The Czech Republic Prague

The Czech Republic Prague

Czech Republic Prague

October 2015

If you are a student of history it may be a little exciting to think you are standing on a stone laid during the Roman Empire, thoughts like this crossed my mind during our time in Prague and our drive around the countryside of The Czech Republic. Central/eastern Europe history is rich in conquest after conquest, the ruling families of the past traded blows and ground enough to make it a challenge to unravel. We stayed in a straw house, a hotel built in the 1400’s and a Soviet era apartment during our stay, and frankly fell in love with the country and especially the people.

The entire trip was organized by Lucia (aka: The Fetching Mrs. Seacock). She did the background research for locations, spent hours on line shopping for deals, spent hours complaining about lost opportunities (read deals) hours rejoicing in finding deals, and finally when all was said and done was petrified that it was too good to be true. Wait that was me, sorry, full disclosure, while I was busy worrying about things that probably didn’t matter, she was doing yeoman’s duty to make sure we could and would have a great trip without breaking the bank. I was the one who said, “that can’t be right did you factor in everything”? She replied with some edge in her voice “yes”. Now most of you know that Lucia is a top drawer accounting type who prides herself on accuracy and truth, and I treaded where angles fear to go when I exclaimed there is no way we could go to the Czech Republic that cheap. This publication is proof that I lived through that indiscretion and we did indeed have 10 days of very economical travel in the Czech Republic thanks to Lucia’s hard work. All I had to do was capture a few images, eat and drink beer. Stop smirking, it’s not as easy as you think. Below is a breakdown of expenses if your interested.

$2050  – Airfare plus 3 nights at the airport Marriott and Rental Car for a week.

$360 – Rental Car Insurance

$240 – Lodging for the rest of the trip. Air BnB’s plus one hotel

$400 – Food, Beer, Grog, Cappuccino & Tea

$200 – Local tours (Prague only)

$100 – Museums

$125 – Shoes (For Lucia, Italian)

$25 – Gas for the rental car (800 kilometers)

Now I know what you’re thinking, bullsh…….. but really, thats all it cost. Go ahead and add in a few hundred more for stuff that we forgot about and we’re still less than 4K for the entire trip. LA to Prague, a lap around the country in a rental car and back to LA!

Hint: Want to see the images larger? me too, just click on them!


Our first three nights in Prague were in the Courtyard by Marriott, Prague Airport. Arriving in Terminal 1, we need only walk across the street to our hotel. Traveling for around 17 hours, sleeping a little on the planes we were ready to stop clean up and have a nice meal at the hotel restaurant, then sleep. Lucia using her vast experience with public transportation had a plan to get into Prague. She had studied the situation and we could subway into town and back (approximately 30 min) for $5.60 USD for both of us per day and we could pick up the public transportation right there in the picture you’re looking at! Couldn’t sleep long though, had to be up early the next day.

Excitement was in the air while we rode the subway into Prague on our first day. A little jet lag, trying to understand the signs and stops on the subway had our radars on full. This was our stop, correctly predicted by Lucia my public transportation expert. We popped out of the subway car and the first thing I saw was this wall. What would you be thinking?

Around the corner and just before the escalators brought you up to the street was more interesting public art. It’s not tagging like we are familiar with, the city was for the most part free from that sort of expression, this had to be done in cooperation with someone. Still minutes after arriving in Prague.

Popping up from the subway, finally here we are, Prague. Our mission this morning, to find our guide for a city walk with Urban Adventure Tours. I arranged this and ruined Lucia’s well laid plans for the day ( I wasn’t fully aware of her planning) my mistake, but we still had a great day. I do like the Urban Adventure Tour format, small groups (we had 6) less than a day sometimes only a few hours, and friendly knowledgable hosts! Yes Lucia liked it also so I was not sent to the punishment room!! 

If I ruled the world and could have anything I wanted, one of those things would be big wooden doors! Have seen pretty impressive must have doors in Asia, but… I must now add Prague (and the rest of the country) to my list of great doors! Wouldn’t you love to have these incredible doors? Knock knock! Who’s there?

In defense of my trumping the Fetching Mrs. Seacock’s plans, we were guided to many beautiful buildings with great stained glass and architecture. This one in a commercial setting is in the Lucerna Palace area of downtown Prague. Be sure to walk this, history is on display in a modern setting!

Prague born artist David Cerny sculpted this piece featuring King and later, Saint Wenceslas. The good King ruled in the 10th century, was murdered by his half brother Boleslav the Cruel. Cerny is known for his painting a Soviet tank pink as memorial to the Velvet Revolution and faceless babies crawling up the Prague television tower, (you will see that image later) another Soviet artifact. Here, he is mocking history by having maybe the most popular Czech historical figure riding a dead horse upside down. Installed in Lucerna Palace, Weneceslas Square area of downtown Prague.

Wenceslas Square is the center of Prague life. In 1969 Jan Palach. a young Czech history student shocked the world after setting himself on fire in the center of Prague, protesting the Soviet-led invasion of communist Czechoslovakia in 1968 that crushed the democratic reform movement known as the “Prague Spring”. Alexander Dubcek the Secretary of the Communist Czechoslovakian Party at the time was not following the Soviet party line resulting in a Soviet crackdown. Dubcek was very popular in Czechoslovakia but found himself replaced after the invasion. This image was taken at the site where Jan Palach committed his act of defiance in the square. His act is still controversial, to the locals it meant the beginning of the end of Soviet dominance that did occur about 20 years later. Today from what we experienced, people are still basking in the glow of freedom. This act is cherished, proudly by Czech citizens.

Strolling among the shops in Wenceslas Square

While there is a serious difference between English and Czech languages there is no problem with communication in Prague. You can easily survive by only speaking English.

This image caused Lucia to think of the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas. The painted skies in the Venetian resemble the real ones here! We were lucky to have beautiful weather in October in Prague

The sun is shining and warm but we’re deep in the city, it won’t find us here. It’s a little chilly as we approach “The Passage to Old Town Square”

We set the way-back machine to the year 1338 when this area was founded as the city center of Prague. These structures go back to Roman times. The Astronomical Clock built in 1364 is still working after all these years, the twelve apostles walk around in two windows, a skeleton pulls a bell on a rope and after the crowing of a cock the clock chimes the hour. There’s always a crowd at the top of the hour!

Another view of “Old Town” square featuring an energetic tour entrepreneur. Finding ways to get a tour of Prague spontaneously is not hard. There are several options, including horse drawn carriages.

Our guide, Peter (in the red hat) was providing history as we walked through the streets of Prague. I’ll take this opportunity again to say we enjoyed the attention, information and small group idea of guided tours. There were only 6 of us and we spent almost 8 hours walking around Prague with a local who knew the history and lore of the city. We ate local food drank local beer and really did enjoy our time with Peter on this tour. Recommend you check out an Urban Adventure Tour on your next travel experience!

Lucia and her new friend Elena walking. Elena is a Russian married to an Italian, they met in China and currently live in Poland. Amazingly, Elena the Russian speaks Mandarin fluently. Lucia was very happy to have someone to talk with in Mandarin and Elena was also happy to practice her Mandarin. The most amazing thing about our little tour – of the 7 people in our group (including the guide) 5 were from different countries!

Descending into the canals along the Vltava river, next to the Charles Bridge. We had a little river cruise on our tour, and believe it or not, they served beer

Musicians on the famous Charles Bridge. The most popular and crowded area we encountered, musicians, vendors many tourista’s lounging on the bridge first built in 1172. This version was commissioned by the Roman Emperor Charles IV in 1357.

 

The Statue of St. John Nepomuk on the Charles Bridge is a very popular stop, you can touch the two shiny spots to bring good luck. His story has a sad ending, being the confessor of the Queen of Bohemia, wife of the aforementioned King Wenceslas. The King suspected his queen had a lover, demanded that John report to him the confessions of his wife, John refused, the King as the story goes was enraged enough to have John drowned by being thrown off the Charles Bridge. Like Elena, we did touch the monument for good luck, so far so good!

 

On the other side of the Charles Bridge, from Old Town is the “Little Quarter” or “Lesser Town”

Here’s what the north end of the Charles Bridge looks like on a typical nice day in October. The arch funnels traffic back and forth from Old Town to Little Quarter and back. The bridge and this arch were the most congested areas we encountered. Not a big deal, but it was October.

 The Lesser Town, also known as the Lesser or Little Quarter, clusters around the foothills of Prague Castle, across the Vltava River from Old Town. This is an area we did not explore, next time for sure! Even older than the “Old Town” the Lesser Quarter is rich with shops, pubs, and history galore. Travel hint: Public bathrooms or “WC” (water closets) as you can see here on the right side need always to be paid before entering. Usually there is someone to collect the “fee to pee” or a machine to drop your coins into. So always keep change in your pocket!

St. Vitus Cathedral

St Vitus Cathedral is located in the Castle Quarter. We did not see all the Cathedral has to offer (on a tour) and had to keep moving:(  There is much to see here! Allow yourself some time to explore. Here is a drawback to a tour, the Castle Quarter could take up a day of walking and exploring, if you can allow for this!

The Old Jewish Cemetery (Czech: Starý židovský hřbitov, German: Alter Jüdischer Friedhof) lies in the Josefov, the Jewish Quarter of Prague in the Czech Republic. It was in use from the early 15th century (the oldest preserved tombstone, the one of Avigdor Kara, dates back to 1439) until 1787. Its ancestor was a cemetery called “The Jewish Garden”, which was discovered in archaeological excavations under the Vladislavova street, New Town. The numbers of grave stones and numbers of people buried here are uncertain, because there are layers of tombs. However, we were told that there are approximately 12,000 tombstones presently visible, and there may be as many as 100,000 burials in all.

It is not clear when exactly the cemetery was founded. This has been the subject of discussion of many scholars. Some claim that the cemetery is over 1000 years older than the accepted date, which is the first half of the 15th century. The oldest grave belongs to the Prague rabbi and poet Avigdor Kara from 1439. It was founded by the King Ottokar II of Bohemia. According to halakhah, Jews must not destroy Jewish graves and in particular they are not allowed to remove the tombstone. This meant that when the cemetery ran out of space and purchasing extra land was impossible, more layers of soil were placed on the existing graves, the old tombstones taken out and placed upon the new layer of soil. This explains why the tombstones in the cemetery are placed so closely to each other. There are 12 layers of graves because of the space restrictions.

The latest in European Rally Cars? Nope, but an interesting approach to night driving don’t you think.

Sometimes you just have to stop and admire fine automotive work. Hey, I’m a car guy and this Beetle is one of the best customizing jobs I have ever seen. Been to 23 years of SEMA Shows and found nothing better!

Away from downtown, quite aways from downtown we were guided to non-tourist areas by Travis an American from Idaho who moved here and married a local girl. This vent thing is interesting, but more interesting than that was the guy on the left who was watching me like a hawk, as soon as I raised my camera he grabbed his bags and tried to get out of the frame before I could squeeze off a shot. I watched him as we walked away, when we reached at least to him a safe distance he returned to his bench. Would love to know the story behind that behavior.

As I mentioned Travis from Idaho is our guide in the pedestrian areas of Prague, we’re on the way to a local restaurant Vinohradsky Pivovar not a tourists hang out. Locals only and very good local beer! By the way, the food while consisting of meat and potato’s was really good and even with much great local beer did not cause weight gain. (Yes even Lucia enjoyed the beer.) You may be wondering, why the image of grenade head and not the restaurant? Good question, I have no intelligent response except to say everything is new when you travel and you’re not always thinking of images and or you may be having a fascinating conversation when something happens you’re not prepared for. Want to see the restaurant, click the link!

In a previous image I mentioned a Soviet era television antenna with babies crawling on it. This is it, artist David Cerny the same guy who sculpted King Wenceslas on an upside down dead horse created faceless babies who crawl up and down this now almost useless tower. At 709 feet tall, on top of a hill it towers over Prague.

Like many examples of communist-era architecture in Central and Eastern Europe, the TV tower used to be generally resented by the local inhabitants. It also earned some nicknames, mostly alluding to its rocket-like shape, e.g. “Baikonur” after Soviet cosmodrome, “Pershing” after the US IRBM, some more political, like “Jakešův prst” (Jakeš’s finger, after the Secretary General of the Czechoslovak Communist Party), etc. Although official criticism during the time of its construction was impossible, unofficially the tower was lambasted for its ‘megalomania’, it’s ‘jarring’ effect on the Prague skyline, and for destroying part of a centuries-old Jewish cemetery situated near the tower’s foundations. However, the official line remains that the cemetery was moved some time before the tower was conceived. Recently, the tower’s reputation among Czechs has improved. Rumours were it that the tower was to be used to jam incoming western radio and television transmissions (particularly Radio Free Europe) and that it had a potential use as a communications facility for Warsaw Pact forces in the event of an attack on (or attack by) NATO.

Today the tower attracts visitors focusing on the tower’s technological innovations and great view over city skyline. There’s even a restaurant up there!

Away from the touristy, fashionable areas of Prague, walking through working class neighborhoods, drinking fine beer and meeting friendly people. Our friend Travis also brought us to one of his favorite, away from tourist traffic pubs Cafe Sladkovsky, no food this time, just beer! Not just any beer of course, a fine very local brew with limited distribution, Uneticky Pivovar.

This is what Prague looks like if you’re a local living and working away from tourism, like we do in our cities. Local vendors providing goods and services and small cottage to light industries making beers, foods, and products of all types.

 

Time is running out for us in Prague. Frankly, not enough. Too much to see in such a short time, we will I’m sure be back to fill in some of the blanks created by this trip. But wait there’s more, in Part II we will chronicle the lap around the Czech Republic provided by our rental car Lucia named “Lucy”. 800km of travel around the country arriving back in Prague. Much action, food, beer and adventure, don’t miss Part II!

 

Hey Fellow Travelers

Want to see what we discovered on our lap around the Czech Republic? Click Here!!

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