09 Sep 7 Days in Prague
We left Australia on Tuesday 3 September 2019 on an overnight flight to Prague via Doha, arriving late morning 4 September at our AirBnB at 25 Grifika Street, Prague 5.
After unpacking we walked to the big Andel shopping centre to stock up on supplies – when we’re away for a long time we really like to do our own cooking as much as possible. Early night, and naturally we’re still on Perth time.
Thursday 5 September – Strahov Monastery, Prague Castle, St Vitas Cathedral, Charles Bridge
Trams and metro make travel around Prague exceptionally fast and easy.
Today we first visited Strahov Monastery (building commenced in the 12th century) and especially enjoyed the libraries which are world famous, with two magnificent baroque halls dating from the 17th and 18th centuries.
The monastery has a history which mirrors religious problems world wide. Initially Catholic, then moving to Hussite (a kind of reformism or protestantism) and then forcibly moved back to Catholicism by the infamous Habsburgs, when people had to convert or be expelled. Following this many of the churches and monasteries were shut by the communists and most of the monks imprisoned. The monks finally returned in the 1990s.
We missed out on seeing the famous Strahov Gallery because we got to that at lunch time and planned to return another day.
Next was the Prague Castle, Prague’s most popular tourist spot. The castle has been the seat of monarchs and the official residence of the head of state, and began construction in the 9th century as a fortified settlement. It’s a massive, history-soaked experience, with many extremely old buildings and artifacts.
In the photo above you can also see St Vitas Cathedral, which took over 600 years to build, commencing in 1344 on the site of a 10th century Romanesque rotunda dedicated to St Wenceslas. Work continued even into the 1920s and the building was consecrated in 1929. Internally and externally it’s probably one of the most beautiful, architecturally awesome cathedrals in the world.
Outside the Castle we got a nice high spot to enjoy the ceremonial changing of the guard.
Here in Prague they’re celebrating 30 years since the Velvet Revolution when Czechoslovakia peacefully separated from the Soviet Union. This 1989 event was followed in 1993 by the “Velvet Divorce” when the Czechs and Slovaks amicably separated themselves to form Czechia and Slovakia.
We ended the day with a walk across Charles Bridge, another incredibly popular tourist attraction. Originally known as Stone Bridge, it was commissioned by Charles IV in 1357 to replace the 12th century Judith Bridge which had been washed away by floods in 1342. It took over 30 years to build and is an imposing structure. Even in the shoulder season it was quite crowded, and apparently in peak season it’s like sardines on there. Can easily imagine.
Friday 6 September – Old Town Hall, Old Town Square, Old-New Synagogue, Powder Tower
The Old Town Hall was founded in 1338 and is a magnificent mix of of medieval buildings, built over the top of truly ancient homes that are now well below ground level and are accessible via the basement. The views over Prague rooftops from the top of the tower are a must see.
Old Town Square is wall to wall tourists but a really lovely spot to enjoy the old architecture and becomes extremely crowded every hour when the clock performs its routine.
The Jewish quarter is not as old as the rest of Prague but old nevertheless. We visited the Old-New Synagogue where John was required to don the cap.
Saturday 7 September – Revisit Old Town Hall, Strahov Gallery, St Nicholas Cathedral
We kicked off with a guided tour of the Old Town Hall in which we saw the internals of the 600-year-old astronomical clock, the 12 apostles which were visible from inside the chapel. We had an excellent guide, a young historian with terrific knowledge who explained the history of Czechia extremely well.
Like the story of all civilizations the past is steeped in violence and cruelty mainly at the hands of various churches. It’s no wonder that some 80 to 90% of Prague inhabitants are atheist or non-religious these days.
Most fascinating was the vast network of underground houses. These ancient structures are now below ground level and form mazes from one side of Prague to the other. Originally they were at or above street level, but because of frequent flooding a decision was made long ago to raise the level of the city. With constant earth shifting and burying of buildings over very many years, the city is now some 8 metres higher than previously.
Following the Old Town Hall we revisited the Strahov monastery, this time to view the gallery.
John took a photo of a model of the complete monastery, a large network of buildings.
It was disturbing to see the unbridled pompery of religious costumes and jewellery that priests adorned themselves with. The thought arises that if the ill-gotten and obscene wealth of the church had been put into the pursuit of science, the arts and the humanities that the entire human race would have probably long ago cured cancer and solved war. The vanity of the church knew no bounds.
Following this we caught a tram back down the hill to Saint Nicholas church, a famous baroque church in the massive old Prague, decorated with copious amounts of gold.
Sunday 8 September – Municipal House, Prague City Museum, Vysehrad
We took a tram and the metro to Municipal House (Obecni Dum) in the center of Prague. It’s a massive building, construction commenced 1906, opened to the public in 1912 and is in glorious art nouveau style, said to be amongst the finest examples in the world.
We are finding that it is easier to dictate our experiences into notes and then upload to the web site. Wish we’d thought of this on previous trips because it saves massive time.
From there we visited the Hard Rock Café to try to arrange to watch the women’s doubles final of the US Open later in the evening. Barty and Azarenka, but failed. We tried “watching” via live scores later that night but like most nights we were flaked before 8 pm because we’re apparently still locked into Perth time. Probably a good thing because they lost, albeit by a very narrow margin.
On the way to the Hard Rock Cafe we passed again by the old town hall where John took a photo of the massive crowd taking photos of the astronomical clock.
Following this we had lunch at McDonald’s prior to going to visit the Prague city museum. This Museum opened in 1898 and includes the history of Prague from prehistoric times to the 20th century, with interesting exhibits on the astronomical clock and mediaeval and Renaissance galleries with household artefacts there was also a very precise 1:480 scale model of Prague as it looked between 1826 and 1834, which was the 11 years that it took to construct by Antonin Langweil.
We then visited Vysehrad which was the site of the original Prague settlement and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The main reason we visited this spot was to see the ruins of an old castle built there, really just very extensive and imposing ramparts that visitors can walk along, and also to get some very nice views of the entire city from this high location.
Saint Martin’s rotunda is one of the first structures we saw on entering the grounds. It was built in the 11th century and there is a cannonball lodged in the eastern wall from the Prussian invasion of 1757.
Monday 9 September – Prague National Museum, Prague Museum of Music, Funicular up to Kinsky Garden
At the Prague national Museum we visited an exhibition on the Celts, who we learned were working with metal prior to 800 BC and who conquered Rome in 387 BC. The Celts’ original population was known as La Tene and they were very diverse people united by common culture. They originated from this area and spread into Europe.
They were early adopters of currency using coins made of gold copper and bronze prior to 250 BC.
By the second century they had elaborate forts and villages and were working with the metals, fabric, bone, leather, earthenware and jewels. They also worked with glass. They were skilled craftsmen..
The inside of the old building was magnificent with an incredible marble staircase.
There was really not much to see in the museum because the exhibits are still being installed and many spaces are completely empty, but the building itself was stunning inside and well worth visiting.
We then visited the Czech Museum of music and it was very interesting to see how Western music was suppressed and even forbidden and how people worked against that to get as much of the music as they could, until democracy was restored and the Soviet Union was no longer able to prevent it.
We saw a great many ancient instruments, dating back to the 12th century, including the glass armonica.
We then took the funicular up the hill to Kinsky Gardens where the roses were beautiful. However the weather was cold, wet and windy and instead of wanding back down the other side to our apartment, we chickened out and took the funicular back down to the tram home.
Tuesday 10 September – Karlstejn Castle
Today we travelled by metro and then by train to Karlstejn.
Prague metro was easy to navigate prague train station completely different story. Hopeless.
Anyway, having finally found both the train lines and the correct platform, which is labelled 1-2 but is actually 3, we hope for a pleasant journey and that Karlstejn Castle lives up to its reputation.
Perched in a high crag over a river, this castle began life in 1348 as a hideaway for the crown jewels and treasury of the Roman Emperor Charles the fourth. The various landholders around the castle would come to its aid in the event of an attack.
In the late 19th century there was considerable restoration work in the neo Gothic style.
Many people say that it would not be out of place in Disneyland.
The climb to the Castle was arduous but worth it.
If you click on the first image below, it will open a slide show with an explanation of each image.