I just returned from five fab days in the Czech Republic, specifically Prague and Kutna Hora. I’ve been told by many people that I have to go to Prague before I leave, so I managed to squeeze it in before leaving for India.
I arrived on Wednesday, February 25 in the afternoon, and as I always do, I signed up for the free walking tour of the city. There are many “free” tours offered in Prague and you don’t have to sign up in advance. You can just show up at the designated time/spot and sign up there. Simply do an online search of free walking tours in whatever city you are in and you’ll usually find several. I use Sandeman’s a lot, and chose them for this trip.
Our guide, Pavel, was a born and raised Czech who spoke very good English, although he was hard to hear sometimes. I had to stand very close to him to hear everything he was saying. He grew up during Communist occupation of Prague so he had tons of stories to share about himself and his family. We started in the Old Town Square, the main tourist area, where he told us about the famous astronomical clock on the side of the old town hall. The clock was first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still working. According to local legend, the city will suffer if the clock is neglected and its good operation is placed in jeopardy and a skeleton, mounted on the clock, was supposed nod his head in confirmation. Based on the legend, the only hope was represented by a boy born in the New Year´s night.
As always, the tour provided a great overview of the entire city and pointed out all the main tourist attractions including Church of our Lady before Tyn, Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, the Jewish Quarter, Old New Synagogue and the Golem, the Municipal House, Powder Tower, Wenceslas Square, St. Nicholas Church, and more. Pavel told us much of the history about each site and of course invited us to come back to each one and see the interior later.
The tour ended about 5:30 PM in front of the National Theatre just across the river from Prague Castle. The lights on the castle (paid for by the Rolling Stones according to our guide!) lit up the entire complex of buildings making a lovely reflection in the river. I walked back to the Old Town Square with Pavel as we had passed a vegetarian/vegan restaurant along the way, and I wanted to go there for dinner. He escorted me back to Country Life Restaurant, and I enjoyed a great vegetarian/vegan buffet with loads of options! Score!!
I continued walking around the Old Town Square for a while after dinner people watching and listening to the street musicians before finally heading back to the Royal Court Hotel. I found this hotel on Airbnb (it’s listed on several sites) and highly recommend it if you are going to Prague. I paid 27 euros/night and that included breakfast!!! The rooms are great and while it’s not in the middle of the tourist area, it’s just a 10 minute tram/metro ride away. Unbeatable bargain!
The next morning, after a huge breakfast, I explored Prague Castle. The name is really deceiving because it’s not a castle at all. It’s a complex of buildings that includes Gothic St Vitus Cathedral, Romanesque Basilica of St. George, a monastery and several palaces, gardens and defense towers, all on top of a hill overlooking the river and surrounded by a fortress wall. The castle-looking building you see is St. Vitus Cathedral and not a castle at all. I bought a ticket for the complex and also signed up for the guided tour of the Cathedral and the Palace. The history of the castle stretches back to the year 870 and since then it has undergone many wars, fires, occupations and reconstructions. It was occupied by both the Nazi’s and the Communists and after Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the castle became the seat of the Head of State of the new Czech Republic.
The cathedral is magnificent! I don’t know why I’m so attracted by cathedrals and churches. I’m not religious at all, but I love going inside. I love the history, the architecture, and the peacefulness inside. I also love the organs and the acoustics! But mostly, I love the architecture – the vaulted ceilings, the Gothic or Baroque decor, the paintings, the marble floors and columns. We just don’t have anything like it in the US!
St. Vitus Cathedral is exceptionally beautiful. It is a Roman Catholic cathedral and the seat of the Archbishop of Prague. It is an excellent example of Gothic architecture and is the biggest and most important church in the country. Additionally, it houses the tombs of many Bohemian kings and Holy Roman Emperors, most importantly St. Wencesles.
The Chapel of St. Wenceslas, where the relics of the saint are kept is probably the most outstanding piece of the cathedral. The room was built by Peter Parler between 1344 and 1364 and has a magnificent vaulted ceiling. The lower part of the walls are wonderfully decorated with over 1300 semi-precious stones and paintings about the Passion of Christ dating from the original decoration of the chapel in 1372–1373. The upper part of the walls have paintings about the life of St. Wenceslas dating back to the same time period. The Chapel is not open to the public, but we were able to go in with our guide. She showed us a small door with seven locks that leads to the Crown Chamber containing the Czech Crown Jewels, which are displayed to the public only once every eight years. We were able to see copies of the crown jewels on display in the palace later on.
We continued with our guide to the palace, the current seat of the Czech President. We were only allowed in a few rooms but were able to see the Great Hall built in 1485. Amazing! After the tour, I walked through the Golden Lane, a series of very tiny homes built into the fortress wall. Each one is unique and worth seeing. I had a coffee at one of the cafes that overlooks the royal gardens before leaving.
I walked down the steep slope wandering around Lesser Square until I came to St. Nicholas Church, a Baroque styled church built between 1704-1755. It has been described as “the most impressive example of Prague Baroque” and “without doubt the greatest Baroque church in Prague and the Dientzenhofers’ supreme achievement.” Indeed. It’s pretty impressive I have to say. It looks like a bunch of queens got all drunked up and went KRAZY with gold leaf and pink marble! It is decorated to death, but I really enjoyed it! So fascinating!
Afterwards, I went to an organ concert in a nearby church. It’s one of those concerts that locals hawk that features Bach, Mozart, Brahms, etc. I’m not a classical music lover and don’t know much about it but I enjoyed hearing it in such a lovely church. One thing though, the churches are NOT heated. Even during services, no heat is on. Blankets are provided as you walk in, so grab two and try to stay warm. It takes days to heat the sanctuaries, so they don’t bother. It was freezing inside!
After the concert, I went to a nearby vegan restaurant I had passed earlier. I enjoyed a lovely vegan meal and then walked across the Charles Bridge, the most famous bridge in Prague, into the tourist area where I walked around window shopping and people watching. It never gets old!
Check back tomorrow for more on my Prague adventure!! Also, have a look at all the pix under Photos, Prague above. Have a beautiful day sweet friends!