our last day in prague: old town & the jewish quarter

Friday, October 6: Our last day in Prague, we finally head out to see the highlights of the city, Staré Město (the Old Town) & Josefov (the Jewish Quarter).  I wanted to save it for a sunny day, so luckily we got some blue skies.

This is our stately Airbnb apartment building in Vinohrady.  Our apartment is on the second floor of the tan building closest to the camera.

Our Airbnb apartment in Vinohrady

We hop on metro at the Namesti Meru station.

Namesti Meru metro station

The diverse architecture in the Old Town is quite impressive, showcasing Art Nouveau, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo.

walking into Staré Město

The Memorial to Jan Hus dominates Old Town Square. Born in 1369, he was a priest who stood up to both the Catholic Church and the Austrian Habsburg royal family. For this, he was arrested, charged with heresy, excommunicated, and finally burned at the stake in 1415. He inspired the Hussite movement, a pre-Protestant Christian movement calling for reformation of the Catholic Church.

The huge monument, unveiled in 1915 to commemorate the 5ooth anniversary of the hero’s martyrdom, depicts victorious Hussite warriors and Protestants who were forced into exile 200 years after Hus, as well as a young mother and her children who symbolize national rebirth.

Memorial to Jan Hus

I love the architectural flourishes adorning the buildings around Old Town Square.

Old Town Square

The green domed Baroque Church of St. Nicholas stands in one corner of the square.  Once Catholic, now Hussite, the church is now a popular concert venue.

Church of St. Nicholas

Around a corner, we’re awed by some beautifully adorned buildings.

Building near Old Town Square
Building near Old Town Square

The Old Town Hall is under renovation and covered in ugly blue mesh. Luckily, the Astronomical Clock is visible.  The Old Town Hall was established in 1338, during the Bohemian Golden Age (c. 1200-1400).  The Astronomical Clock’s mechanics are complex; you can read about how it works here.  Every hour between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m., the twelve apostles appear, along with other moving sculptures—notably a figure of Death (represented by a skeleton) striking the time.  A calendar dial with medallions represents the months.

The twin Gothic spires of the Church of Our Lady Before Týn are iconic symbols of Prague. In medieval times, the church was Catholic.   For a period, it was Hussite, and now it’s Catholic again. The spires are decorated with a golden image of the Virgin Mary made from a melted down Hussite chalice that once adorned the church. It has been the main church of the Old Town since the 14th century.

Týn Church
Old Town Square

The yellow building with the flags is an Art Nouveau building, recognized as such by its pastel color, wrought iron balconies, colorful murals, and ornate stonework.

Horse & buggy at Old Town Square
Old Town Square
Old Town Square
relief sculpture near Old Town Square

We dip to the Basilica of St. James, founded in 1232 and built originally as a Gothic church; it is known for being the most beautiful church interior in the Old Town. In 1689, the original interior was destroyed by fire; this is an 18th century Baroque renovation. The bejeweled Madonna Pietatis hangs at the altar; above her hovers a painting of the martyrdom of St. James.

inside Church of St. James

A mummified forearm hangs to the right of the tomb entrance, dating back over 400 years. Legend has it that a jewel thief tried to steal the jewels on the altar, and the Madonna grabbed his arm and would not let go;  his arm was cut off by monks to free him from the Virgin.

Besides the blooming of Art Nouveau architecture in Prague, Cubism also flourished in the city. The Cubist-inspired House of the Black Madonna, built in 1912 by Josef Gočár, has rectangular windows and cornices; it is both “avant-garde and … traditional at the same time.”  According to Cubism in Architecture: A Short Amusement of the Past, “Cubist architecture did not totally deny the experience of the past. It only decorated the facades of buildings with new ornaments but the structure remained the same.”

House of the Black Madonna

We stop for a snack of coffee and pastries.

snack time

We continue our walk past the 1780s Estates Theater, a Classicist building and a prime opera venue in Prague; here, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart premiered Don Giovanni in 1787 and directed many of his works (Rick Steves Pocket Prague).

The 500-year-old Powder Tower was once the town’s main gate, as well as storing Prague’s gunpowder. It served as the city’s formal front door, welcoming royalty and dignitaries.

The Gothic facade of Powder Tower is carved with Prague’s coat of arms, a pair of Czech kings, golden-winged angels, and Christ with his saints.

Powder Tower details

Next to Powder Tower is the Municipal House, a celebration of Art Nouveau with its organic flowing and curvaceous lines, its wrought iron balcony and colorful mosaics.  Built in the early 1900s and restored in the 1990s, it is considered “the pearl of Czech Art Nouveau” (Rick Steves Pocket Prague).  A movement that was a reaction to 19th century academic art, Art Nouveau is inspired by natural forms and structures, particularly the curved lines of plants and flowers. It was popular between 1890 and 1910. Prague is considered by many to be Europe’s best city for Art Nouveau.

Municipal House

The mosaic above the balcony, a symbol of the city, is called Homage to Prague.  Here, the goddess Praha oversees a peaceful and highly cultured society. In 1918, when Czechoslovakia was formed, independence was proclaimed from the balcony of the Municipal House.

Homage to Prague

We make our way to the outdoor market, Havel’s Market (Havelske trziste), a permanent market in the city center.

On the way to Havelske trziste

Stalls at Havelske trziste offer arts and crafts, wooden toys and puppets, flowers, leather goods, ceramics, paintings and fruits and vegetables, as well as tourist souvenirs (Prague Experience: Shops and Markets). Though a colorful market, I find it less enticing than the markets we found in Budapest and Vienna.

Havelske trziste

I love simply strolling down Prague streets and admiring the architectural exuberance of the buildings.

On our way to the Jewish Quarter, we walk past St. Francis of Assisi Church.  The first St. Francis Church was established here in the 13th century. The current church was consecrated in 1688 by the Archbishop of Prague in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi. It houses a unique baroque organ which was built in 1702, and today classical and organ concerts are held here.

St. Francis of Assisi Church

The late-14th-century Old Town Bridge Tower sits at the eastern end of Charles Bridge. It was built as both fortification and a triumphal arch marking the entrance to the Old Town (Lonely Planet: Prague).

Old Town Bridge Tower
Old Town Bridge Tower
Old Town Bridge Tower

We walk past the front of St. Francis of Assisi Church, with its religious figures standing authoritatively along the balcony, as if about to give a stern sermon.

St. Francis of Assisi Church

For the second time, on Charles Bridge, we pass by St. John of Matha, St. Felix of Valois and St. Ivan, a 1714 statue of the 17th century French founders of the Trinitarian Order.

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

We also have views north up the Vltava River to Mánes Bridge.

view from Charles Bridge

The Crucifix and Calvary sculpture is one of the oldest sculptures on Charles Bridge. The original wooden crucifix was installed soon after 1361 and likely destroyed by the Hussites in 1419. A new crucifix with a wooden corpus was erected in 1629 but was severely damaged by the Swedes towards the end of the Thirty Years’ War. This was replaced by another wooden Calvary which, in turn, was replaced with a metal version in 1657.  The present sandstone statues portray the Virgin Mary and John the Evangelist (Wikipedia: List of Statues on Charles Bridge).

the cross on Charles Bridge

The statue says in Hebrew “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord of Hosts;” this is considered to be a symbolic humiliation and degradation of Prague Jews, as they were forced to pay for a set of golden letters referring to God and hung around the neck of the statue of Christ (Wikipedia).

the cross on Charles Bridge

Prague Castle sits majestically on a hill over the Vltava River.

view of Prague Castle from Charles Bridge

Heading toward the Jewish Quarter, we pass the neo-Renaissance Rudolfinum, built between 1875 and 1885; it is connected to another great figure of classical music, the Czech Antonín Dvořák.  Here, he personally conducted the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra for the premiere of his famous New World Symphony (Avant Garde Prague: The Rudolfinum).

Rudolfinum

I have become addicted to dumplings of all kinds here in Prague, and at lunchtime at the mistral cafe, I sample yet another kind. These are a bit dry, with no gravy or sauce, but still tasty.  No wonder I so easily gained back the weight I lost in Japan!

dumplings, again!

We arrive in the Jewish Quarter only to find that everything is closed today because it’s Sukkot, a Jewish holiday.  We should have checked this out earlier!

The Old-New Synagogue, closed today, is Prague’s oldest active synagogue and one of Prague’s earliest Gothic buildings.

Old-New Synagogue

The Ceremonial hall near the Old Jewish Cemetery was a mortuary house used to prepare bodies and perform purification rituals before burial.

Ceremonial House

Sadly, we can only peek into the Old Jewish Cemetery through a closed gate.  It is Europe’s oldest surviving Jewish graveyard, with (apparently) 12,000 jumbled stones, under which are perhaps 100,000 graves, piled in layers in a limited space.  I’m disappointed that we can’t go in today because it is considered an emotionally moving experience.

a peek into the Old Jewish Cemetery

After leaving the Jewish Quarter, we take 1-hour boat cruise on Prague Boats on the Vltava River, starting near the Mánes Bridge, a road and tramway bridge.

Mánesův most
boat on the Vltava River

The neo-Baroque Straka Academy, on the west bank of the Vltava, is the government seat of the Czech Republic.  It was designed by the architect Václav Roštlapil and built between 1891 and 1896.

Straka Academy
Prague Castle from the Vltava

From the boat, we see views of both shores of the river, and most of the sights we’ve already visited.

I love the view of Prague Castle from the boat.

view of Prague Castle
Charles Bridge

Finally, we take the metro back to our neighborhood.

Staromestska Metro Station

We pop into a cozy spot, Restaurace Kravín, for a couple of beers before going back to our apartment.

After a short rest at our apartment, we go to a fabulous restaurant, Matylda Restaurant, for dinner. I love finding local restaurants off the tourist track. My bread pizza has cream, herb pesto, blue cheese, Edam, Parmesan cheese, green pepper, goat cheese and scallions. It’s delicious and the atmosphere is a cozy and welcoming escape from the cold.

Tomorrow, we fly back home, sad to see our holiday come to an end.

Steps today:15,024 (6.37 miles)

Saturday, October 7: We get an airport cab to the airport for our morning flight, with a stopover at Frankfurt airport.  There we have lunch and beers before continuing our long flight back over the pond.

Our trip to Eastern Europe has sadly come to an end!

This post is inspired by Jo’s Monday Walk.

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prague: a day of wandering through nové město & vinohrady

Thursday, October 5:  Our third day in Prague is a gloomy and cold one.  We brave the weather anyway, as people do when on vacation, and head to explore Nové Město, or the New Town, founded in 1348 by Charles IV outside the city walls, east and south of the Old Town. New Town’s most famous landmark is Wenceslas Square, originally built as a medieval horse market for the working class; it’s now a tourist and commercial center with pedestrian-friendly arcades lined with shops, cafes and cinemas.

Looming over the south end of the square is a Communist-era building. This clunky modern building once housed the Czech Parliament when it was at Moscow’s beck and call.

Communist-Era building

Under the canopy, a statue of an elated worker from those days is a style known as Social Realism.

Socialist realism statue at Communist-Era building

A plaque honors Alexander Dubček (1921-1992), a Slovak politician who was leader of Czechoslovakia for a brief year, from 1968-1969. He tried to reform the communist government during the Prague Spring, but he was forced to resign when the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries invaded to halt the reforms.

Memorial to Alexander Dubček

The Prague State Opera also dominates the top of the square.

State Opera
Communist-Era building

Prague’s buildings are regal, solid and colorful.

building in Nové Město

The equestrian statue of St. Wenceslas, the 10th century pacifist Duke of Bohemia, is flanked by other patron saints of Bohemia.

Wenceslas Square

Wenceslas Square is more like a grand boulevard than a square; its expansive setting has been the backdrop for momentous historical events.  In 1918, people came out en masse to celebrate the creation of the new Czechoslovak Republic. After police attacked student demonstrators on November 17, 1989, more than 300,000 angry citizens gathered here night after night, jangling their key chains in the air.  A week later, Alexander Dubček and Václav Havel, a statesman, playwright and former dissident, announced from the balcony of the Melantrich Building, to deafening applause, that Czechoslovakia was free of communism.

Wenceslas Square
Wenceslas Square

Numerous statues stand in the square now, including Tall Dark Strangers by Nikola Emma Ryšavá.  I’m not sure if these are permanent or just temporary.

Tall Dark Strangers
lining Wenceslas Square

The purple creature is The Biggest Monster by Andrea Ledlova.

Wenceslas Square

There is a congregation of bold women statues: Punk, Grow from the Inside, Shaman Woman, and Transformace.

Wenceslas Square is lined with fine 19th and early 20th century buildings in architectural styles ranging from art nouveau and neo-Renaissance to Czech National Revival and functionalist.

Along Wenceslas Square
I LIVE MY LIFE IN WIDENING CIRCLES

The art nouveau Grand Hotel Evropa is my favorite building on the square.

Grand Hotel Evropa

The Melantrich Building is now Marks & Spencer. The balcony on this building, mostly obscured by trees today, is where Dubček and Havel announced the end of communism.

Melantrich Building (now Marks & Spencer)

Neo-Renaissance murals decorate the facade of Wiehl House, named for its designer Antonin Wiehl.

Wiehl House
Wenceslas Square
Wenceslas Square

Inside the art nouveau Lucerna Palace, a shopping arcade runs between two streets. A humorous counterpart to the equestrian statue of St. Wenceslas, the sculpture Kun (Horse), created by contemporary Czech sculptor David Černý, hangs in the lobby.  Atop the upside-down, and certainly dead, horse sits St. Wenceslas.

Wenceslas Riding an Upside-Down Horse in Lucerna Arcade

The arcade contains shops, a cinema, and various cafes, as well as some beautiful art nouveau windows. We stop at a bakery here for coffee and sweet snacks.

A beautiful 1930s Tesla advertisement adorns one end of the arcade; Tesla is a now-defunct state-sponsored monopoly on electronics production in Czechoslovakia; it produced nearly all electronic products in the country until 1989.  It is well-known for producing the Art Deco bakelite radio between 1953-58.

Tesla window

Outside the arcade, we find a Franciscan Garden, reflecting St. Francis’ belief that God’s presence could be sensed in nature. Prague became an important center for Franciscans from Ireland in the 1600s, according to Rick Steves Pocket Prague.

Franciscan garden

The Church of Our Lady of the Snows stands at the end of the garden. It was supposed to be the second biggest church in Prague after St. Vitus Cathedral, but it was never completed.

The Church of Our Lady of the Snows

Jungmann Square features the statue of Josef Jungmann (1773-1847), a Czech poet and linguist, and a leading figure of the Czech National Revival, an 18th-19th century cultural movement to revive Czech language, culture and national identity. Together with Josef Dobrovský, he is considered to be a creator of the modern Czech language (Wikipedia: Josef Jungmann).

statue of Josef Jungmann (1773-1847)

The ornamental Adria Palace served as Václav Havel’s base camp during those two historic weeks in 1989.  Its architectural style from the 1920s is known as “rondocubism,” according to Lonely Planet Prague & the Czech Rebublic.

Adria Palace
Adria Palace

Though we’re tempted to stop for gelato, we think it might be wise to have lunch first.

Gelato!
heading to the north end of Wenceslas Square

The Cubist lamppost by Emil Kralicek is tucked into a corner near the back of the Church of Our Lady of the Snows.

Cubist lamppost
pastel building
cafe

We come out at the north end of Wenceslas Square and Mike promptly stands in line to grab a giant hot dog for us to share.

shopping square
Mike in line for our lunchtime snack

After I’ve had my fill of our joint hot dog, Mike sits patiently on a bench in the square, while I go into Desigual to check out the fashions. Desigual (meaning unequal/uneven in Catalonian) is a clothing brand headquartered in Barcelona, Spain; it is “notable for its trendy patchwork designs, intense prints, graffiti art, asymmetrical designs and flamboyant splashes of color” (Wikipedia).  I first discovered this brand in 2013 in Barcelona and fell in love with it.  Today, I can’t resist a top and a colorful scarf. 🙂

Desigual
Mango

At the Mucha Museum, we enjoy seeing the artwork of Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939), one of the most celebrated artists of the Art Nouveau period. Sadly, no photography is allowed; I don’t remember how I got this photograph!

Mucha Museum

We go down to the riverfront to see the famous Dancing Building, built by architects Vlado Milunić and Frank Gehry in 1996. It is also known as the “Fred and Ginger Building,” after the dancing duo Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Dancing Building

We return to our Airbnb apartment for a bit of a rest and then head out on a walking tour of “Handsome Vinohrady,” a mostly residential area of Prague. Mike found the tour in Lonely Planet Prague & the Czech Republic.

Before we get on the metro, we walk past the Church of St. Ludmila, a neo-Gothic Roman Catholic Church in Peace Square, built on the plans of Josef Mocker in 1888–1892. It is named in honor of St. Ludmila of Bohemia, a Czech saint and martyr.  Saint Ludmila was the grandmother of St. Wenceslas, widely referred to as Good King Wenceslas..

Church of St. Ludmila
Church of St. Ludmila
Church of St. Ludmila

We get rained on a bit here and there as we walk through Vinohrady, but we still enjoy seeing some of the upscale villas so abundant here.

Vinohrady
Vinohrady
Vinohrady
Vinohrady

Vinohrady is apparently home to many well-to-do singles and young married couples.

Vinohrady
Vinohrady
Vinohrady
Vinohrady
Vinohrady
Vinohrady
Vinohrady
Vinohrady
Vinohrady
Pavilion in Vinohrady

On our walk back, we’re on the lookout for a place to eat dinner, and we find the cozy underground Restaurace PASTIČKA.

Restaurace PASTIČKA

At Restaurace PASTIČKA, we enjoy mugs of beer, along with vegetable soup, beets, and dumplings.

I love the old stairwell of our Airbnb apartment, with its wrought iron railings and old-world tiles.

the stairwell at our Airbnb apartment
stairwell

We have one more day in Prague.  Tomorrow, we’ll go to the Old Town and the Jewish Quarter.

Steps today: 18,071 (7.66 miles)

prague: strahov monastery, the loreta, hradčany square, st. vitus cathedral & prague castle

Wednesday, October 4: Today, our second day in Prague, we begin our adventure by taking the #22 tram uphill past the castle to the Strahov Monastery. We plan to slowly make our way down to Castle Quarter, stopping at the Loreta along the way.

We’re greeted by a statue of Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler.  Tycho Brahe, a Danish nobleman, astronomer, and writer known for his comprehensive astronomical studies, lost part of his nose in duel against his third cousin, a fellow Danish nobleman.  The rest of his life, he wore a prosthetic nose kept in place with glue.  In 2012, two years after his body was exhumed in 2010 due to questions about his death by possible poisoning, Danish and Czech researchers reported that the prosthetic was made of brass (Wikipedia: Tycho Brahe).  Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) was a German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer, best known for his laws of planetary motion (Wikipedia: Johannes Kepler).

Statue on the way to Strahov Monastery

Strahov Monastery was founded for the Premonstratensian Order in 1140. The Premonstratensians are a religious order of Canons Regular of the Catholic Church founded in 1120.  As they are not monks but Canons Regular, their work involves preaching and exercising pastoral ministry.

The present buildings of the monastery were completed in the 17th and 18th centuries. The communist government closed them down and imprisoned most of the Canons; they returned in 1990.

The Church of the Assumption of Our Lady, built in 1143, sits inside the monastery gates.  It was decorated in the baroque style in the 18th century.  Apparently, Mozart played the organ here, according to Lonely Planet: Prague & The Czech Republic.

Strahov Monastery
Strahov Monastery

The highlight of Strahov Monastery is the Strahov Library, the largest monastic library in Czech Republic. The library contains two gorgeous baroque halls dating from the 17th and 18th centuries and houses a collection of some 200,000 volumes.

The two-story high 1794 Philosophical Hall, with its carved and gilded floor-to-ceiling walnut shelving, is topped by a grand ceiling fresco, Mankind’s Quest for True Wisdom.  Divine Providence is enthroned amidst a burst of golden light while figures such as Adam and Eve and Greek philosophers surround her (Lonely Planet).  Visitors are not allowed to go inside the hall, but can stand at the entrance for photographs.

Strahov Library – Philosophical Hall

The lobby connecting the Philosophical Hall and the Theological Hall contains natural and historical curiosities and elaborate manuscripts.

The Theological Hall at Strahov Library was established between 1671-1674.  The Baroque concept of the library is demonstrated by the upright storage of books on the shelves.  Above the shelves are gilded wooden carved decorations with wooden cartouches. This was a rudimentary library aid because the pictures in the wooden cartouches and their titles specified the type of literature stored on the shelves.

Fifty years later, the hall was extended and then decorated with frescoes by the painter Siard Nosecký. Several frescoes symbolize principles based on quotations from the Bible (mainly Proverbs) and from the philosophical tracts of the hall’s founder, Abbot Hirnhaim: “A person enlightened by faith, however, must build on knowledge and education” (Strahovskyklaster: Theological Hall).  This is a stunning hall.

Theology Hall at Strahov Library
Theology Hall at Strahov Library
Theology Hall at Strahov Library

We can’t go into the Church of the Assumption of Our Lady, but we get a glimpse inside through an iron grille.

inside the Church of the Assumption of Our Lady

On the grounds of Strahov Monastery is the Church of St. Rochus which now houses the MIRO Gallery.  Established in Berlin in 1987, MIRO has been based at the Strahov Monastery since 1994, when the gallery relocated to Prague from Berlin.

The green truck in the courtyard, Sv. Norbert ANTIDEPRESSANT Autumn Dark Ale, reminds us that the monks built a brewery here in 1628.  Closed in 1907, after which the buildings were used solely as farm houses, it was restored in 2000.  The current Klasterni pivovar Strahov, or Strahov Monastic Brewery, offers guests 350 seats in three peculiar environments: the brewery itself, St. Norbert Restaurant and Brewery Courtyard.

It’s too early to stop for a beer now, however, so we’re on our way down the hill.  We do however stop for a pastry and coffee at Cafe Melvin.

We continue our downhill stroll toward Prague Castle, enjoying some beautiful views of the Castle Quarter and the Vltava River as well as some vineyards.

view of Prague Castle
vineyards

The Loreta, a baroque pilgrimage destination, was designed as a replica of the Santa Casa, or the “Holy House” of Nazareth, where the archangel Gabriel announced the immaculate conception to the Virgin Mary; it is thought to be her home.  The Loreta was founded in 1626 by Kateřina Benigna, a noblewoman of the Lobkowicz family. The Loreta includes, besides the Santa Casa, a beautiful storied cloister and a Baroque carillon with a famous chime.

The Loreta
The Loreta
The Loreta
door to The Loreta

In the courtyard of the Loreta are a couple of fountains with statues of the Assumption of Virgin Mary and the Resurrection of Christ.

the courtyard of the Loreta

The frescoes decorating the cloister’s arcades at the Loreta depict the lives of the Virgin Mary and Christ.

The Loreta has altars and treasures, such as confessional booths.

The oldest part of the Loreta is the small Santa Casa (the actual Loretto), built in 1626-31. The exteriors of the building were originally decorated by frescoes; stucco reliefs were added in the 1760s and 1770s showing the life of Virgin Mary, focusing on the childhood of Jesus Christ.

Santa Casa Loreta

Inside Santa Casa is a love sculpture of Our Lady Loretto in a silver altar. Most of the shrines, obelisks, candlesticks, lamps and liturgical objects come from the 17th century.

inside Santa Casa Loreta

Inside the Casa are several beams and bricks that come from the original Italian Loretto. Fresco fragments on the walls are artificial. Casa walls are purposely chipped at one spot to imitate the damage done by a lightning strike to the original chapel to punish unbelievers, according to legend (Kralovska Cesta: The Loretto).

Santa Casa Loreta

The Church of the Nativity of Our Lord was built in 1737 and has a magnificent Rococo interior.

Church of the Nativity of Our Lord

In the Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows stands the patron saint of unhappy marriages, St. Bearded Woman; she was a woman whose family arranged for her to marry a pagan man.  After praying for escape, she grew a beard, which turned the pagan man off.  Her father was so angry at her escape from the marriage that he crucified her.

St. Bearded Woman

The Loreta Treasury houses liturgical treasures from the 16th-18th centuries, including the magnificent Prague Sun, made of solid silver and gold and studded with 6,222 diamonds.

Famous Diamond monstrance – “The Prague Sun”

It is quite cold today, so after leaving the Loreta, we find a warm and cozy cafe where we enjoy a pizza for lunch.

After lunch, we continue our downhill walk to Prague Castle, passing unknown buildings along the way.

We reach the west end of Prague Castle at Hradčany Square, or Castle Square, which was the epitome of medieval power.  Approaching the main entrance, we see the Rococo Archbishop’s Palace on our left. The archbishop still lives here.

Hradčany Square

To our right is the Schwarzenberg Palace, with Renaissance-era envelope-shaped patterns etched into the exterior’s stucco.  These sgraffito decorate buildings throughout Prague (Rick Steves Pocket Prague).

Schwarzenberg Palace
Schwarzenberg Palace

We stop to listen to the lively Prague Funfair Orchestra, tempting us to do a little jig.

musicians at Hradčany Square

Straight ahead is the Main Gate and the first courtyard of the palace. Plečnik  Hall overlooks this courtyard.  The hall is named after Jože Plečnik (1872 – 1957), a Slovene architect who greatly influenced the modern identity of Vienna, Prague (especially Prague Castle) and of Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia.  His style is associated with the Vienna Secession, a type of Art Nouveau.

Hradčany Square

The Main Gate is flanked by statues of battling Titans (1767-70) that loom over the castle guards standing below.  The changing of the guard takes place every hour on the hour, but we don’t wait around for it.

Hradčany Square
Hradčany Square

Before entering the Main Gate, we go to the edge of the square for views of the city sprawling below us.

view of Prague from Hradčany Square
view from Hradčany Square

We pass through the Matthias Gate into the Second Courtyard, noting the Chapel of the Holy Cross (1763) to our right. It houses the St. Vitus Treasury, with a collection of ecclesiastical items.

Chapel of the Holy Cross

Passing into the Third Courtyard, the Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral towers over us.  This Roman Catholic cathedral is the Czech national church.  Since a church has stood in this spot since 930, it marks the origins of the Czech Nation. The tombs of numerous Bohemian kings and Holy Roman Emperors are housed here; it is now owned by the Czech government as part of the Prague Castle complex.

Emperor Charles IV laid the foundation stone of the cathedral in 1344.  Delayed by wars, plagues and reforms of Jan Hus, the church was finally consecrated in 1929, for the 1,000th Jubilee of St. Wenceslas (Rick Steves Pocket Prague).

St. Vitus Cathedral

Inside St. Vitus are beautiful stained glass windows that pour color into the interior.

The 1931 Art Nouveau stained glass window was designed by Czech artist Alfons Mucha to celebrate the birth of the Czech Nation and the life of Wenceslas. According to the Mucha Foundation:

The window portrays the boy St. Wenceslas with his grandmother St. Ludmila in the centre, surrounded by episodes from the lives of Saints Cyril and Methodius, who spread Christianity among the Slavs. The image of Slavia is also included below Christ, and as an emblem of Slavia Bank who funded the stained glass window.

Alfons Mucha window

Inside St. Vitus Cathedral are various treasures, ranging from the 14th century Bohemian crown jewels to chapels and sculptures, as well as the tombs of Bohemian saints and rulers from St. Wenceslas to Charles IV (Lonely Planet: Prague & the Czech Republic). The big silver tomb with the angel-held canopy honors St. John of Nepomuk.  The royal oratory, with its late-Gothic, vine-like ribs, allowed the king to attend mass in his pajamas, as it was attached by corridor to his apartment (Rick Steves Pocket Prague).

The Wenceslas Chapel contains the tomb of the patron saint of the Czech nation.

On the south side of St. Vitus Cathedral, we can see the spires and the bell tower.  Mike decides to climb up the 297 steps while I relax in front of the Basilica of St. George in St. George Square.

St. Vitus Cathedral
St. Vitus Cathedral
St. Vitus Cathedral
St. Vitus Cathedral

The brick-red, early baroque facade of Basilica of St. George has a beautiful Romanesque nave.

Basilica of St. George
Basilica of St. George

Fragments of 12th century frescoes survive in the nave of the basilica.

Nave of Basilica of St. George
Nave of Basilica of St. George

The back of the Basilica has a more Romanesque look than the front baroque facade.

Basilica of St. George – back
Basilica of St. George – back

The Old Royal Palace dates from 1135, and its Vladislav Hall is known for its late-Gothic vaulted ceiling  (1493-1500).  The hall was used for banquets, councils and coronations, as well as for jousting tournaments.

Vladislav Hall
Vladislav Hall
Vladislav Hall
Vladislav Hall

A door from the Old Royal Palace leads to a terrace with a magnificent view of Prague.

Old Royal Palace terrace view of Prague
Old Royal Palace terrace view of Prague
Old Royal Palace terrace view of Prague

Golden Lane is a charming alley full of colorful cottages built in the 16th century.  They originally housed servants and the sharpshooters of the castle guard but were later used by goldsmiths. In the 19th and 20th centuries, they were inhabited by artists, including the writer Franz Kafka, who lived here for a year shortly after publishing The Metamorphosis. The restored cottages showcase their former uses: goldsmith workshop, tavern, fortune-teller’s house, and bookshop; the alley leads to the eastern gate of the castle complex.

Golden Lane
Golden Lane

The most interesting cottage is the cozy home of an amateur film historian.

home of amateur film historian
home of amateur film historian

We continue walking down from Golden Lane, enjoying the views of Prague as we descend.

walking down from Golden Lane
Prague
Prague
Prague
Prague

Near the bottom, we decide we’ll return to our apartment to relax a bit.  We have reservations for tonight at a fancy restaurant, Restaurant Terasa U Zlate studne, at The Golden Well Hotel.  Though the restaurant is near Malá Strana, we would like to be refreshed and to not have to wait around for several hours.

along the way

We hop on the tram at Malostranské náměstí, which takes us back to our apartment.

catching the tram at Malostranské náměstí

Later, we head back out to go to dinner.  We take the tram to the Legion Bridge, where we walk across for views of the Vltava River and Charles Bridge.

tram on the Legion Bridge
view of the Vltava River and Charles Bridge from the Legion Bridge
view of the Vltava River and Charles Bridge from the Legion Bridge
view of the Vltava River and Charles Bridge from the Legion Bridge

We enjoy the views of the Vltava River and Charles Bridge from the Legion Bridge.

view of the Vltava River and Charles Bridge from the Legion Bridge
view of the Vltava River and Charles Bridge from the Legion Bridge

Back in Malá Strana, we climb up and up toward the Golden Well Hotel and Restaurant Terasa U Zlate studne. I didn’t bring any fancy clothes, nor do I have warm enough clothes for this fancy terrace restaurant, so I have to layer the clothes I do have.

Annually voted the best restaurant in the Czech Republic, Terasa U Zlate studne serves Czech and international cuisine on three terraces – two heated and one indoor – all of which boast spectacular views of Prague. Our terrace table is nicely heated and we love the views of the city from here.  Since we made such early reservations, we have the restaurant to ourselves for the first hour. What a wonderful experience!

view from the Golden Well
view from the Golden Well
view from the Golden Well
Mike at the Golden Well

We enjoy the wonderful atmosphere and views, along with wine and a Trio of Tuna appetizer: Tartar with poached Quail Egg, Tataki with White Radish, Pungent Wasabi and Skewer with Authentic Teriyaki Sauce.  This turns out to be the best part of my meal, besides the wine and dessert. 🙂

our table at the Golden Well

Mike enjoys a Bohemian Creamy Soup Kulajda completed by creamy Potato, fresh Mushrooms, and Egg.  I make the mistake of ordering Pan Fried Sea Bass completed by Fennel, Tomatoes, green Celery, Rouille Paste and La Ratte Potatoes in Bouillabaisse Sauce.  The sea bass is very fishy and dry, so for the cost of this meal, I am disappointed. Mike loves his meal of Veal Slices atop Sweet Potato Puree with Porcini Mushrooms and Veal Confit on Zucchini-Potato Pancake with Marjoram Glaze. I’m not much of meat eater, but I’m surprised by how good his meal is.  I’m craving more of his veal, but he’s enjoying it too much to share abundant portions. The dessert is artistically presented, but I don’t remember what it was.

After about an hour on the terrace in peace and quiet, a rather loud and boisterous group of Chinese tourists arrive, and so, enjoying one last view, we leave our heavenly little spot and make our way back to our apartment.

view from the Golden Well

Steps today: 15,399 (6.53 miles).

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.