ATR 42 WITH SEATING FOR 44 - GOT US THERE, NO PROBLEM!
We didn't check any bags so getting out of the airport was fast. I had read that there are a couple of bus lines that connect the airport with the Metro, so we decided on public transportation rather than taking a taxi. I bought some tickets from a kiosk at the airport (a helpful gentleman there gave me a map and explained exactly how to get to where we needed to go) and we easily made our way to the hotel, via bus and then metro, although a lack of street signs made it a bit hard to get oriented when we got on the street. Finally I walked into the middle of a crosswalk, looked around, and there was the Hilton Hotel about a block away.
Check in at the hotel was no problem at all. Nice room... what can I say about Hilton? More or less the same wherever you go. I could be in LA, Madrid, Paris.
.. On the other hand, the room is fantastic, everything is super clean, the bed is very comfortable and the location is convenient. And finally it there wasn’t much of a price difference between it and other hotels (although I was surprised to find that breakfast is excluded from the room rate • it wasn’t at all clear on their web site when I made the reservation.) That’s pretty unusual for Europe. My friend Michal was hungry and we noticed a McD's right by the hotel so we decided to have a sandwich there and then headed for Prague's Old Town.
Powder tower - Old Town, Prague
We walked down a street called Sokolovska which changes names and becomes Na Porici - past the enormous Palladium shopping center to the Municipal House (Obecni Dúm) which is the most prominent Art Nouveau building in the city. This building was the scene of the proclamation of the new independent state of Czechoslovakia on October 28, 1918.
It holds halls and an auditorium where concerts are held. We were handed numerous fliers there and at many other places advertising concerts which seem to be going on all the time, every evening. There's also a café and restaurant in the building. I'd like to visit the Art Nouveau Café, it looks nice on the inside. Maybe we’ll check that out this afternoon or tomorrow.
Monument to Jan Hus and Baroque St. Nicholas Church in the backgrund
The municipal hall is right next to the Powder Gate, which aside from being our entry point to where we want to go, is one of the original 13 gates to the Old Town. It dates from the 11th century, although it was rebuilt in 1475. The name "Powder Gate" (Prasna Brana) was given to it in the 17th century when it was used to store gun powder. We walked through the gate and entered Old Town. From there, we continued along Celetna Street.
The street is lined with shops selling Bohemian crystal and other Czech and Slavic souvenirs like puppets, decorated eggs, matrioshka dolls and such. We walked into an enormous shop with Bohemian crystal to take a look. There were three or four floors of crystal - nice things, but nothing I wanted to carry around with me.
Our Lady before Tyn
Finally we reached the Old Town Square. It's impressive - especially the spires of the church of Our Lady Before Tyn, the Rococo Kinsky Palace, the Gothic House at the Stone Bell and the Old Town Hall with a fantastic tower from 1364 and an astronomical clock with mechanical figures (Death, the 12 Apostles, Greed...) All perform every time the clock strikes the hour.
First we went inside the Baroque Church of St.
Nicholas. Concert tickets were on sale here too. I collected flyers for about 15 concerts during our stay in Prague. If I had a little more time, it would be nice to hear music in one of these churches. After the church we saw a large group of people standing on the other side of the square looking up at the Old Town Hall. It turned out that it was nearly 12 and they were all there waiting for the clock to perform. So... we were in the right place at the right time. We walked over and joined the crowd. It starts with Death pulling a cord, then the 12 apostles file past two little windows. Finally a Rooster crows and it's all over. It's amazing to think that the mechanisms that make all of this work are from the late 1500s. Aside from the time, the Clock tells the day of the month and the movement of the Sun and Moon through the 12 signs of the Zodiac. After the clock finished the people stood there applauding. Again, the incredible thing is how old all of this working engineering is. We walked by this clock a number of times during our stay in Prague and the Astronomical Clock never fails to draw a crowd - even when it was raining!
We wandered around Old Town a little more and before heading towards the Little Quarter we stopped for a coffee at the "Choco Café" which specializes in chocolate, but the coffee was good too.
I wrote a review about it, which should appear below.
Helpful booth at arrivals in Prague's airport. Get oriented... Public transportation tickets and info...
After our coffee break we headed for the famous Charles Bridge. We walked across the half-kilometer bridge which was commissioned in 1357. Until 1741 it was the only bridge across the Vltava River. The bridge is lined with statues of saints whose addition began in 1683. The inspiration for this was Bernini's sculptures on the Sant' Angelo bridge in Rome. Unfortunately, refurbishment of the bridge is underway at the moment, so one side of the Old Town half of the bridge was covered with scaffolding. I am surprised at how many hundreds of tourists are here now. The scaffolding and crowd made walking slow and tedious on the Old Town end of the bridge.
It was incredibly crowded which made it a little hard to enjoy the views or check out the statues and you are definitely in fierce competition to get pictures!
On the bus from the airport to the end of the metro line
There are lots of trinket sellers on the bridge too as well as artists doing portraits and selling their paintings. From the Bridge we headed to Mala Strana (the Little Quarter) which is the part of Prague least affected by recent history. Virtually no new building has been carried out here since the 18th century. We walked up Mostecka Street to the Little Quarter Square with the Baroque St. Nicholas Church in the center (dedicated to the same saint as the church on the Old Town Square).
We headed past the church and up Nerudova Street which is a pretty street with Baroque buildings.
The houses are beautiful with a fantastic selection of heraldic beasts and emblems which, until the 1770s (when house numbers were introduced) identified the homes. Another really nice thing about this street is the view looking back downhill - a beautiful view of the red tile rooftops and the Old Town with some patches of the river visible. The higher we went, the more impressive the view became. We decided to leave the Prague castle for tomorrow or Monday and veered off to the left instead - to Petrin Park.
Metro station. The bus leaves you here and the same ticket serves for the subway.
We hiked all the way up to the top (quite a long walk uphill, but the views are great). We had been seeing what kind of looks like the Eiffel Tower in the background and decided to investigate.
It turned out to be an observation tower, built in 1891 for an exhibition in Prague. For 70 Crowns we got to walk up the 299 steps of the circular staircase to the top. I got a lot of exercise today with all of those stairs, but the view was beautiful with all of Prague at your feet - not only Prague, but the surroundings. I read that you can see most of Bohemia from up here on a clear day. The 60 meter tall tower is indeed a reduced copy of the Eiffel Tower.
Very long, steep, fast escalator in the subway station.
It was pretty windy up there. I could feel the tower swaying in the wind when we were at the top. We worked our way up the spiral staircase and took a lot of pictures of the view from the top. After the tower we saw a labyrinth of mirrors which was also built in the late 19th century.
We didn't go in, but it looked like something fun for children. As we walked down the other side of the hill I noticed that a funicular runs up and down the hill for people who want to avoid the up (or down) hill walk.
The walk downhill was nice, enjoying the view along the way. Eventually we reached the Riverside part of the Little Quarter. We walked by a Thai Restaurant called NOI which looked nice, so we decided on Thai food for lunch. Check out my review below, it turned out to be a good decision.
After lunch we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the Riverside portion of the Little Quarter and a section called Kampa Island which is separated from the rest of the bank by what is called the Devil's Stream which was used as a millrace for centuries.
I saw one of the remaining wheels that turns as the water pushes it.
Graffitti wall dedicated to John Lennon.
There's a wall dedicated to John Lennon as you approach the Devil's Stream at Velkoprevorske Namesti (Grand Priory Square). It is covered with graffiti and there were a lot of people taking pictures. This little memorial to Lennon has been around since the 1980s and aside from the graffiti; some lyrics are also painted on the wall. Evidently this used to cause a lot of irritation to the communist regime, since young people here at the time used the wall to express their grievances against the government and even lead to a clash between the authorities and students back then. The wall is constantly changing, since people add graffiti all the time.
One of the highlights of the afternoon was the Maltese Square which is full of Renaissance and Baroque Palaces.
There are lots of embassies around the square. This time of year the light is pretty dull and the sky was gray, but even on a dreary day it's a beautiful part of the city.
Finally it got dark and we decided to head back to the hotel. On the way, we stopped at the Palladium shopping center where we found an "Albert" supermarket and bought a few things to drink at the hotel. The shopping center is enormous. They joined an existing old building to the mall so it looks pretty nice. Back at the hotel we decided to check out the pool and gym. Serious chlorine overload at the pool.... Finally, room... TV... sleep. One thing can be said for the Hilton - the bed was really comfortable.