A March 2001 trip
to Prague by MichaelJM
Quote: This was one city vacation we'd always wanted to take, made better in the company of great friends.
The castle district is perhaps the most strenuous (because it’s uphill!), but the views from the top are superb. Enter, past the palace guards, who seem more than happy to pose for photographs, and you’ll have two courtyards to cross before being confronted by the awe-inspiring St Vitus Cathedral, with its hideous gargoyles and well-crafted flying buttresses. It’s hard to get a decent photograph of this magnificent cathedral, but just wait until you get inside; it is wonderfully decorated, with intricate Gothic vaulting, colourful stained-glass windows, and beautifully worked mosaics. The tomb of St Wenceslas is also here – this is amazingly ornate, and I stood here transfixed (friends thought I’d gotten lost!)
Golden Lane is full of brightly coloured higgledy-piggledy houses, built in the late 1500s for the castle guards. While you’re up here, keep an eye out for the changing of the guards as they strut their way down the cobbled streets.
In the little quarter, the Church of St Nicholas is well worth a visit. There are some amazing frescoes, probably the most ornate pulpit I’ve ever seen, and a stupendous baroque organ overseen by a beautiful fresco, not to mention the architectural delights on the outside.
Near to Charles Bridge (I’ve written about that separately) is the Grand Priory Mill, with its restored wheel that turns ponderously in the static waters. Just down the road from here is the disappointing homage to John Lennon, a wall with a mural of John Lennon mainly obscured by the graffiti of "fans" (not always complimentary).
Our biggest disappointment was Wenceslas Square. Dominating the 800-yard rectangle is the 1900s statue of Wenceslas, and below it is a simple, yet poignant, reminder in the form of a "makeshift" shrine of the death of Jan Palach, who burnt himself to death in a dramatic protest against communism. Now that is staggeringly moving. The National Museum oversees the square from the top, and buildings with interesting facades line the street.
Check out the Church of St Cyril with its bullet-scars from the German invasion of 1942 and look up for the art nouveau sculptures that adorn several of the buildings.
You will need a good map, and I suggest that Prague is one of those towns in which you need to do some careful route planning; otherwise you’ll miss some of the hidden treasures.
Shop for Czech specialties: glassware, puppets, "Russian dolls," ceramics, costume jewellery, and classical music CD’s. Keep your eye out for Absinthe and Becherovka, a local herbal liqueur. Remember, you may be able to reclaim your tax payments.
The Prague metro is also convenient, but although you might wish to have the experience, the best way to travel, in my view, is always above ground. That, after all, is where the sights are.
Taxis are readily available, but the advice seems to be to avoid them unless you have agreed on the price before you get into the cab – apparently there are many who try to rip off tourists (well there’s a surprise!).
From the airport, I’d recommend a taxi – it’s quicker than the bus or train, and if there are four of you, it is as cheap.
However, the only sensible way to get around Prague is to walk. Much of the town is pedestrianised, and we found it to be fairly easy walking. Certainly it’s the only way to ensure that you see everything.
We’d made our booking through a Prague Travel company and were collected from the airport and driven to the hotel door (booking through the Internet had been much cheaper than a direct arrangement with the hotel). The hotel has obviously been created out of more than one building and what would have been an open courtyard has been created into a magnificent atrium. It is now an extremely light, bright, and modern hotel with some outrageously extravagant modern art installations.
The bedrooms are arranged around the enclosed courtyard and have the appearance of a modern block of cells. The en-suite rooms are basic and functional and not recommended if you want to spend more than sleeping time in your hotel. The do have a somewhat clinical presentation to them and are well fitted out in a utilitarian fashion. However, although this is a fair description of the hotel, I want to stress that all of the staff members were extremely friendly and obliging, and we did feel very comfortable in this establishment.
Although English was not their strength, we did manage to understand and be understood, and the hotel did have a good range of local tourist information and were able to recommend restaurants to us. You can’t buy a drink in the hotel, and there were no facilities in the bedroom. We were thankful that our friends had bought a travel kettle with them for that early evening coffee with a wee dram!
There were no dining facilities here, but it was close enough to restaurants and the ground floor had a very airy breakfast room. Breakfast was served buffet-style and can best be described as plentiful and adequate, but a little boring. There was extremely strong percolated coffee or a do-it-yourself cup of tea together with hard boiled eggs, cold meats, cheeses, bread rolls, and some less-than-average jams. In the afternoons, the hotel puts on a complimentary afternoon tea with hot drinks, biscuits, and pastries. We stumbled across this one afternoon, but most days we were out until early evening, preferring to take tea and cakes in the local restaurants. Still, it’s a nice touch from the hotel.
But check out the decor. There is an amazing giant white origami mobile hanging in the main hall, set off quite beautifully by delicate plants hanging over the black metal railings. The bright red settees and the huge ‘60s-type art installations adorning the walls all compliment this modern retro hotel enclosed within the Renaissance-styled exterior.
We thought that the Hotel Sax offered a decent value in what can be quite an expensive city for hotels.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on December 15, 2004
Jansky vrsek 3 323
Prague, Czech Republic
420 2 575 30173
Attraction | "Charles Bridge (Karluv Most)"
The bridge, built in the mid-1300s by (yes, you’ve guessed) Charles IV, is an amazing structure to have survived all those years and the torrent of the mighty river below. In its day, it would have carried all the traffic between the old town and the little quarter with up to four carriages abreast. Now it only takes foot-travellers!
Originally there was a single simple cross on the bridge - now there are 30 statues and countless street lamps. The earliest statue is from the early 1600s, and the most modern is 1938, although I was a little disappointed to read that most of the sculptures are copies and were erected to ensure the preservation of the original pieces. Understandable I guess.
We entered for the Little Quarter Side, through the arch separating the 12th-century Judith and the taller Little Quarter Bridge Towers. These two towers, alongside the Old Bridge Tower at the other end, have a classic pinnacled wedge spire, as early fortifications would have protected the town from any attempts to enter via the river. There are too many statues to mention, but I would suggest you keep an eye out for the earliest one (1638) to St John Nepomuk. This has a carved plaque depicting the martyrdom of the aforementioned saint, which has a brightly polished section that people have rubbed for good luck. Poppycock – but I joined the queue to have a quick rub. You can’t be too careful, can you?
St Wenceslas, St Vitus, St Luitgard (said to be artistically the best), St Francis of Assisi, and St John the Baptist are all worth a longer linger, but if you’re like me, you’ll want to study them all and enjoy the ambiance of life on the bridge. Climb the gothic Old Town Bridge Tower and enjoy some superb views of the castle, the little quarter, and of course, the classic view of Charles Bridge. Don’t forget to appreciate the internal splendour of the tower itself whilst there!
Do make sure that you visit at night because then the place takes on a different feel, and the lights of the town are supreme when viewed from the bridge.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 17, 2004
Prague, Czech Republic 110 00
Attraction | "Astronomical Clock & the Old Town Square"
The Town Hall Clock is the focal point of the Old Town, and large crowds congregate hourly to see the clock "perform." This amazing mechanical artistry was built in 1490, and it is rumoured that the political masters blinded the creator to ensure that the clock was not created elsewhere. I’m not sure that I like that story, but it is fair to say that the clock is truly unique. On the hour, the figure of death tugs on a rope and then raises an hourglass to start the procession of the apostles (with the absence of Judas) led by St Peter. When the procession has completed its circuit, a cock crows, the clock strikes the hour, and the crowd applauds. I understood that part of the clock, but there is an additional feature of a complex astronomical clock and an elaborate mechanical calendar. It’s a great spectacle and a magnificent 500-year-old piece of workmanship. Below the clock is the entrance to the Town Hall, a superbly carved Gothic door set into an amazingly carved archway.
Directly in front of you, on the east side of the square, is the Church of Our Lady before Týn. This Gothic Church, with its fairy-castle type steeples, dominates the square and boasts an incredible solid gold effigy of the Virgin Mary. To the left of the church is the medieval House of the Stone Bell at the side of the impressively restored Golz-Kinský Palace, with its beautiful pink-and-white stucco facade augmented by elaborate statues flanking the roof.
The massive free-flowing Jan Hus Monument was created in 1915 to recognise the 500th anniversary of the burning at the stake of Hus, a religious reformer feared by his contemporaries. Opposite this impressive sculpture are the colourful houses, with their roof styles contesting for your attention. I reckon everyone is different, but if that is not enough, the majority of them have the added bonus of a fascinating house sign sculpted into the wall. There are such signs as "the ox," "stone ram," "blue star," "red fox" and the "golden unicorn;" most have a sign, but not all are easy to see.
I particularly liked the Art Nouveau building on the north side, with its highly decorated upper facade overseen on either side by proud statues with their arms aloft. Alongside that stands the Church of St Nicholas, with its green, domed roofs and impressive columns.
The square is a delight and a confusion of architectural designs. We all loved it.
Old Town Hall/Astronomical Clock
Old Town Square
Prague, Czech Republic
Attraction | "The Jewish Quarter"
This was the original medieval burial site for Prague’s Jewish ghetto, and although it’s been slightly enlarged over the years, it is effectively the only place that Jews could be buried until the 1780s (the last burial was in 1787). It is hard to believe, but in this small site there are believed to be over 100,000 people with at least 12,000 gravestones. Bodies are said to be at least 12 feet deep, and the gravestones are propped up against each other. It’s a fairly awesome sight. At the perimeter of the graveyard is the Pinkas synagogue, the second oldest (1479) in Prague. Be prepared—this is a harrowing experience, as the walls in the vaults have been engraved with the names of all the Czech Jews who were imprisoned in Terezin concentration camp before being deported to Nazi extermination camps. There are over 77,000 names of those who did not return. Additionally, there is an exhibition on the first floor of artwork from the children who were slaughtered. They were given paper and crayons and encouraged to draw pictures to be sent back to their villages, showing how great life was in their camps. I saw many a person wiping tears from their eyes.
The Old-New Synagogue (there’s a snappy title), built in 1270, is the oldest synagogue in Europe and has survived everything that history has thrown at it, including fires and a slum clearance programme of all surrounding properties. I was immediately impressed with the nave and the simple, yet stylish pews and the low-slung bronze chandeliers. Overseeing the congregation is the ancient ark containing the sacred scrolls. It truly has the atmosphere of a holy place, and tourists should feel privileged to be allowed "visiting rights".
The Spanish Synagogue has to be a favourite, with its Moorish appearance and bright colours. The internal decoration is absolutely superb, and the stucco decorations, intricate carvings, and magnificent high dome make for an uplifting experience. There is a permanent exhibition detailing the history of Bohemian Jews, but I really preferred to take in the ambience of the main church.
You will not fail to notice the grand pink and white building, with its strange green steeple on top of a wooden clock tower. This is the Jewish town hall. Other buildings to keep watch for are the "Cubist Houses" on Elisky Krasonhorske—robust looking properties with pragmatic sculptures standing sentry duty at the side of simple window frames. A strange but fascinating architectural style.
I puttered around this section for most of the afternoon, popping into synagogues en route and exploring small alleyways, wondering how determined the oppressed generations must have been to survive in their faith.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 19, 2004
Prague, Czech Republic 110 00
+420 2 231 0302, +42