A Travellerspoint blog

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Day One: Arrival in Prague


I arrived in Prague around 10 a.m. on Monday, September 19th after an overnight flight. I managed to get a little sleep on the plane – at least enough to get me through the day. I sat next to a Czech lady on the plane. She lives in New York now, but was going back home for a visit. I told her about my plans and she asked me if I was Czech. When I explained that I was American, but that my great-grandparents were Czech, she told me that I look Czech. I’m still not sure exactly what that means, but I guess I’ll take it as a compliment!

The hotel had arranged for someone to pick me up at the airport, so I had an easy time getting to the hotel. I stayed at the Betlem Club Hotel on Bethlehem Square, which is in the Old Town.
The hotel is nice and small, which I liked because it made me feel safe since I was travelling alone. The cellar, which is where breakfast is offered every morning, dates back to the 13th century. It is the original cellar from a house that was built by a rich man for his daughter. The building itself has been rebuilt several times over the centuries, but the current building is from the 18th century. I had a small room in the attic, but it was very nice and had everything I needed.
The best thing about the hotel was the location. It was right in the center of the Old Town, which meant it was close to just about everything I wanted to see.

As soon as I was settled in my room, I ventured out to see some of Prague. I didn’t want to waste any time! My first goal was to get to the Old Town Square. It was only a few blocks away from my hotel, but it probably took me 20 minutes to find it. I think I walked in the same circle at least three times. The streets are very confusing. They curve and end and change names…I felt relieved when I finally saw the sights of the Town Square I had seen in pictures.

I quickly found myself if the middle of a huge crowd of people. When I looked up, I realized they were all admiring the Astronomical Clock, which was about to do its hourly performance. The clock, which is on the tower of the Old Town Hall, was built in 1410 and has become the symbol of Prague. On every hour, two doors open and the Twelve Apostles walk by while the bell rings. I couldn’t believe how many people gathered to watch it, but then, I found myself coming back to watch it a few more times during my trip.
After admiring the clock, I walked around the square some more. It’s very big and is always crowded with tourists, but that doesn’t take anything away from the beautiful buildings. There is the Church of our Lady Before Týn (usually referred to as the Týn Church),
the Church of St. Nicholas,
Kinský Palace (which is now an art museum)
and the monument to Jan Hus (more on him later).
I went into the Old Town Hall and up into the tower for some amazing views of the city. It was a great way to start my time in Prague. I could see all of the Old Town from up there. There was an elevator that went part of the way up, but the rest was stairs.
Once I was back on the ground, I stepped into the Church of St. Nicholas for a look at what was inside (and a chance to sit down for minute). The first thing I noticed was the big, beautiful chandelier in the middle of the room. The Czechs are known for their glass and crystal and this is an excellent example. The floors and pews are very dark, but the walls and ceilings are white. The contrast is very pretty.
Next, I ventured a couple blocks away to the Powder Tower. This tower was built into the original city walls in 1475. In the 1700s, it was used to store gunpowder, which is how it got its name. Inside the tower is a small museum.
Across the street from the Powder Tower is the Municipal House, which is where the Prague Symphony performs.
Then, I headed back to Old Town Square for a late lunch. There are several restaurants around the perimeter of the square, most of which have outdoor seating. It was raining, so I opted for an indoor table at a restaurant called Kamenný Stůl.
I wasn’t feeling too adventurous yet, so I just had a grilled chicken sandwich, but I did try the apple strudel for dessert. Yummy! Next to the restaurant was a tiny little bookstore. I went in and found an English version of The Metamorphosis by one of Prague’s most famous authors, Franz Kafka.

After lunch, I decided to check out the other major symbol of Prague: the Charles Bridge. This, luckily, was easy to find from the square since there were signs pointing the way. The 600-year-old Charles Bridge is a large pedestrian bridge over the Vltava River.
It is lined with large statues on either side.
All along the bridge are artists who sell their drawings, paintings, photographs, jewelry and other artwork. The bridge itself is beautiful, but so are the views from it.
The bridge was very crowded at this time of day, but I still enjoyed it.

On either side of the bridge is a tower. In the tower on the Old Town side of the bridge, you can take the winding cement stairs up to the top.
I got some great views of the city and the bridge from there.
My first day in Prague was pretty eventful. I was able to do a lot more than I thought I would after a long flight and little sleep. It rained all day, but that really didn’t slow me down. I was surprised by how many tourists I saw. I guess I wasn’t really expecting that. In a way, it was nice because I knew I wasn’t the only one who was lost, but I was also looking forward to seeing some less crowded parts of the city.

Posted by kehromada 14:19 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged prague Comments (0)

Day Two: Prague Castle


The Prague Castle is more than just a castle. It is a complex of buildings, all of which have some historical significance. I knew it would take some time to go through all of it, so I got a pretty early start. From my hotel, I went back to the Charles Bridge and crossed to the other side of the Vltava, where the castle complex is. The bridge was much different at 9 a.m. than it was in the middle of the afternoon the day before. The artists had not set up their booths and the tourists were not out in force, yet. It was nice to see the bridge at a more quiet and calm time.

The walk to the castle turned out to be a much longer (and uphill) walk than I expected, so I was kind of worn out by the time I got there.
Why didn’t I take the tram? Anyway, the whole complex sits on a hill and from there, you can get some really nice views of the rest of the city.
There was a little band playing at the entrance.
The first thing you see is the Matthias Gateway. Yes, that’s a gate, not a building. Once you walk through it, you get to the first (of several) courtyard.
From here, you can see the Holy Rood Chapel. The chapel was closed that day, so I didn’t get to go inside. Inside is the royal crypt, where the remains of several kings and royal family members are.
On the other side of the courtyard is St. Vitus Cathedral. This is the focal point of the castle complex and can be seen from just about anywhere in the city. The building of the cathedral started in the 900s, but has had several additions since then. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a great picture of the outside because it is too close to the surrounding buildings.
Inside, the cathedral is very ornate with beautiful stained glass windows and altar pieces.
Back on the outside of the cathedral, I saw the Golden Gate, which used to be used during coronations (if I’m remembering that correctly).
Above the doorway, is this beautiful mosaic.
After I left the cathedral, I went to the “castle” part of the castle complex: the Old Royal Palace. Bohemian royals lived here for more than 700 years beginning in the 9th century. The main attraction inside is the Vladislav Hall, a huge room where coronations used to take place. Off of the hall is a narrow staircase that leads up to a small tower.
Outside of the Old Royal Palace is an obelisk, which is a memorial to Czechs who died in World War I. I assume this is the newest construction in the castle complex.
Next was St. George’s Basilica.
St. George himself is seen in the courtyard.
The inside the church, which was built in the 10th century, is pretty simple compared to St. Vitus.
My next stop was the Lobkowicz Palace. I think this was one of the highlights of my day. I listened to an audio guide throughout the museum, which was narrated by members of the Lobkowicz family and gave some very interesting information about their impressive collection of Czech art.
One of the Princes Lobkowicz was a music lover and a benefactor for Ludwig van Beethoven (before he was famous). The museum houses a large collection of instruments and music, including an original manuscript of Handel’s Messiah.

I had lunch at the museum café, which was on a terrace overlooking the city. It was a great view to enjoy while I ate my chicken schnitzel. After lunch, I attended a short concert in the palace. Three musicians (piano, viola and flute) played a selection of mostly Czech classical music.
After the concert, I was almost at the end of the castle complex. I walked down Golden Lane, which is a teeny tiny street of teeny tiny houses. Most of them have been turned into little shops or have been set up to look the way they would have looked throughout history.
Franz Kafka is said to have lived at No. 22.
At the end of Golden Lane is Daliborka Tower. This is where prisoners used to be kept.
The narrow stairs lead down to the dungeon.
Outside of the Daliborka Tower are a couple of terraces where you can get some more nice views of the city.
As I left the castle complex, I walked down a long staircase that led to the Wallenstein Palace. Today, this is used as the home of the Czech Senate, but the grounds are open to visitors.
The gardens are very nice. There is an artificial rock wall where it is said that you can find the faces of various monsters.
Before I crossed back to the other side of the Charles Bridge, I stopped at the Church of St. Nicholas in Malá Strana. This is not to be confused with the Church of St. Nicholas in Staré Mĕsto at the Old Town Square, but it was designed by the same man. Somehow, I didn’t get a picture of the outside, but the inside is much more ornate than the one in Old Town. Upstairs is a small gallery of 12 paintings depicting the Passion of Christ.
After dinner at the pizzeria next door to the hotel (where the waitress was less than thrilled at my lack of knowledge of the Czech language), I went back to the Old Town Square and just walked around. The buildings are lit up very nicely at night. Unfortunately, my camera doesn’t take great nighttime pictures, but these came out okay.
I had some fun listening to all the different languages around me. I tried to identify them, but had some trouble. On this night, I sat down on a bench where there were two other ladies. I sat listening to them for about five minutes before I realized they were actually speaking English! They were apparently from somewhere in the U.K., but I couldn’t place the accent.

Posted by kehromada 14:19 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged prague Comments (0)

Day Three: Old Town, Kampa Island and Petrín Hill


I started my day about 30 feet from my hotel, at Bethlehem Chapel.
The chapel was built in 1394, but much of it has been rebuilt since then. This is the site where Jan Hus, the Protestant theologian preached sermons that were critical of the Catholic Church in the 1400s. He was eventually burned at the stake, but the Hussite Movement continued without him. In fact, one of his followers founded the town of Tábor, where my great-grandfather was born.

In the chapel, I saw the original pulpit where Hus preached. The building is now used by a university and only holds religious services one day a year – on the anniversary of Hus’ death. The main room in the chapel is fairly sparse, but still very pretty.
On the second level is a small exhibit about the history of Hus, the Hussite Movement and the chapel.

Next, I moved on to the second church of the day, the Týn Church on Old Town Square. The church was completed in the late 1300s and became the main church of the Hussite Movement. The main entrance is blocked by other buildings that were built when the Catholic Habsburg family was in power.
Photography is not allowed inside, but believe me when I say it was amazing. :)

After the Týn Church, I went back toward the Charles Bridge and visited the Bedřich Smetana Museum, which is dedicated to the patriotic composer. The museum’s collection includes a couple of ceremonial batons he was given, a costume worn by an actress in one of his operas, some manuscripts of his music and some first editions of Má Vlast, a set of six symphonic poems about the Czech lands.
When I left the Smetana Museum, I crossed the Charles Bridge and went to Kampa Island, which is an island between the river and a canal. I took a set of stairs from the bridge down to a small square on the island.
It was such a contrast to the hustle and bustle on the bridge. The square was very quiet and quaint. On the other side of the square is Kampa Park, which seemed to be a favorite spot for locals.
Then, I went to Petrín Hill. I took a funicular from the street level up to the top of the hill. At the top, there is a large rose garden and the flowers were still in bloom.
I also saw the Hunger Wall, which is a purpose-less wall the king had built in the 1300s to provide jobs for the poor.
The main reason for visiting Petrín Hill is the Petrín Tower, a one-third replica of the Eiffel Tower. I took the elevator to the top (along with the three other people who fit in the tiny elevator). From the observation deck, I saw some nice views of the city.
I took the stairs on the way down, which I regretted since the sides of the spiral staircase were somewhat open to the outside. That made me a little nervous, although I was glad to not be the guy who was strapped to the side painting the tower. Needless to say, I made it safely back down to the ground.

Next to the tower is a house of mirrors, which sounded like fun until I saw a group of school kids going in. I decided to skip it. Instead of taking the funicular back down the hill, I walked. Along the path down were some paintings and nice park areas.
After a quick break at the hotel, I went to St. Salvator Church for a concert. This time there was an organist, violinist and vocalist.

The concert was lovely and so was the inside of the church. I liked all the arches on the ceiling and around the windows.
After the concert, I decided to go back to the square on Kampa Island because I had seen some restaurants there. I think that was one of my favorite spots in the city. It was so close to one of the major tourist attractions and yet it was so peaceful. The name of the restaurant was U Zlatych Núžek.

Posted by kehromada 14:27 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged prague Comments (0)

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