Prague Part 4

Well today was my last day in Prague and I had a late afternoon flight home so that I could have some added time to do some shopping. The day started out a little cloudy to match my mood but shortly it cleared up and I was off to do some damage in the shops. The Czech Republic is world-famous for three main things, garnets, crystal and beads and I planned to get a little of each.

I crossed the Charles Bridge as I had done dozens of times in the past few days enroute towards the Old Town. Last night when I had left the Estate Theatre I had seen a beautiful doll in the window of a shop and I was determined to get it. The problem was in all the winding streets I had taken I couldn't remember where it was! So as I tried to retrace my steps from last night I stopped along the way in one shop or the other picking up some small souvenir here and there. Finally I saw a street which seemed familiar. As I turned a corner there was the store finally. The porcelein doll was still there in the window and the sales lady advised it was made in the Czech Republic and the markings on her said the same so I was happy to buy it.  

As I wandered through the store I found some beautiful crystal glasses which of course I just had to have. The workmanship is just beautiful. They are hand-painted with 24KT gold and I just fell in love with them. I was amazed how quite affordable they were as opposed to hand-painted glasses I had previously purchased in Venice a few years earlier. I would have liked to take home a large set but I had bought so many things in the past month that I just had no idea where I would even put these, but I would figure it out later. 

The city has so many astonishing shops brimming with items that take your breath away but words can never do justice to them so I will give you some photos here to see for yourselves.

The narrow streets are filled with shop after shop of the most varied and wonderful treasures, it's just so hard to decide on what you really want to take home, it is quite overwhelming! I did find a shop that made home made candy and chocolates as well as the most yummy cookies, of course I had to go in. So adorable that the shop was called BonBon.

Here are some more shots of the fairytale like streets. It is like walking in an Aesop Fable ...... so beautiful with the colored buildings and lamposts, flowers and amazing architecture. It is quite dreamlike to walk around here. Next to Venice this is my favorite city in Europe to walk around in.

I wandered back towards my hotel to get ready to leave and I took pictures of the beautiful statues on either side of the bridge as well as the beautiful colorful buildings which can be seen from the bridge. I thought I would share them here.

This day and this voyage has now unfortunately come to an end. I have been gone for over 4 weeks and have experienced so many varied cultures, savoured many different cuisines and visited Old World Europe at it's best. Memories for a lifetime will be coupled with the anticipation of my return.

I always say "Love is the food of life and travel is the dessert", during this adventure I have experienced a virual feast!

Prague, Czech Republic Part 3

Today was my last full day in Prague. There was one more area that I had to explore and that was Prague Castle atop Petrin Hill. This was quite a walk uphill all the way. It didn't help that it was 80 degrees in the shade but hey I was in Prague on my way to see it's most famous structure so no complaining. I had to keep walking up and up and at one point I had to sit because this was quite a hike. When I finally reach the pinacle I was well rewarded with the most incredible sight, the entire city of Prague lay before me. Another five minutes and I was at the entrance to this huge monolithic medieval castle and it was breathtaking to say the least.  

The Prague Castle, an ancient symbol of the Czech lands, is the most significant Czech monument and one of the most important cultural institutions in the Czech Republic. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Prague Castle is the largest coherent castle complex in the world, with an area of almost 70,000 m². A UNESCO World Heritage site, it consists of a large-scale composition of palaces and ecclesiastical buildings of various architectural styles, from Roman-style buildings from the 10th century through Gothic modifications in the 14th century.

The Prague Castle complex comprises three courtyards and a great many buildings, including Saint Vitus Cathedral (the most recognisable landmark in the city), several palaces, viewing towers, museums and art galleries, cafés, a monastery and Golden Lane.

There were guards at the entrance and after watching the changing of the guard ceremony I entered the grounds to start exploring Prague's main attraction. There are many buildings and the height of the cathedral is so imposing. The first known building on the site of Prague Castle was erected in the 9th century. In the 12th century it was replaced by a Romanesque palace. In the 14th century it was rebuilt in the Gothic style, under the reign of Charles IV. After World War I, renovations to the castle buildings and to the Prague Castle Gardens were undertaken by the architect J. Plecnik. Today, Prague Castle is the seat of the President of the Czech Republic and serves as the historical and political centre for both city and state.

In the castle complex there is a street called the Golden Lane. The street is full of small houses built in Mannerism style at the end of the 16th century. In 1597 the emperor Rudolf II decided to give the space there to the castle marksmen who guarded the fortification. But there were 24 marksmen and a lack of space. Therefore, the marksmen had to build very small houses for them and their families. The material they used was stone, mud, and wood. The emperor prohibited to build windows in the direction to the Deer Moat or to sell or rent the house to somebody else. During the decades several houses were destroyed, after 1657 there were only 14 houses left. Castle marksmen were not needed so much any more, that’s why more and more people of other occupations came to live there. The Golden Gate hosted both rich and poor people, artists, clerks, footmen, etc. One of the famous inhabitants of this street was famous writer Franz Kafka in house no. 22 or Prague prophetess Madame de Thebes, who was killed by the Gestapo in the war because she foretold the end of Nazism.

Golden Lane got its name from the story of alchymists living in the street during the reign of Rudolf II who tried to make not only the philosopher stone or the elixir of youth, but also to transform metals into gold. Even though these stories are not based on the truth, there is a real story dating to the beginning of the 20th century. One of the local house was inhabited by an old man, doctor of philosofy Uhle, who spent all his money on old books about magic. He made secret experiments in his lab inside the house. In 1831 people in the Golden Lane heard a big detonation from his house. When fire fighters entered the house and distinguished fire, they found Uhle dead with a yellow stone in his hand. Later on the stone was proved to be gold. How the gold got into the house is still not known. Maybe he really made his and many other alchymists’ longtime dream come true.

Later I started to make my way down the hill again stopping into some small shops along the way. Each street has a bevy of interesting stores and fun restuarants. I just had to grab a bite in one of the cute restaurants along the way.

Who can resist a real Czech meal? I loved the food here because it reminded me of the kind of French Canadian food I was raised on. Hearty meats with potatoes and stews with gravy, chops and decadent desserts. Meals are filling and so tasty. 
After more sightseeing I then had to make my way back to the hotel to get ready for my special evening. This was another night I had been waiting for since I got here. Tonight was the Mozart performance at the Estates Theatre.

The Estates Theatre dates back to 1783. It is regarded as one of the most beautiful, historic theatres in Europe, and the name Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart will be forever linked with it. It was here in 1787 that he personally conducted his premiere of Don Giovanni. Don Giovanni, The Magic Flute, Cosi fan Tutte, The Marriage of Figaro and other famous Mozart operas feature heavily in the repertoire of the Estates Theatre. Ballets include Tchaikovsky's classical ballet Onegin.

In the course of its history the Theatre of the Estates attracted some significant artists of European stature: Carl Maria von Weber was a conductor here, Angelica Catalani sang here, Nicolo Paganini gave concerts, there were also conductors Rubinstein, Carl Goldmark, and Gustav Mahler.

The theatre was the one used in the movie "Amadeus" which is one of my favorite movies of all time, so I was very excited to step foot in this legendary theatre. I had reserved a box and as I entered and took my seat it was overwhelming to think that the genius of Amadeus had once conducted inside this building where I was sitting just as the high society elite and royalty had sat hundreds of years ago. Nothing has been changed since those times. I ran my fingers along the brocade on the walls and stared at the ornate ceiling and cherubs which adorned the lights, golden gilt was everywhere.

A quartet came out and as they started to perform it struck me how very special an evening of entertainment was hundreds of years ago. No buttons to push, no remotes to control, people just had to use their senses to see and hear remarkable artistry for entertainment. 

They were also joined by two opera singers who sang some very recognizable pieces and as I sat in the dark listening, I thought this was such a fitting event for my last night in Prague, a celebration of the best of Mozart to end what had been a most unforgettable voyage.

We were not allowed to film or take pictures but I was not to be detracted. I did take some shots and a short video....couldn't help it. 

Later that night I went out to take pictures of Prague by night when it truly becomes a fantasy town with it's lamp-posts giving a golden glow to the city. Here are some of my favorite photos......

Prague, Czech Republic Part 2

This morning I was a bit lazy since I was so comfy in my bed and slept in until 10:30. The hotel has a cappuccino machine in the room so I made myself a cup while I relaxed pouring over my Prague guidebook deciding where I would go today. Prague is very compact so it is easy to walk to all the main sights without hassle. I am a photography enthusiast so I was looking forward to making this my photo expedition. Everywhere you turn in Prague is another fabulous shot. The architecture is amazing and looking up at Prague Castle which overlooks the city from high above the hill is quite breathtaking. The combination of old brightly colored buildings with ornate ornamentation along the river with the Charles Bridge in the background is quite irresistible.

It was a gorgeous day today and I started out by heading towards the Charles Bridge to look more closely at the statutes and take pictures of these beautiful artifacts which have been standing there for hundreds of years. Charles Bridge is a stone Gothic bridge that connects the Old Town and Malá Strana. Its construction was commissioned by Czech king and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV and began in 1357. In charge of the construction was architect Petr Parléř whose other works include the  St.  Vitus Cathedral  at the Prague Castle. It is said that egg yolks were mixed into the mortar to strengthen the construction of the bridge. Charles Bridge has survived many floods, most recently in August 2002 when the country experienced the worst flood in the past 500 years - so the egg yolks must not have been such a bad idea.

There is a tower standing on each end of the bridge. Both the Staroměstská věž on the Old Town end and the Malostranská věž on the Malá Strana end can be climbed for a view of Prague and the bridge from above. Baroque statues (a total of 30) began to be placed on either side of Charles Bridge in the 17th century. The most popular statue is probably the one of St. John of Nepomuk, a Czech martyr saint who was executed during the reign of Wenceslas IV by being thrown into the Vltava from the bridge. The plaque on the statue has been polished to a shine by countless people having touched it over the centuries. Touching the statue is supposed to bring good luck and ensure your return to Prague. Just like everyone else I did touch it so now I can look forward to returning to this enchanting city. 


There are many artists, musicians and souvenir vendors on the bridge and contrary to other cities where the artists sell items made in China, here you can see them making the items and they sign them. I bought a beautiful small watercolor of Prague Castle which makes for a great souvenir and I only paid $10. that was a great buy!

Once across the bridge I made my way through the winding narrow cobbledstoned streets towards the main square, Old Town Square. The Old Town Square is the oldest and most important square of the historical Prague. It is surrounded with historical buildings such as the Old Town City Hall with the famous Astronomical Clock, the imposing St. Nicholas Church and Church of Our Lady before Tyn, and many houses and palaces of various architectural styles and colourful history. It has been a centre of Prague Old Town since the middle ages, when it was a market place at the crossing of European merchants´ roads.

One of the turning-points of Czech history, the execution of 27 leaders of the rebellion against Emperor Matthias, took place there in 1621. You can see 27 crosses in the pavement by the Old Town City Hall, as well as symbols of swords and a thorn crown, commemorating the sad event.

A legend says, that the ghosts of the executed noblemen return to the square every year on 21 st of June, the day of the execution.

The medieval astronomical clock adorns the southern wall of the Old Town City Hall in the Old Town Square. It announces every hour with 12 apostles passing by the window above the astronomical dial and with symbolic sculptures moving aside. That makes it a popular tourist attraction and hundreds of tourists flock the area a few minutes before every hour. The event is also announced by the blowing of horns prior to the start of every hour.

Once I watched the clock I walked over to where many people were gathered around St. Nicholas church. St. Nicholas is a Baroque church, decorated with sculptures by Antonín Braun. The interior design was inspired by the chapel of St. Louis-des-invalides in Paris. In 1781 decoration inside St. Nicholas was removed after emperor Josef II ordered the closure of all monasteries without a social function. From 1870-1914 St. Nicholas became Russian Orthodox. Then, during the second World War, Czech army units were stationed here and artists were set to work restoring the church. After the war, St. Nicholas was handed over to the Czech Hussite movement, with whom it remains today. It now serves as both a church and a magnificent venue for classical concerts.

Luckily they had a concert starting in 10 minutes and I had just enough time to buy a ticket. When I walked in I was astonished to see such a beautifully ornate interior. There were 50 foot high marble columns and frescos dating back hundred of years. The ceiling was covered in fabulous painted scenes and the sun was shining through the stained-glass windows and made the crystal chandeliers look like they were covered in diamonds. The concert was really great with beautiful music from all the masters especially Mozart and there was also opera pieces sang as well which was a bonus. This was a nice unplanned treat.

Once it was over I was beginning to get hungry and I found a very cute little sidewalk cafe that was offering a soup, steak with roasted potatoes and strudel for dessert daily special so I was sold. It was so nice to sit there and watch tourists and locals intermingle as they went on their way. Because the town is so compact with people walking everywhere as opposed to using cars, I found that people in Prague tend to be friendlier and readily speak to each other.

Strangers become temporary friends in a town filled with eager travellers all having a story to tell while admiring the beauty that is Prague. At the table next to mine there were four young men from Australia. They were eyeing all the girls strolling by and were having fun and laughing while drinking their beers. I could not help but overhear that they were college students on a school break. These sights and sounds are everywhere in Prague.

Now it was starting to get dark out and I thought it might be tme to head back to my hotel. I did manage to browse a few shops along the way and I bought a sweet small puppet. Prague is known for making exquisite puppets that can run into the thousands of dollars. Mine was a bit more modest at $15. but it's a hand-made lil treasure just the same.