Saturday, 27 July 2013

Prague? Czech!

Craig Writes;
24/07/13 We arrived in Prague after a very relaxing five hours in our first class train carriage. The main station at Prague was quiet and almost quaint. A welcome relief after the chaotic vastness and the manicness of Berlin and Paris. We were met at the station by a very helpful older fella holding up a paper sign with what looked like our name scrawled across it. Our czech is non existent but fortunately his english was serviceable. So, after making sure we all had the right people we were all bundled, somehow, into his small Skoda and were powering down the back streets of Prague as he told us his story of how he had been living here for the last 18 years after escaping from Serbia during the brutality of the Croatian War of Independence in the early 1990's.  A harrowing tale.

He dropped us at the end of a 14th century cobbled road where we met Dragan, the owner of our Prague apartment and a very nice young fella. "Ten metres down there" he says pointing in the direction of the cobbled streets. Just as well I thought, I'm not sure the battered wheels of these cases could take more than ten metres of cobbled road. Ten metres turned into close to 150 and half way I gave up being worried and just thought, "stuff it, if they go they go". We made it intact and so did the cases. The apartment, like the cobblestones that ran past the front door, was 14th century. The first giveaway was the height of the door. It was like a trip back to Hobbiton in NZ. 

Gandalf hugs Bilbo after presenting him with a new hat

Hormones in the chicken have a lot to answer for.

One of the walls downstairs was left in original condition, unrendered and unpainted.  A nice little nod to the original inhabitants way back in the 1300's. The rooms weren't big, but hey, neither were they, but there was a really clever feature between the second and third floors. A 20mm glass ceiling between the second and third floor gave the illusion of space and let more light flow both ways. It also allowed for some interesting views.

Gives another meaning to looking up someones address
25/07/13 Prague is a hauntingly beautiful city. There are approx 1.3 million Pragueans and as you would expect of a city approaching it's 1100 and something birthday, it's got quite a colourful history. It was home to two Holy Roman Emperors and the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, it has the oldest functioning Astronomy Clock in Europe, the magnificent Charles bridge from the 1350's and of course the outstanding Prague castle. We went for a walk today to take some off these amazing sights.

Steep steps, made going into the city very easy, coming back is something else.
Some interesting street statues, we bought one of each

The city gets nearly four million tourist a year and it's not hard to see why.  While there was some damage sustained during the horrific bombing that shook Central Europe in the closing stages of WWII, thankfully the damage was minimal and the overwhelming number of churches, palaces and monuments are still in their full glory. 

Like Amsterdam the city is very easy to get around and difficult to get lost in. You can see the towering steeples of the various churches for miles. Our first objective was to walk to and cross the Charles Bridge built by King Charles the IV in 1357. We walked, or more likely dodged, weaved and shimmied, our way through the throng of tourists till we spilled out the other end and into the old city.

Trying to cross The Charles Bridge was a nightmare
It looks much better from this angle
We stopped to have lunch on the way which was fantastic. I'm trying to go as local as I can with everything, the beer, the meat platters and the strudel. It's hell. 
With the tanks refuelled we headed to the Old Astronomy clock near the main square and got there just in time to hear it strike three oclock.  On the hour, the twelve apostles make an appearance. Below and to one side you have Vanity, looking at himself in a mirror and standing next to The Miser holding a bag of gold, representing greed and usery.  On the other side is death, a golden skeleton who pulls a chain that rings the bell and a Turk who boasts of pleasure and entertainment.  They all jiggle or move as the clock strikes. It would have been most impressive back in 1410.
Quite amazing, the video looks better
From there we moved around into the main square. More stunning buildings, soaring Gothic towers, Romanesque rotundas and 16th century Renaissance buildings. A troupe of Czech musicians in original costume are playing up a storm as people stand around small round tables eating slabs of ham just carved from one of the numerous spits lining one side of the square. 
It is too my eternal shame that I did not force some of this fabulous pig into me
Generous thick slices of rye bread, mustards and large steins of cold beer all crammed onto the tiny table.  We were too full to contemplate the challenge and settled for a small cone of homemade Smurf ice cream before slowly winding our way back home.  
It looks like Smurf

It tastes like Smurf

26/07/13. Prague is a beautiful old place with a fairy tale kind of charm about it. There are many stunning churches and cathedrals to view but really, for us, we didn't need to see them all.  It was enough to be amongst it, to soak it up and bask in it without having to observe every last detail of it. 

So pretty
So pretty I'll say it twice
Sigh, words fail me
There's about six different architectural styles just in the one photo
The days had also become quite hot. In the mid 30's today and the high 30's for the next few days, so walking narrow cobblestoned streets in between tall stone buildings was not going to be all that comfortable. We stayed around the house and read, journaled and wrote. Apart from a short lunch run by me to a very nice little patisserie a few hundred metres down the road. We did venture out to the one other place we wanted to visit before we left, Prague Castle. We were told previously by Dragan, our host, that later in the day is better, cooler and less crowded. He was right on both counts. Prague Castle, at 70,000 square metres, is the largest ancient castle in the world. It dates back to 870AD. It has been the home to many Kings and Emperors including a couple of Holy Roman Emperors.  Like many ancient castles it has seen it's fair share of additions, fires burning bits down then being rebuilt, one King not liking anothers handy work so pulling a tower down here and building another one there.

Prague Castles front driveway

Nothing says WELCOME like a couple of murderous statues at your front gate
Prague Castle,s Cathedral

In 1918 the Castle became the seat of the President of the new Czechoslovakia. During WWII when the nazi's occupied Czechoslovakia the castle became the headquarters of Rienhard Heydrich. One of the architect of the extermination of the Jews.  There is an old legend that said that any usurper who dared to place the Bohemian Crown on his head would die within one year. Good old Heydrich did just that and less than one year later he was attacked by Czech fighters on his way to the castle and was mortally wounded.  Nice one Rienhard, you loser. 

27/07/13. With Prague Castle under our belt and the kids long ago had their fill of "old stuff". We once again had the proverbial lazy day and started a slow pack for our journey to Vienna.  

Goodbye Prague, you little beauty 

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