I live in Orlando so if there’s one thing I know, it’s Universal Studios. And here’s what I know:
- Universal Studios has a castle rising into the sky above a small snow-capped village.
- You can eat copious amounts of food in the middle of the street / walkway.
- There’s all kinds of shops and trinkets of things you wouldn’t normally buy but are suddenly intrigued by – like blown glass and ceramics.
- Pretty much everyone around you is from somewhere else.
But let’s back-up a bit: Prague, the heart of the Czech Republic and what used to be Czechoslovakia when my family left Europe for New York, has been at the top of my bucket list for as long as I can remember.
I’ll never be able to go back to the exact village or town my family left in Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Austria. I just know that’s where they originated before hopping on a ship to get them to Ellis Island – both sides of my Dad’s family between 1920-1926. And since Warsaw doesn’t seem super tourist-friendly – I believe there was a 50k+ white nationalist march there the week before we left for Europe – Prague, on the other hand, with its giant clock and art and theaters DID.
Thus, the second city on our European Thanksgiving Vacation was Prague. It was also the northernmost city on our trip and the temperature never broke higher than 45 degrees fahrenheit.
When we landed it was grey and cloudy and wet and freezing. We drove through areas that were quaint-essential, communist impacted areas of Europe that just looked and felt poor.
And then we went through a few lights, around a corner, and suddenly we were transported to the most magical place I’d ever seen…. outside of Universal Studios Florida.
Seriously – There were cobblestoned streets and beautifully colored buildings that looked so NEW but were styled so OLD, and the colors were so freshly painted that they were just unreal. There were street vendors selling all sorts of food and wine and toys and trinkets.
Prague is known for its handblown glass and ceramics so they were everywhere and so were tons of stores selling the kind of merchandise you see in Daytona – printed t-shirts with stupid sayings, hats, scarves, shot glasses, keychains. It was unreal.
But then…. then there was the food.
Nutella brown sugar string cake things and giant kielbasa and cabbage with cheese and ham and potatoes spiraled out on sticks and hot red wine and hot white wine with honey and cider… I ATE EVERYTHING!!!
Oh, and I had the most delicious oysters I’ve ever had in my entire life – which is a serious feat given the dent I’ve single handedly put in the oyster population.
Just like at Universal, I ate pretty much anything that crossed my path – and there were SO MANY THINGS.
But instead of going to, say, Blue Man Group at Universal, we saw the ballet in Prague in a private box for $30USD per ticket.
Instead of checking out cartoon art in Toon Town, we stumbled upon an Abby of St. Agnus founded in early 1200 by a woman with “an undoubtably strong personality” whose “strong will influenced the politics of her country and abroad.” My. kind. of. lady!!!
We also found one of Europe’s most beautiful Baroque churches, walked over one of the world’s oldest still functioning bridges while snow flurries floated down around us at night, climbed to the top of an A/V laden watertower that told the stories of how many times Prague has burned down (hint: A LOT) and navigated our way through a back ally to a bar based on Anonymous and a museum dedicated to Apple products (with one of those cake rolls in hand, of course). Oh! And found the sex museum! Which was bizarre and oddly appropriate in a town almost exclusively dedicated to Christian art and history.
Okay so maybe there are some differences between Universal Studios and Prague. But you have to admit that coming around the corner to Old Town Square and seeing those church spires and the clock definitely looks similar to Hogsmeade.
Not sure I would put Prague on anyone else’s bucket list but I am so glad I was able to go to the region in my lifetime. It was an incredible experience and yeah, way effing better than Universal.