Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic, and said to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. With beautiful buildings, churches, bridges over the river, and a big castle on a hill top in the center. But you will have to see for yourselves to experience what this city is all about.
The train ticket from Munich to Prague is a bit expensive, but as we walk the platform we can see why. A shining streamlined train is waiting for us, and inside the electronic signs indicate our reserved seats. The ride is comfortable until we reach Nurnberg, where we have to change trains. The new train looks the same, but is pulled by a diesel train. Apparently the tracks in the Czech republic do not have electricity. When we pass the border, there is the passport check and changing of personnel. From now on, we are welcomed at every station.
Once in Prague it is not easy to perform our hotel search routine. The cheap accommodations are far apart and the distances are to big to visit them all. Luckily, there are a few booths at the train station who arrange hotels. We book a relatively cheap one (for European standards) close by, although it still is a firm walk. But we are rewarded with a luxurious room with shower, toilet, and TV.
We decide to go out to explore the city before dusk sets in. After 15 minutes walking the buildings get older and prettier, with more and more statues and decorations on them. Then we reach the Powdergate, a medieval tower which once was one of the gates to the city. Beside it is the Minicipal House, where people in old costumes are selling tickets to classical music performances.
Central square PragueWhen we enter the gate, the roads are getting smaller and winding. We are busy looking at the many nice buildings when all of a sudden we enter the central square. Very impressive, with churches, monuments and other old buildings around it. We would like to enjoy it from one of the terraces, but oops, the prices are as high as the square is beautiful. This is obviously tourist terrain, but two streets further we find a beer cellar with Czech prices, which is very cheap.
For dinner we return to a restaurant we saw closer to our hotel. It is pretty crowded and we have to share a table. And just as we have ordered, musicians in the corner start playing jazz. Not really our kind of music, but it is great to see the locals enjoy it, and it is not even the weekend. Prague must be a great place to live, too.
Charles bridge in PragueOur first full day in Prague we decide to visit the castle, on the other side of the Vltava river. But we have to cross the center first. Again, we are amazed at the many beautiful buildings, around every corner there are more of them. Then we reach Charles Bridge, the oldest bridge over the river. This is a monument in itself, with towers at both ends, and many statues lined up on it. It is only open to pedestrians, and it is full with tourists. A lot of souvenirs are being sold as well, and there are street artists playing music, painting portraits, etcetera.
On the other side of the river we search for the route to the castle. Again, many nice streets, houses, and monuments, but this time in a hilly terrain. And after a steep street we have to climb a large stairway to reach the square in front of the palace. Once there we are just in time to watch the changing of the guards. A complete ceremony watched by many tourists. Nice, but when it is finished we wonder where we can find the castle. It can be seen from all over the city, but when you’re close, the signs are confusing and other buildings are blocking the view. We search until we find a side entrance to the palace, and we find ourselves on one of the central squares of the castle. It turns out that the palace also serves as entrance to the castle…
Contrary to what you might think from watching it from a distance, Prague Castle is not a classic castle. What can be seen from afar are not the castle towers and walls, but those of the cathedral on the main square of the castle. The actual castle walls and towers are situated a lot lower, but comprise a much larger area. In fact, Prague castle is said to be the biggest ancient castle in the world.
Street near the vltava river in PragueWithin the castle walls are the huge St. Vitus cathedral, the Basilica of St. George, the royal palace, the powder tower, several museums, and golden lane, a small street with small houses where personnel used to live. Although some parts have entrance fees, we are able to visit most of the castle without buying tickets. We are mostly impressed by the medieval feel in the castle.
When we leave the castle via the back gate, we have a great view over Prague. Via a long stairway we arrive in a park where we enjoy a hotdog in the sun. From the park we walk back to the city center via Mala Strana, an area with lots of palaces (currently mostly embassies) and (even more) churches. There is not a single street in Prague without nice buildings.
Via a funicular track (steep, with slanting carriages) we go back up to where the old city walls are supposed to be. We arrive in a park, with many trees dropping their leaves. Under the trees and along the old wall we walk to Strahov cloister, again a nice old building. Unfortunately, the central church in the compound is closed, but via another central square we can enter a gallery with nice painting on the wall and ceiling. Outside there is another great view over Prague, and we can walk down again via cozy streets.
Us in front of the Prague bridgesOur last day in Prague we start visiting the new city center. Close to the railway station is the National Museum, with on the square in front of it the statue of Vaclav I on horseback. This is the beginning of the largest shopping boulevard in Prague. Walking along the boulevard the new Prague merges into the old city. Luxurious shops make room for the large buildings and souvenir booths. And on the end of the boulevard, you can choose which small street to take you to the old city center. Whichever you choose, there are old buildings, theatres, museums, bars, churches, etcetera underway. And as a climax, we end up on the central square.
From the central square we head for the Jewish quarter. Nice timing, it is the Sabbath and everything is closed. But the beautiful buildings (especially the Ceremonial Hall) can be watched from the outside. And so can the old burial site, where the dead are piled up under ground because of a lack of space. We decide to continue over the bridge to another viewpoint, where youngsters are skating. We walk on through the park to end up at the castle again.
We descend again to a low part of Prague. Here we notice the damage of the major flooding of the river a few weeks earlier. We saw some pictures of the flood before, but now we can see that the ground floor of most of the houses are in renovation. We can see the marking on the walls of how high the water came. We also see pictures taken from the bridge and now we can imagine what it must have been.
Blacksmith on the central square in PragueWe return to the old square for the last time. There is a souvenir market and we take a look at the blacksmith at work. We watch the astronomical clock, and sit down at the monument of Jan Hus, reformist hero in the past. As the sun sets we walk the alleys again to find a nice restaurant to eat before we go back to our hotel. With pain in our hearts we say goodbye to this fantastic city.