Today we were well-rested and ready to hit the streets of Prague. But first we ate breakfast at the hostel…which is a hotel with hostel rooms, so it’s set up like a hotel. That means the breakfast wasn’t included, but the restaurant’s breakfast menu looked good and cheap. Justine had pancakes & coffee. Kristin had a ham & cheese omelette with tea. It was basically our favorite things and therefor a great start to the day 🙂
The rest of our day was spend on Sandemans walking tours. We walked to the Starbucks in Old Town Square, not for a drink but because it is the meeting point for the free city tour. We had a very pleasant guide named Amy who was from Texas but moved to Prague with her husband after they visited & really loved the city. She was uber perky & animated, which made her a great guide! Are you ready for the Prague highlights? Well they are coming at you either way….
We started in the middle of Old Town Square and did the pivot tour. Amy pointed out all of the different types of architecture (Prague is full of gorgeous buildings built in every time period & style you could name!). In the pictures below try to pick out which is which! There was baroque, gothic, neo-classical, and what square would be complete without a little Disney-style?
That there church, sticking out over the tops of other buildings looking like Walt may have had a hand in it’s design, is Tyn Church. This church is from the 14th century and it’s towers are 80m high. With the four small spires on top it definitely looks like a Disney villain could live up there. You may notice that the towers are not the same size though. The project ran out of money at the end and they cut costs by downsizing that last tower by a tiny bit!
Also in Old Town Square is St. Nicholas Church, the Jan Hus Memorial & the Astronomical Clock. The Jan Hus was a Czech philosopher & Hussit (who were early protestants) who was burned at the stake by the Catholic Church. The astronomical, astrological clock was installed in 1410. It is the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the only one still working. The clock is able to tell you the position of the sun & moon in the sky, the phase of the moon, the current month & zodiac sign and, of course, the time…though there is too much going on on the clock for any modern person to actually be able to figure out the time. Every hour on the hour the clock puts on a show! “The Walk of the Apostles” features the apostles circling past an open window and other moving sculptures striking the time…its really a bit of a let down. But then, the show ends with a trumpeter playing from the top of the tower. He’s dressed in a traditional jester costume and is hired to just play his trumpet song three times on the hour, every hour. He was kind of fun 🙂
Another gorgeous gothic sight was the Powder Tower. It dates from 1475 and was one of the 13 gates into the old city of Prague. When the new town was built they tore down the wall (you don’t need to defend your town from another part of your town) but left this tower. It was then used to store gun powder…which is where the name comes from.
The Metronome is a giant, functional metronome overlooking the river and city centre. Slightly odd? The platform the metronome stands on once held an enormous monument. A 75 foot tall statue of Joseph Stalin was built here under early communist rule. The statue was destroyed (with a lot of dynamite) only 7 years after it was built. Why they replaced it with a metronome we weren’t told and didn’t think to ask until we were writing this post…
Mozart loved Prague. The people of Vienna claimed his music was too complicated with too many notes, so he ventured north to Prague. The people here loved him and actually gave Mozart a 30 minute standing ovation when he first played Figaro at the Estates Theatre. Mozart debuted Don Giovanni at this theatre and the people of Prague built this creepy statue in his honor. The statue is a ghost from Don Giovanni.
We also passed through the Jewish Quarter and Wenceslas Square, but more on those tomorrow.
As usual, the guide ended the tour with a really epic story (to pump you up to give them a good tip). She told us about how the Czech Revolutionaries battled the Nazis for 3 days after WWII ended and eventually bartered with them to kick them out of their city. The Revolutionaries fought the Germans for two days with the balance constantly swinging back & forth. A final shift happened when a Scottish POW got a help message out to the Allies, stating that the Nazis were now threatening to bomb the city, and the Soviet army was scouted only a days march away. A deal was actually made to let the Nazis leave unharmed before the major players arrived in exchange for not bombing the city. It was a great tale of bravery that ended with 30,000 untrained malita chasing 90,000 Nazi soilders out of Prague before the Soviet army could even get there to liberate them. Awesome!
Our plan for the afternoon was to visit the castle & surrounding area. Conveniently Sandemans offered a Castle Tour (of the grounds and area) that started right at the end point of our free tour only 30 minutes later. We jumped on this! You know we love a good walking tour…you can look at things by yourself all you like, but they mean so much more when you have someone telling you about the history, backstory & people!
Prague Castle is the largest castle in the world. It covers an area of approx 18 acres. The castle dates back to the 9th century and the foundations of the Basilica of Saint George and the Basilica of St. Vitus were laid in the 10th century. The Kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman Emperors and the presidents of Czechoslovakia and now the Czech Republic have had their offices here. Even the Nazis and Communists used the castle as their headquarters. Each monarch who lived in the castle added their own additions. For this reason, the castle looks more like a mish-mash of palaces, churches, towers and original castle remnants. Today the castle is made of 4 churches, 4 palaces, 5 halls, 8 other buildings and 5 gardens.
St. George’s Basilica is the oldest building in the castle. It was founded in 920. This means the style is very romanesque…until a baroque front was added to the church in the 17th century. It fails to blend in harmoniously with the old church behind it.
St. Vitas Cathedral was founded in 1344, however it wasn’t completed until 1923! Over 600 years there was never enough money to complete the cathedral. The church was completed in the gothic style it was begun in but the architects who finally finished the cathedral added a bit of themselves to the design. Carvings of 20th century men in business suits can be spotted on the front just below the rose window. Also note that due to the constant lack of funds almost all of the platforms meant for saintly statues are empty.
We haven’t mentioned any food yet today. For lunch the tour brought us to Bohemia Bagel, which has the prestige of being the first place to sell bagels in the Czech Republic. We each munched on a delicious fried egg, bacon & cheese bagel that was deliciously American…and just what we’ve been missing! In the afternoon we had a piece of traditional Czech honey cake a bakery we stopped at on the castle tour. And by the time we got back to the castle we were so tired & chilled from walking outside all day that we ate supper there. We chowed down on piping hot beef goulash, Czech-style, in a bread bowl. We then complimented it with happy hour pina coladas, cause that’s a traditional Czech drink, right? The food photo taking may have been forgotten about through most of the day, but we did remember halfway through supper…
Things We Learned Today:
– The people of Czech used to have to name their kid based on what day they were born. There was 1 boys & 1 girls name for each day of the year and you were required to use that name…they are even featured on a separate circle of the clock (it’s the bottom, white circle). Now a days you have the choice of names, but most people still choose one of the names from the clock…you actually have to get a nurses permission to use an original name.
– St Vitus (who you will recall was the patron saint of the castle church) was the saint of actors, comedians and epilepsy…because thsee fit together… He also was the guy to pray to to prevent being struck by lightning, attacked by an animal and oversleeping. While it may be the lamest, oversleeping is probably what he has to deal with most.
– Just as the French loved their guillotine, the English loved the axe and everyone liked a good hanging, the Czech of a fun history of defenestration. Twice in their history the Protestants have used this technique to dispose of Catholic leaders. What is defenestration, you ask? Throwing someone out of a window of course!
And as a random closing question: What is the first thing you notice when you look at this picture?
Was it the sprawling castle? Perhaps the huge gothic cathedral? Or, like us, did you first notice the ad for the jam cookies!
Love, Luck & Long Walks,