Czech it out, it’s the Prague update. Terrible pun, yes, but I couldn’t resist. I haven’t run spell check on this one, so sorry for any mistakes.
After a six hour train ride, I arrived in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. Because Prague largely escaped the bombings of World War 2, it stands as one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe. This may also explain why the city has so many cobbled streets, which wear down my feet much faster than regular pavement. On the day I arrived in Prague I encountered a storm of insects while walking around buying groceries. A friend of mine described them as Prague’s “zombie mosquitos”, which may have been just a joke, but probably was not too far off the truth either. Thankfully, I never ran into them again over the next two days.
The first full day in Prague was spent covering the part of the city on the east side of the Vltava River. I started out at Wenceslas Square, which is not really a square but a city boulevard that is sometimes used as a square. At the top is the National Museum (closed for renovation when I was there) and a statue of King Wenceslas, the beloved old king of the Czech People. While I was there the statue came alive and tried to kill me, but I put the spirit of King Wenceslas back in the grave where it belongs. From the top of the square, I moved down while reading a bit about the 1989 break with communism that occurred on the square. It was here in 89 that Czech independence from the Soviet system was proclaimed, and the square still holds a special place in the minds of the Czech people. At the bottom end of the square I came across a Franciscan garden on the other side of a shopping mall, and then took a roundabout way to Old Town Square, passing the Powder Tower (where gunpowder was stored) along the way. Old Town Square is one of the largest city squares in Europe, though it didn’t seem so big at ground level when I was there because Hyundai (the car manufacturer) had set up an expo related to the Euro Tournament. The square holds Prague’s famous astronomical clock, which puts on a little show at the top of each hour. A skeleton rings a bell signaling the change of the hour, and a pair of windows open up to show a parade of the twelve apostles passing by and then a guy at the top of the tower plays a little tune on a trumpet. Perhaps more entertaining than the show itself is the sight of the tourist horde gathered at the base of the clock and how in unison 1,000 cameras are raised to photograph the show. Later on I took the lift up to the top of the tower to get photos of Prague from up there, and I happened to be up at the top of the hour so I got to see the mass of other tourists from above. Back down on the ground, you can find the Jan Hus monument in near the middle of the square. As some of you know, Jan Hus is considered the first major church reformer (he lived about 150 years before Martin Luther) and his followers became known as Hussites. Also around Old Town Square are several old churches. One of which is Tyn Chuch, (pronounced like “teen”) which was the primary church of the Hussites until the Austrians conquered Prague and turned it back into a catholic church and redecorated the interior with a heavy dose of gold. When I had finished with Old Town Square, I moved north towards the Vltava River and on the way passed through the Jewish Quarter. Prague historically had a sizable Jewish population and there are several notable synagogues in the Jewish Quarter, but I didn’t go into any of them (next time). When I reached the river I got some photos from one of the bridges that crosses it, and then moved west and south along the river to Charles Bridge, Prague’s most famous bridge which links the old town with the castle district on the other side of the river. I passed by the bridge (I went on it the next day) and came to the next bridge south of it which crosses one of the islands in the river. The island was just a park, but there was a small sand beach on the northern tip which had good views of the Charles Bridge. From there I kept going south along the river until I reached the Fred and Ginger dance building. It actually has another name, but is called the Fred and Ginger building (at least, by English speakers) in honor of the early 1900s dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. After that I went back to my hostel, though I went out again later to see how the city looked at night. Back at Old Town Square a large screen had been set up and was showing the Euro Tournament, and I got to see the last few minutes of the Czech Republic vs Portugal game, which Portugal won (I suspect my slaying of King Wenceslas earlier that day may have doomed the Czechs). Back at the hostel I stayed up until 1:00am figuring out my schedule for the final week of my trip across Europe. When I finally had everything planned and paid for, a couple from the room I was staying in had just come in with some beers and asked if I wanted a drink. I don’t normally like beer, but with a great burden of not knowing where I was going in my final week now lifted, it seemed a fitting occaision for a drink. We stayed up talking until a bit after 2:00am, and I drank nearly a whole bottle of beer (perhaps the most I’ve ever drank in a single sitting).
The next day I didn’t get so much sightseeing in, because I stayed up so late the night before and consequently slept in much later than normal. I walked over to Charles Bridge and crossed it to the west side of the river, where I saw the city’s oldest waterwheel and the Lenin Wall (named for John Lenin, of Beatles fame). Not to far from the bridge is St Nicholas’ Church, which I went in to take a look. After that I made the uphill hike to the Strahov Monastary, which is on the same hill as Prague Castle but further up the hill. My thought was to start at the top and then work my way down the hill. I found the main part of the monastary closed at the time I got there, so after looking around the area I walked over to Castle Square, which leads directly to the castle grounds. Prague Castle is really more a palace with other buildings and than what we would normally think of as a castle. True, there are some walls, but the place does not strike me as a strong defensive position, other than it being on a hill. I worked my way through the basic sights of the castle (as covered by my ticket) a bit quickly, as I only had about 1.5 hours before the place closed for the day (the tickets allow you to come back the next day if you run out of time, but since I was leaving in the morning I needed to see everything now). The main draw other than the castle grounds is St Vitus Cathedral, which I visited first. It’s a large gothic cathedral, so there’s not too much in the way of interior decoration, but it has some nice stained-glass windows. Next I went through the Old Royal Palace, which honestly didn’t have too much in it. As I understand it, a fire ravaged the castle a few hundred years ago and much of the older historical stuffs were lost. After the palace I visited the basilica of St George, which has the appearance of a romanesque chapel cut out of the side of a mountain. Then I walked down the Golden Lane, which is strangely named, seeing as how I didn’t see any gold on it. The lane is a road lined with recreations of period shops and houses, inside of which you can see displays of what life used to be like for people living in the castle. At the end of the Golden Lane I came down to the opposite end of the castle and exited, but from there I hiked back up alongside the castle back to the entrance I had come into earlier, and from there I hiked over to Petrin Hill, which is really the same hill as the one the castle is on, but gets its own name. There I went up a tower that looked sort of like a mini Eiffel Tower, but had great views of the entire city. The view from there is better than from Prague Castle or anywhere else. When I finished up there, I came down the hill and saw the Monument to the Victims of Communism who Survived (long name, but it fits). The monument is a series of human figures, but as you look further back the statues are slowly disfigured and destroyed, symbolizing the slow decay of humanity in the communist system. After viewing that, I took a tram back towards my hostel. I also got some ice cream, to indulge my inner capitalist pig. That ended the second full day in Prague. I had meant to do a few more things, but with the previous night’s escapades I was out of time.
And thus ended Prague and my time in the Czech Republic. The following morning I left for the boondocks of Germany, to a small town called Großschönau, the subject of the next post.