Setting foot in the Czech Republic

Prague Travel Blog

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Thursday
We had looked up the weather in Prague and it was meant to be cold, so we unpacked the sun-hats and shorts for a few spare jumpers and headed on our way. The trip to the airport was an absolute dream compared when we flew from Prestwick even if we had to be there for 730 in the morning. It was meant to be about 3°C in the Czech Republic so we dressed suitably (vest, shirt, jumper jacket, warm socks and walking shoes) but when we landed in Prague and it was -1°C and snowing my heart sank ��" can we catch this plane back to sunny Scotland??

It was surprisingly easy to use the public transport and we were happy to find that most people had great English, so we jumped on the bus that would take us to the tram that would go near our hotel Penzion Sprint. But we wouldn’t be us if we didn’t get a bit lost on the way from the tram stop to the hotel (not really our fault there were trees covering the hotel…), we actually managed to check in even at this time of morning, so we inspected the room and headed back into town minus our bags. The tram ride to town took us down a big hill, past the castle on the hill and the Charles Bridge, where we jumped off.

By this time it had been a good 8 hours of travelling since we had eaten so we went in search of some food and stumbled into Stare Mesto ��" the Old Town; it is the original place of settlement of Prague, Czech Republic. It was separated from the outside by a semi-circular moat and wall, connected to the Vltava at both of its ends. The moat is now covered up by the streets (from north to south-west) Revolučni, na Příkopě, and Národni--which remain the official boundary of the cadastral district of Old Town. After the city was expanded in the 14th century by Charles IV with the founding of the New Town, the moat and wall were therefore dismantled soon after. We found ourselves in the Old Town Square which dates back to the late 12th century; it started life as the central marketplace for Prague. Over the next few centuries, many buildings of Romanesque, Baroque and Gothic styles were erected around the market, each bringing with them stories of wealthy merchants and intrigue. Luckily for us the square was hosting some German Christmas Markets and we managed to eat our fill of Bratwurst before taking a look around. The Old Town Square's most notable sights are the Church of Our Lady before Tyn, the Old Town Hall Tower & Astronomical Clock and the stunning St. Nicholas Church. At the centre of the Old Town Square is the Jan Hus statue, erected on the 6th July 1915 to mark the 500th anniversary of the reformer’s death. The groundswell of supporters for his beliefs during the 14th and 15th centuries eventually led to the Hussite wars. We walked around the square and noticed scores of umbrellas facing up towards the astronomical clock, mounted on the Old Town Hall, the clock or Orloj is composed of three main components: the astronomical dial, representing the position of the Sun and Moon in the sky and displaying various astronomical details; "The Walk of the Apostles", a clockwork hourly show of figures of the Apostles and other moving sculptures; and a calendar dial with medallions representing the months. The oldest part of the clock dates back to 1410 when it was made by clockmaker Mikuláš of Kadaň and Professor Jan Šindel, there were loads of people marvelling at the creation, that we were struggling to comprehend. The square was lined with alfresco diners (even in the sleet) and vendors selling hot chocolates, mulled wine, kebab skewers and ice cream?? We located the tourist information centre in the old town hall and acquired a number of maps and leaflets before treating ourselves to a hot chocolate in a café ��" out of the cold.

Our next port of call was the Powder Tower, the 65m tall tower is the gateway to the Royal Route which leads through the Old Town over the Charles Bridge to the castle up the hill. The gothic Powder Tower was built in 1475 during the reign of King Vladislav II at the site of an 11th century gate, one of Prague's 13 original city gates. The master builder Matous Rejsek constructed an ornate tower based on the 14th century Old Town Bridge Tower. Construction of the tower was interrupted between 1477 and 1485, when riots forced King Vladislav II to flee the city. Originally the tower was known as the Mountain Tower, but ever since the structure was used as a gunpowder storage space in the 17th century, it is known as the 'Powder' Tower. The monumental tower was severely damaged during the Prussian occupation in 1757. It was finally rebuilt between 1875 and 1886 by Josef Mocker in its current gothic style. Next door to the Powder Tower is the National Theatre in the Municipal House - a cultural centre and concert hall - was built at the beginning of the 20th century in Art Nouveau Style. Every time we walked up to this building in the proceeding days Cam would ask ‘wow, what’s that building?’

We ventured through the old town and found ourselves in the Jewish Quarter, so we decided to pop into a synagogue. All the tourist attractions and sights in Prague are sign posted by brown signs that help you along the way, so when we came upon a very brightly coloured, gaudy looking building we thought we must not have reached the next sign yet. Cam popped across the road to see what it was and lo-and-behold it was the Jerusalem Synagogue we had been looking for. The synagogue was dedicated on 16 September 1906 during the festival of Simhat Torah. The decision to build the synagogue had been made at the time of the 50th anniversary of the accession of Franz Joseph I to the Austrian Throne; it was named the Jubilee Synagogue in his honour. The Jerusalem Synagogue is an interesting example of Art Nouveau stylisation of the morphology of the Moorish style. The ground plan of the synagogue comprises a basilica type triple-nave with two transverse wings. The main facade displays a large Islamic arch and a rosette window with the Star of David in the centre and a biblical verse along the perimeter: “This is the gateway to the Lord ��" the righteous shall enter through it” (Psalm 118:20). Inside the synagogue was a fascinating exhibition about Jews in the communist revolution.

When we got back outside it was a harsh realization of how cold it had become so we popped into another exhibition on our way back towards the bridge. It was an exhibition of photos of Prague through time, showing the destruction that the numerous flood caused to the bridges and buildings, and the extent of the renovations that have gone on in the city. The exhibition itself was in an underground passageway a kin to the caves in Edinburgh. As we wandered through the streets again we found ourselves amongst The Klementinum, it is the largest, and one of the most historic complex of buildings in the Old Town. Founded in 1232, the Klementinum covers over 2 hectares. It boasts a rich architectural evolution. Many of Europe's great astronomers, scientists, musicians and philosophers have worked here, influencing the development of this wonderful array of buildings.

The Charles Bridge is a stone Gothic bridge that connects the Old Town and Malá Strana. It was actually called the Stone Bridge (Kamenný most) during the first several centuries. Its construction was commissioned by Czech king and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV and began in 1357. In charge of the construction was architect Petr Parléř whose other works include the St. Vitus Cathedral at the Prague Castle. It is said that egg yolks were mixed into the mortar to strengthen the construction of the bridge. It was used as a royal thoroughfare from the castle to the old town square. There is a tower standing on each end of the bridge. Both the Staroměstská věž on the Old Town end and the Malostranská věž on the Malá Strana end can be climbed for a view of Prague and the bridge from above. A total of 30 Baroque Statues are positioned along the bridge and began to be placed on either side of Charles Bridge in the 17th century. Now many of them are copies, the most popular statue is probably the one of St. John of Nepomuk, a Czech martyr saint who was executed during the reign of Wenceslas IV by being thrown into the Vltava from the bridge. The plaque on the statue has been polished to a shine by countless people having touched it over the centuries. Touching the statue is supposed to bring good luck and ensure your return to Prague, and there were so many people lining up to do this we couldn’t get anywhere near the plaque.

St. Nicholas Cathedral in Lesser Town is one of the most beautiful buildings of Bohemia Baroque. Cathedral was designed by famous Baroque architect Krystof Dientzenhofer and after by his son Kilian Ignac Dientzenhofer. It was built 52 year. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart played the organ here during stay in Prague. At every cathedral in Prague there are concerts throughout the day, unfortunately we couldn’t get our timing right to catch a show. The beginnings of the imposing St Nicholas Cathedral that we see today go back to 1283, when the place of worship started its existence as a parish church under the name and protection of St. Nicholas.

By this time I had absolutely had enough of being out in the cold, so we headed back towards the square and had ourselves a ‘traditional’ Czech dinner. Cam had pork and chicken skewers and I had pork filled with chilli and feta, washed down with lots of local brew. I was appalled to find that they were charging paying customers to use the bathrooms, but we were to find that it is impossible to find a free public toilet in this town. We were exhausted from such a busy day so decided to call it a night.
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Prague
photo by: vulindlela