December 23, 2008


Me and Leigh at the top of Ke Hradu

Prague was a dream. However, the Praha hlavni nádrazí (main train station) was a nightmare. We were trapped in the station – there were literally no exits and no signs indicating any exits. No ATMs either. We had to buy Czech crowns and probably lost money in the process. Then we had to take a taxi to our hostel, because that was the only way for us to find our way out of the station. It was very traumatizing.

Absurd exchange rates make me feel rich

Once we were settled into our hostel in Staré Mésto (Old Town), we walked the 25 yards into Staromêstké Námêstí (Old Town Square). It had a Christmas Market and a beautiful Christmas tree all lit up. The Christmasiness definitely calmed us down and put us in a better mood – well that, and food.

Old Town Square

The next morning, we set out early for Hradcany, across the Karluv Most (Charles Bridge). We wanted to see Prazsky Hrad (Prague Castle) first thing, so we crossed over the Vltava River on the famous Charles Bridge at a time when it wasn’t swarming with tourists. I loved the statues along the bridge, it had a very romantic feel to it. Then it was a long trek up Ke Hradu, the large hill leading up to the castle entrance. It was misting rain and we were climbing a large hill to a castle… it was all too familiar for Leigh and I.

On Charles Bridge looking up toward Prague Castle

We poked around Hrad, Prague Castle, all morning. My favorite was definitely St. Vitus Cathedral with its gothic architecture. We got to see St. George’s Basilica, the royal apartments, take a stroll down Golden Lane, mess around in the dungeon in Daliborka Tower, wander through the dead vines in St. Wenceslaus Vineyard, and witness the changing of the guard at noon.

Prague Castle

St. Vitus Cathedral

While we were up at the top of the hill, we explored the Strahov Monastery and Library. The library had two magnificent halls: Philosophy Hall and the Hall of Theology, with their fresco-ceilings and large globes. The library housed the cabinets of curiosities… which are very appropriately named. They were filled with the skeletons of sea creatures; anything from urchins to giant sea horses.

Philosophy Hall

Hall of Theology

Cabinets of Curiosities

Then it was back down to the Old Town Square to watch the Astronomical clock sound the hour and enjoy the Christmas Market in the daylight. I discovered my favorite Czech pastry there: staroceske tdrlo – it’s like a snap bracelet of a cinnamon-sugar croissant, yummmm. This was the day I thought it would be a great idea to buy a new wallet from one of the street markets. When I got back to our hostel I turned it over and over and over, searching for the zipper to open it... there wasn't one. Lesson learned. We turned in early that night – still pretty burned out from paper-writing and traveling.

Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square

Staroceske Tdrlo - a Czech pastry

The following morning we climbed to the top of Staromêstská Mostecká Vêz (the tower on Charles Bridge)… and it was snowing! This was when Prague really started to feel like a dream, when it was covered in snow. We crossed the bridge into Malá Strana, "Little Quarter", and went inside the Church of St. Nicholas (Kostel sv Mikuláse). We only thought it appropriate to visit a church, called St. Nick, while it snowed so close to Christmas. This was by far my favorite church in all of Europe. It had amazing white marble statues with gold filigree and spectacular paintings, and claims the largest fresco on the ceiling in all of the Czech Republic.

The tower on Charles Bridge

Church of St. Nicholas 

We continued up to the castle to see it in the snow and then went to Loreta, a baroque place of pilgrimage. A line of snow-dusted angels on either side of the pathway lead us into the heart of Loreta, where we saw a 15th-century replica of the original home of the Virgin Mary known as Santa Casa (Sacred House). We also saw the Prague Sun (Prazské slunce): a 90cm-tall ornament, studded with 6,222 diamonds. Needless to say, it was shiny.


Sacred House

The snow only seemed to be sticking at the top of the hill by the castle. Poor Leigh, in her frenzy to throw things in a suitcase five minutes before we left Edinburgh, she forgot to pack warm boots. Luckily, I had plastic bags, which she was able to cover her feet with as an extra water-proof sock. It was quite hilarious to see her put them on! So we walked back down to the Old Town Square and climbed to the top of the Astronomical Clock Tower. Our last stop that day was to walk back over toward the newer part of Prague to find the statue of St. Wenceslaus. Apparently he’s not actually a King. And he was looking out alright, but I saw no feast of Stephen, and there was definitely no snow laying round about; not deep nor crisp nor even! The Christmas Carol lies.

A view of Prague in the snow from the top of the tower on Charles Bridge

Statue of St. Wenceslaus

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