We’re getting good at this – to see these big European cities, we Google around for a campingplatz (campground) near public transportation with good security, and drive on in through the suburbs to this campground. We rest up a day or two, and then hop on the metro, tram or bus to go right down to the medieval center of the city, see the sights, and make it back to our campsite with another easy public transportation ride. Much more relaxing and suited to our leisurely pace than a jam-packed schedule of touring.
As we approached Prague from the south, I was relying on Google maps for directions, since my GPS doesn’t have data for the Czech Republic. By some combination of luck and skill I took an exit from this long tunnel just as my odometer indicated we had traveled far enough to reach our campground, and popped up right next to the Prague Zoo – and our campground. My GPS still gives me current location in latitude and longitude, which I can then research on Google Maps if the datacard is working to find out where I am. Next time I’m gonna break down and buy the maps for the GPS – it’s a little nerve-racking to live in fear of being totally lost in a city you don’t know, with signs you can’t read, and not knowing the language to ask directions.
Anyway, Autocamp Hajek is the converted back yard of a large house in Trojska, the diplomatic quarters of Prague. By some loophole in the zoning laws it’s legal to convert your backyard to a camping facility, and there are about a half dozen of these camping places along a short stretch of road, near the Belorussian consulate and all these other mansions. We had Finns, Italians, Dutch, Estonians, a Lativan family, plus several young British people, all staying in tents, big Class Cs, old hippie vans, and everything else. It was a great mixture of people coming from all over to see the city. We were all kind of crammed in (it’s a backyard, not like a purpose-built campground) but the showers, WiFi, and everything else was nice and the staff were very helpful. I heard a fair amount of English being spoken – Germans and French would be speaking English to the Czech staff because that was the language they have in common. It works out handy for the Brits and Americans, who don’t have the support for foreign language acquisition in the public schools that continental countries have.
We pick a day with nice weather, settle Fiona into the campervan for a three hour wait, and buy 24 koruna (one dollar) tram tickets from the reception office. We walk the 300 meters or so to the tram stop, following the printed directions we got from the campground, and hop on the next tram going downtown. You get on, punch your ticket in a validation meter that looks like a timeclock, and watch the display for the name of your destination. There’s also a loudspeaker announcing the stops, but Czech is a language where pronunciations isn’t much like English, so I wanted to see the words in print.
As we got off the tram and worked our way through the press of people, we came out onto the riverbank in a small park, surrounded by late 19th century buildings of impressive size. We walked up a street that led uphill, past touristy shops and cafes, and in a few blocks we were in a small square where we could sit on the church steps, rest up, and people watch. Tour groups came by, and we could listen in because the tour guides were also speaking English – it’s the lingua franca of the whole area. Sometimes their accent was so strange that it took me a few sentences to realize they were speaking English, but sure enough, they were.
Debating whether to press on or just find a cafe to sit, we decided to go around the corner – and there was the Old Town Square, a vast plaza with a jazz saxophonist, those living statue performers you see in crowded public places, a two-piece brass klezmer band, many more tour groups, and just about everything you would need to keep you entertained for as long as you wanted to stay. Dominating the plaza is the Jan Hus memorial, the Czech republic’s George Washington and a symbol of Czech nationalism for the last 700 years. There’s also the world’s oldest working clock in the town hall tower, beautiful buildings, sculpture all over the place – we were amazed. We spent the better part of an hour just taking it all in.
After all this excitement, we worked our way back to the tram stop, and checked our instructions because it was a bit tricky – there are two trams with the same number, but different destinations, and every other one went the way we wanted to go. The next tram that came by met our specifications, so back on we hopped, past a strange Victorian era palace and many other sights, across the river, and there’s our Trojska stop. Simple. I love this low-stress touring – we get to see all the sights we want to, and have the comfort and convenience of our RV to come home to.