Prague Stories and Tips

The Charles Bridge and Mala Strana

The heights of Mala Strana from the Charles Bridge Photo, Prague, Czech Republic

Your first view of the Charles Bridge (Karlov Most) and the sweep of buildings in Mala Strana will take your breath away. After seeing this, other cities you have seen will seem staid and grey, and you will soone be dismissing them from your memory bank and swearing that Prague tops them all. Nowhere else in Europe is such a quilt of buildings so beautiful, there will be baroque domes, renaissance palaces, roccoco walls and row upon row of medieval rooftops. This is why you got on that plane, this is why you came to Europe, this is why you came to Prague....

To reach there take the excellent subway to Mustek (Museum) or Staromenska and walk to the river. The best approach is always from the river and you will be surprised how clear and wide the Vltava is. Once you reach the riverbank spread before you will be one of the most photogenic sights of Europe. Spanning the river is the medieval stone expanse of the Charles Bridge (Karlov Most)with dark spired towers at either end. Even from the river bank people will be visible crossing to Mala Strana and also the coal black statues of the saints that line the bridge. But its the heights of Mala Strana on the far bank that catch your attention. What can compare with the redness of the medieval roofs as they rise in a great sweep to Hradcany Castle. The great white Hrad is stretched along a hill with the dark spires of St Vitus Cathedral poking into the air from behind its towering walls. But it is the colours that are the most astonishing - red, yellow, white, light mauve and the emerald green of vegetation in what must be one of the greenest cities in Europe.

But your first stop will probably be the Charles Bridge. It's start on the Nove Mestro side is at Male Namesti. Its entrance is guarded by a brown tower which soars above the square overlooking the equestrian statue of Charles IV and the scarlet brickwork and bright green dome of Sv Francis Cathedral. As you walk onto the Most the view is stunning and the atmosphere festive. Numerous buskers dot the alcoves, artists purvey scenes of Prague from the stalls and everyone is caught up in the crowds. You can examine the black statues from up close or watch the river surge underneath. The popularity of the Bridge is such as that crowds really build up in summer. And you can almost crowd-surf from one side of the river to the other.

As you approach the Mala Stana side you can follow the crowds up to Hradcany Castle or explore the lesser quarter. One surprise as the bridge arcs over the island of Kampa is a working medieval watermill still churning the waters. But my advice is to lose yourself in the winding medieval streets of Mala Strana. Over by the French embassy on Maltezke you will find a wall daubed with a graffiti mural of John Lennon. Dating from the sixties whent this was drawn as a symbol of freedom against the communist authorities - the mural is peeling but worth a look. And if you wander down to Kampa the island contains a green park with stone quays where you can watch black swans swim in the river.

But my great find in Prague and a secret not known to many tourists were the Valshenskja palace and gardens (see photo). To find them go to the colourful square of Malostanske Nam and see where the tramlines disapear on its eastern side. There is a gap in the wall here which will take you directly into the gardens - and they are exquisite. Created by the bloodthirsty Count Waldenstein, one of the most powerful warlords in Bohemia, they are are an amazing baroque parkland. They contain trimmed hedges, carved topiary, lines of green classical statues, nymph filled grottoes and tinkling fountains. At the far end stands the palace of Waldenstein which has been converted into government offices but the loggia leading to them has frescoes of the siege of Troy on its ceiling.

One of my favourite places in Prague, I'm not sure I should be sharing, it was one of my secrets....

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