Friday, April 20, 2012

Weekend in Prague: Czech.

(I promised I'd only use the Czech/check pun once, so I hope you enjoyed it.)

Since I was a teenager (and I think similarly for Sara), I've wanted to visit Prague. I never really had a good idea of why, other than that it is supposed to be beautiful. I hadn't heard anything of the history, food (always important), culture--anything, really. I just knew I wanted to go there. This past weekend, Sara and I took a three-and-a-half-day getaway there. I was so right. Prague is amazing.



Frankly, we spent most of our time walking around, which is really the thing to do when everywhere you look there's a gorgeous building or old castle on a hill. We stayed in Malá Strana, the neighborhood of Prague on the west side of the Vitava River, about three minutes by foot from the entrance to the Prague castle complex. Walking around our apartment building, we saw views of the city (two photos above) and the gardens immediately below the castle (one below). Note: the Prague "Castle" isn't a castle in the traditional sense of the word. It's more a castle complex: lots of buildings that comprise a political and (historically) militaristic center of a city. As a complex, it's the largest "castle" in the world.


After walking around Malá Strana a little, we ventured down to the river to cross into the old town area. From a little ways away, the view of the Charles Bridge (named after Charles IV) is much more stunning than the view from the Charles Bridge, which mostly looks like tourists.


It seems difficult to me to precisely identify what makes a city beautiful, but one requirement is water. This river, and the bridges that span it, make Prague so gorgeous.

No trip of ours would be complete without sampling the local cuisine. In addition to traditional Goulash (I know it's Hungarian, but the Czechs have adapted it, plus mine was made with boar), funky bread or potato dumplings, and duck necks, we had Třdelnik (sounds kind of like "turtleneck," I think), a sweet dough roasted on a spit over fire/coals, then dusted with sugar, cinnamon, and ground almonds. It was delicious. (And, thanks to the Easter Market taking place while we were there, abundant.)


We continued walking around Prague, both the Malá Strana and old town areas, and visited some churches. We went inside the St. Nicholas Cathedral (Malá Strana), one of the most beautiful Baroque buildings in all of Bohemia, complete with perspective paintings on the ceilings and cherubs playing the timpani above the organ pipes.



At night we took a stroll through the Prague castle complex to see the St. Vitus cathedral lit up.



The next day, we walked by a building (can't tell its significance) with angels in front which, according to Sara, look as though they're playing Frisbee with their laurel wreaths.


Of course, no visit to Prague is complete unless one has seen the famous Astronomical Clock and its tower. This clock, first installed in 1410 and the oldest still-functioning astronomical clock, was built thanks to a collaborative effort between a clockmaker and mathematician/astronomer in the 15th century. The legend goes that the designer(s?) were blinded and de-tongued following the completion of the clock so that they couldn't share how to replicate it with anyone. It's an astronomical clock because it not only tells the time of day, but the season, sunrise and sunset, zodiac signs, moon phase, and even the time of day according to an ancient calendar. To boot, it has figures that move a little and a cock that crows on the hour.  According to one tour guide, the Astronomical Clock was ranked as the most disappointing attraction in all of Europe. But we thought it was pretty cute (and just pretty).



As I mentioned earlier, we mostly just walked around. Looking at these cityscapes, it's easy to see why.

IMG_5281 IMG_5428 IMG_5353


Prague was nothing short of a dream. The weather wasn't perfect and it was a little chilly, but there were blossoms, good food, and gorgeous buildings everywhere. Including in the village of Kutna Horá with its eerie Bone Church, which you can read about here. Or just look at some more pictures of beautiful buildings in Prague. Don't worry, it won't spoil Prague for you if you haven't been there yet. We'd seen pictures before went, but we still didn't understand what it would look like in the flesh (or rather, in the stone, red tile, and carved-and-painted plaster).

Prague city panorama, screen

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