We began our VBT biking trip to Czech Republic, Germany and Austria on August 25th, leaving Vancouver at 1:30pm and arriving in Prague, Czech Republic at 11:00am on the 26th. We were met by the VBT representative, Barbara, and waited for Karen and Bruce to arrive shortly after so we could take the shuttle to our hotel together. We are staying at the Mamaison Hotel Riverside, next to the Vltava River, the longest river in the Czech Republic. We could not check into our rooms until 2pm, time to explore Prague. We stopped for lunch on the River near the Charles Bridge (Karlov Most) and watched the river boats cruising down the Vltava and through the locks. Then we walked across the famous Charles Bridge, the oldest bridge still standing over the Vltava River. Charles IV had it built in 1357, and it took almost a half a century to finish it, completed in 1402. There are 30 baroque statues mounted to the balustrades of the Charles Bridge forming two rows on either side of the bridge. One of these statues, the Statue of St John Nepomuk,(depicting St John being thrown off the bridge) is said to bring you good luck, and if you rub the bronze plaque on the statue, you will one day return to Prague. We walked to the Old Town Square, from the bridge, and marveled at the architecture around the square, especially the Gothic-style Church of Tyn and the Old Town Hall.
Unfortunately the astronomical clock was under renovations, and was covered with a cloth. We returned to our hotel and checked into our rooms then went for dinner across the bridge to the Boat Hotel Matylda Ristorante, which offers unconventional views of Prague architecture and especially a view of the Prague Castle. The meal was excellent and our server, Juan, was the best. As the darkness settled on the water the lights lit up the buildings along the river and the Prague Castle in the distance. Click on thumbnail to view image
Today we walked to the Petrin funicular, and rode it up to the top of Petrin Hill. The funicular line was originally opened in 1891, at 1,257 ft long, but was closed with the start of WW I in 1914. The current longer line was opened in 1932 with completely new equipment. Bob and I walked to the Petrin Lookout Tower while Karen and Bruce left to go on a tour of the castle. The Tower was built in 1891, and is a 63.5 metre tall steel-framework tower, and strongly resembles the Eiffel Tower. There are two observation platforms which are accessible via 299 stairs, that we walked up to the top, there is also an elevator for disabled people. The views of the city, Prague Castle and Charles Bridge were worth the climb. The stairway is very narrow but there is a pair of staircases forming a double-helix structure allowing visitors traveling up and down concurrently.
Then we visited the Mirror Maze, a wooden mirrored labyrinth built for the 1891 Prague Exhibition. From the outside it resembles a small castle, but inside is a labyrinth with mysterious hallways made of mirrors, and then to the “hall of laughter”. We stopped into the Observatory to look through the large telescopes to view the sun spots and the top of the tower in the distance. After a nice lunch next to the Charles Bridge we climbed up the tower to get wonderful views overlooking the Bridge. Nearby we went to see the John Lennon Wall, once a normal wall, but since 1980 it has been filled with John Lennon-inspired graffiti and pieces of lyrics from Beatles’ songs. Today, the wall represents a symbol of global ideals such as love and peace. The wall is owned by the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, which allowed the graffiti to continue on the wall, for tourists to enjoy and take photos. We stopped into visit the Church of Our Lady before Tyn, a beautiful gothic church and is a dominant feature of the Old Town Square, it was built from the mid-14th century to the early 16th century. The church’s towers are 80 m high and topped by four small spires.
We sat in the Square for a rest and a refreshing Aperol Spritz before heading to Wenceslas Square where we met Karen and Bruce and the rest of the group to go on a Beer and Tapas tour with Urban Adventures. Wenceslas Square is one of the main city squares and the center of the business and cultural communities in the New Town of Prague, much more modern than the other part of the city. This was the perfect place to meet to go out drinking beer for the evening. Martin Havlicek was our local guide and he knew his beer, we learnt a lot about the local beer and drank a pint or two at the four different pubs we visited. Here’s a bit of trivia: the Czech Republic has the highest annual beer consumption per person, an average of 143 liters per person per year, or 287 pints. Click on thumbnail to view image
Today Bob and I took the tram up to the Prague Castle to meet our docent, Marek Cerveny from Context Travel, for a 3 hour tour of the Prague Castle District and Strahov Monastery. We met at the Monument to Johannes Kepler and Tycho de Brahe, who changed the thinking of the universe. Marek is an historian and taught us so much about the history of Prague. We started in the Strahov Monastery, it is an abbey founded in 1143 by the Bishop John of Prague. We went inside to view the Philosophical Hall, the new library built to store books in 1779, and the Theological Hall completed in 1679. The Strahov Library contains over 200,000 volumes, including over 3,000 manuscripts and 1,500 first prints stored in a special depository. It was mind blowing the size and beauty of this place.
Then we went to visit the Prague Castle, which is a castle complex, dating from the 9th century, and it is the largest ancient castle in the world, occupying an area of 750,000 square feet. The history of the castle began in 870 when the Church of the Virgin Mary was built. We saw the changing of the guards, most impressive men who all look alike. and each guard stands for one hour without moving a muscle in his guard house. The guards are there because the Castle is the official office of the President of the Czech Republic, he was there because his flag was flying above the castle. Then we went inside St Vitus Cathedral, the largest and most important temple in Prague. The cathedral is the third church built on the same site, the first was a rotunda built in 925, by Prince Wenceslas. After 1060 it was converted into a Basilica, and in 1344 Charles IV began the construction of the Gothic cathedral. As we walked through the cathedral Marek pointed out the different phases and construction of the cathedral beginning where the rotunda was located. The cathedral was solemnly consecrated in 1929.
Then we walked through the gardens, and down the Golden Lane, where the workers lived who worked on the cathedral. Now they are vendors selling souvenirs to tourists. We had such a great time with Marek that we took him out for two beer after our tour. After lunch we went back to the Old Town Square and climbed up the tower in the Town Hall with great views of the square and the city. Our final evening in Prague the four of us took a dinner river cruise on the Vltava River. The food was excellent but the views of the city at night were wonderful. Loved Prague, and might go back again! Click on thumbnail to view image