Central Europe for Sexagenarians – Day 7

Posted by admin on July 8th, 2013 filed in batman, photography, travel

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013
Středa 3. července 2013 (approximate Google translation)

I’m running way behind on the blog (sharing one computer between three people is surprisingly challenging!), so this is written from memory after a week of whirlwind travel.

What I remember best is that I like Prague. Take a moment to look at a birdseye view of Prague. Google map “Prag 1” or “Prag 1, Tschechische Republik” and look at the  ‎jumble that is downtown/oldtown Prague.

It a convoluted maze of 4-6 story buildings (high enough to block landmarks, but not high enough to be landmarks) crowded along winding streets with foreign names that can change within a block or jump down a block, without discernible reason.

Travel sites warn you about pickpockets, but otherwise it feels moderately safe. The biggest threat is getting lost and not being able to correctly pronounce your hotel or street name. And that was our greatest fear. Laura, the incomparable navigator, lived here for several months and SHE wouldn’t leave the room without a map, so Mom and I stuck to her almost our entire time in Prague. At several points, she would just have to take us by the arm and guide us along because we were either in awe of the chaos of buildings and architecture or busy snapping photos.

So we set out Wednesday morning, intending to see the big castle – Pražský hrad (the Czech Wiki page has better pictures) – but got side-tracked looking for an ATM. I forgot/didn’t bring my camera for the first half of the day, so will have to steal photos off Mom’s camera when it’s available. But Laura took us by the Tančící dům, aka “Fred & Ginger” and by a convent and several sculptures and parks and the old New Town Hall, the site of Prague’s first historical defenestration. Eventually we found an ATM in one of the underground stations, bought 24 hour public transportation passes and caught a tram up to the castle. As with Germany, you have to validate your public transportation tickets in the yellow machines on the tram (semi-honor system though Laura had been subject to random ticket checks when she lived there).

Walking up to the castle we passed several beautiful look-out spots and an exhibit of birds of prey of Prague. A lady had several owls, hawks, eagles, etc. out for viewing and one for touching/photographing with. The gate to the palace is guarded by two men in blue uniforms. In Berlin, we passed a group of three glaringly handsome construction workers (we’re still not sure there wasn’t a candid camera or paid photographer doing a magazine shoot close at hand) and joked at the difference between the stereotypical American construction worker (saggy pants, saggy belly, saggy face) and those men. So, after passing through the hrad gate, we decided that Prague must employ the majority of its handsome men as castle guards.

We’re used to traveling in Central America, South America and Southeast Asia where brown eyes 99% common, so coming up against sky blue eyes is shocking and a little bit eerie. The guards were standing very still, staring straight ahead, and we were very tempted to get a much closer look at the eyes, but Laura wasn’t sure that they followed the same rules as the London guards, so we (including Batman) kept our distance.

The castle complex is amazing and tickets are understandably a little pricey. Fortunately, most of the ticket packages are good for two days; unfortunately, you’re only allowed to enter each building once per ticket (can’t go one day and visit it again the next; can’t leave for a minute and re-enter) and they charge for a picture-taking permit (but don’t appear to enforce it rigorously).

It was almost 1pm by the time we had our tickets, and by then we were getting tired (and probably hungry and thirsty and needing to pee), so we decided to visit the cathedral and return for the rest the following day.

Katedrála svatého Víta is the most elaborate we have seen on the trip. The ceilings are vaulted and everything is made of precious metals or leaved in gold. It gets numbing after a point, and painful to think of what must have been sacrificed to create such an architectural and artistic wonder that has lasted so long. Another sad point of the cathedral is that has been streamlined for tourism. There is a guarded entrance, a velvet-roped corral, and a guarded exit. The pews are blocked off, the side chapels are inaccessible; you can walk the perimeter of the nave as far as the transept, but no where else (unless you pay more, probably).

We were spoiled by Albrechtsburg, which was largely open for self-guided exploration. Granted, Albrechtsburg didn’t house as many valuable, removable pieces of history, but a little freedom to explore and discover for oneself is a nice amenity to any tourist destination.

After the chapel, we were all ready for a break. We exited the castle complex via the long east staircase (passing more handsome guards at the east gate – these wore sunglasses though, so no idea on the eye color), caught the #18 tram back toward our apartment and headed up to our room for lunch and a break.

We started out again later in the afternoon, taking a tram to the old town area. From there, Laura walked us to her former neighborhood and to the apartment they rented in the blue building on Husova street. She pointed out several strange statues which show up in random places throughout Prague. Many are by the same artist – David Černý – and this potentially offensive link covers ten of his works (some are permanent installations, others have been removed for what will be obvious reasons). Here’s a link to an entertaining interview with him. The one of a man (Freud?) hanging from one hand over a street is near Laura’s former residence, but if you’re not looking for it, it’s easy to miss.

She also showed us the Staroměstské náměstí with the Pražský orloj, aka the Astronomical Clock, and Týnský chrám or Týn Church, which was closed for the day by that time.

We continued toward Josefov (the Jewish Quarter), passing a statue in tribute to Kafka, the Philharmonic building, the Jewish town hall, the old Jewish cemetery and several interesting buildings, stopping for a bit to talk with a few young guys from New York, asking directions to the cemetery.

Laura then took us by the National Museum and along the big street, lined with shops, that leads down the hill from there. She took us through a mall with another Černý statue – this one of St Wenceslas riding an upside-down dead horse (yup) and by a large, beautiful stained glass window reading “Tesla Radio”.

Heading into one of the metro stations in search of an abnormally long escalator, we passed a club called Jazz Republic, which advertised a big band group that evening, so I made a note to check it out online and hopefully come back.

We eventually returned home to the apartment and Laura and I walked up to the park with a “take away” (to-go) coffee cup of leftover wine which we shared while sitting on a bench on the wall overlooking the city. We had a nice sister-sister talk and enjoyed people- and dog-watching, then walked back after sunset to have dinner with Mom.

We eventually riled up enough energy to go back to the club downtown. The band was great, but no one was dancing. Laura and I eventually danced one song (back by the bar) and Mom said the band noticed. The musicians finished up a bit before midnight – the same time the regular public transportation schedule rolls up for the day, so we had to wait awhile for a return tram, but made up songs and made fun of passing Americans to kill time.

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