4-Day Summer Trip to Prague
Clusters of terracotta rooftops wading through the city, peering medieval church spires, gothic towers, and vehicles crawling at a distance made it feel as if we were prying over a closely knit community going about its slow life. Stretched across river Vltava, Charles Bridge connects Prague's Old Town to the 'Lesser Town' (Malá Strana), with Legion, and Jirásek bridges running in parallel for picturesque completeness; the Lesser Town, unlike its colloquial name is home to the Prague castle atop of a steep walk. Prague is indeed distantly beautiful. Beyond its social media cooing and reputation for celebratory holidays is a city rich in a USSR and formerly monarchical history. One that also commemorates influential figures and retells stories from important groups, as seen by Kafka's monuments and the Jewish Quarter museums. We sought after envious sunsets and a learning experience.
The Old Town initially fell target to our lazy way of exploring the city. Even more as it is bounded by the Powder Tower, Astronomical Clock and Charles Bridge. The Old Town used to be a major marketplace for trade in Prague, which was one of Europe's wealthiest cities. Today, Havelský Market is its only remnant selling tourist goods.
The square was completely swarmed with tourists. We were surprised by how busy it was and were quickly reminded of Prague's popularity amongst stags and hens. There are plenty of bars and wine cellars in the center, shops selling Trdelnik (chimney cake), Czech sausages, and traditional dishes such as Goulash. The Old Town was adorned with European high street shops and a few unusual museum encounters: a chocolate making, Apple technology and sex museum. We preferred to enjoy street side trinket shops and admire the beautiful architecture.
The night scenery is even more palatable. It felt like being indoors, roofed under an exquisite Vegas or Macau resort with stunning sky-painted ceilings. Even by 10pm it didn't get much quieter with the exception of Charles Bridge.
Powder Tower is a good place to get a view overlooking the city and some stair walking exercise. This was built in 1475 as the city's entrance gate and tolls were collected here. Renovated several times for different purposes, the tower eventually stored gunpowder, giving it it's present day name. On the way up, we passed a floor with stained glass windows, and boarded descriptions of the tower's history. At the top, without much room to wander around, we found ourselves staying for a few photos, admiring the view briefly and leaving to make room for others wishing to do the same.
The Communist Museum
The Communist Museum museum was a highlight. Unfamiliar with Czech history, we wanted to learn more about the then, Bohemia, and the country as a former satellite state. Every country had a unique story in the Cold War. The communism era was recounted through an array of videos and artifacts. The chilling regime permeated all aspects of life; from the state economy to media censorship, education, work life and religion. Massacres occurred in the face of disobedience and many fled the country while others died trying. Czech Republic remained under communist rule until the Velvet Revolution in 1989, a series of protests by students which led to the appointment of Vaclav Havel, the country’s first non-communist government.
St Wenceslas’ Vineyard
Having taken our e-scooters the wrong way to Prague Castle, we stumbled across St Wencelas’ Vineyard by chance. This vineyard is one of the earliest. It has been said that the wine itself was cultivated by St Wencelas, and hence named the 'divine vineyards' by locals. Undoubtedly, wine is sold today and there are food stalls to enjoy outside. Due to a tight schedule, we did not dine here. The same castle hill spot hosted my favourite views of Prague, overlooking both the Old and Lesser Town.
Moments away from the vineyard is Prague Castle; a 1000+ years complex spreading palaces, cathedrals and courtyards across an impressive 70,000 sqm. We bought tickets for 250 cz (£8.78) which granted access to the Old Royal Palace, St George’s Basilica, Golden Lane and St Vitus Cathedral. The Old Royal Palace is one of the oldest parts of the castle, dating back to the 12th century. Most of the palace appeared unusually wooden and we discovered this had been re-built several times. We entered the Vladislav Hall used for ceremonial purposes and explored a number of legislature rooms. Don’t forget to check out the balcony too.
Golden Lane is a street lined with petite, colourful houses inhabited by goldsmiths and by the political writer, Franz Kafka in No.22 between 1916-1917. The houses were converted into shops selling souvenirs and wooden ornaments. Further down Golden Lane is Dalibor Tower, a dungeon named after Dalibor of Kozojedy (its first inmate) which spooked us with skeletons inside the minuscule torture cages that reminded us of the tough prison conditions.
Our favourite part of the castle was St Vitus Cathedral. This was actually ranked as the No.1 Trip Advisor attraction in Prague. Assuming all others researched the same, the queue was extremely long but it did move quickly and we waited no more than 20 minutes. The cathedral is the largest and most important temple in Prague. It was also a burial place for several patron saints, sovereigns, noblemen and archbishops. The moment we stepped inside, we realised its magnificence and its beautiful stained glass windows, tombs and architecture made it a worthwhile wait.