Even knowing that Prague was one of the few European cities that survived the world wars and that the medieval centre was intact, I hadn’t anticipated that stepping into Prague would be like stepping back several centuries in time. Everything in the historic centre has been preserved, nothing paved over. This made walking a bit of a challenge and I lost two heels before I gave up and wore flat walking shoes, even to the opera. Me.
On arrival, I had my usual list of must-do’s and promptly stepped out the hotel door and tossed plans to the wind. This was a town that needed wandering, meandering, soaking up.
The old town square and the astronomical clock are charming and there are countless cafe’s and brasseries on the square. The weather was gorgeous so I ate a great italian dinner outdoors, wandered around and got lost in the Prague vibe. In fact, most of the time I was there, I was lost; I discovered I have map dyslexia, and always walk in the direction opposite to that of my destination. Added to that was the delight locals seemed to take on sending tourists on wild goose chases, and taxi drivers who drive around in circles and charge $20 for what I discovered later was 3 blocks (this happened three times before I became independent).
The first two days I was in Prague were a madhouse of tour groups, but by Sunday those had completely cleared out making it much more pleasant to get around. I will post separately about all of the music I took in, but between concerts and the Prague Castle I managed to squeeze in a tour of the Klementinum, a former Jesuit monastery instituted in 1232 with a stunning chapel and an amazing library with over 20,000 original manuscripts. The monastary became a centre for astronomy and Johannes Kepler, a physics theorist, and other scientists, developed the laws of planetary motion here. Several instruments were developed, including the first instruments to measure relative humidity. The high tower reached by very crickety wooden stairs offered fabulous views of the city.
The Charles Bridge, the most prominent, famous and romantic bridge in the city crosses the Vltava River leading to the Prague Castle, which dominates the skyline. One day while I was crossing the Bridge there were rowing races taking place on the river. The bridge itself is filled with vendors of the Inner Harbour variety.
After climbing the hill and stairs to the medieval Prague Castle, I learned of a quick way to get back down to the town below: Fenestration. Heard of it? In 1618, Ferdinand II, King of Bohemia, yes, threw several of his political opponents out the window. Literally. Apparently, none of the recipients of this disembarkment died and they were rescued and protected by Queen Anna, spouse of Ferdinand I. This provoked the 30 years’ war, a battle between the Catholics (monarchy/Holy Roman Empire) and the Protestants (the people).
The Castle remains the seat of Parliament in this capital city of the Czech Republic.
This ancient palace had a different kind of beauty than the five Baroque palaces I have visited.
In St. George’s Basilica, an ancient Romanesque church whose present appearance dates from the 12th century, much art has been preserved, some of it surrounding the story of St. George and the dragon.
St. Vitas Cathedral is the most important historical site on the palace grounds and most important Czech cathedral. The body of St. King Wenceslas was first interred here in 920 AD (his crypt in the red, highly decorated side alter) and the gothic cathedral there now was built in the 15th and 16th centuries and added to further after that. There were several other crypts including the magnificent silver tomb of St. John of Nepomuk.
Also within the Palace grounds is the State Picture Gallery, including paintings by Reubens (did you know he was a professional and very successful diplomat his whole life in addition to painting) and other masters. One unusual painting was on a board of wood that had ridges cut into it like a fine corduroy. The artist then painted two paintings, one on one side of the ridge and the other on the second side of the ridge, so that when you look at the painting from the left you see a portrait of the Emperor and if you move to the right you will see portraits of other noblemen (no photos allowed).
There were many other interesting displays and buildings here and one could spend a couple of full days seeing them all. There was a chilly wind at the exposed palace, and a bowl of hot goulash was comforting.
Everywhere I have been on this trip, from Russia to Berlin to Prague, the restaurants all play the same repertoire: The Beatles, Abba and Louis Armstrong. Especially the Beatles. I had to seek out the John Lennon Wall here in Prague. Before the “velvet revolution” when Russia’s occupation of the country ended, this tribute to John Lennon was painted by the city’s graffiti artists. Russian troops removed the paintings every day, and each night the wall would be completely re-painted with the tributes. The wall became famous and everyone is eager to add their tribute to this day.