We had our trusty Rick Steves book which suggested a walk through old town. We decided to do the route backwards – which would have us end closer to our hotel – so we started the day at the Charles Bridge. The other benefit to this was we got to the bridge really early in the day, which Rick Steves (and now we) recommend doing because it is not yet so packed by tourists. We returned to the bridge on another day later in the afternoon and it was difficult to navigate because it was so full!
The bridge is lined with statues of saints. One of the most popular is St John, who we learned was thrown off the bridge for not divulging the Queen’s confessions to the King. When he hit the water, 5 stars appeared – which I guess is an indicator that he was a cool dude who shouldn’t have been thrown off a bridge – and now he is depicted with a halo of 5 stars. The plaque underneath him was shiny from being touched so often. We touched it so we could pet the dog on the plaque and later discovered that if you touch the plaque and make a wish the wish will come true, so we returned and touched it again with a wish in mind.
We saw 5 or 6 wedding photo shoots on the bridge. We didn’t take any photos of those because that would be weird.
We walked past Charles IV, King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor. He did a lot of great things for the Czech people including founding the first university in central Europe (the figures at the base of his statue are allegories of four faculties – theology, medicine, law, and philosophy); moving the capital of the Holy Roman Empire to Prague; elevating arts and culture — long story short, it was the Golden Age of of Bohemia. Rick Steves also told us that he was an anti-Semite who wrote laws in such a way that he could seize Jewish property. So, he did a lot of good but wasn’t the best for everybody/had some bad ideas which I suppose is pretty common for rulers of this type and time.
We went up through Havelska Market which is a cute little market selling a lot of souvenirs but also fruits/veg and spice mixes for goulash, “Czech meatloaf,” and they also had a mix called “Drakula” that was a little sweet according to the label but I’m not sure what you use it for. I sort of regret not getting some. 🙁
Also, there was a lot of Duff beer around Prague? Not just at this market but all over the place. There was also a lot of cannabis stuff which I didn’t realize was such a thing.
We continued to Wenceslas Square, named after the Good King of Christmas carol fame. His statue sits at the top of the square (I couldn’t get a head-on pic because the sun was directly in my eyeballs). There is a legend that Wenceslas and his army will come riding out of Blanik mountain when the Czechs face their darkest hour. The fact that he hasn’t appeared yet means the worst is yet to come. :O
This square was the site of mass demonstrations in the Velvet Revolution. As you can see, it’s really more of a very long, very wide street. Standing at the top, imagine the whole place filled with hundreds of thousands of people and what it must have been like when the announcement was made that the Communist reign was over!
We walked along a street that used to be where the moat was but is now lined with stores, most importantly, Hamleys toy store. The store had a carousel and big slide inside and this is where we found Czech Catan. IMPORTANT
We continued on to the Powder Tower (Gothic) which was directly next to the Municipal House (Art Nouveau), both of which were just a little bit away from the House of the Black Madonna (Cubist). This was I think one of the most interesting things about Prague – it escaped a lot of the destruction that many other cities experienced in the world wars, so you can see all these slices of history living next to each other.
Re: Art Nouveau, I didn’t realize that Prague was so great at it. The Municipal House is a gorgeous example but you see it all over; Mucha (whose work you know even if you don’t know it) was Czech and did a lot for the city.
We ended our walk back at the main square. In the center of the square stands a monument to Jan Hus, a Czech priest and church reformer (a predecessor to the Protestant movement) who lived in the late 1300s. Unlike Martin Luther who had a little more luck a century or so later (and indeed Luther was influenced by Hus), Hus was burned at the stake for heresy and his followers rebelled against the church, leading to the Hussite Wars. This is just a personal impression so if you are a religious history expert and I am wrong please correct me, but: it was interesting to me to see how generally secular the Czech Republic is compared to super-Catholic Poland (which is what I’m used to and is why I noticed it). Not as many churches and shrines; masses weren’t going on every other minute; less going on about the Pope. I’m guessing this is a result of the Hussite legacy and general distrust/dislike of the Catholic church and religious authority.
The Astronomical Clock in the main square is Kind of a Big Deal. It was installed in 1410 and still operates – it’s the third oldest in the world and the oldest still operating – although the time is usually wrong because they didn’t have daylight savings back then. In addition to the time, the clock tracks the zodiac sign of the moon. Later, they added a big wheel at the bottom with saints names that tracks which saint’s day it is. On the hour, the figure of death (a skeleton) rings a bell – I guess to remind you time is passing and you gon’ die – and the apostles appear in little doors above the clock.
Rick Steves jokingly (?) suggests taking a photo of the tourists gaping up at the clock when it’s in action — we opted for a selfie so as not to be so obvious.