Prague is almost indescribable. It’s a beautiful city of course, but it has a mysterious personality. Wonderful, friendly, people, and an almost impossible language. There is an abundance of Gothic Architecture that makes you want to photograph the whole city in black and white. The city itself has a lot of color as if the buildings want to brighten the seriousness of the gothic design.
We decided to treat ourselves on this excursion and booked three nights at the Grand Hotel Praha . The Grand Hotel is a world heritage site and is pretty impressive to see. Right outside our room is a ceiling they discovered during a renovation that was painted in the 16th century. We were supplied with candies and bathrobes and greeted by name as soon as we walked into the lobby the first time.
The location of the Grand Hotel is right on the Old Town Square. It is directly across from the famous Astronomical Clock. The clock dates back to 1410 and is part of the Old Town Hall. We requested a room on that side of the hotel which also overlooked the Christmas Market.
The view from our room was priceless. We watched people gather to watch the clock open up on the hour and the wooden statues come out and rotate through the windows. A later outing took us to the top of that tower for a fantastic view of Old town and an even better view of the Christmas Market. All in all, pretty impressed with our first couple of hours in Prague.
There were a few things we specifically wanted to see. (Our must do list). One of those things was the Charles Bridge. Construction on this bridge was started in 1357 and wasn’t finished until the beginning of the 15th century. The statues you see on the bridge are replicas of the originals which are put away for safekeeping. There are quite a few warnings about pickpockets and scam artists on the Charles Bridge. Although we had no problems we thought we’d pass along the message to be careful and alert to your surroundings here.
It’s amazing to think of the ingenuity it took in the 1300’s to build a structure like this with the tools and equipment they had at the time. Charles Bridge was at one point the only means to cross the Vltava river in Prague, connecting the Castle with the Old Town. There are now 17 bridges crossing the Vltava in Prague. You can climb the tower at the start of the bridge a get a great view of the crossing and the city.
Looking up at the tower entrance to the Charles Bridge you might be reminded of every spy movie you saw as a kid. It’s that mysterious personality I mentioned earlier and probably why they still use Prague as a setting for movies like Mission Impossible and Casino Royale.
Another thing on our must do list was the John Lennon wall. When John Lennon was killed in 1980 his picture was painted on a wall in Prague along with political graffiti. Western music was prohibited in the Czech Republic at that time and secret police would white wash the wall. The portrait would appear again and people would add to it until it became sort of a symbol for a peaceful revolution. Once The Czech Republic came out from behind the Iron Curtain in 1989 the John Lennon wall became a place for tourists to make their mark and add to the drawings on the wall. Despite being whitewashed repeatedly, the drawings and graffiti always come back. There is typical graffiti with people putting their name or dates down, a lot of Beatles lyrics, and some surprisingly good art. Well worth seeing.
We were wandering around looking for a place to eat lunch after visiting the Lennon wall and came across some even more unusual art. It’s called the peeing men and it is exactly what it sounds like. The artwork is mobile and much more interesting to see in person but pretty entertaining all the same.
The Jewish Cemetery is another famous Prague site. It has a misshapen appearance with tombstones looking like a mouthful of broken teeth. The space allowed for the cemetery was very limited. The solution to the problem of running out of room was to cover over old graves with dirt and bury more people on top of this dirt layer. In some places this process is twelve layers deep with the earlier tombstones raised up to the upper layers and a retaining wall surrounding the area. The result is fascinating and fits perfectly in this Gothic city.
The castle complex in Prague is gigantic, one of the largest in the world. The complex contains a beautiful gothic cathedral. St. Vitus was started in 1344 and not completed until 1929. I’m always amazed at projects that take hundreds of years to build. How many generations of stone masons or stained glass artists were employed over the years? The whole complex is lit up at night and it’s a beautiful site from across the river.
The president still has offices in the castle complex and they have guards posted at the entrance. We stood outside one day waiting for the changing of the guard. The soldiers stationed there gave no indication that their replacements were seriously late.
Thinking that our information was wrong and that we might have missed the guard change we headed into the complex. Of course as soon as we got into the center we saw the replacement guards hurrying to relieve the poor guys at the entrance. They were looking very sharp, just not very punctual.
Prague is really just starting to understand the tourist industry. The wait staff might be a little stand-off ish at first but give them a chance. Before 1989 waiting tables was a pretty serious job, mostly serving party members.
Along with a lot of Eastern Europe, Czech Republic was an oppressive society for a long time. People are coming up in this generation that never lived under the kind of government that their parents knew. It’s changing slowly. Not to mention that anyplace that a beer is literally cheaper than water has a lot of potential for a fun visit.
The city of Prague is ready to welcome you in any season. The history and the beauty of this city are something everyone would be lucky to see. I know we were.