Have you ever dreamed of going somewhere in the world and then feared that it wouldn’t meet up to your expectations?
I am prone to this as I tend to dream about many places, and I have all sorts of ridiculous, romantic and unrealistic ideas of what it will be like. For example, I’m currently dreaming about camping as a family in Hawaii, and all I can think about is the warm sun and sound of the waves and playing the Ukulele by the fire while I feast on coconuts and fish. And even though I am doing a whole heap of research and getting all prepared in a practical way, my mind is filled with images of waves, sand, and a calm tropical family paradise. I know that it will not be so simple, I KNOW this. But I seem to be hard wired to mostly see the dreamy ideas conjured up from books and movies until my own personal experience can either confirm or deny the reality.
We literally went to Mexico knowing little more than rumours from other travellers and a bunch of Speedy Gonzales cartoons from our youth…more on that in the future!
Anyway, Prague was one of those places. I’d read the most imaginative and beautiful books set in Prague and my mind was full to the brim of the mystery and the enchantment awaiting me in the Golden City of 1000 spires.
The last time I’d let a book sweep me away was also in the Czech Republic, when I’d fallen in love with the idea of horse-riding in the wild Bohemian forests…only to have a crazy possessed demon horse try to throw me from his back rodeo style! ‘Sigh’, you’d think I’d learn, but no, I keep repeating the process, but I don’t care, I’d rather go into life expecting wonderful adventures than live my life in a world of mediocre hopes and dreams. So out I go, again and again, with wild joyous hopes that are either wonderfully fulfilled or that come crashing down. Sometimes it is a mix of both, but with brave international family travel, things are often in the extremes.
Prague was either going to fulfill my greatest travel fantasies, or it was going to bitterly disappoint…
Before heading out on such a momentous occasion, I had done a tonne of online research and found a lovely little art class for my older four kids to attend. We drove the 1.5 hours into Prague, dropped them off and then were free to wander the city all alone with our little baby. Then, the first magical thing happened - the baby fell asleep. Ross and I walked into the city of my dreams just as the sun was shining out from the clouds and we were able to just breathe and enjoy the beauty before us.
We headed straight for the town square – the best place to start in any European city. The historic square is in the Old Town Quarter of Prague. It is home to the famous Astronomical Clock and has the most wonderful vibe, I loved it wholeheartedly.
Ross and I were feeling all fancy free on our almost date alone, so we ducked into one of those tourist trap restaurants right near the Clock tower and ordered some lunch and hot chocolate. It was wonderful, and so delicious that I took my son there to try the hot chocolate on our special mummy date the following week.
We watched the medieval Astronomical Clock mark the hour, us and a couple hundred others. It can get pretty squishy vying for a good view, but it was totally worth it! The astronomical clock is one of the oldest of its kind in the world, being over 600 years old! It displays a whole plethora of fancy impressive things, such as the time, date, astronomical and zodiac information, plus the relative positions of the sun, moon and some of the major planets. The Astronomical dial is the oldest component and shows how the medieval era observed the universe, with the Earth at the centre, and the blue rings representing the blue rings beyond the horizon.
The most entertaining bit is of course are the parade of moving Apostles who swing by on the hour. One of the moving figures carries an hourglass in his hand and personifies Death, another moving figurine has a mirror, representing Vanity.
There are all kinds of creepy and mysterious stories about the Astronomical clock;
Legend has it that in the Middle Ages, there was a clockmaker so talented that he created the most beautiful clock in the world, one that perfectly measured time as well as the movement of celestial bodies. To ensure that the clockmaker would never again recreate such a treasure for anyone else, his commissioners had him blinded. Ever since then, the clock has been cursed.
No wonder I was caught up in dreamy expectation! Prague is so full of history, stories, legends and magic!
Ross and I moved on, wandering through the town and enjoying the atmosphere. It was soon time to pick the kids up. Because we had wandered so far from the location of the art class, Ross gallantly volunteered to be the one to run all the way back to make it for pick-up time. I graciously accepted and organised to meet him at the end of the Charles Bridge. I walked slowly along the famous bridge from my dreams.
In the books I had read, there were Angels and Demons descending and clashing on the structure. In history there are mysterious and gruesome tales. John of Nepomuk, a vicar-general who is the first martyr of the Czech Republic, was allegedly tortured and thrown from the bridge because he refused to give away confessional secrets of the Queen. In 1620 the Charles bridge displayed 27 decapitated heads of former resistance leaders – you can now find stars on the path commemorating the Czech Martyr and the severed heads. The bridge has served as a place of battle, commerce, secret dark deeds, and beautiful fantasy books about angels. Now it is a crowded place to shuffle along and listen to some fun street music and find some lovely hand-made jewelry. The crowd didn’t dampen my fun, I totally understood why they wanted to be there, it was fantastic!
The rain, however, did dampen my mood. The whole plan of waiting for Ross was a great one, until it started pouring with rain and I had a baby and a stroller with me. After poking myself into a few tiny souvenir shops and feeling a whole heap of stress because of the wet and cold and the crying baby, I decided that the best thing to do was to sit down in yet another tourist trap and order some more hot chocolate.
Once my family finally arrived and the rain had thankfully stopped, we were able to explore around a bit. We found the most colourful and interesting markets. Every wooden toy you can imagine was on display, plus some rather interesting snack foods available for the hungry traveler.
We also found some puppet shops. Before coming to Europe, I had determined that I wanted to buy a puppet in Prague. They have a long fascinating history with the art of puppetry, and after seeing the Marionette theater in Salzburg, I was so impressed and longed to have my own hand-crafted puppet. You know, just on case my family want to put on a yodeling show of our own?? But despite my totally reasonable reasons for wanting a Prague puppet, once I had spent time admiring and oohing and aaaahing over them all, I just couldn’t choose one. And I couldn’t afford one....... that too.
Prague is so full of museums and fun things to do, It was so hard to choose, so when in doubt, follow your stomach. We went to the Gingerbread museum. It was wonderful! The kids got to decorate their own gingerbread and we all got to try the epitome of gingerbread – cream filled chocolate covered gingerbread, yum!!
All fueled up with gingerbread, we were then able to make the climb to the top of the hill and overlook the terracotta rooftops of the city below.
The Prague Castle sits at the very top, we didn’t have time to go in, but luckily, we were there just in time to see the Changing of the Guard Ceremony!
The serious and the not-so-serious events!
After all of these adventures, we unfortunately had to walk a VERY long way back to our car. We hadn’t yet figured out the public transport system and so the day ended with at least an hour of walking in the cold and dark with a lot of tired little legs and whiny little voices. But despite all of this, my first experience in Prague was all that I could have wished for.
Something doesn’t have to be perfect to be magical. There was rain, and there were times of exhausted frustration and stress, but there was also hot chocolate, a mysterious medieval clock and ancient creepy legends. There were new things to be discovered and adventures to be had. Sometimes it is ok to dive in with high expectations, provided we are looking for the things to love and feel happy about, I think that is the key. Of course, sometimes things all work out terrible, like our ill-fated expedition to the Eagles Nest. But often, we will discover that the world truly is as wonderful as we imagine it can be, sometimes, it is magic.
If you too want to let your kids decorate gingerbread in the magical city of Prague, check out the Gingerbread Museum. Truly it is mostly a shop, but we still had fun, and the chance to eat chocolate covered cream filled gingerbread...too good to pass up!
Tip - To get a good view of the Prague Astronomical Clock, make sure to get there at least 15 mins before the hour.