Monday, August 22, 2016

Charles Bridge and the Jewish Quarter

Our tour bus took us the short distance from the Castle to a point on the Vitava River near the east side of the Charles Bridge.  Dating from the 1300's it is almost 1700 feet long and along with the Old Town Square and Prague Castle it is the third leg of the tourist stool of popularity in the city.

To reach the bridge we walked a short distance along the shore and through a park. A  modern art museum had several outdoor sculptures on display including this one by the most eminent Czech sculptor--David Cerny.

Nestled in the area below the bridge were several little cafes--this one with a musical name.

In  an almost hidden little corner we were shown a touching monument to our heroic 9/11 firefighters.  
Looking up once again we saw a piece of the Lesser Quarter Bridge Tower and one of the many statures that grace the Charles Bridge
We did finally make the climb up to the roadway.

The bridge is pedestrian only and generally crowded with tourists who are viewing the over 30 striking sculptures adorning the walkway and taking in the vendors, musicians,  and solicitors of funds that are everywhere. 

Here are a few of the statues. 

Not quite a statue but also a part of the bridge's ambiance. 
                        The street musicians add to the overall festive atmosphere on the span.

Looking north off the bridge you could see on the east bank the Frans Kafka Museum.  We wished it had been on our stopping list. 
 You leave the bridge by walking through the Old Town Bridge Tower

Shortly you come to the Rudolfinum--the home of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.

And then walk into the Jewish Quarter

Finally we arrived back at the Old Town Square where Elvis was now entertaining and pork was roasting on spits. 

It was pushing 2:00 PM and we joined the crowd to down some local eats.

Our only stop on the way back to the hotel was at the Municipal Hall to purchase tickets for a chamber music concert that evening.   That will be the subject of the next entry.



Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Prague Castle

6/29/2015   Morning saw us boarding a coach for our drive to Prague Castle--the largest castle compound in the world according to the Guiness  Book of Records.  The first fortifications were started as early as 870 ACE. St. Vitus Cathedral, which is inside the palace grounds,  was begun in the 14th century, but was not entirely finished until 1929.  The environs were inhabited over the years by many royals, in later years by the Nazis and Communists,  and now by the democratic government of the Czech Republic.  Click to see  Prague Castle Map

We approached the outer perimeter through a gate and down a walk with gardens and a piece of the old Stag Moat on the left and the riding school and some other buildings on the right.

Looking down into the old moat.

The main gate at the end of this walk was guarded by soldiers in attractive powder blue uniforms.

We passed by the guards and entered the second courtyard. It contained a large fountain, an ancient well, and the handsome circular Chapel of the Holy Cross--now a gift shop.

To the left of the old well was a passage that led to the third courtyard.

Once through that tunnel you are brought face to face with the bulk of  St. Vitus Cathedral.  The photo below was taken from the outer perimeter and you can see the church in its entirety with the two large Gothic towers and just the tip of the great South Renaissance  tower peeking out from behind the roof.

                                 You enter the cathedral through massive doors in the richly detailed Gothic west front.

Impressive gargoyles monitor your passage with dramatic intensity. 

The nave captures all of the things associated with the very best of Gothic architecture. 

            The windows are stunning as well.

Outside again we walked around the building to take in the more massive blocky renaissance South Tower. It contains the largest bell in the country.

Once again there was also a large impressive clock to appreciate, even if without cute mechanical saints marching around.

The tower base containing what is called the Golden Portal features some interesting window treatments  


and some colorful mosaics 

An iron fence pretty much closes off this south entrance now, but what struck my fancy were the charming little sculptural depictions of common folk at work or play that were affixed to the bars of the fence. Three are pictured below.

Two butchers

A male and female field hand
and a young flute playing swain serenading a female who may be dancing or just languishing while she listens. 
Another nice sculptural piece is this St. George slaying the Dragon. 

Various old and newer Presidential Palace buildings, some occupied by museums, occupy the space on the south side of the cathedral square.   


The 18th century part of the palace enclave built during the reign of Maria Theresa is now the location of many current governmental functions and includes the official residence of the president of the Czech Republic.

Our tour never got us around to the scenic front of the Palace that overlooks the city and the Vitava River.  I had to filch this shot from the internet in order to get a sense of what we missed.

 At the furthest end of the courtyard beyond the cathedral choir is the colorful Basilica of St. George. This is the second oldest church in Prague and dates from 920.  Although it has had many alterations and additions since, the oldest parts are in the Romanesque style.

Our time was up. It was nowhere near sufficient to see even half of what was available to explore. Allow a good deal more time if you are on your own rather than in a tour.  


Monday, August 15, 2016

Prague Day One

With time to kill before our rooms were ready, we set out to find some lunch and see a bit of the town.  We quickly found that the Prague Marriott was ideally located barely a block from Republic Square, two  market areas, an open tram hub,  and the main street leading to the Old Town Square.

There was some kind of festival going on at the far end of Republic Square. There were beer vendors and lots of stalls.  Need some cheese?

Or how about a selection of sausages?

Even our old friend from Nuremberg--the little cooked on a roller bun dipped in sugar.
This cornucopia of eats reminded us that we had not had lunch. We spied a restaurant just around the corner from the hotel that matched up with a card we had received at the desk for two free beers. Guess where we went? There was a boisterous party going on inside, but there were tables available on the outdoor patio and we settled down to order a Marinated Salmon Salad for Jan and a Sausage, Peppers, and pungent broth creation for me that came sizzling hot in an iron skillet. For some reason I didn't take a photo of our meal, but I did snap one at the table of two Asian guys near us.  It was a giant Pork Hock about the size of a bowling ball with various fixings laid out on a wooden trencher. I now call "Time Out" so we can eat.


Fulfilled and then some,  we headed out to walk a bit further.  We saw the Art Deco extravaganza called the Municipal House and resolved to come back for a more thorough look later.

We also took a look at the 15th century Powder Tower, which was originally one of the gates into the city. It stands at the top of the so called Royal Route that led down to the Old Town Square, then to the Charles Bridge, and finally to the Prague Castle.   

By this time we hoped our room would be ready. It was and it was pleasant and spacious. By the way you'll need some Czech Crowns in Prague. Euros are not the currency of the land here.  Any ATM will be glad to help you out.
We did a bit of laundry, took a short kip, and then headed out again. Back at Republic Square we noticed a colorful classical looking building with a large modern sign declaring it to be the Palladium.  

We entered and found a huge several story shopping mall inside the classical shell. How cool was that!  Everything from a Marks and Spencer's to a McDonalds all stacked up under an atrium topped by a skylight.


Outside once more we strolled through the Powder Tower gate and meandered along the narrow pedestrian only Celetna Street.  We reminded ourselves again that this was the ancient King's Coronation Route.  Now, as then I am sure, the street was packed with people and filled with restaurants, shops, and souvenir stalls to tempt them. This narrow medieval way soon opened out into Old Town Square, which was similarly packed with humanity.

We have been in several of these central public squares in the last week and they do make one wish that American cities, built mainly to handle road traffic,  had managed to include more spaces like this. It was crowded with tourists and locals, ringed with cafes and food vendors,  full of street entertainers,  and bristling with young people hawking city tour options while floating about on Seques.  Click to enlarge this and see the Seque down center.  It's a disorderly stew, but bursting with vitality. 

Towering over one side of the square is the massive Church of Our Lady before Tyn. 

Another church, St. Nicolas, is visible to the north.

The western edge of the square is dominated by the Old Town Hall Tower. The view from the top is said to be extraordinary, but our old legs were not about to try the climb.
Lower down on the building is the mechanical clock that draws tourists at the top of every hour. It has been doing its magic since 1490 ACE and is composed of three parts. Read more history by clicking on Prague Astronomical Clock
The golden dial is a traditional calendar. It shows the symbol of Prague Old Town in the center.  This is surrounded by the signs of the zodiac. Then comes a series of images picturing activities that occur during the various months of the year. The outer circle represent the day of the year with the current date on the top.
The center dial just above the gold one represents the medieval world with the earth at the center.  The blue section shows the heavens above the horizon and the brown part is the sky below the horizon. The further circles indicate the actual time in various systems.

Above the clock faces is a little house with doors that open when the hour is struck to show a procession of apostles on some kind of belt or disk. 

Off to the sides are other carved figures  with the most interesting being a skeletal death who pulls on a rope in time to the chimes.

The human action in the square still remains the most pleasurable.  It is where entertainers of all sorts vie for coins in their hats or guitar cases.  I liked this guy doing football tricks because it's a money raising talent not seen often in stateside buskers.

We treked back to our hotel in time to try out the pasta dishes in the hotel dining room and then decided to call it a day as Prague Castle was on the docket for the morrow.