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Published: April 27th 2008
Another Food Picture
Next to the tiny hotel lobby was the breakfast room. It wasn't quite up to the German Fruhstucks but we found plenty to eat.
Even though I consumed almost a gallon of Prague’s finest brews last night, I didn’t wake with any semblance of a hangover. We did choose to sleep in though. A late night combined with the knowledge that our first tourist stop (Prague Castle) wouldn’t open until 9:30 convinced me that I needed to rest up a bit before my proposed full day drive on Christmas Day.
Once again we began our day with complimentary breakfast in the hotel. The Tivoli’s breakfast paled in comparison to the sumptuous offerings at the Agon and Ralf’s place, but as long as there were soft-boiled eggs, cold cuts and rolls for me and hot coffee for Gail, we were satisfied. The only disappointment was the poor excuse for orange juice they offered. Even Tang would’ve been tastier than the orange-tinted water we got. Generally speaking, real orange juice is not a European breakfast staple.
Today we would be doing no driving. As far as I was concerned there was little need to plan for the day. We would head up to Prague Castle
overlooking the city then make our way across the picturesque Charles Bridge into the Old Town. My guidebooks showed that most
Gail's #1 Priority
This nifty machine dispensed coffee, tea and hot chocolate. Like the German's, the Czech's keep these little mini-trashcans on the breakfast table for Abfall (garbage).
of the tourist sites were located in a rather small area.
We walked around the corner to the nearest subway stop (I.P. Pavlova). First order of business was finding an ATM. Fortunately, throughout Europe the ATMs are programmed in English so that even the dopey Americans can figure out how to withdraw money to spend in that country. After that it was time to decipher the Prague Metro
system. As we stood at one of the automated ticket machines trying to determine what kind of tickets we might need, three British lasses stopped to help us. They said that the easiest and cheapest way to go was with an All-Day Transport Pass. For a mere 100 Kč or around $5.00 we had unlimited use of the subway, trams and buses. At the time it sounded like good advice, but as things turned-out we barely used the transport system - everything we saw that day was within easy walking distance.
To get to the castle we needed to take the Green Line Metro to the Muzeum stop, then transfer to the Red Line. From there we would go three stops to the Malostranska stop. It was extremely easy. The Prague
It may look like anti-skid material or a test pattern on TV, but it's actually the walls of the subway stop near our hotel. Judging by this you'd think the system was deserted but we waited a long while until a train came. In that time the tube filled with people. On the train it was packed.
Metro is simple to negotiate and if it hadn’t been for all the ads with oddly accented writing, one might have assumed we were in Washington DC or London.
When the rather full subway car arrived at our final stop it almost totally emptied as all the tourists headed out toward Prague Castle. Following the crowd we got in line for a tram that took us up the hill to the castle. It was an overcast and chilly morning but the tourists were out in full force as we entered the castle grounds.
Once again this castle featured a bevy of museums. And once again as tour guide I steered us away from them. I know I’m depriving the rest of the group of a lot of culture, but none of us are art experts and nobody was dieing to see any particular exhibit. Once you’ve seen the Louvre, the Prado and the Rijksmuseum who really needs to see anything else? Consulting my printout of Frommer’s walking tour of Prague Castle we found our way past a host of statues while skirting by a good number of attractions posting admission prices. There looked to be plenty of stuff
We had to wait for a second tram to arrive in order to hitch a ride up to the castle. It was standing room only inside. At least it was nice and warm.
to see and do without forking out more Korunas.
So what did we decide to see first? Another cathedral of course. At this point I’m beginning to think there isn’t a church in Europe we haven’t been in. Cassie groaned as we got in line to enter St. Vitus Cathedral. She would’ve been happier going in an art museum. While waiting in the long line we were continuously jostled by extremely rude, forceful people. I thought they were Czechs sightseeing on this Christmas Eve, but Gen told us they were Russians on holiday. I was getting sore elbows nudging them out of my way.
The interior of the church was immense. It is constructed in the Gothic style and features the high vault so prevalent in English Gothic churches. It was very reminiscent of York Cathedral, but on a smaller scale. Actually the cathedral isn’t totally Gothic. Work on it continued from its initial construction in 1344 until early in the Twentieth Century. The Reformation and the subsequent religious wars that resulted stalled work for decades. Some of the later additions to the church are Neo-Gothic with traces of Baroque and Renaissance elements. Since it was colder inside
In order to get to Prague Castle we had to take two subway lines then, following the crowd of tourists, head to the tram stop for a ride up the castle hill. All of this was covered by the cost of our 24 hour transport pass.
the church than it was outside we raced through. Like many of the cathedrals in Britain, this church also contained some impressive tombs. But not knowing much of the history of the Czech Republic it was impossible to fathom the significance of who was interred within. Apparently a few saints are also buried inside. Now I wish we had had a tour guide to point out the most important facets of the building and its history. I’ve only now learned that the crypt below the high altar is where Czech royalty lie.
Outside the cathedral we spent some time taking photos of the cathedral exterior as well as the surrounding palace buildings comprising the castle complex. It appeared that many of the visitors strolling around the grounds were locals who were off work on Christmas Eve. There were many people walking around with their dogs and baby carriages. Even though it was a cold overcast day the castle buildings still exuded a warm glow due to their vibrant color schemes. For a one-time boring communist nation the Czechs do seem to have a lot of flair. Judging by their reckless driving, love for beer and wine and wild color
Bypassing the Museums
As soon as you get off the tram in front of the castle you find yourself in front of a couple museums. While the Lunds were more than willing to ignore spending a day inside an old building evidently many other tourists weren't. At the very end of this cobblestone street stood the guardposts.
schemes I’d consider them the Latinos of the ex-Iron Curtain countries.
Since we had gone almost three hours into the day and hadn’t bought anything yet, it was now time to shop. Fortunately for us there were a good number of tourist shops within the castle walls. The first place we visited was aimed at the pocketbooks of the richest American tourists. It was full of vastly over-priced linens, pottery and statues. There wasn’t much of anything under $50 inside. We were out of there in short order.
Tour guide Tyler utilizing our printout from Frommer directed us to Zlatá ulicka (Golden Lane). This area of the castle was where the troops were stationed and is considered by our guide notes to be the most charming section - probably in order to lure the tourists over to the souvenir shops here. We spent almost an hour checking-out every single item in the shops. We left with a photo frame, postcards, a fancy candle, a Czech flag lapel pin and of course, a bell for our ever increasing collection. I had hoped to find something in English that concisely told the history of the castle and Czech Republic, but
St. Vitus Cathedral
Or as the Czechs call it: "KatedrÃ¡la svatÃ©ho VÃta". The cathedral sits smack dab in the middle of the castle complex. It is the seat of the Archbishopric of Prague.
never found anything that could help me understand exactly what this castle represented.
The last stop on our walk through the castle area was to head for the terrace just outside the castle walls. From it you get a panoramic view down into the rest of the city with the historic and picturesque Old Town lying at the far end of the Charles Bridge. It was wall to wall people battling to get to the edge of the wall. Everyone dreamed of getting that one great photo looking down into town. I was pushed and nudged more than a few times. When one particularly greasy-looking dude in bright red sneakers got much too close to me for comfort, I nailed him with a well-placed elbow to his side as he pushed forward. When he turned around I gave him my best Mr. Badass stare. He promptly apologized in English then moved off in a totally different direction.
When I eventually extricated myself from the mob of people crushed-up against the wall, I spotted Gail looking pale as a ghost. As soon as I approached her she told me she had been pick pocketed while standing in the crowd.
The Walls of Prazsky Hrad
Prague Castle is one of the biggest in the World. It started as an earthen fort in the 9th Century and was enlarged countless times during the Middle Ages.
She said she felt herself get jostled and pushed. A few seconds later a guy told her that our passports which had been in her purse were lying on the ground. She told me that she had them stuffed deeply in her purse. Someone had to have been rooting around deeply into her purse to be able to spill them out onto the ground. Fortunately for us, they picked the wrong American tourists to shoplift - we never have any cash except for a few bucks in our pockets or moneybelt.
I said “Was it a guy wearing bright red sneakers?” She said it was. Gen and Tyler looked around and spotted him for us. He was with his “gang”. Besides Yuri Red Sneakers, there was also Jaromir Green Shoes and Vaclav Filthy Leather Jacket. They calmly came strolling by us. As they passed we stared at them and took photos. Gen swore at them in Russian. They just laughed and proceeded down the long series of steps heading down off the castle hill. Meanwhile, the placid palace guards simply stood by at rigid (in)attention staring off into space.
Since the rest of the day’s activities were situated
Guards in Training
The stoic guards at Prague Castle are one of the main draws for tourists. People pester them and make idiotic poses next to them hoping to impress their friends. This guy was pretty good at ignoring all the knuckleheads yucking it up around him. Our guidenotes said that these uniforms were designed by the set designer of the movie "Amadeus".
in the Old Town, we also proceeded down the long and winding road off the hill. We soon lost contact with Little Red Riding Sneakers and his band of Merry Men. We headed toward the Charles Bridge. Our route took us past a good number of intriguing restaurants and bars - all of which were closed. As we drew near the bridge we found that we had to veer a couple of hundred yards west in order to gain access to the entrance to the bridge that we wished to use to go eastward. As we headed under the bridge arches we took time to stop in a fascinating little puppet shop where I bought a marionette for our travel room (the den). Only a few steps from there we found a tacky souvenir shop with the friendliest person in Prague working there. It turned-out that she was actually Ukrainian. When I saw a shelf full of Disney character nesting dolls, I decided to get my co-worker Charlie’s daughter the Little Mermaid set of dolls. We got a couple of other little trinkets too.
When Gail and I got out of the shop we got annoyed stares from the
Just One of Many Courtyards
After walking past the guard and through the gate into the castle we found ourselves in this square. Most of the tourists headed to our right where another museum is located. Instead we found our way toward another courtyard where the cathedral sists.
rest of our group. They were getting a little tired of our shopping detours. Ignoring the many antique and collectible stores all around us we finally found our way to the steps leading onto Karlovy Most (Charles Bridge). Like the castle the bridge was jam-packed with tourists. Gail, still upset about the pick pocketing incident, closely clutched her purse and did her best to stay away from the hordes very slowly meandering across the bridge. The bridge is lined with scores of statues depicting saints and religious figures. On a prettier day we might have spent more time gazing down into the waters of the Vltava River or stood off to the sides people-watching, but it was really cold walking over the bridge. Besides, at this point Gail pretty much had soured completely on Prague. She was giving her shoulders muscle spasms clutching her purse so tightly.
As we came off the bridge into the Old Town we found ourselves in the Czech version of South of the Border. Every store was hawking cheap souvenirs and knock-off merchandise. Of course, we still had to check-out every other shop. Gail picked-up the usual handful of postcards and other little trinkets.
The Rose Window
This is the west entrance to St. Vitus Cathedral. Above the door is the Rose Window depicting the Creation.
I was tempted by a very tacky looking unlicensed Philadelphia Flyers nesting dolls set, but decided I’d find it cheaper elsewhere ( Never saw it again). The store had all kinds of NFL, MLB and NBA team dolls too. None carried the leagues; seal of approval. Copyright laws must not be enforced here.
I’m not really sure how we ended-up off the beaten path but somehow we were soon walking down much narrower streets with very few tourists and gawkers milling about. When we spotted a restaurant which was certified to serve “typical Czech dishes”, we ducked inside for lunch. We had an unmemorable but adequate meal. I had Gulaschsuppe and most of the rest had Strudel. More Czech beer was the main draw. It still wasn’t the best beer I’ve tasted but it was cheaper than Cassie’s Coke and the flavor was beginning to grow on me.
Tyler took over as tour guide. Still using those sheets of printouts he guided us into the Staromestske Namesti, a big square centered on the old marketplace. Our tour guide directed us to positions in the center of yet another big crowd of Russian tourists. It took me a few
Going to Church
We had plenty of time to explore the decorations on the church facade as we stood in a long line that wound around the corner of the building. This is right above the main entrance door.
minutes to understand why we were standing still out in the freezing cold just waiting to become victims of more pickpockets. The big attraction in this particular corner was the astronomical clock (Prazsky orloj). It stands outside the town hall rather than inside a cathedral such as the ones we’ve seen in Strasbourg and Lund. Like those other clocks the chiming of the hour means a mechanical procession of saints and devils parading out from inside the clock. The show includes a skeleton, the symbol of death, with one hand ringing a bell and the second overturning an hourglass. In addition to this, there are two allegories of Vice (Avarice and Vanity) that shake their heads in disapproval, as well as the personage of the Turk, which is a reminder of the Turkish invasion of Central Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the windows of the upper part of the clock, the 12 apostles slowly meander outside . After they finally disappear, the shutters of the clock close once again. A rooster on the peak flaps its wings and crows, and the bells resound as the clock strikes the hour. I really didn’t concentrate so much on this
The cathedral seemed so huge on the exterior but inside it seemed narrow and almost small. The vault is notable for its height. However the aisles are not visible here.
show as I was busy making sure nobody was inching too close to the rest of our group. Once bitten twice shy. Tyler might be the new tour leader, but I elected myself chief of security.
Very nearby in this same square a Christmas Market was occurring. We bumped and jostled through another huge crowd inching their way through the rows of stalls. There were even more folks out walking their well-behaved dogs as darkness began to descend at 4:30. Gen and Tyler went off looking for a WC then got lost. Or maybe it was me that got lost. We eventually met up in the center of the square still unable to find a toilet. As Tyler started to direct us to another must-see somewhere off the square, Gen spotted a bathroom. Everyone rushed to take advantage. As they say in Prague, “You don’t buy a Czech Pilsner; you rent it.”
Tyler led us through the maze of old streets past the stores closing up for the Christmas Holidays and into the Jewish Quarter. After a few false turns and incorrect identifications of buildings we finally found the object of his quest. Tucked away behind large concrete
security blocks was the Old-New Synagogue which dates from the late 13th Century. It is the oldest Jewish synagogue in Eastern Europe. It’s located in the area known as the Jewish Ghetto. But from what we could see in this rather dimly lit part of town there wasn’t much else to see. During daylight hours and when the shops were still open perhaps it might have been interesting. Instead, we felt very much on edge in what we were starting to believe was a crime-ridden, mostly unfriendly town.
But our guide ventured on undaunted. He took us through blocks full of unremarkable apartment buildings and run-down warehouses before finally bringing us out on a well-lit major road. Just another block from there we walked into Wencelas Square. This is Prague’s Times Square. Whenever a major event like a protest against the Commies or a hockey victory against the Russians took place Wenceslas Square was where hundreds of thousands of Czechs would assemble. It’s more of a wide boulevard than a square and it isn’t particularly pretty, but it was the site of many important Czech events so we stopped for photos. It was here that Alois Jirásek read the
The stained glass windows of the cathedral are primarily 20th Century works and are great examples of the skils of modern Czech glass artisans.
proclamation of independence of Czechoslovakia in front of the Saint Wenceslas statue. Even though almost every business in the area was closed for Christmas Eve there were still crowds of people wandering around.
We had dinner reservations for a brewpub in this area, but we had almost two hours until we were expected. Tyler marched us back toward our hotel. By now I was very confused about our geographic position. Since we left the synagogue I would’ve sworn we were going north and way from our hotel. Tyler led us in that same direction. I thought he was trying to get us to a metro stop but somehow after just a couple blocks hike we were standing in front of our hotel. While the others in our group raced up to their rooms for a quick nap I hurried to consult a map. I normally have a very good sense of direction but I was totally flummoxed on this one.
When it was time to go to dinner we returned via the subway to St. Wencelas Square. We had little trouble finding Novomestsky Pivovar
. The place was definitely more tourist-oriented than last night’s brewpub and also much bigger.
Typically English Gothic
If it weren't for the Czech flags hanging here I might have thought this was shot inside York Cathedral.
It looked very alpine inside because of the preponderance of wooden furniture, paneling and floors. It was also very smoky. Fortunately, we were led upstairs to the non-smoking area, which was more of a hallway than a room. And once again we were seated next to a table full of Russian tourists. After sitting down and ordering our liter glasses of beer we had a hard time carrying on a conversation at our own table because the Russkies were so loud and obnoxious. Gen, our Russian translator, eavesdropped a bit and told us that they were probably peasants who were on their first and only trip out of Mother Russia. She said their speech was coarse and hard to follow. Judging by the amount of noise they were making and their raucous behavior I had to agree. By the time our food arrived the peasant feast had pretty much broken-up and half the group left. Time for more beers for us. I had some sort of pork medallions with mushroom sauce and potato pancakes. An almost lethal combo with my beer. If I recall correctly the Czech name for it was "Vepřová medailonky prakého mocnáře (vepřova panenka, houbová omáčka). The
Someone's Always Watching You
The locals attending church here back in the Middle Ages must've been afraid to fall asleep in church. Everywhere you turn there are statues or portraits of Popes and saints staring down on you. Even in daylight the interior seemed dark and eerie.
dinner was filling and very good, but not quite as good as the previous evening. The same with the beer. Pivovarsky Dum, the previous night’s restaurant, had been recommended by the locals while this place was a popular spot for the tourists. Heading to the bathrooms after our second liters of beer, we had to go down a couple flights of stairs into the basement. There wasn’t an empty table in the place. They had a little souvenir shop with memorabilia of the brewpub but it all looked junkier than the items I saw at Pivovarsky Dum. We paid tourist prices for dinner: 2442 Koruna or $150.00. Almost double the price of the night before.
After dinner we took a few more pictures in Wenceslas Square. When we got back to the hotel I wasn’t ready for bed yet. Gail and I decided to head back to Pivovarsky Dum so I could get a polo shirt that I had seen there the night before. By now it was a rather cold half mile walk to the place, but it was so quiet and the streets so deserted that we felt completely safe. When we got to the brewpub it
Clean-up in Aisle Two
The weight of the high ceilings in the cathedral is distributed to these substantial aisles. Within them you find numerous little chapels and shrines.
looked awfully dark for 10:00 pm. As we looked inside it appeared totally empty. A handwritten sign in Czech pretty much convinced us that they were closed for the holiday. Then I suddenly remembered…The reason that I had booked Pivovarsky Dum for the night of the 23rd was because they had told me they were closed on Christmas Eve. Duh. And once again I proved my shopping credo: when you see something you think you like, buy it. You may not see it again.
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