prague, czech republic: exploring malá strana

Tuesday, October 3:  This morning, Martina from Comfy Tours picks us up at Penzion U Matesa in Český Krumlov and drives us to our Airbnb apartment, hosted by Kateřina, in an attractive part of Prague -Vinohrady.  The apartment is spacious enough for six, with two rooms (one extra with two beds), a kitchen, dining area, and nice bathroom. It’s a newly renovated apartment, clean and comfortable, located close to Peace Square and public transportation, making it easy to get around the city. It also has a washer and dryer (shared by 3 apartments). We have loved our Airbnb apartments, here and in Budapest, on this trip.

It’s about 12:30 when we arrive in Prague, so we head out to look for a lunch spot.  We find the modern vegetarian restaurant, Etnosvet, at Legrerova 40, on a corner down from our apartment, and here we enjoy a fabulous lunch.

I start with a glass of cactus tea with cranberries.  We share a Chestnut velouté, and I have Celeriac Ravioli with smoked tofu, hazelnuts, walnuts and hazelnut oil.

Today, our focus is on Malá Strana, a district of Prague known officially as the Menší Město pražské, or Lesser Town of Prague.  We get off the tram at Malostranské náměstí, the main square of Malá Strana, which has been the hub of Malá Strana since the 10th century.  The green dome and imposing facade of St. Nicholas church tower over the square. From here, Mostecká ulice leads out to the Charles Bridge, and that’s where we head first.

Church of St. Nicholas
Malostranské náměstí

On our way to Charles Bridge, we pass a colorful Thai Massage place that beckons, and although I’m always a sucker for a massage, we don’t have time to indulge today.

We walk down Mostecká to Charles Bridge, passing the taller of two towers at the western end of Charles Bridge. This Malá Strana Bridge Tower was built in the mid-15th century imitating the Old Town Bridge Tower on the eastern end of the bridge.

Mostecká

I love the fancy wrought iron ornaments on the sides of the buildings.

Mostecká

Charles IV commissioned the architect of St. Vitus Cathedral, Peter Parler, to build Charles Bridge in 1357, replacing the washed away Judith Bridge. Completed in 1390, it was known simply as Kamenny most (Stone Bridge), and wasn’t renamed Charles until the 19th century.  Charles Bridge is decorated with thirty statues.  Below is the 1709 statue of St. Kosma and St. Damian, third century physician brothers (Lonely Planet: Prague & the Czech Republic).

St. Kosma and St. Damian on Charles Bridge

The Malá Strana Bridge Tower sits beside a lower tower originally part of the Judith Bridge, washed away by floods in 1342.

Malá Strana Bridge Tower

Charles Bridge is a favorite place for both locals and tourists to see and be seen.

Charles Bridge
busy Charles Bridge

Another statue on the bridge is St. John of Matha, St. Felix of Valois and St. Ivan, a 1714 statue of the 17th century French founders of the Trinitarian Order.  The original intention for the Order was to provide the ransom for Christians held captive by non-Christians; these Christians were often captured by crusaders and pirates along the Mediterranean coast of Europe.

Statuary of St. John of Matha, St. Felix of Valois and St. Ivan

From Charles Bridge, we can see the canal that separates Kampa Island from the west bank.

Kampa

From Charles Bridge, we have great views of the Vltava River going in every direction.  Looking north, we see the Mánes Bridge, or in Czech, Mánesův most.

the Vltava River

On the west bank, we can see the Franz Kafka Museum and other buildings lining the shore.

the Vltava River

To the south, we see the Legion Bridge and the National Theatre.

view of the eastern shore of the Vltava

At the Malá Strana end of Charles Bridge, we descend steps to Kampa, Prague’s biggest island, and wander through a tree-lined square bordered by outdoor cafes.

Kampa

We make our way to the shore of the Vltava and see Charles Bridge and the Old Town Bridge Tower at its eastern end.

view of Charles Bridge and the Vltava River from Kampa

We pass the John Lennon Pub as we make our way to the John Lennon Wall.

John Lennon Pub

We stroll by some cute cafes, love locks, canals separating Kampa from Malá Strana, gnomes, and interesting graffiti along the way.

restaurant on Kampa
canal on Kampa
locks on Kampa
gnome over canal
Mike and graffiti

Look closely at the middle of the first wall of graffiti and you can see my political sentiments expressed perfectly.

In a leafy secluded square, we find the John Lennon Wall across from the French Embassy.  After Lennon was shot on December 8, 1980, the singer, songwriter, and peace activist who co-founded the Beatles became an inspiration for young pacifist Czechs. Lennon’s image was painted on a wall, along with political graffiti, Beatles lyrics and other song titles. The communists banned most Western pop music and even jailed some Czech musicians for playing it.  Though the secret police whitewashed the wall many times, they could never keep it clean.  After 1989, though Lennon’s image and political messages became chipped away, tourists began to make their own contributions. The Knights of Malta now own the wall.  Early on, they painted over it, but after a while they gave up.  The wall lives today (Lonely Planet: Prague & The Czech Republic).

The John Lennon Wall
The John Lennon Wall
The John Lennon Wall

I’m initially surprised to find “Washington” on the John Lennon Wall, but then again, I’m not. Our government has the wherewithal to do great good for the world, as well as to inflict great evil, and we have done both.

The John Lennon Wall is a work in progress, adjusting its messages to the political times.

The John Lennon Wall

We make our way off the island of Kampa and head back uphill to Malá Strana.

going through Kampa
Kampa

Our next destination is the High Baroque St. Nicholas Church, built from 1703-1760.   We head first for the bell tower and climb its 215 steps for a view of the city.

St. Nicholas Church
view from St. Nicholas Church

Inside the bell tower, we pass some small rooms.  The living room was used as a place to rest, eat and work.  The bed sits in a cut-out niche next to the stove.  The sleeping corner is equipped with a cross of “protection” hung on the wall.  The eating and working corner consists of a wooden bench, a table and a chair.  A small corner cabinet was the only storage space. The remaining storage furniture fits in the opposite niche which features a cupboard-like shelf to store tableware (ceramic plates, a jug for beer/wine, and a serving dish).  Next to it, on the floor, is a chest for books, clothes, and other personal objects.  The simple clock on the wall gives a finishing touch.

From St. Nicholas Church, we can see Petřín Lookout Tower, which we will visit later this afternoon for more fabulous views.

view from St. Nicholas Church
view from St. Nicholas Church
view from St. Nicholas Church

According to Lonely Planet, the tower of St. Nicholas Church was used during the communist era to spy on the nearby American Embassy.

St. Nicholas Church
St. Nicholas Church
building outside St. Nicholas Church

The interior of St. Nicholas Church is an extravaganza of ceiling frescoes, a 2,500-pipe organ and numerous statues.

interior of St. Nicholas Church

On the ceiling of St. Nicholas Church is Johann Kracker’s 1770 Apotheosis of St. Nicholas, Europe’s largest fresco, according to Lonely Planet.

dome of St. Nicholas Church

The Early Baroque Church of Our Lady Victorious, dating back to 1611, was rebuilt from 1634 to 1669 and is administered by the Barefoot Carmelites.

The Church of Our Lady Victorious

The church is famous for its statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague, originally from Spain and donated to the Carmelite friars in 1628 by Polyxena; she was first princess of Lobkowicz, a Bohemian noble family that dates back to the 14th century. The Infant Jesus has two crowns and about forty-six robes. His vestments are traditionally changed about ten times a year according to the liturgical season, according to Prague.eu.

The Infant Jesus of Prague

We continue walking through Malá Strana, heading back to Charles Bridge once more.

The Church of Our Lady Victorious
Prague streets
dolls in shop window
Malostranské náměstí & St. Nicholas Church
on the way to Charles Bridge

It’s a beautiful time of day to walk back over the Charles Bridge and see action on the Vltava River, including boat traffic and swans floating leisurely on the rippling river.

the Vltava River and Charles Bridge
the Vltava River and Charles Bridge
the Vltava River
the Vltava River and Charles Bridge
Gustav Mahler

The Memorial to the Victims of Communism is a series of seven bronze statues descending a flight of stairs at the base of Petřín Hill.  The statues deteriorate as they recede in the distance, their bodies and limbs decaying and disappearing.  It memorializes the victims of the Communist era between 1948 and 1989,   It is the work of Czech sculptor Olbram Zoubek and architects Jan Kerel and Zdeněk Holzel.

There is also a bronze strip that runs along the center of the memorial, showing estimated numbers of those impacted by communism (Wikipedia: Memorial to the Victims of Communism): 205,486 imprisoned; 170,938 forced into exile; 4,500 died in prison; 327 shot trying to escape; 248 executed.

Memorial to the Victims of Communism

We then take the Petřín Funicular Railway up to Petřín Hill, where we plan to go to the top of Petřín Lookout Tower. Built for an exhibition in 1891, the tower is 200 feet tall.

Petřín Lookout Tower
Petřín Lookout Tower

It turns out the elevator to the top is out of service today, so we have to climb up the 400 steps circling the exterior of the tower, making for a cold ascent.  We have amazing views of the city as the sun goes down.

view from Petřín Lookout Tower
view from Petřín Lookout Tower
view from Petřín Lookout Tower
view from Petřín Lookout Tower
view from Petřín Lookout Tower

We have extraordinary views from Petřín Lookout Tower.

view from Petřín Lookout Tower

We find a Mexican restaurant, Restaurace Cantina, on the street near the bottom of Petřín Hill, where we stop for a cozy and delicious meal in a festive atmosphere.

Restaurace Cantina
Restaurace Cantina
Restaurace Cantina

Despite our day being short because we came from Český Krumlov this morning, I think we still managed to squeeze in a lot!

Steps today: 13,778 (5.74 miles).

This walk is inspired in part by Jo’s Monday Walks.

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15 thoughts on “prague, czech republic: exploring malá strana

  1. All that wonderful old architecture, the graffiti applied with imagination, the canals! And the wisdom of at least one of the graffiti artists – culture, yes. Violence, no.

    1. Thanks, Carol. Lots of gorgeous architecture in Prague, and lots of wisdom on that wall. We loved it, and we loved where we stayed too. It was the perfect place to end our holiday, although I still have 3 more days to go! 🙂

  2. You did! Sorry I’m a bit late. The neighbours just left and I’m a tiny bit squiffy. 🙂 🙂 I would have had to write something on that wall, Cathy. Didn’t you? But my favourite bit is the evening walk back across the bridge. Such a beautiful city! Thank you for showing it to me. 🙂

    1. I didn’t write anything on the wall, because I didn’t come prepared with anything to write with. But it was fun to read and look at the pictures. Yes, the evening walk across the bridge was lovely; I love that evening light. I loved Prague. Still have 3 more days to write about. At least I finally finished Japan! It feels so good to finally complete something. 🙂

  3. Blimey, you climbed up (and down) a lot of stairs on this day. Worth it for those excellent views. I never did find the John Lennon wall, so thanks for the photos, though it does look a little too layered in places.

    1. We did climb a lot on this first day in Prague, Jude! Luckily we had a beautiful day and wonderful views. That John Lennon Wall was something. Overflow graffiti was also on the walls leading to it. Some of the words echoed my political sentiments exactly!

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