Another train ride, another country!
This time we were in a 6-person compartment. Two large sofa-like benches in a lovely green fabric; 3 seats on each side facing each other with the most minimal of leg-room possible. Joyce and I shared the space with 3 very large Czech young men returning from their first ‘big trip’ away from home to Budapest.
I was reminded of my two ‘growing boys’ at this age as we watched these three consume massive amounts of food and drink during our 6-hour train ride. As you might image, we were a little leary when we first sat down, but it turned out they spoke some English and were more than happy to share what they thought we should see and do in their city. They even helped us unload our luggage and walked with us through the very big and busy train station to where we could catch a taxi.
We were really looking forward to seeing if our choice of AirBnB lived up to the photos on the website – and we were not disappointed. It was in a great location and the best one we have stayed in so far.
The night we arrived we were so happy to be joined for dinner by my friend and fellow IWA member from Chicago, Bonnie Hagen. Bonnie and husband Michael now make their home in Prague.
We were an easy 10-minute walk across one of Prague’s many bridges, which took us to one of the trams that whisked us quietly and quickly to the Old Town or the Castle or the Charles Bridge.
The view from ‘our bridge’ looking straight down the Vltava river that wanders its way through the city heading toward the Castle. Are you starting to getting a theme here?
City on a river. Castle on a hill. Numerous large churches. Pedestrian Old Town Square. Jewish Quarter. Restaurants featuring mostly sauerkraut, potatoes and pig knuckles.
Welcome to Eastern Europe!
At the end of ‘our bridge’ was The Dancing House (also known as Fred & Ginger) designed by American architect Frank Gehry. It was originally an office space but is now a boutique hotel with a rooftop bar and outdoor viewing space under ‘Ginger’s hair’. We met Bonnie, Michael and fellow traveler, Leah Goldman there for drinks one evening. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain so the view wasn’t great.
Once again, we started our stay with a Free Walking Tour of the Old Town Prague. You never know what your guide will be like and though this one was extremely knowledgeable, she was very long-winded! But, it was a glorious day and we saw some big buildings, learned the history of this beautiful city and got a laugh at some of the antics in the main square.
The astrological clock was really amazing and if you click to enlarge the photo on the bottom right, you will see some very strange looking folks behind the crowd of tourists flocking the square.
The craziest thing we saw was this people-powered (think mostly men) machine that you peddle while drinking as much beer as you can consume during the length of the ride! Of course, there is a lovely, young bartender and a draft beer keg in the middle to slack their thirst from all the hard work they are doing making the machine move!
We toured the two glass exhibits while in Prague. One was at the Museum of Glass which was quite close to our flat. The other exhibit was part of a combination exhibition at the Museum of Decorative Arts.
The Ascher Exhibit was what drew me to the Museum, though the glass exhibit was a pleasant surprise. The husband and wife team of Zika and Lida Ascher, originally from Prague, became world-famous textile and clothing designers based in Britain after fleeing Czechoslovakia just before the start of WWII.
Their fabrics were used by the most well-known couture houses of their time – Dior, Balenciaga, Patou, Cardin, etc. Lida started her own clothing line and, as you can see from the photo, that is Princess Diana wearing one of her blouses. They also did a very popular line of silk, screen-printed scarves with designs by such artists as Picasso and Matisse. I could have spent a whole day wandering through this exhibit.
We spent a morning strolling across the Charles Bridge, Prague’s most famous bridge, with dozens of statues of saints and conquering heroes, artists, a band playing ragtime, lots of tourists, and great views of the Castle on the hill.
We had the loveliest surprise as we walked down the stairs from the bridge and found a French Food & Wine Market! Of course we had to stop and enjoy a glass of bubbly before strolling back to our flat.
On our walk home we found some very interesting public art. A line of yellow penguins and big babies can’t help but make you smile.
On our last day in Prague we finally made it to The Castle! Per Wikipedia, The Prague Castle is a complex that was built in the 9th century. It is the official office of the President of the Czech Republic. The castle was a seat of power for kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors, and presidents of Czechoslovakia. The Bohemian Crown Jewels are kept within a hidden room inside. It is also the largest castle in the world per the Guinness Book of Records!
Let me assure you – its BIG! We strolled in from the top, through the gardens and down to the Castle which was much easier than climbing a 100+ steps coming up from the other way. Thank you, Bonnie for this great tip!
Of course guards must guard the entrance to any castle, and Joyce just had to ham it up with the cute one!
We bought tickets to go inside some of the many buildings that make up this massive complex. The number one attraction is the Basilica of St. Vitus, which is sooooo massive there is no way I could begin to get a photo to show you its size. But here are few photos of side views!
We arrived just as the Basilica was opening to the public for the day and the line was a mile long, so we ducked into a smaller palace and admired the flying buttress construction that held up the walls of the dining hall, saw a few jewels, walls painted with family crests and some family portraits of very fancy-dressed kings.
We headed back to stand in now the much-smaller line to get into the Basilica when the skies opened. By the time we got inside, even with umbrellas and raincoats, we were drenched. But boy, was it worth it!
Stained glass windows hundreds of feet tall, altars of gold and a huge 1.5 ton solid silver casket of St. John of Nepomuk with cherubs and eagles and saints and a canopy of red velvet! Need I say a ‘wee bit over the top!’
We made our way home via the ‘The Lennon Wall’. Located in a tiny square across from the French embassy, it began as a protest by local graffiti artists against the Communist regime in 1980. It was a first just a space where paintings of John Lennon and words to his song for peace were painted. Now it has grown, and the original has been over-painted many times. Today it still represents the concepts of love and peace, and you can usually hear the notes from a guitarist strumming and singing ‘Imagine’.
As if waiting to tell us good-bye to Prague, on our way back to our flat to pack we came across this little Czech vodníck guarding a back bend in the river.
We are now heading just a bit south to the story-book town of Cesky-Krumlov.
Until next time….