Europa I, Praha MMXIX

Thanks to a few really good planners (not me) and a lot of excited online research, this New Years our friend group managed to pull off one of the coolest vacations I’ve ever been on. We went to Europe for a bit over two weeks. We started off in Prague, went to Vienna for New Years eve, headed to the Alps, and ended up in Zürich. The big cities were waiting for us with a ton of cultural activities, historical spots to explore, and an unhealthy amount of great food and drinks, while the little towns in the Alps ended up being delightfully surprising.

After a pit stop in the Midwest the real thing began in Prague…

This is the second in a long series shared throughout January. When you’re done here, make sure to also check out parts zero, two, three, four, and five.

Our hostel was right next to the downtown area. What we didn’t know was that it also happened to be the red light district.

To start things off, Zach Smith took the few us who got there first to U Fleků, one of the oldest breweries in Prague at 500+ years old. This was the second of many accordion players we saw there.

They only had one kind of beer at the bar, which meant that waiters would walk around with trays full of mugs of beer and Becherovka, the local spirit, asking if you wanted a new one and simply taking tabs on a little piece of paper that stayed at the table. I thought by the end of dinner things would look like this, but we didn’t have that much.

These pastries looked really good, but I didn’t actually try them.

The whole downtown area becomes a huge Christmas market for the holidays, petting zoo included.

Seeing the astronomical clock in Old Prague’s Main Square is one of the few memories I have of the time I went to the Czech Republic with my parents in 2001. I remember it being touristy then, but the crowds were pretty insane.

Maizie, excited for some snacks.

Luckily for all of us, Zach Hyman had studied abroad in Prague, and knew how to get us away from the super touristy areas. He insisted that we go to The Pub for its competitive drinking. While we initially shied away from it, it caught on really quickly. It’s a really simple concept: you have a tap at your table, and you can serve yourself as much as you want. What’s poured from each table is tracked and shown on a monitor, and you compete not just across the room with the other tables, but also the N other locations across the rest of Prague, Czechia, and Europe. Genius.

They also allowed song requests. Here are the Zachs, far from the shallow.

The next day, it was easier for some to wake up than others, but we went on an amazing walking tour. Our guide was way overqualified, holding masters degrees in Slavic history/international relations, and doing this between jobs. He was from the US, had married a Czech woman, and was about to start off as the director of some foundation. I asked him for some history book recommendations. Now I have a bunch of Tim Snyder and Simon Winder books on my to-read list.

The Jewish quarter also brought back some memories. Unfortunately we didn’t spend as much time there as I would have liked.

I was really happy with my 70-200 as we walked up to the Prague Castle.

Up to no good.

Of course, right next to this view, built into the Castle wall, and next to the vineyard was a Starbucks. 🤦‍♂️

Let’s be honest, if I had a dog with an orange jumpsuit, I’d also give him a photoshoot.

I really loved the signage of the underground transit in Prague. It blew my mind that Prague has contactless payments for public transit, while places like San Francisco or New York don’t. Buying a BART ticket is a mess even if you know what you’re doing. I literally bought my metro pass here with Apple Pay in seconds.

Muzeum, another of the few memories I have of being in Prague as an 8 year old.

We had dinner at Parlament. It was somewhat confusing, but their dumplings were amazing. Also, not sure what the hell was going on in their ceiling.

People insisted on going to an absinthe bar. Our waiter had quite a spiel.

We then moved on to an underground bar.

The bartender literally invited Maizie to go behind the bar to pick songs to play off of YouTube. It quickly became a Latin dance club. This was indirectly my fault.

From there we went on to Luzerna. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Zach Hyman this happy before.

Like everywhere else, Maizie made friends.

At some point, we were drunk enough to suggest Ben should start curling his mustache.

Our new Kazakh friends, who showed us how to Kazakh-dance.

By the time we were out, McDonald’s was our only late night food option left. At 4am, I thought it’d be a good idea to take advantage of the fact that in Czech McDonald’s you can order beer.

Not sure how we got there.

The walk back home, right before a Sauna Club saga that I unfortunately missed and can’t recount.

While the rest of the partiers slept away the hangovers, I woke up early and went to meet Danny and Ali for breakfast and to walk in other neighborhoods. We found it oddly quiet, with businesses closed and very few people walking in the streets. It made us wonder whether non-touristy Prague is super empty all year, or if it was just the holidays’ effect.

This was an interesting find: an ad for a bug box you can install in your garden or in a public space to attract and encourage bugs that have lost their natural habitat because of urban development.

As I took this photo, Ali asked how I decide when to take a photo, or what is a scene worth photographing. I had no idea how to answer. I said something along the lines of “The light. It is pretty.” but couldn’t really be more specific than that.

A day of aimless walking took us to Mozzarellart. Marco, the shopkeeper, gave us a lot of tasty samples, and good advice about things to do in Prague. We talked with him for a while, and got to hear about how he ended up there. He said business is much better in Czechia compared to Italy, so he moved here 6 years ago from Puglia. I regret not asking if I could take his portrait.

After going back to the hostel, sharing our fresh mozzarella and cold cuts with our hungover friends, and all grabbing lunch together, Danny and I walked along the river to the Kafka museum. Everyone else tried to go to the Jewish Museum, but got there as it was closing. Instead, they settled for the Sex Machines Museum.

There was some truly strange street art in Prague.

The Kafka Museum was very biographical, and got me thinking about my own identity. They did a good job stretching the little material they had - mostly quotes from his letters, a few of his published works, and some photographs - to paint a complex picture of the author. I didn’t know that he was so conflicted about his Jewish identity, nor that he embraced it so much towards the end of his life. They also talked a lot about his works, and while now I have bumped his novels a few spots in my list, I am happy that Danny convinced me to read a few of his short stories ahead of our trip. I really enjoyed In the Penal Colony and its questioning of moral relativism.

We had dinner at The Mint. It had a bunch of history on their menus about the old currency used in the city, but while that was interesting, I mostly thought about the ridiculously large portion of pork knuckle in front of me.

Everyone was obsessed with the tiny lemon squeezer that came with the tea set.

Across the street from our hostel was this thing. We never figured out what was up with the č’s, but it looked like some kind of theater.

And that was Prague.

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