Our time in Prague was cold and wet, but we didn’t let that hold us back.
The first day we got an overview of the city by going on a free walking tour (you still have to tip of course.) The man who led the tour, Paul, was very knowledgeable of the city. He’s originally from the UK but has lived in Prague for the past ten years making his living off of the free tours (he must have an inheritance or something.)
Anyway, it was a great tour and we saw lots of the city. Our first stop was Wenceslas Square. This is the site where protests were held during the Communist regime. There is a plaque commemorating two students who set themselves on fire in order to show their dislike of the government. Paul also pointed out the old communist headquarters in the building now housing the department store Mark’s and Spencer’s.
After Wenceslas Square we walked to the Old Town Square. Here we saw the astronomical clock; the clock is reportedly Europe’s number one most overrated tourist attraction. I have to agree. At the hour a skeleton pulls a string and the 12 apostles walk in a circle, that’s it! Besides the clock the Old Town Square is pretty interesting. It was the site of many executions including Jan Hus, a religious reformer. There is a large memorial to him in the middle of the square.
Walking off of Old Town Square we entered the Jewish Quarter. Although the Jewish population fell dramatically after WWII (today there are only 2000 Jews in the entire Czech Republic) there is still a great museum of Jewish history. Paul pointed the museum out and Josh and I returned the next day. Paul also showed us the Hebrew Clock displayed in the area. The numbers are of course in Hebrew and the hands move counter-clockwise.
After examining the clock we continued to the St. Charles Bridge. This is the most famous, and I think the oldest, bridge in Prague. The walls are lined with full size statues of saints. On the bridge vendors sell artwork and postcards leading to traffic-jams of tourists. We made our way across and met Paul on the other side.
Next he led us down some steps to Kampa Island. This island has flooded quite a few times over the years, most recently in 2002, when the first floors of the buildings were completely filled with water. Luckily, the people were able to recover and the island is inhabited today.
As we exited the island we passed by the John Lennon wall, I forget John Lennon’s connection to Prague except that the communist leaders banned his music. Anyway the wall is covered with messages of peace in the form of graffiti. It was a cool thing to see.
We ended our tour at the Prague Castle. Paul showed us around the outside, and pointed out the important parts. For example, he showed us where the crown jewels are kept inside St. Vitus’ cathedral. Interestingly, the castle is still used today for government purposes.
The castle is one a hill overlooking the rest of Prague, so before ending the tour Paul pointed out some interesting landmarks. The first was a replica of the Eiffel Tower (I forget the story behind this) and the second was the communist TV tower. The communists built the tower as a symbol of their power, and it still stands today. In an attempt to soften its image an artist has put sculptures of giant babies up and down the structure. Personally, I think they just add to the creepiness factor.
We were totally exhausted after our three-hour walking tour, so after a quick stop at the church of St. Nicolas we headed home. Our hostel in Prague was really nice. Our room was huge! We had not only a bedroom, but also a kitchen area and a big bathroom. There was also a balcony over looking the garden outside. It was definitely one of the coolest places we’ve stayed.
After a restful night we were ready to go out again the next day. We headed to the Jewish museum that Paul pointed out the day before. The museum was comprised of several buildings, most of them synagogues throughout the neighborhood. The buildings contained information about the history of Jews in the Czech Republic and other information about Jewish customs. There was also a memorial to all the Czechs who lost their lives in WWII. The museum was really well done, and I learned a lot.
On the way back to the hostel we stopped by Bethlehem Chapel (now part of a University) to see where Jan Hus preached about reforming the Catholic Church. Besides the nice old lady working there, there wasn’t too much else to see. Oh well.
That night we went on a Pub Crawl. After much research we decided “The Crawl” looked like our best bet. When we met the group in Old Town Square we discovered that about 75 other people thought the same way we did. It was a fun night, and we met quite a few nice people.
On our last day in Prague we visited a few more museums. The first was the Museum of Prague. I was hoping to learn about the city’s modern history, but it turned out to be more of an anthropology museum. Its exhibit on Prehistoric times was very nicely done. The museum also had a huge collection of old coins, which was cool too.
After the museum we were ready for lunch. We knew from my dad, who visited Prague in 2005, that there were a few TGIFridays in town. We found one and enjoyed some American cuisine. Needless to say, it was delicious!
Leaving the restaurant we crossed the street and entered the Museum of Communism. Although the museum could use a larger piece of real estate it had some really cool stuff. Basically the museum teaches its visitors one thing: the leaders of Communism were jerks.
Leaving the communist museum we decided to take advantage of Prague’s (relatively) new capitalist society and made a visit to the mall. It was one of the best malls we’ve seen in Europe with over 200 stores and lots of restaurants. After looking around we headed home and packed up for the journey to Munich.