Sunday, 2 October 2011

Prague...The Accidental Tourist (Trail)

When I travel somewhere for the first time, I am often torn between being supremely organised in what I want to see/do versus leaving myself free to soak up whatever comes along. Which invariably means I end up with a mix of the two. With other places I've visited, I have had a far better sense of their history so I must admit to feeling at a bit of a crossroads when I arrived in a gloriously sunny Prague on Friday afternoon - to plan or not to plan, that was the question!

But not wanting to waste time reading about it in my hotel room (which was rather lovely by the way), I put a few essentials in my daypack and armed with my new Nikon Coolpix camera (a frantic Amazon purchase the weekend prior upon discovering my trusty 5+ year old Fuji Finepix had died), I set off to roam the streets.

I was staying in a rather lovely part of Prague called Vinohrady (means Vineyard - how apt) which is just on the outskirts of the New Town...



...and is also not very far from Namesti Miru (Peace Square) and my first view of Prague's many spires and spirited architecture.

My first spires - St Ludmila's Church in Namesti Miru
Art Nouveau: Vinohrady Theatre and its winged figures, Drama and Opera
The first of MANY photos of random, un-named but pretty buildings
Namesti Miru is also where I learnt the rules about crossing Prague's streets - the guidebook says that the rules regarding mandatory stopping at crossings are quite recent so it's best to be on your toes, regardless of the little green man.


You got the Red Man pic becuse I was busy crossing on the green and too scared to stop in the middle.
As I wandered a little down the street I could see this in the distance...


...and being of an inquisitive nature, set my mental compass and began to walk towards it. I got rather close too and but for the sake of this headless man who 'showed the way'...


...I might never have gotten to the other side to see Wenceslas Square, centre of the Velvet Revolution and the overthrow of Communisim in 1989.

Wenceslas Square - that's St Wenceslas on the horse with the flag!
The gilded rooftop from afar became The National Museum
Monument to student Jan Palek who, in protest against Communism, burnt himself to death in 1969 (the year I was born!)
I don't know anything about the Velvet Revolution. I was 20 in 1989 and all I can remember about that year is the coming down of the Berlin Wall (a piece of which stands outside the Imperial War Museum here in London, but I digress). It's hard to believe that such enormous social change happened in my lifetime without my having a scooby. These are the times when I wonder at how big a place the world is and how little my world is in it.

Anyhow, it seemed that a stroll down this (in)famous square was in order...

A bustling Friday night
More amazing architecture (you saw the Grand Europa Hotel in my previous post)
The doorway to happiness? A modern and slightly jarring touch
Market stalls - souvenirs and sausages galore
 ...before leaving the main square to discover some lesser known delights.

This looks like it should be in a Wild West Town somewhere
A weary traveller
More spires against the darkening sky
Suddenly, a sign pointed me towards this archway, promising me passage to Starometske Namesti (or as I've now come to know it, the Old Town Square).


So after a quick glance at the stern features of this silent spectator...

Physician Jan Marek

 I entered and emerged to this...a veritable architectural masterclass!

The Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Hall Tower
A mix of Gothic and Renaissance styles carefully restored following the Prague Uprising in 1945.

Monument to Jan Hus and the gothic Our Lady Before Tyn Church

Rococo Kinsky Palace (now an art gallery)
Church of St Nicholas, classic Baroque
A little 'night' music
I thought this was as good a place as any to stop and enjoy a few local vittels...

View from my resting point - calm after the bustle of the Square
My first Pilsener
It's a (red) meaty city is Prague but I managed to find a passable chicken gnocchi on the menu
Feeling replete and relaxed, it was time for more wandering and I decided to explore the streets to the left of my entrance to the Square. I headed back towards the clock, wading through the crowds and wondering why it had gotten so busy. Suddenly the bells above me rang out and the little doors above the clock itself sprang open...

A performance every hour
Enchanted I held my ground amidst the throng, listening to the bells proclaiming the hour across the Square. And then the trumpeter appeared...


He played a little 'herald', waved his cape and took a bow on each of the four sides of the tower. Wow - climbing those stairs and trumpeting like that must take some lung power. (Please don't say he takes the lift and destroy my illusions.)

I tried to find out whether there was any historic significance to this but the 'best' I got was 'it's just for the tourists'. Illusions destroyed (unless you rekindle these by sharing your own learnings on the matter?)

By this time, it was getting dark-ish and so I decided to head in the general direction of the Vlatava River to catch a glimpse of the Charles Bridge. I went a little off piste and didn't land right where I thought I would but emerged a little down river to be greeted by this...

Charles Bridge and Prague Castle
There was a part of me that thought 'don't take the shot, you have seen it a million times in guidebooks and on postcards'. But the tourist in me just couldn't help it so I snapped three...before my camera battery died.

So it was time to head along the river and the darkened streets of the New Town back to the hotel...
Fabulous rooms at the Hotel Le Palais
...where I had a long, long bath, unpacked a little, collapsed into that big, big bed and slept like a baby!


If you enjoyed this one, here are my other Prague posts for your leisurely perusal:
Prague Preview...Just A Peek
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