Trip Start Jan 23, 2008
44Trip End Apr 29, 2008
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
In Prague we ended up having a 2 bedroom flat all to ourselves again which was nice especially since we both like our space. The general atmosphere seemed very similar to that in Budapest and Romania. The people are definitely not as well off as those in Vienna but at the same time do not seem as pretentious. The Czech currency is not as inflated as the Hungarian Forint so there were not as many problems there, but things also seemed to cost much more. I thought that since we were in an Eastern European country that is not using the Euro then things would be cheap. It may just be that the increased tourism has led to inflated prices in the capital city.
Anyway, that evening we set out to explore the old town square, a good 20-minute walk from our flat. As we approached the old town we started running into crowds that were eerily reminiscent of those in Venice. There were large masses of people that we had to force ourselves through. Upon arriving we found out that it was the opening day of the two week long Easter festival. I don't know if the crowds were from this or the fact that is the season for Spring Break. I think that the latter might be more accurate because there were many large groups of younger high-school aged teenagers.
There were dozens of tents set up in the square selling handicrafts and various types of cooked meats. A stage was in the center and there were dancers in traditional costumes doing Czech folk dances. The square itself is very picturesque with the spires of the large cathedral rising up at one end and the clock tower of the town hall at the other. All the other buildings have a very medieval feel to them. On the side of the clock tower is the famous astronomical clock that has a display of moving figurines at the top of every hour. There is always a large crowd that gathers to watch this event. The legend is that the master clockmaker who made the clock blinded himself through an accident and therefore could never make another one like it. Also, he is said to have thrown himself into the clock mechanism killing himself since he could no longer work.
After getting some good bratwurst and Czech beer we returned to the pension but not before seeing a parade of people dressed up in armor and riding horses with jugglers and jesters entertaining people close behind them.
For second day in Prague we decided to concentrate on the Old Town area since it was Sunday and many of the other sights were closed. One area that we knew would not be closed was the famous Jewish quarter. The Jewish quarter in Prague is very old and dates back to medieval times. Perhaps its most famous resident was Rabbi Jehudah Lowe, the man who is connected with the legend of the Golem. I believe the story goes that he created the Golem out of dirt to protect the Jews from the Pograms, or state sanctioned violent attacks against Jews. It was a kind of mighty creature that could only be summoned in times of dire need. I recommend the movie Snow in August, if you have not seen it, which does a great job of portraying this myth.
The first thing we saw was the Old-New Synagogue, so-called because there was an even older one that is longer in existence. It was a little disappointing for what they charged for admission. It was very small inside and we were not even allowed to take pictures. I had to wear a yhamike while inside which was an unusual experience for me. We also visited the museum and the Ceremonial Hall before finally going to the graveyard. The graveyard is probably the sight that I would have gone to again, because the other sights were a little lacking in substance. The graveyard was interesting because many of the tombstones were extremely old including the one for Rabbi Lowe.
After the Jewish quarter we tried to enter some of the famous churched in the area but they were all closed to visitors on Sunday. At this point there was not too much more to do in the old town so we headed back, stopping at two sights on the way. The first was the Estates Theater, the oldest theater in original condition in the world. This is where Don Giovanni premiered and there is a statue outside to commemorate this. We were only allowed to look at the outside but it was still fun to look at.
We had a full menu of sightseeing for the next day so we headed back to cook some dinner on our one-burner hot plate and to get some rest.
Our last day, following the pattern from previous destinations, was the busiest. We headed out early with a full itinerary. Our first stop was St. James' church, which is famous for one curious attraction. Near the entrance the shriveled hand of a thief from the middle ages is hanging from a rope. There was not really any background information on this, but it was an interesting sight nonetheless. Next we visited another church called St. Nicholas. It is not very impressive from the outside but inside it is beautifully painted and look like a chapel that you might find in the Alps somewhere. There was also a very large crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling.
From here we left the Old Town and headed for the Castle District, a complex of medieval buildings, churches and palaces on a hill across the river. To cross the river we walked across the famous Charles Bridge, which is only available to pedestrians. Lining the bridge are various large statues of saints and religious figures. The bridge is also a popular place for performers such as artists and bands, my favorite of which was a jazz band of older men that performed jazz songs from the early 1900s. It was a very fun place to walk across for people watching a just taking in the scenery.
After the Charles Bridge we headed up a large series of steps to the top of the hill where the Castle District is located. There were a number of attractions inside the walls including a medieval building called the Old Palace where the Czech royalty used to live. The main attraction here however was the large St. Vitus Cathedral. It is a gothic type building complete with gargoyles and spires on the outside. Inside are some of the most impressive stained glass windows that I have seen on this trip.
After our foray into the Castle District we went back to the Old Town to ascend the Clock Tower that had been closed earlier. The view from the top was outstanding. In a picture seen here you can see the crowed that has gathered at the top of the hour to watch the astronomical clock. There were also some great views of the churches and buildings in the Old Town that look totally different when seen from above. This was probably my favorite attraction here even though it was so simple. From here we perused the local open market and then did a little souvenir shopping. There are literally hundreds of souvenir shops near the old town and many of them are pretty tacky, which is a shame since the area seems so genuine. These shops ruin the atmosphere somewhat, partly due to the type of people that they attract such as the Spring Breakers mentioned earlier.
When it was all said and done, Prague met some of my expectations in some ways but did not live up others. Firstly I was not expecting it to be so expensive and it also seems more touristy than cities such as Budapest where you can blend in with the locals a little better. The city is very scenic, but this was hampered a bit by the large crowds and masses of tour groups. Outside the Old Town it is definitely not as manicured a city as Vienna and you can still see some of the poor conditions that the Communists left behind. I would venture a return trip at some point at a time when I could also do some excursions to some of the other smaller Czech towns.