I loved the Robert Ludlum spy thrillers and just as he packed thrilling action into his books with his protagonists dashing all over Europe. I thought I’d do the same with a dash into Eastern Europe which until now has been unchartered territory for me. So with two Sundays to spare, I joined a tour group to Prague as soon as I arrived in Vienna and a day trip to Budapest on the Sunday of my return back home. I was not disappointed and would love to return to these cities for an extended exploration.
It is a three hour drive on the express-way from Vienna to Prague. Although we left on a cloudy day, it was a pleasant drive through Moravia and the rolling, lush agricultural landscapes now under private ownership. As we drew closer to the cities, it was evident that industries were moving in and hopefully this bodes well for the Czech economy. There was certainly a hive of tourist activity as we entered St Wencaslas Square in Prague. It is the heart of entertainment and nightlife and the entrance to the commercial centre of Prague. This centre dates back to the 14th century.
Unlike other European cities, Prague managed to retain much of its heritage despite some destruction of lives and property towards the end of WW II. It has preserved its beautiful architecture and as seen below in the square, cranes are to be seen in a number of places restoring old building facades. It’s rich in its history and is a perfect place for walking tours through a maze of cobbled walkways.
Nevertheless, it is still fascinating to admire the beautifully decorative artwork on many of the buildings which give this city its unique character.
There are two plaques on the ground near St. Wenceslas which commemorate those killed during the communist era. One is dedicated to Jan Palach, who set himself on fire in protest at the Soviet invasion.
In the Old Town square which dates back 600-700 years, the gothic Church of “Our Lady before Tyn” can be seen below with its 80 metre high twin towers. On the left hand side is the Astronomical clock. Prague was declared a UNESCO world heritage site. Given its history, my companions and I were a bit disappointed by the number of popular Western franchises that could be found around every corner – you know the coffee and burger variety.
Prague’s astronomical clock dates back to the 1400s. It comprises of an astronomical dial representing the sun and the moon in the sky and displaying various astronomical details, the “Walk of the Apostles”. It displays hourly pop outs of figures and other sculptures, and a calendar dial with medallions representing the different months.
I was lucky to meet up with some wonderful fellow tourists and though we didn’t have the time, we tried to imagine what we would discover in the Museum of Torture.
The building below marks the entrance to St Charles Bridge where tourists compete for pictures of the Vitava River, the castle and themselves of course. What did we do before selfies? 😀
Commissioned by King Charles IV in 1357, Prague’s most stunning bridge spans 16 arches and is lined with 30 Baroque statues of religious figures.
One of the most popular statues on Charles Bridge is the Statue of St John Nepomuk (also referred to as Jan Nepomucky). It is the 8th statue on the right hand if you are heading from Old Town Square towards the Prague Castle.
John of Nepomuk was a priest in Prague under King Wenceslas IV (son of Charles IV). The Queen made a confession to John of Nepomuk. Unfortunately for him, the King being a very suspicious man, pressed John of Nepomuk for the Queen’s confessions which John of Nepomuk would not reveal, not even to the King, because it would be against his commitment of confidentiality. John of Nepomuk was therefore executed by being thrown into the Vltava River from the bridge and drowned.
Tradition says that if you rub the bronze plaque beneath the statue (the one depicting St John being thrown off the bridge), you will one day return to Prague. Alas – I forgot to touch it. 😀
The castle looms up ahead from the St Charles Bridge. I was told by a friend who once lived in Prague that this was the best place to get a view of the city. Unfortunately, our time was limited to do this leg of the walk.
The Vitava river as seen from Charles Bridge
These interesting cars caused quite a stir as they passed by.
The levitation trick below is said to be quite common. Still, it had us baffled.
Prague is famous for its Bohemian Crystal which can be shipped to your country.
Dining in the Dungeon: Between myself and my two newly acquired friends, we couldn’t decide where to eat since there are plenty of pubs and commercial restaurants. Instinct and adventure led us down three ominous sets of stairs where we wondered if we wouldn’t be on the menu. Well, this was certainly an atmospheric eating place!
Of course I had to try out the Czech Goulash and I was not disappointed. This was an ideal meal given the inclement weather outside. The green chilly was the burner and the fluffy dumplings were to die for! A good jug of Czech beer was a perfect accompaniment.
For dessert, we stopped at one of the smaller street outlet and joined the long queues for this decadent dessert which is a type of doughnut cone stuffed with fillings of your choice. We chose the Strawberry and cream option which you need to keep space for since it is very filling.
Thank you for visit and you are welcome to share your experiences of Prague. I would love to have spent more time here. Join me next week in my visit to Budapest.