pay for alcohol so I opted for a completely free meal rather than an overpriced margarita on a Sunday night). But what I do remember is the nachos or how quickly those nachos disappeared. Literally, the moment they set those nachos on the table (or was it even as it was still suspended in air) we all stood up and went for it. Within a minute (probably 40 seconds), the entire plate of nachos were devoured. We still look back at that moment with shame. 

The next day, I woke up in a boat. No, I didn't get shit faced drunk off the cheap beer on a Sunday during a school trip. But rather, GSG was staying in a BOTEL (Boat Hotel). When we were first told about our accommodations, everyone greeted this news with excitement. I however was not so pleased. What was so great about a botel? Let me tell you, there was nothing great about staying in a botel. I'm pretty sure this just gave them an excuse to provide lackluster beds and tiny rooms that made you motion sick. Yea, don't do it, total tourist trap. 

But after we got some free buffet breakfast (ok I'll admit the breakfast was pretty good), we headed on over to our first real meeting: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The security for this place was as intense as the UN, requiring my passport, security, metal detectors, etc. Apparently, their old building had been bombed so they had increased their security. Apparently people think that their message of spreading democracy and Western values is propaganda or whatever.
Our meeting was a lot more boring that I was expecting. Honestly, my meeting with a rep from Al Jazeera the year before was far more interesting. But it was 12:30 and we had the rest of the day free in Prague! One of my friends best friends from high school was studying abroad in Prague, so I decided to be a creeper and asked her for some almost local recommendations. This was her response: 

Mama coffee, standard cafe, cafe savoy (very nice need reservations), clearhead or maetrea (sister restaurants probably the best in prague), lokal (if you want to try traditional czech food).

Since I was only in Prague for a couple days, I decided it was best to try the regional specialties so we headed over to Lokal. I can't quite remember what this was called, but it was some sort of beef (right?) stew. I looked up the restaurant and they also recommended the bread dumplings. Now I was really excited for the dumplings, mainly because they reminded me of Chinese dumplings which I'm absolutely in love with. However, that's not exactly what they were. Instead, it was pretty much just really spongey bread that soaked up the sauce really well. Good, but bland and not what I was expecting. However, note the beer that is to the side of my photo. Yum yum yum! Really after all my travels in Europe, I'm such a wine and beer drinker. 

Also, after going around all of Europe tasting all of their local dishes, I don't know why everyone makes fun of americans for our eating habits. HELLO! Where do we think we got these habits?? All of europe's delicacies are sausage (aka hot dogs), potatoes, and fried dough! How they aren't all obese is beyond me. 

Generally, my time in Prague was amazing. The colorful architecture, the communist history, the beautiful Jewish cemetary, even the botel...ok maybe not the botel. Like the rest of the cities I visited on my Eastward trip, I wish I had been able to spend more time there and get a better sense of the culture. Also, I would NOT choose to visit on a Sunday after all that traveling and would opt for a crazy weekend because honestly, all the kids who study abroad there say the nightlife is killer. So here's to next time!


  1. Europe is known not just for its breath-taking sceneries, but also for having the best beers and wines. We had a vacation there about two years ago, and it gave me the chance to discover the secrets of their wines and liquors. After the trip, I also became a wine person! At the very least, I now know how to pick good-tasting wine. :)


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