14-19 June, 2000
Click here for a MAP, our ROUTE
and COUNTRY INFO for the Czech Republic
Capital of the Czech Republic, "City of 100 Spires"Located on the meandering River Vltava, Prague is an enchanting and beautiful city with over 1000 years of history. One of the only major European cities to escape the destructive bombing of World War II, its grand architectural glory remains intact. The Old City ("Stare Mesto" in Czech) and Little Quarter ("Mala Strana") areas are full of glorious ancient buildings, each of them architectural jewels in their own right. Many of these buildings are capped with ornate, sharply-pointed spires, hence one of Prague's nicknames, "City of 100 Spires." Its beautiful architecture isn't the only thing that makes Prague special. The city also has a great artistic legacy which reaches back hundreds of years. 1.2 million people call Prague their home, and over 30,000 of them are actually expatriate Americans who live and work here. We discovered for ourselves the magic of the place during our brief five day stay here.
We arrived by plane from Barcelona and caught a cab to our rental apartment, which was splendidly located on Jindrisska street, about a block away from one of the city's buzzing centers of activity, the Wenclesas Square. We were in a neighborhood populated mostly by local Praguers rather than tourists, which was nice because the Old Town area sees a lot of tourists, and we had had enough of huge crowds in Barcelona. But we were close enough to walk to all of the attractions in the Old Town within ten minutes. Nearby we had a supermarket, several cafes and restaurants, and even a laundrymat (laundry by machine, what a treat!). It was great to have an apartment instead of a hotel room for a change -- our three room place was basic, but huge, with 12-foot tall ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows which made the place airy and light. After unpacking and settling in a bit, we went across the street to do a little grocery shopping at the market. We had expected to find a limited number of goods available in Prague, as we thought the former Soviet-bloc Czech Republic might still be catching up with the west in the consumer goods part of the economic equation. But we were pleasantly surprised to find that almost everything we have back home in the U.S. is available here, including lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. And everything at unbelievably cheap prices! We stocked up our fridge with several days worth of breakfast stuff (yogurt, bananas and the like), snacks, juice, and excellent-quality Czech beer for all of about six dollars U.S.!
Riverfront view, with the Charles Bridge on the right and the Prague Castle up above
We found the Czech people to be very pleasant, their dispositions lying somewhere between those of the boisterous Moroccans and the more reserved Spaniards we had met earlier in our journey. Very polite, they are hard-working, eager to please, and very easy-going. People were very eager to use their English skills here, which made getting around pretty easy since neither of us knows any Czech!
The Old Town Square in Action
The center of activity in Prague is the famous Old Town Square. Over 1000 years ago, the square was built as a central market and meeting place. Around the same time, the spectacular Tyn Church was constructed on the northern side of the square. A tall, strangely beautiful building with soaring blue-gray spires, the church looks like something out of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. It is definitely one of Prague's most unique buildings. The Tyn takes on a whole new appearance at night when it is bathed in the glow of floodlights which bring out the subtle hues of its ancient rock walls.
Another major landmark in the square is the Old Town Hall. Attached to its giant tower is the Prague Astronomical Clock, an amazing piece of mechanical engineering and ornate design. The clock shows not only the time of day but also the astrological calendar. Every hour, four mechanical figures come to life: the Turk with a mandolin, Vanity with a mirror, the Rich Man with a bag of money, and Death himself who nods his head "yes" as the others shake their heads back and forth in disagreement. Jesus and the Twelve Apostles also make an appearance, rotating around the clock at the top of each hour. Every hour, hundreds of people gather around the Astronomical Clock to watch it do its animated thing.
The Super Cool Astronomical Clock!
The view from the top of the Old Town tower is excellent, providing a sweeping view not only of the activities happening in the square below, but across the rooftops of the Old Town itself. It was from the top of this tower that many people lost their lives in Medieval times, when "defenestration" (the throwing of people out of high buildings) was a preferred form of punishment. Watch out for that first step, it's a doozie!!
Jen Hanging out the Town Square Tower (nobody tried to throw her off, thankfully)
Perched above the city on a hill across the River Vltava is the Prague Castle. There is no finer sight in Prague than that of the castle lit up at night from the banks of the river. The first time we walked out to the river after sundown, our jaws droped at the sight -- it's really spectacular! Inside the castle walls are St. Vitus' Cathedral (a gothic masterpiece which contains the tombs of all the Czech kings) and the Royal Palace, where Vaclav Havel was sworn in as the first democratically-elected president in decades in 1989. Things have changed quite a bit here since the worldwide collapse of the communist system that same year. Also near the castle is the Belvedere, a beautiful Italian Renaissance-style building built as the Royal Summer Palace.
In the Mala Strana (Little Quarter) sits the Church of St. Nicholas, a wonderful baroque-style building with a giant 70m (230 ft) copper cupola which has oxidized to a pretty green with age. Inside the cupola is the oustanding fresco The Glory of the Holy Trinity by Palko. The whole interior of the church is an over-the-top baroque masterpiece, with a giant pipe organ which Mozart himself used to play when he was in town. We sat in awe inside the building, our eyes overwhelmed by the amount of detail in the architecture and its adorning artwork.
Inside St. Nicholas Church - Wow!
Prague has an outstanding artistic legacy, especially in the area of music. Mozart premiered his famous work Don Giovanni here, and Dvorak and Smetana both made Prague their home. We were fortunate enough to arrive during the Prague Spring Music Festival, a month-long event which includes concerts and performances all over the city. One night we saw the Prague Symphony perform Mozart's Requiem in the historic Bethlehem Church. It was a very moving experience hearing the 50-person orchestra and choir perform here.
Only the Aussies would be so bold to dress like this in a foreign country! (This one's for you, Mr. Gooding)
We also visited the Mucha Museum, dedicated to Alphonse Mucho, the man who single-handedly defined the Art Nouveau movement of the turn of the 20th century. We were amazed by how prolific the artist was, turning out not only the hundreds of lithographed line art posters he is most famous for, but also many paintings, sketches, and even designs for the first Czech Republic bank notes back in the 1920s! He was also very involved with making the Czech Republic and the plight of the Slavic people better known to the world.
Goofing with the Golem (an old Czech story character)
Unfortunately, we had to move on to our next destination, Switzerland, all too soon. Had we known how much we would fall in love with Prague, we would have planned a few more days there. But after five days, it was time to leave for another exciting destination. So we packed up and headed to the airport for our flight to Zurich.
Back to SpainOn to Switzerland!
[ Back to Itinerary ]