Europe 2014 – Prague – In Search of Distant Memories

Timeline: August 29h – September 2nd

Our second day in town would be taken up with a visit to Prague Castle. Perched high atop the city in the Castle Quarter. For more than a thousand years Czech leaders have ruled from Prague Castle. We entered the grounds from Castle Square, the beginning of 1,500 feet of courtyards, churches, and palaces.

Castle Square

Castle Square

Our first stop was the St. Vitus Cathedral, where construction was started in 1344, but not completed until 1929. One of its highlights its Mucha Stained-Glass Window. One of the best known artists in the Art Nouveau style, this 1931 production speaks to Czech nationalism and although one can analyze the various meanings of the work, in the end it is simply beautiful.

St. Vitus

St. Vitus

Outside the cathedral we viewed the Obelisk, erected in 1928 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Czechoslovakia, a combined nation that would only exist for another 70 years. We then entered the Old Royal Palace, which dates to the 12th Century. Its Large Hall was big enough for jousting completion to be held there and for a time was filled with market stalls, enabling the nobles who lived in the castle to shop without having to go into town.

Backside of St. Vitus

Backside of St. Vitus

Two rooms with an interesting history are adjacent to the Large Hall. From them two governors used to oversee the Czech lands for the Hapsburgs in Vienna. In 1618 angry Czech Protestant nobles poured into the rooms and threw the two Catholic governors out the window.

Large Hall

Large Hall

An old law actually permits this act, called defenestration, which usually targets bad officials. The two governors landed in a pile of horse manure, breaking their fall. Although not badly injured, the act set off the lengthy Thirty Years War.

Defenstration

Defenestration

Leaving the Old Royal Palace we stepped across the way into the Basilica and Convent of St. George, Prague’s best-preserved Romanesque church and the burial place of Czech Royalty. St. Wenceslas’ grandmother, St. Ludmila, who established a Bohemian convent was buried here in 973.

We finished our tour of the grounds by walking down the Golden Lane, full of tiny buildings that originally housed the Castle’s servants. A mix of shops and reconstructions portraying medieval life now occupies them. Franz Kafka lived in number 22 for a period of time and the shop now contains a library and bookstore.

Golden Lane

Golden Lane

We walked back down the hill to our tram stop, popping into Le Bistro Kampa on the way to enjoy a simple but nice dinner of grilled chicken with rice, salad and fries and a portion of spinach and cheese lasagna. Reviews of the place on Trip Advisor would steer one away, but we managed to have a good experience there, particularly at a cost of under 14 euros for the whole meal.

Kafka's House

Kafka’s House

The next day, Monday and Labor Day, we revisited around the Castle, and then descended to the area known as the Little Quarter. We’d need to return there the next day for our visit to the American Embassy, so for now we walked up the steep hill to the Castle Quarter for a quick visit to the Strahov Monastery. The main church there was closed and so we stopped in at the Monastery’s brewpub to enjoy a glass of their fine India Pale Ale (IPA), our first non-pilsner beer in what seemed like ages.

Monastery IPA

Monastery IPA

A short hop led us to the Loreta Church. Known as a pilgrimage destination, its Holy House is the star attraction. Considered by some pilgrims to be part of Mary’s home in Nazareth, it contains what could be an original beam from the house of Mary. For many Czech pilgrims, this church is the traditional departure point for the long journey to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

On the way back to camp we stopped at a market for groceries, which we prepared later for dinner in the camp kitchen. It and the small dining room next to it had become a regular hangout for us given the wet and rainy conditions.

The River at Night

The River at Night

Our last day in Prague started with a visit to the American Embassy. Its website had advised that the earliest appointment was more than a week away so we figured we’d just show up and take our chances; if not I’d made a back-up appointment in Vienna for the next week. Security is high at our embassies; we had to show identification just to get inside to pass through the real screening. We went upstairs to the service center and fortunately, were able to take care of having the form notarized. They even had an envelope I could use to mail it back to North Carolina.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking the Jewish Quarter, taking a peek through a wall at the Old Jewish Cemetery, home to 12,000 tombstones (from 1439 to 1787 this was the only burial ground for the Jews of Prague). It is claimed that the tombs are layered seven or eight deep and that there are close to 100,000 there. As the ground has settled the headstones become crooked, providing a wistful, yet beautiful elegance to the space.

We settled on one last meal at the Mill, since our earlier experience had been so good. We started with a rich and savory cabbage soup with red pepper sausage. Joanna had the Beef Goulash in a bread bowl and I had Spiced Ground Meat and Tomatoes, along with another order of those good mixed vegetables. Portion sizes were again large enough for us to forego desert and our total tab amounted to 18 euros.

Our Last Dinner at the Mill

Our Last Dinner at the Mill

We’d leave Prague the next day satisfied with our stay, amazed at the changes that had occurred in the twenty years since our last visit. The popularity of the city, given its beauty and reasonable prices, especially for food, make it a magnet for tourists, probably the one downside of our visit. Continually dealing with large crowds can steal some of the charm of a place. With Prague though it’s attractiveness shines through and captures even the most jaded heart.

Castle at Night

Castle at Night

Links

St. Vitus Cathedral: https://www.katedralasvatehovita.cz/en

Alfons Mucha: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alphonse_Mucha

Mucha Stained-Glass Window: “Mucha stained glass windows in St. Vitus Cathedral” by Clayton Tang – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Prague Castle Obelisk: http://www.digital-guide.cz/en/poi/prague-castle/obelisk-1/

Old Royal Palace: https://www.hrad.cz/en/prague-castle/guidepost-for-visitors/old-royal-palace.shtml

Defenestration: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defenestration

Thirty Years War: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty_Years’_War

Basilica and Convent of St. George: https://www.hrad.cz/en/prague-castle/guidepost-for-visitors/st-georges-basilica-and-convent.shtml

Golden Lane: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Lane

Strahov Monastery: http://www.strahovskyklaster.cz/webmagazine/home.asp?idk=257

Loreta Church: http://loreta.cz/en/index.htm

 

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