As has become the norm for us, when we arrive in a new city, we take the first day to do a general walkabout to see what sites we would like to spend more time at for the rest of the week. So yesterday we headed down to Old Town. Prague is a city with lots of history so for a couple of buffs like us (history, not body), there is a cornucopia of things to explore. There is medieval history (John Hus), World War I, World War II, Communism, Freedom and Liberation.
The walk to Old Town took us about 20 minutes and we passed by small shops, large shops, restaurants, cafes, and office buildings, all with their own character and vibe. Some of the buildings are very old. Some look restored and others look like they are pretty new. There are many construction projects on the go so it appears that the city is definitely flourishing. To enter Old Town we passed through the Gothic style Powder Tower. This gateway was built in 1475 and marks the beginning of the “Royal Route”. Kings and Queens would enter through the gate on their way through the historical town to Prague Castle. In the 17th century it became known as the Powder Tower as the military began to store gunpowder inside the tower.
Once inside the gate, we noticed a number of historical vintage cabrio cars that were offering tours of the city. Richard and I both agreed that it was step up from the poor horses that were pulling the carriages in Salzburg and Vienna. We were now in the tourist area and a few weaves and bobs through the crowd brought us to the main square, aptly named Old Town Square. Established in the 12th century, it has been witness to many historical events. In addition to the Old Town Hall and the Church of Our Lady before Týn, the square is dominated by the Baroque Church of St Nicholas, the Rococo Kinský Palace, the Gothic House at the Stone Bell and the monument to Jan Hus. In the pavement of the square are memorial stones marking the execution of 27 Czech lords in 1621 after an uprising against the Hapsburg Empire. And of course a square would not be complete without a number of cafes, pubs, magicians, dancing panda and polar bears and a whole bunch of tourists.
From the square we wandered into the Jewish District and checked out opening times for the museums and cemeteries. According to articles that I have read, Hitler decided that he would spare the buildings in this district and have them preserved for historical purposes. His reasoning was that once the Jews were completely annihilated, this area would serve as a museum of a lost people. Whether this is true or not, I do not know, but when we go back for a closer look in the museums, perhaps this story will appear.
We stopped our touring for a late lunch/early supper and decided that we had seen enough for the first day. Not only had we had a great first full day exploring the city, earlier in the day we had booked the next couple of legs of our journey (Krakow and Berlin) as well as some camping spots in Manitoba for when we return. All in all, a great day.
Today we headed to the Museum of Communism. This well laid out and informative museum explores the rise of communism in the Czech Republic after World War II through to its demise in 1989. As I read and reflected through the many wallboards and exhibits, I realized that as I became a teenager and an adult in Canada, there was a whole generation – my generation – of peoples that did not have the freedom of speech, the freedom to listen to their own music, watch their own movies, live their own dreams or explore the world outside the confines of their borders. How spoiled we are!! How lucky!! I again give thanks to live in the best country in the world.
Humbled, we left the Museum of Communism and because we were not far from the Old Town Square, headed back there to have a drink and watch the clock strike three. The Prague Astronomical Clock, or Prague Orloj, is a medieval astronomical clock located on the Old Town Hall. The clock was first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still operating. On the hour, a crowd of tourists gather around to watch the twelve apostles poke their heads through the openings in the clock to herald in the new hour. Though I have looked at it two days in a row now, I still do not have a clue how to tell time with it. Regardless, it is pretty neat.
Once the clock dinged 15 times, we finished our drinks and headed to the hotdog stand that we had seen yesterday. The dogs did not disappoint and because I did not drop anything on my jacket in the way of ketchup or mustard, I thought that I might be able to handle a giant ice cream which is served in a cinnamon pastry shell. I wasn’t quite so lucky with that and ended up with melted ice cream on my face, hands, pants, and shoes. Worse than a three year old…..
I got myself cleaned up and we headed over to Wenceslas Square (Wenceslas Square is named for King Wenceslas which most of you would recognize from the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas). This large rectangle of several blocks is now a corridor of shops and office buildings but is historically where many public gatherings, demonstrations, speeches, riots and parades have taken place. The National Museum and the Bohemian Museum stand at the far end of the “square”, and we hope to have some time in the next couple of days to stop at one or both of them to soak up some knowledge. We continued our journey up the hill to the “Second Ugliest Building In the World”. Obviously this is subjective and it is actually a communications tower and not really even a building, but we did see it and took some pictures. You can be the judge.
As we had made somewhat of a circuitous route, we headed around and down the hill to come out just a street above our apartment. Another great day in another beautiful city. We are so very fortunate!!
The Powder Tower.
The old tour cars which take the place of horse drawn carriages. I like this idea. Horses are not meant to walk up and down paved streets.
The second ugliest building in the world according to a Prague tourist site. Obviously they have not seen the Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg.
The Sex Machine Museum. They wouldn’t let me in as they thought I would be too much of a distraction for the tourists.
The Astronomical Clock……
The Polar Bear and the Panda in the Old Square.
The Museum of Communism. Being a hockey fan it was interesting that Jaromir Jagr’s picture and name were mentioned twice in the museum.
I just thought this was an interesting advertisement.
The hotdog and the ice cream. Both of which were great.