Dave the motorhome is still sitting in the thin sliver of land jutting out into the Vltava river. Behind his pitch on the caravan yacht camping site is Vysehrad, an ancient hill top fortress in Prague.
Last night I felt old. As darkness fell music started pumping. The hundreds of stag parties, each denoted by their own t-shirt colour and logo, were here to party. Dave shook as the party boats passed just a few metres away, but the music carried on – yes it was also party night at the yacht club next door. I struggled to hear Charlie snoring, and he snores loudly!
The combination of noise, heat and an addiction to all things Olympics on the BBC website kept me up til gone midnight – the DJ on one of the party boats kindly informed me and his passengers of the approaching deadline for their music. But there was no such deadline at the yacht club, around 1am I crawled into bed and reached for the ear plugs. Foolishly removing them in the night once the tunes had stopped, I was woken by the tuneful campanology of the churches summoning their flocks around 8am. So today started slowly.
By 10.30 we were back on the little boat taking us across the Vltava. We’re not used to how the transport system works here. You buy a ticket for 30 or 90 minutes and travel as much as you want. When you first use the ticket you need to validate it in a machine which stamps the time on it. The little boat man doesn’t care if we have a ticket or not, because we’re the ones who need to show an inspector our validated ticket. We get off on the other bank, no inspector in sight yet feel compelled to buy a ticket. Boat man is a tad bemused, shrugs and hands over two unvalidated tickets. It’s a cool morning so we pocket the tickets for later and walk along the river to Charles Bridge.
The riverside is virtually empty, cafe owners are setting out their tables and chairs, while the sound of hoses and cleaning emanates from the moored party boats. The demeanor of the city makes me think it’s before 8am, the reality is it’s gone 11am and party zone Prague gets up late.
Reaching the end of the river bank we walk up the ramp. Back on the road we’re passed by a police car, lights flashing then from behind us a chorus of horns beep beep a mixed up tune. A convoy of around 90 scooters was on its way into town with a police escort. Everyone waves at them and they cheerily beep back, we don’t have a clue where they are going or why.
There’s a distinct lack of similarly dressed men on the bridge today, stag parties no doubt get up even later than the city does. As we walk across the bridge tours follow their guide’s unopened umbrella held aloft, their group allegiance being determined by the colour of their headphones. A street artist stops drawing his customer’s portrait and beckons to Jay and Charlie. He’s very insistent and points to his board of work, there among the famous faces is a pencil drawing of his dog, another Cavalier King Charles.
A helpful, if slightly green looking, man in the tourist office gives me details of the tourist tram with his stale alcohol breath – it’s looking like we were the only ones not out partying last night. We duck past tour guides waved arms and under pointed camera lenses to reach the steps up to the castle. Surprisingly quiet, there must be a flatter easier route, we climb, stopping so Charlie can have a quick drink from his favourite bowl.
The changing guards at the castle entrance perform their task with nothing less than military precision – silver bayonets glinting in the midday sun.
We walk around the courtyards of the castle and reach the imposing facade of St Vitus Cathedral. Jay ventures in as Charlie and I sit in the shade people watching – there are a lot of people to watch – as the sign on the entrance says no dogs, eating, drinking, ice creams or photography. When it’s my turn to go in every one of those rules was broken by 99% of those packed into the free viewing space, except for the dog one. The air was thick with the smell of incense, camera flashes lighting the fog of smoke, a mass had only just finished.
Outside the cathedral is lavishly decorated, the huge doors are covered in protruding heads as if it has absorbed them into it, and scenes from history where the characters almost leap out the metal.
Leaving the castle past another set of guards we head for the tram stop within a couple of minutes the historic tram rattles up next to us. We climb aboard the almost empty carriage and set off around the city.
A board conductor takes our money, 70sk (just over £2) then returns to his post by the open doors begrudgingly waving at children as they wave excitedly at the tram. Charlie assumes his usual boat/bus/tram/train position hiding under a seat and we spend half an hour trundling around the streets of Prague. Pulling up at stops the waiting people look bemused, many asking if the tram goes to their destination. I’m not surprised, this thing only runs on Saturdays and Sundays during the summer and once every hour it squeezes along the tracks amid the normal timetabled trams. There’s very little information either about it, or indeed on it – fortunately my green faced friend at the tourist office drew the route on a map for us so we’d know where we are.
We cross over the Vltava for a second time then we’re off the map, things start to look a lot less touristy – no more pavement cafes or tour groups. The tram bumps along a grassy track and we’re told in hand signals that our ride is over. We don’t really have a clue where we are. Our fellow passengers gather outside the carriages questioning the conductor, no point in us doing that he doesn’t speak any English and our Czech isn’t up to much. So, we head back along the track in search of some food and a tram back to the campsite – we knew those tickets would come in handy.
Pizza and gnocchi was found at a restaurant which would look more at home in Nottingham’s Cornerhouse cinema complex, no baroque carvings and statues here. It tasted good and as we ate a number 17 tram pulled up at the stop next to us – we caught one yesterday so know it’ll take us straight back to our little boat stop. After lunch we hop on and wind our weary way back. Dark storm clouds gather but the rain only comes once we’re back in Dave – and I manage to sleep through the whole thing.
The river his quieter tonight, a passing boat plays some soft jazz and I can quite clearly hear Charlie snoring away, no doubt dreaming of his busy day today.