Timeline: August 29h – September 2nd
The drive to Prague went easy, mostly autobahn as we left Germany, then small country roads in the Czech Republic. Toll roads in this country are paid for with a sticker you purchase and place in the car. We stopped at a gas station just inside the country to inquire about it and the clerk either didn’t understand me or they didn’t have any, so we continued on smaller roads.
We’d made sandwiches again with the fresh rolls from camp and our left over salami and cheese, making for a nice picnic lunch in a forested area just inside the Czech Republic. We continued on and arrived in Prague at our destination for the duration, Caravan Camping. Located on the small island of Cisarska louka in the middle of the Vltava River, you can spot the place from a distance as a tall blue and yellow tower, whose purpose we could not figure out during our stay, dominates it.
We set up camp and as the weather forecast for the next few days predicted heavy rain, inquired about the indoor “camping-site rooms” mentioned on the website, but they were full due to a wedding that was occurring just down the road, whose celebration we would hear late into the night. We bought a couple of beers from the small “buffet” (store and some food) and relaxed, then walked out of camp towards the metro stop to see if there were any opportunities for food to be had.
Seeing none we returned to camp and utilized the kitchen room and then dining room on site to heat up our emergency can of pea soup with sausage accompanied by rolls, and more beer, from the buffet. Sleep didn’t come easy with the wedding music serenading us, but sleep we did and awoke to a beautiful, clear-skied morning, perfect for a walking tour.
Prague is a walking town, with most of the key sights close enough together to not have to rely much on the metro. We’d use single ride passes at a dollar or so round trip throughout our stay, heading to and returning from the same station (Malostranské náměstí ) each day. After disembarking from the tram, we made way for the famous Charles Bridge to start our tour in Prague’s Old Town, stopping along the way at a touristy joint for an expensive, but satisfying, spinach and cheese crepe.
Crossing the iconic Charles Bridge took some time as it was a Saturday; everywhere we would go that day was packed with people, the Bridge more so than anywhere else. We wound our way through crowded narrow streets towards Old Town Square where we would officially start our walk. Having been a market square since the 11th century, it is now filled with cafes, rotating teams of street entertainers, and squadrons of horse drawn buggies.
The walk to the square would be our first glimpse at the changes that have occurred in Prague since our visit in 1992. Then, just three years after the fall of the wall, little if any commerce or services were directed towards tourists. I can recall hunting, futilely for restaurants and markets, eventually ending up more than once at the lone McDonald’s in Wenceslas Square, particularly given the need to find food for then four-year old Jessica.
Much like the explosion of commerce we’d witnessed in Berlin, Prague was overflowing with restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops and every other imaginable outlet for a tourist’s dollar. It pretty much resembled any of the other cities we’d visited along the way, a little disappointing, but comforting in the progress being made.
The center of Old Town Square features the memorial to Jan Hus, a 14th century religious thinker, philosopher, and reformer in Prague who was burned at the stake for promoting, like Martin Luther, that religious observance should be in the language of the people, not in Latin. The Hus Memorial symbolizes the long struggle for Czech freedom and since its erection in 1915 the memorial has been a gathering place for those who believe in Czech independence.
We’d arrived just in time to take in the striking of the hour of the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Hall. Installed in the early 1400’s, this marvel strikes the hour, shows Bohemian and modern time, sunrise and sunset, and the signs of the zodiac. Figures dance and move at the striking (including a statue representing Death which pulls a cord and rings a bell) and if you blink the quick performance is over.
From there we stopped at Tyn Church, but it was closed for lunch, as was our next stop, the Church of St. James. We returned to Old Town Square, turned left onto skinny Melantrichova Street and walked towards the New Town and Wenceslas Square, with a brief detour at the ongoing open-air Havelska market. We started our tour at the bottom of the square, looking uphill towards the large National Museum that dominates the skyline at the top. Closed for renovation during our stay, we’d just look at the outside.
Near the top is the St. Wenceslas Statue, the good king of Christmas-carol fame. This square figures large in recent history, being the site in November of 1989 when more than 300,000 Czech’s and Slovaks who believed freedom was at hand filled it. Faced with the option of applying a Tiananmen type response (tanks and force) to quell the uprising, locals believe that Mikhail Gorbachev must have made a phone call recommending a non-violent response. The rest is history.
We finished our tour by walking a few blocks to the Municipal House. Built between 1905 and 1911, this best example of Czech Art Nouveau has a striking façade that features a goddess like Praha presiding over a land of peace and high culture. We were not able to take a tour of its impressive interior, considered to be Europe’s finest example of Art Nouveau.
Standing next to the Municipal Building is the Powder Tower, the Gothic Gate of the town wall, built to house the city’s gunpowder. This is the only surviving bit of wall that was built to defend the city in the 1400s. As it was the end of the day and we felt hungry, we decided to eat at a recommended restaurant near the Old Town Square, The Mill (Mlejnice).
A cozy place filled with farm implements and rustic wooden tables, Joanna enjoyed slices of duck in Calvados sauce while I had three nicely grilled pieces of pork tenderloin in a mild sweet glaze, accompanied by a large helping of broccoli. We’d also ordered a side of steamed mixed vegetables, which had been done in butter. Being as we camp without a refrigerator, one dairy product we miss the most is butter. Needless to say the vegetables tasted very, very good. We finished off our meals with gusto, to full to order desert. Our total bill including three large beers came to a little over $32.
As we were walking back to the Charles Bridge we passed through the Old Town Square and decided to climb the tower in the Old Town Hall as the sun was setting, perfect light for picture taking. When we got to the top it was very crowded and hard to find a position to get off good shots. But we persevered and as we were about to leave, a couple asked me to take their picture, and then they reciprocated.
As the husband had kissed his wife while I was shooting, so kissed Joanna, with Prague in the background, so nice to do after all of these happy years together. He was a pretty good amateur photographer and introduced us to a camera setting on the Nikon we’d not been aware, just right for settings like this where the subject is backlit. It was a perfect way to end the day and start the evening, unfortunately with rain that would be with us throughout our stay. But we’d come to see Prague and we were ready for more.
Czech Stickers: http://www.motorway.cz/stickers
Caravan Camping: http://www.caravancamping.cz/Default.htm
Vltava River: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vltava
Old Town Square: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Town_Square_(Prague)
Jan Hus Memorial: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Hus_Memorial
Astronomical Clock: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prague_astronomical_clock
National Museum: http://www.nm.cz/?xSET=lang&xLANG=2
St. Wenceslas Statue and Square: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wenceslas_Square
Municipal House: http://www.obecnidum.cz/en/
Art Nouveau: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_Nouveau