The hotel we stayed in is very well positioned - a 10-minute walk to the old town, a 10-minute walk to the transfer bus, a 5-minute walk to the main train station and tram lines running right alongside with stops just across from the entrance. The castle, on the other hand, is right across town, over the bridge and up a hill, so we tried to avoid walking all the way there today and instead make use of the tram lines nearby. After waiting 20 minutes at the tram stop for a tram that didn't exist (I was given duff info from the hotel receptionist, curse her!), we decided to walk part of the way into the centre and pick up a tram from another location. And that's how we realised that the new part of town and Wenceslas Square was also a short 10-minute walk away. We hadn't actually intended to go to Wenceslas Square but given that the weather was so good again - the forecast thunderstorms seemed to be increasingly less likely - we had to make the most of it and grab photos in good light while we could. Or rather I had to. Manda experienced the cultural shopping delights while I hot-footed it around the square taking photos from every conceivable angle under the hot sun. How I laughed when I realised that I still had the camera set for indoor lighting, thus giving every photo a blue caste, thus making it necessary to take all the photos again. I deserved a nice cool beer after this, so when we discovered a place off one of the side streets that was reasonably priced, I had two instead!
We continued on our quest to get a tram to the castle but by the time we boarded we'd probably walked half the distance already. The tram took us to Malostranska where we began the climb up the hill to the castle. Once at the top, it was clear that there were still many tourists around town. 'Masses' would be a good collective term to describe just how many. On the hour, the guards at the sentry boxes change and it was at this point that the crowd almost went into a frenzy to capture the activity on camera. I was one of these people trying to get the moment, but struggled to on account of the other people who'd beaten me to a good observation point - their tour guides must have given them a tip-off about what was to happen and where!
With that guard-changing out of the way, we made our way inside the castle grounds, as did seemingly half a million other people. This was another of those 'it's so different from our last visit moments' and we just had to be super-patient to get photos of each other that didn't also have a train of tourists walking past in the background. One of our aims for this visit was to see the 'Golden Lane', a really picturesque road with small houses lining it that we'd seen on numerous postcards and in the gift books we'd bought last time but had not seen. How did we miss it before? Looking at the map, it was just pure chance/bad luck that we didn't see it before, but this time we knew exactly where to look. My hope was that the hordes of other tourists might make the same wrong turn/mistake that we had before, leaving us with the Golden Lane all to ourselves. No such luck. Turns out that this part of the castle complex is one of the few parts where you pay for the privilege of visiting, and everyone wanted to be privileged today. It was clearly sign-posted - and heaving!
If we thought it was busy earlier on, once those same people were funnelled into the tiny lane, that effect was multiplied somewhat. Seeing that this was how it was going to be, Manda and I decided to try and sit it out in the café just up from the ticket office and wait for the organised tour groups to thin out a bit. We figured that if we left it until it was nearly closing time, this might reduce the numbers to a level where we could walk down there and avoid getting nudged in the ribs or having our eyes poked out with other people's zoom lenses. And we both got out of there with ribs and eyes intact.
Eventually we made our way all the way through the complex and back down the hill taking a different route from our way up. We stopped at the waterfront to take photos of the local swans whose sole purpose seemed to be to provide a foreground to Charles Bridge for postcard sellers, artists and photographers. How very obliging of them.
We walked back to the hotel for a quick freshen up. Another hot day with lots of walking meant that the air-conditioned room was very welcome. A little too welcome, as it turned out, as I almost dropped off and then had to wake Manda up from an early slumber. It would have been all too easy to stay at the hotel and be lazy, but it would also have been a waste of an evening. Thankfully, we picked a real winner of a restaurant to eat at, a place that didn't necessarily look like it would be brilliant from the outside. It was a pasta place called Ambiente near the Old Town Square and the service and food was the best I'd had on the break so far. Highly recommended!