After months of planning, Amanda Hund and I have finally arrived in the Czech Republic for two months of field work monitoring barn swallows. Our adventure began Thursday morning as we left the states headed for Europe. Despite an hour delay due to ice in Minneapolis, we touched down in Prague just before our scheduled arrival of 9:15 am on Friday. We dropped our bags off at the hostel and set off to explore the city (and find international phones). We somehow made it to Wenceslaus square (yes, that Wenceslaus) where many western influences could be seen - Starbucks, Burger King, and McDonalds - and not one, but two “original Czech restaurants”. We wandered the length of the square and took some random, beautiful, small streets and got ourselves thoroughly lost.
As we made our way to the river so that we could orient ourselves, we were stopped by some very large, very armed policemen. Apparently, a suspicious bag had been left up the street and was being investigated - don’t worry it was cleared up minutes later and the officers were returning to the Police headquarters as we strolled by. We made it to the Vltava river, oriented ourselves, and made our way to Charles Square where we met up with one of our collaborators, Martina Soudková. Martina took us to a pub for lunch where we got our first taste of real Budweiser and Czech food. We then walked to Vyšehrad, a famous castle south of the city center. Inside the castle walls, there is the Cemetery of Honor where famous Czech citizens are buried. By then it was after 4 pm and the jet lag was starting to seriously kick in. We made our way back to our hostel. Determined to stay awake until 9 pm in order to acclimate to the time zone, we showered and got some work done. However, by 7:30 we were having trouble keeping our eyes open and we were both out by 8 pm.
After lunch, we met up with Martina and crossed the Charles Bridge, a pedestrian bridge over the river, where we made a wish on the statue of St. John of Nepomuk. The statue has been polished to a shine from all the people rubbing it for luck. After crossing the river we trekked to the top of Petřínská rozhledna, a lookout tower that resembles the Eiffel Tower. While Petřínská is shorter than the Eiffel Tower, the top is actually higher given the large hill it stands on. We took the hard way up through the park, rather than the cable car, and enjoyed the views of the city from all heights.
As we headed to Prague Castle, Pražský hrad, we entertained Amanda’s obsession with doors and windows by stopping to take many pictures. The castle was quite impressive as it is the largest ancient castle in the world occupying over 70,000 square meters. Obviously we only saw a small portion of it, including the church, St. Vitus Cathedral, with some amazing stained glass windows. We were also lucky enough to time our exit with the changing of the guard. From the castle, we could see an intriguing wall of what appeared to be many statues. Wallenstein Palace Garden is home to the dripstone wall, a creepy, yet interesting sculpture with faces and other animals hidden among the drips. There is also an aviary with half a dozen owls. Wandering the grounds are several peacocks and peahens. One of the peacocks was not a fan of Amanda and loudly squawked any time she looked at it. Another one of the males was displaying to a hen, however, when he turned to the side to show her the full glory of his tail, she wandered away and he couldn’t find her. After dinner with Martina, and more large beer, we headed back to the hostel to rest up for our trip to Southern Bohemia.