09.19.2011 - 09.19.2011
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.