Prague 2000      Last Updated: 22-Nov-02

After a 1.1 hour flight we arrived at Praha International Airport. This was the first really large airport we used. The welcome was warm and effecient. But the departure had to be rescheduled by one day. The original route I had planned in Poland did not follow the standard procedures. So when I got my clearance just before take-off (for VFR!), I did not know any of the waypoints. Rather than trying to figure it out on the fly. I requested to taxi back to parking, talked to the staff, and planned the standard routes for the next day.

That extra night, Rosi and I stayed at a Bed & Breakfast near the airport and took a long walk through the woods to a lake nearby. Just a brief word on B&Bs in Europe. They may be called various names (in German it is Pension), but they are essentially a place that provides a bed - typically in a basic room that sleeps up to 2 (sometimes up to 4) - and provides a local breakfast treat - eggs, breads, sausages, cheese, coffee, tea, jam, fruit, yogurt, ... . It is almost always run by the owner (who stays there also) and fairly inexpensive. We frequently stayed in one of these places. Our goal was to stay for less than 50 US$ per person, and we typically had all we needed (TV, own bathroom, etc.). Sometimes in the inner city we had to stay in hotels. But the requirements were still the same. This varies at least from my experience wit B&Bs in the US, which tend to be very cute, quaint and expensive.

Arriving at Praha Airport - now we are definitely around the big guys! 

Imagine Paris compressed to 2 city blocks. That's what Prague felt like. A huge city, with a compact downtown area that is old and was never destroyed by war. This is interesting for tourists. Restore it and add everything that comes with the trade: hotels, restaurants, internet cafés, hawkers, concerts, pick pockets, etc. The fringes of these areas still seemed largely a construction site. But everything is beautiful where the tourists are in hordes.

It may all center around Charles' Bridge (Karl's Brücke) across the Vltava river which was built by Charles IV. (his real name was Karel). He was responsible to make Praque the center of Europe in the second half of the 14th century. He also founded the first university in Central Europe.

Charles Bridge viewed from just below the castle 
A statue of the man himself  Hordes of tourists on the bridge 
and to hawkers that come with the trade 
Of couse we need live music. There were at least 5 groups along the bridge  Many intricate, theatrical and impressive statues line the bridge 
Rosi watching tourist boats from the bridge  We attended a choir concert in this church of the Maltese Order 

Not far from the bridge is the Praque Castle with the towering St. Vitus Catedral (which was 600 years in the making and completed in 1929). We also visited the downtown square, watched the clock at the Old Town Hall from the Kafka Café and visited one of the most impressive Art Deco Buildings I have ever had the chance to enter. This entire area is easily walkable. The furthest points are less than 2 miles (~ 3 km) apart. However, whenever we went out of those areas it got quickly very quiet and less glitzy (which is fine with me). The city was full of construction sites. It is the contrast that was so disturbing. But it also shows that lots of money is available to re-build and modernize.

The Old Town areas were beautiful, and I could definitely see why Karel liked this place. The wooded hills have a great view over the river into town where now - far away - one sees a score of very high buildings, probably the business/financial center.

Don't be fooled, there is a lot more to Prague than the tourist routes. Take a stroll up into the hills across the river. Approach the castle from an unusual angle and you will run into locals being out for a walk and it becomes suddenly all a lot more manageable.

One day we climbed the tower at the East end of the Charles Bridge. From there we had a wide view across the town. Across the river we saw something like a miniature Eiffel Tower. So we decided to check it out. Climbing that hill gave us a great new perspective of the town.

The bridge from the tower on its East end. See the tower on the hill, that's where we were headed next. It is still fairly early, but the bridge is already getting crowded  The castle and cathedral as seen from the tower  Towers as seem from the tower  Praque sprawls into the distance. One can also see the high rises in the distance  The castle and cathedral seen from the hill  The Vltava River definitely runs through it. The Charles bridge is seen center right, the tower we were on earlier is the black building ont the far side  Another view of the huge tower  Praque as seen from the castle walls. The Charles bridge look like a dark L in the center 

After we took the walk through the hills, past a local amusement area (with the Eiffel Tower under consturction), through meadows and church-yards, and approached the castle from the West where we suddenly fell in with the tourist hordes.

Down a wide cobble stone road the restaurants and tourists started to increase  And all of a sudden we were right with everyone again 
Top part of the facade of St. Vitus' Cathedral - It is enormous 
Detail above main gate  And more detail of main gate 
Side supports almost as impressive as Notre Dame in Paris  Many small side altars in the East - look at the support beams of the main building! 
Detail on main gate  Outdoor detail on South side 
View from the West entrance  Looking up from the cross center point 
View to the East  The stained glass windows are absolutly gorgeous, well done, and in great shape  
More windows  And more windows  And more 

After walking down from the castle and crossing the river, we soon found ourselves in the center of Staré Mesto (or the NEW town from the 14th century).

Lots of activity on the main square - it seemed there was some kind of race  Our view from the Kafka Cafe, which is directly opposite from the Old Town Hall  Detail on building next to Old Town Hall  Clock on Old Town Hall  Interior of Kafka Cafe, we found some interesting menu items and metamorphoses 

Another time we walked past the opera, and viewed the cafe where Václav Havel used to hang out with his friends before he became president. We also found a bagel shop. Knowing that bagels come from somewhere in Eastern Europe, we decided it's time to try one. Unfortunately, once we talked to the 20-something cashier, we found that he had never heard of bagels before he started working in this shop that was build specifically for American tourists.

   

At the Namesti Republiky (Square of the Republic), where we went to see the Powder Tower, I was completely blown away by a magnificent Art Deco building. I later found out it is the Obecni dum (or Municipal House). To my great delight it also had a Cafe. So in we went. What a treat! It was even nicer inside than outside. The coffee and cake were excellent, if somewhat on the expensive side. But service was impeccable, even though we were certainly way under-dressed.

The building seemed to span about 1/2 of the block, but the corner was the best!  Close up of the mosaic on top 
Close up of the entry way adornments  Indoors felt like a temple, geometric patters where-ever one looked, but not overdone 

Getting off the beaten path was not really difficult. Getting out early or late, or getting lost in side streets worked wonders.

View of buildings on East end of Charles' Bridge from next bridge to the South (most Legii)  Buildings just to the South of Charles' bridge at the West end  Steps on our walk through the hills  A working water wheel  Mickey Mouse is death! 

 

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