Prague from the Street
Posted on February 11, 2017
Tourists visit Prague for many reasons but two favorites are to sample the beer and to see the Astronomical Clock on the main city square. So Eva, Suzi and I do both right away. Here’s the clock in the dead of winter with a few (thousand), mostly Asian, admirers with their cell phone cameras at the ready.
We have long planned to stay at the centrally located U Medvidku Hotel and oldest active brewery in Prague, dating from 1466. As we check in, we are offered free steins of their brew, which we enjoy in the lobby. Our room is on the top, fourth floor among the rafters. Suzi’s bed is perched on a loft amongst the beams. Our in-room bathroom is actually in another building. We share the wall. The floors don’t match up so we climb six stairs to the door. Bizarre.
A couple of blocks away from us is Wenceslas Square where major demonstrations have taken place, such as the Velvet Revolution in 1989 against Communist repression, championed by Alexander Dubcek and Vaclav Havel. Today it’s a major shopping area. Because Prague was not damaged during WWII, many fine buildings remain from earlier times throughout the city. Along Wenceslas Square are many places built during the Art Nouveau period around 1900 and the Art Deco period that followed. Here are some examples.
To feed the masses who come there today, there are two McDonald’s, a Burger King and a KFC. When revolution comes to America’s plazas, will MickyD be there?
Most of Prague is paved with cobblestones. Nonetheless, yesterday we did nearly 20,000 steps, according to our iPhone, and were none the worse for wear at the end of the day.
Not far away from us is the large Jewish quarter with many synagogues, cemetery and shops. Of course, the quarter’s inhabitants were decimated in WWII by the Nazis. In the 18th century, they were about one quarter of the population and more Jews lived here than anywhere else on Earth. Now there is some recovery.
Nearby flows the Moldau River, put to music by Bedrich Smetana in his famous Ma Vlast (My Homeland) symphonic poems we know as The Moldau.
At the end of one of the several bridges spanning the river is a plaque to Gustav Mahler, the famous 19th century composer. He got his professional start in Prague in 1885 as conductor of the Prague German Opera. At that time there was much tension between the resident Germans and Czechs. He managed to keep his musicians playing together harmoniously, so to say.
Franz Kafka, though of German Jewish parentage, is today one of Prague’s most esteemed sons and towering figures in 20th century literature. Try his easily read “Metamorphosis” as a starter. Free on the internet in the US.
Another notable figure is Jan Hus, the martyred theologian who attempted Catholic reform a century before Martin Luther survived a similar feat. A huge statue is in the Old Town Square.
Prague is crawling with tourists, even in the wintertime. Souvenir shops follow their paths.
We cross the river but the tourists follow. Still there are many beautiful things to see.
Of course hunger finally catches up with us. We find a nice local spot rather away from the tourist stream. We drink lots of beer. It’s half the price of German beer, which is already cheap, about 25 cents for an American size can. Bread is 40 cents a pound – the tasty, dense rye type. Yum.
Finally, in the evening we get to the famed Charles Bridge. Charles IV crossed it 700 years ago. These days millions cross it, hourly. Mostly Asians. It’s really sooty and ugly as I see it in the winter gloom.
One day we walk to The Dancing House, a bit of extreme modern design. It’s really nice inside.
Then we climb lots os stairs to the Citadel where there are views over the city.
Next day we walk to the train station, somewhat out from the main downtown. It’s a rather down-in-the-mouth place on the outside because it hasn’t been restored, but the station was once an Art Nouveau marvel and quite lovely inside.
We leave in a couple of days for Vienna. Half the way will be by Leo Express train, half by Leo bus. $7.70 each for the six hour journey. What does it cost to SFO? $32 for a two hour trip? Hmmm.