Combine jetlag, a poor sense of direction, and an ancient city with winding streets and the results are predictable...getting lost. And when that city is Prague, with street names and numbering systems that are somewhat incomprehensible to a befuddled American, it's hard to navigate with efficiency. But vacation time isn't about being efficient. It's about making new and unexpected discoveries while wandering toward one destination and finding another.
Yesterday, after a sleepless overnight flight, followed by a hotel nap, my goal was to find a vegetarian restaurant, and see the sights of the Moldau River, with it's many bridge crossings, and explore the old part of town. Clearly, this was tourist central, as nearly everyone I saw was holding a map and turning it in odd directions, looking as disoriented as I felt. I enjoyed the street musicians, the extraordinary architectural details, and - just as I was about to give up, I found the veg cafeteria, which even had the poppyseed dumplings my friend Sarah had told about. There was a health food store next door where I picked up a few emergency supplies (a lot of Czech food is not very veg friendly). I then wandered past an open air market selling lovely berries and apricots.
Today's agenda was based around following the self-guided tour along the #22 tram recommended by the Rick Steves guidebook I had checked out of the library. As I walked toward the tram line, I made note of some areas to explore later. The idea was to get away from the touristy part of the city and into a normal neighborhood. But quite soon I saw the entrance to Petrin park and could not resist the chance to ride the funicular to the top. I mean really - how many chances does one get to ride a funicular?
Looking at my map I decided I could walk through the park and pick up the tram line on the other side, continuing toward my original destination. Naturally, I first walked the wrong direction, but got to see the tower resembling a mini-Eiffel Tower. I passed up the chance to climb it, instead walking the other direction through the park - which turned out to be a magical wonderland of twisting cobblestone paths, trees, ponds, and views of Prague's famous red rooftops. I had no idea where I would come out, but every time there was a fork in the path I chose the option that seemed to head more downhill. I was impressed by the hardy bicyclists who had pedaled to the top of the park!
When I reached street level, there was a map store - yay - where I invested in something a bit more helpful than the resources I'd started with and, even better, a helpful clerk who pointed me in the right direction. As usual, my instinct would have taken me the wrong way.
As I headed west on the tram, the driver announced that it was the end of the line...two stops before where I thought I was going. The next tram driver told me I could take a bus, but as I was waiting I managed to find a wifi connection and discovered I was just half a mile from where I was headed. As I walked it became clear why the guidebook let me down: there was major road construction tearing up the tram lines. Serves me right for relying on an out-of-date book.
By then I had to find a restaurant that had a restroom and something I could eat that was not pizza or Asian food. Why come all the way to Prague for that? After much looking I found someplace serving what turned out to be a somewhat strange combination of beets in a cumin and cashew sauce, with a big round of warm goat cheese and little fried potato pancakes. It (and the WC) hit the spot.
From there I made my way to Prague castle - again, with going the wrong way and making some forays along the old city wall. By the time I reached the castle I found the whole thing overwhelming. It's an enormous complex of buildings swarming with tourists...but nothing resembling a "castle." I was expecting a medieval-looking fortress and instead a bit of reading informed me that it had all been rebuilt numerous times over the years. So I contented myself with wandering through the compelx without going inside and coming out the other end.
Tomorrow - who knows - perhaps the Jewish quarter, on my last full day in Prague before the biking part of my trip begins.