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|Stunning decorations in the cathedral|
Our time in Prague started in a way that was probably not ideal, we got in at about 5 to decent rain and had some difficulty locating our hotel, probably because we didn’t speak a single word of the language when we arrived. Although this didn’t stop a lady offering us a place to stay and a lift in her ‘taxi’ van…we decided that we had better find our real hostel and quickly.
|Spectacular Artwork at
Prague is perhaps one of the better kept secrets of Europe, the city is spoiled with a rich and fascinating history, that means there is plenty to see and the sights are breathtaking. I had been looking forward to visiting Prague as one of my favourite destinations, and I have no doubts that this enchanted city will be one of the biggest highlights of the trip.
After arriving Thursday night we enjoyed a traditional Czech meal at a local pub Beef Goulash and Roast Duck that tasted outstanding. Awaking the next day we set out to explore the main part of the city, we discovered the main tourist area, the main shopping area and several little markets that are going on at the same time in Prague. We made the next stop at a lovely restaurant close to our hotel and relaxed in preparation for a big day ahead.
|Leader of the Protestants and his followers|
Saturday was an amazing day, started early with a scrumptious breakfast in our hostel before we set out on our first walking tour. The walking tour was great, our guide Samitra, had excellent knowledge of the fascinating history of Prague as well as many of the legends that surround the city. We were excited to set out to see the different sights that were around. We started out under the balcony where the Czech Republic was born and then set out to discover and explore the old town.
|Old Town Square by Night|
The first stop was the Merchants Square of Tin, which means taxes, where in the olden times all the merchants would surrender their weapons and pay a tax to the king in exchange for protection whilst selling within his fortress. It is also the home to the spirit of a Turkish trader who fell in love with a Czech girl and promised to marry her before returning to Turkey, he was gone for so long that his girl had found someone else to marry. Upon her wedding day he returned to Prague and slipped a note asking to see her one last time, he took this opportunity to kidnap and brutally murder her. His spirit is said to haunt Tyn Square because of his eternal guilt, interestingly there are many stories or Prague legends that start with unrequited love and end with brutal murder.
|The St James Cathedral Interior|
|The Hand Serves as a warning
not to cross the Church
The next stop on our tour was St James’ church, which has some remarkable artwork inside. The most interesting story associated with the church is undoubtedly this; there was once a thief dressed as a pilgrim who went to the church looking for something to steal. He waited until night fell where he jumped out from behind a statue and tried to see what he could find. The thief spotted a necklace around a statue and tried to grab it when the statue sprung to life, grabbed his hand catching him in the act and turned to stone. When the priests awoke the next morning they were startled to see what had transpired and cut the thief’s hand off to teach him a lesson as well as to deter anyone from trying to steal from the church.
|Gallery of Armour in Prague|
Prague as a city is over 1100 years old and the stories that surround the city are equally amazing. There is an extensive history of religious wars between Protestants and Catholics, of battles between the Czech and various sides and the city has seen it all. In the old town square we were told the story of the 3 defenstrations where people were systematically thrown out of the window. We also saw the remains of a building that was destroyed when the Czech tried to overthrow the Nazis (unsuccessfully).
|The Portal to the alchemy lab|
One of the next stops was the sight of an old alchemy lab, this was amazing to see the stone engravings and the stories associated with this historic research of turning metal into gold. The lab is also connected to several other key points in the city via secret tunnels that were used to funnel weapons and supplies and soldiers should the city come under attack. It is said that if you take a photo of the doorway at night it shines gold. (We checked and it didn’t, but nonetheless a cool legend.)
|The Celestial Clock|
We next ventured into the Jewish section of the town, a beautiful area that was untouched during the Second World War on Hitler’s orders. A sick truth that Hitler had planned to leave the Josefov as a museum and monument to his work.
We walked past the building where the crown jewels are rumoured to be kept, although no one has seen them in 60 years. An interesting story associated with the crown jewels – when the Nazis came through Prague, the commander of the forces in the Czech Republic was wearing the crown around. Legend says that if you wear the crown unlawfully then you won’t live longer than a year and a day. This commander was assassinated within months by Czech paratroopers.
|A couple of Macaws in Prague|
We ended our tour at the Charles Bridge, learning about the significance of when it was built, or started to be built. The then King Charles IV wanted a bridge that would stand the test of time, so he consulted his best astrologists who advised him that it would need to be started to be built at 5:31 on the 7thof September in the year 1357 (135797531, a date of particular astrological significance, call me a sceptic but I think the architects probably deserve more of the credit but the bridge is still standing).
|Memento from Charles Bridge|
In the afternoon we did some more exploring and checked out the celestial clock, which was an interesting sight, designed to tell regular time, bohemian time, as well as all sorts of other astrological indicators. A spot of shopping and some relaxing capped of the day.
|A bridge view of Prague Castle|
Later in the night we returned to our local tavern for another delicious Czech meal before heading out on a pub crawl. It was fantastic! Prague, as a city is extremely cheap, we were paying about $3AUD for a litre of beer out in the clubs we started the night drinking with some Germans who were over from Dusseldorf and met so many people, including a couple of Melbournites travelling over here for a month.
One of the best things about travelling around is the people that you meet. We had a great time drinking with new friends from England, Brazil, Russia, Canada, Australia and the States. We went to 5 different clubs, starting off at a local hostel and finishing at the biggest club in Central Europe with perhaps the most interesting club being the one we had seen earlier in the day – at St Michaels Church.
|Prague from Charles Bridge|
A slow start to Sunday and miserable weather meant that we took an easier day, did some shopping and checked out the communist museum. It was interesting to see the different propaganda, and learn a bit about the history and influence of the soviets in the Czech Republic.
|House of the Red Artillerymen|
When the afternoon fined up we spent the day walking around the old town and exploring some of the little alleys that are filled with Czech history. In the evening we discovered a fantastic little Italian restaurant which was a nice change from the heavy, yet brilliant Czech cuisine we have been enjoying.
|View of Prague from Petrin Tower|
On Monday we got an early start as we attempted to fit in as much as possible and see the remaining sights of Prague. Our first stop was Petrin Tower, inspired by the Eiffel Tower and also sits at the same altitudinal height, due to its position on the hill overlooking the old town. After walking around the beautiful park area at the base of the tower, we climbed to the lookout and enjoyed the breathtaking sights of Prague and Prague Castle.
The next stop for us was the famous Prague Castle where we spent most of the day. Prague Castle is a magnificent sight and a must for anyone who is planning on travelling to Prague. We arrived in time to see the changing of the Czech guard that was a brilliant sight to be seen. At the entrance to Prague Castle was the St Vitus Cathedral which has the most elaborate and decorative art on the inside.
|Changing of the Guard at
|Changing of the Sentries|
When we set out to explore the rest of the castle we saw the ‘Golden Lane’ an area of the castle that was inhabited by the commoners and merchants within the complex. These people included the artillery men, seamstress, goldsmiths, alchemists, herbalists and many other medieval professions. I was amazed at how well maintained some areas of even the houses were kept, and that they were inhabited as late as the 1950s. As a part of this complex was the red artillery men who in exchange for living for free in the castle would help guard should they be requested by the king. They would also make extra money by running errands and attending to the noble prisoners who were in the prison tower. This area also included an impressive gallery of armour worn by people from the medieval times, and I even got to fire a crossbow.
|People were really short way back when!|
|The “Playroom” in the Prison Tower|
In this tower prisoners could be locked up in the higher floors or the basement levels. The higher floors were usually reserved for lords and nobles who had avoided paying their debts, or caused unrest within the kingdom. In the lower level was a large cage that would house the more common prisoners. Plus for the particularly unco-operative there were a series of toys that they got to play with the looked like great “fun”
Next stop was the old castle palace. This was an interesting sight to see, although less impressive than other sections within the castle complex. We got to see replicas of the bohemian crown jewels, as well as what I am guessing was quite an extensive family tree that consisted of coats of arms painted over the walls and ceiling in a most remarkable fashion.
|Assasins weapon of the KGB|
After strolling down the old castle steps and enjoying a traditional Czech lunch we set off to find the US embassy, and the conveniently placed KGB Spy Museum next door. This museum was quite remarkable especially if you are partial to the many spy movies that have been made as I am.
|Comrade Michelle at the KGB Museum|
Even for those who are less interested in one of the world’s oldest professions this museum is certainly worth a look. Hosted by an enthusiastic Russian who is happy to show you around the museum and explain the artefacts to you with great detail. Among the more interesting items were real soviet rifles used by the KGB, fake passports, uniforms, listening devices and cameras. I was surprised to learn how many former soviet snipers were in fact women something that has been kept a pretty good secret from most of the world. The museum boasts an amazing collection, some of the best items were a camera that was handmade by orphans of the KGB, a mechanical razor, designed in the 60’s that still works, a double barrel gun designed to liquidate agents at close quarters and a series of stamps that were used by the Russians during the second world war to conduct counter-intelligence operations in Germany.
|Hand to Hand Weapons
Centre “Starlin’s Necklace”
|Lennon Wall Tribute|
After enjoying the history of the KGB we enjoyed a casual walk back to our hotel through the Old Town at night, stopping by the Lennon Wall – a tribute wall to John Lennon, of Beetles fame. The city comes to light at night with the buildings taking on this magical glow. The Charles Bridge is amazing, I mentioned earlier how this bridge was designed and built, but it is such a spectacular sight at sunset and gives the most beautiful chances for a photo of the city.
|Side View from Petrin Tower|
The walking tour through the old town was brilliant, not only did our tour guide know the history, but it is such an enchanting city with so many stories that we could have spent another week here discovering and exploring.
The Pub Crawl! A great chance to go out and drink with fellow travellers; we met some fantastic people as we drank our way through Czech bars. We also got to experience a variety of different bars and clubs, from traditional bars, to underground clubs and the Temple Club (which was an interesting experience) it was a great insight.
The funniest things I saw:
The Love Lock craze currently sweeping Europe might be getting a little out of hand.
|Love Locks getting out of hand!|
My attempts to speak Czech were not strong, but at least I was trying, much to the amusement of the friendly people at the attractions, our hotel, the restaurants…
The “friendly” lady who offered us a place to stay on the first night, I really hope that doesn’t work with fellow travellers.
|Communist Museum Poster|
There is a bottled canned energy drink called Cocaine, I don’t think that this has hit Australia yet!
The prize goes to the communism museum for this poster. Such a cute bear – such a deadly toy.
The Final Word:
Prague is an amazing city, and a certain stop for anyone planning a trip to Europe. It has something for everyone whatever your objective is, it is rich with history, has breathtaking sights, a great culture and cuisine, and cheap drinks this city was something I was looking forward to and I think that it will be difficult to top.