Day 4 – Exploring Prague some more

Posted: July 22, 2014 in Prague
Tags: , ,

We got a bit of a later start this morning (didn’t leave the hotel until just after 9) and headed to our favourite breakfast spot – McDonalds. We prefer to buy some yogurt, fruit and pastries when we’re traveling but if we can’t do that (no fridge to keep it all cold or no stores nearby) we will often grab an Egg McMuffin for a quick, relatively inexpensive breakfast that doesn’t take up a lot of time. And McDonalds always has good, free WiFi – an important feature when you’re using Google Maps to plan your public transit routes.

In this case, Google let us down by telling us to take the #24 Tram directly across the street… Only problem is the #24 doesn’t stop at that tram stop… So we walked a bit to the Old Town figuring we’d hijack another WiFi signal somewhere and get better directions. Worked like a charm and soon we were on our way to another tram stop a couple blocks away. Pulling out the iPad to check if we’d headed in the right direction, I noticed a feature of Google Maps I’d never seen before – it seems to use available WiFi signals to track your progress on a Google Map much the same as if you were using a GPS. What’s most amazing about it is that you don’t need to be connected to a network for this feature to work. I think I remember reading something about this feature a while back but have never had occasion to use it. In any case, it worked perfectly and we arrived at the stop just as the tram was pulling in so we piled on and headed for Prague Castle.

Once at Prague Castle, we joined the queue of people wandering around and made our way to St. Vitus’ cathedral – a magnificent gothic cathedral along the lines of Notre Dame. We were a bit confused because we’d read you needed to pay to visit Prague Castle but we just wandered into the grounds and into the cathedral… After a bit we discovered that the castle grounds are free, as are some of the buildings. But the big sites you need to have a ticket for. In the case of St. Vitus, we could roam around the entry way for free but if we wanted to explore the whole thing we needed a ticket. So off Marie and Caitlin went to purchase our tickets (and a “licence” for taking pictures inside the various buildings) while I stuck around and took a bunch of pictures. A few minutes later they returned minus a couple of arms and legs but with our pass for the day’s explorations.

We started with St. Vitus’ cathedral – a typical Gothic cathedral with the unbelievably high walls and the arched roof that looks like it can’t possibly stand up to even a strong wind let alone a thousand years of earthquakes, wind, storms, etc. This one is really quite beautiful but doesn’t have the gravitas that Notre Dame has – that church is freaky scary… It reminds you that God is not someone to mess with… St. Vitus’ is almost too pretty. It’s delicate and dainty and nice. Not at all the typical put-the-fear-of-God-into-the- peasants-and-remind-them-how-insignificant-they-are-in-the-face-of-God’s-grandeur sort of cathedral at all… It also didn’t have near the bric-a-brac that Westminster and Notre Dame have accumulated over the years. In those churches you’re afraid to step anywhere because someone – usually someone historically significant – is buried beneath your feet.That wasn’t the case here. There were a few crypts and sepulchres (with some awesome middle ages sculptures adorning them) here and there but not what you’d expect from 1000 years of important people dying.

After St. Vitus’ we climbed the steps (for an additional 450 CzK – about $30) of the Bell Tower for a magnificent bird’s-eye view of the city. Caitlin even joined us… The walls at the top of the tower are high enough that even she felt pretty comfortable at such great heights. I’m not ashamed to admit that my knees/legs were a bit rubbery by the time we made it to the top and there might have been a breather or two part way up but everybody we saw was huffing and puffing by the time they hit the top so we didn’t do too bad.

I’m not really up on my Czech history but the main guy in their ancient history is St. Wenceslas – the “Good king Wenceslas” guy from the Christmas carols. He and a bunch of other saint-this and king-that made the area of Prague Castle their home going back all the way to the Neolithic (the new stone age – about the same time that Stonehenge was built – for those who aren’t up on their lithic periods). Wenceslas was a medieval ruler and the cathedral and some of the buildings date back about 1000 years – the Basilica of St. George is even older! The basilica is a romanesque church… If you remember your world history, the Romanesque period came before the Gothic period and was characterized by Roman-style buildings – not much in the way of fancy decorations – just dressed stone and arches, etc. – this one was beautiful. There’s a reason most cathedrals are laid out according to the plan of Roman basilicas – they’re aesthetically pleasing in a way that has worked for thousands of years.

After St. George, we explored the Old Royal Palace (a cool medieval palace), the Story of Prague (a very good museum in the foundations of one the palaces), a bunch of towers with various displays (Castle Guards’ history, weapons, torture implements, etc.) and quaint Golden Lane of tiny houses (Kafka rented #22 from his sister for a while) built between the old walls and the new walls of the castles.

In all, we spent about 5 hrs in the castle grounds and enjoyed our visit. But as Caitlin said as we were leaving… “It wasn’t Versaillles…” We grabbed a tram back to town (did a little extra sightseeing when we missed our stop) and headed back to the hotel for an afternoon change of clothes and to regroup before dinner… We timed it just right. As we were settling down for a bit of a rest, the thunder boomed, the heavens opened… The thunderstorm the weather channels had been predicting had arrived.

We waited for a break in the rain and then headed out for dinner and some shopping. We settled on noodles (Caitlin’s choice) at a place called Kitchen – they were very good, but only the Dohertys would fly half way across the world to eat Japanese food. As we ate, we were treated to a display of rain and thunder that rivalled the best of what we saw in Thailand or Cambodia during their rainy season. The rain was unbelievable at points and, unlike tropical storms, didn’t seem inclined to let up at all. It rained hard for most of the evening so we dashed from store to store for Caitlin to find a Prague souvenir. We hit the Absintherie we’d seen the night before and paid almost $10 for an absinthe prepared the traditional Czech way… Unlike the absinthe I’ve tried before this one wasn’t strongly liquorice flavoured but more varied in taste – with coriander, orange and a bunch of other flavours… and 70% alcohol. It might not have put hair on my chest but it definitely makes you stand up and take notice. Marie tried a sip and pronounced it disgusting. Caitlin tried it and said “If you’re trying to get me not to drink, this drink would do it”. I sort of liked it…

By this point we were pretty well soaked and ready to head back to the hotel (it was about 9pm) so we decided to grab some food (dinner had been more of a snack) and call it a night. We grabbed a couple of Croissant Parisenne from Bageterie Boulevard – a sort of Czech equivalent to Subway – and some chicken nuggets and french fries for Caitlin from McD’s… With a beer from a little mini-mart across the street, we were set. We ate. We watched the rain come down and the lightning flash and called it a day.

Tomorrow we’re off to Vienna on a 10:39 train.

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