Ah, Prague. Such a breathtaking city, though a very touristy one. The medieval structures, cobblestone streets and beautifully preserved facades exude historical authenticity: only a few buildings in Prague were bombed during World War II–the Old Town Hall behind the Astronomical Clock and the National Museum. And that only happened in the final days of the war, when the news that the Allies were coming spurred a Czech uprising.
Given that Prague’s architecture over the centuries has remained intact, the city’s history should be salient, in the air, written on the sidewalks… but something about Prague felt paradoxically inaccessible. The tourism industry is so prevalent that it seemed a bit Disney–too pristine, even contrived. Or perhaps because Prague’s historical heyday was so long ago–in the 14th century–it mostly feels as though history has been repackaged for light consumption along with your $1 beer.
Yep. Beer for $1! Pilsner Urquell was EVERYWHERE. Even in my beef goulash. So cheap, plentiful and delicious.
Wenceslas Square, New Town
The memorial for Vaclav Havel is still overflowing with candles and remembrance.
On the other end of the long square, a Christmas market still serving up hot snacks, mulled wine and hot chocolate—all of which were delicious!
At last, some sun! The buildings look even more striking against the bright blue background.
I was completely fascinated by the astronomical clock, as were many others. It’s the oldest astronomical clock still in operation, built in 1490. Every hour, a small crowd gathers in front of the clock to see the animated figures come to life. The twelve apostles perform a peek-a-boo parade, the rooster crows and a trumpeter atop the tower blares out what I think is the national anthem. It’s kind of a hilariously charming episode.
S and I tried to get tickets to an opera or concert while in town, but it didn’t work out. So we just admired the Estates Theatre, where Mozart premiered his opera Don Giovanni, from outside.
We took a free walking tour through Old Town, New Town and the Jewish Quarter, and I rather wished that we had taken a more specific, paid tour, or simply done it on our own. The tour guide was genial and entertaining, but the information he shared offered little more substance than what I had in my pocket guidebook. I like to dawdle and poke about in random side streets, and didn’t really get to do that. Our visit to the Jewish Quarter felt far too cursory, especially considering how important the Jewish enclave in Prague was historically.
Franz Kafka was born here, and a statue in the Jewish Quarter depicts one of his stories. He also lived and worked in No. 22 Golden Lane (pictured below). Turns out that Hitler wanted to settle in Prague, and planned to make the Jewish Quarter a specially preserved area as a monument to an extinct race. Ugh. Even just typing that out is revolting. But in the end, wouldn’t he be glad to know of the role he played in making the Jewish Quarter a cultural and historical trove.
The best trdlo in Prague can be found at the Krusta Bakery nestled under the Judith Tower on the west side of the Charles Bridge. What is trdlo? My new favorite snack, a toasty Czech donut coated with caramelized sugar. And how do I know theirs is the best? Because, my friend, I ate a lot of trdlo in Prague. And theirs was by far the best.
Hradcany Castle District
St. Vitus Cathedral. Bottom right: Alphonse Mucha’s art nouveau stained glass window.
Old Royal Palace: Vladiclav Hall (where medieval jousts were held) and the window of defenestration (where kings were thrown to their grisly deaths). And a coat of arms that reminded me of what Frodo and Sam wear when they are sneaking through Mordor.
Golden Lane. No. 22, where Kafka lived and wrote. No wonder he was writing about giant cockroaches, I’m sure he came across some in that teeny cottage.
Artwork from the collection at St. George’s Convent. The painting on the left is called “The Reader,” and the one on the right is by Antonin Dvorak! He was apparently a portraitist before trying his hand at composing. We went to an exhibit on Dvorak at the Czech Museum of Music, which was one of my favorite sights in Prague. Their permanent collection of instruments, with recordings performed on the various instruments—fascinating! Instruments I had never even heard of or seen before, like a quarter tone grand piano, giraffe piano… (I don’t have any photos because it would have cost 40 crowns to take pictures, but all the more reason to see it for yourself if you go to Prague!) The only sad part was that, because it’s slightly off the beaten path, no one was there. Or maybe because it was 6pm everyone was already in the pubs drinking.
The City at Dusk
View from the castle grounds of this gorgeous city!
And from the Strahov Monastery, tucked away atop the hill. Looking down on St. Nicholas church, the river, the lovely city.
As S and I crossed over the Charles Bridge one last time to head to dinner on our last night, we kept sneaking glances back at the castle atop the hill every few feet. Really, just so beautiful!