Tuesday, June 5, 2012

May 13 - Nuremberg to Prague

This morning means the end of our river boat cruise, from Nuremberg we are bussed to Prague in the Czech Republic.
Not everyone was going on to Prague, some people were flying home or going elsewhere.
Breakfast was served between 6am and 7 am. Luggage was to be placed outside our rooms by 7am. We had been given coloured ribbons the night before to indicate what buses our luggage should go on.

The usual suspects had taken all the front seats on the bus or placed articles "reserving" seats for their friends. This did not go across well with the rest of us and there were enough comments made that "she" flounced off the bus taking all her paraphernalia with her.

Once loaded we set off. We made a stop at the first station in the Czech Republic for a refreshment break. This stop certainly didn't resemble the one we made in Salzburg Austria. This was much more like a stop here in Canada, very utilitarian.

However there were some interesting items for sale.

When we arrived in Prague the main section of the downtown area was closed off for a charity marathon so the driver had to find another way to the hotel. This took quite a few detours as they is major construction going on.
Finally we reached the hotel around noon and we knew our rooms wouldn't be ready until around 2pm. Monika, our tour guide was planning to do an optional walking tour of the area. We skipped out on this and headed out on our own. We were quite fed up with the whole being in a group.

We turned left from our hotel, the Marriott, a beautiful hotel. We just wandered for a bit. The next three photos are within steps of the hotel.

 The St. James Church (also known as Church of St. Jacob) is easy to miss, The church was constructed in 1373. Order of Franciscans commissioned this baroque church in 1689 after its 13th-century predecessor had been destroyed in a fire. Church had its peak during the baroque period around 1739 as a Minorite monastery church.

Unfortunately both times we tried to enter it was locked.
Note the desiccated human hand hanging to the right above the entrance – and yes, it’s real. Allegedly a thief once tried to take the jewels off the sacred Virgin Mary statue, but she grabbed it grabbed it and wouldn’t let go – so it had to be severed.

But we did get a photo through the grate

 We then found ourselves in the old town square - Staromestske namesti.
 The Old Town Square was founded in the 10 th century as a place, where various goods from faraway countries were sold. It had many names during the centuries: the oldest known name is the Big Square, then it was the Old Market in the 13 th century, later for example The Old Town Place or the Large Old Town Square. The present name is from the end of the 19 th century.

The first houses were built around the Old Town Square in the 12 th and 13 th century. Some of the present houses still have their Romanesque or Gothic foundations, basements or ground floors.

The Storch House (No.16) is also called “At the Stone Virgin Mary”. It has a beautiful facade adorned with figurative paintings, depicting St. Wenceslas (the patron of Bohemia) and the three Magi, designed by Mikolas Ales in the 19 th century.

The square was extremely crowded due to the marathon, there were visitors from everywhere. It was an overcast day and a little chilly.

Time for lunch! Yes, the first one is mine, and yes, I did not take into account that the menu stated the amount of meat in the portion in kilograms. This ham hock was 800 grams. It was so delicious and I hate to waste food, I would have loved to be able to take it "home" for sandwiches. We could have eaten this for a week.
 This is DH's, it is 250 grams.
We certainly need to walk off that meal. Outside the restaurant they were roasting hams.

Because the square was so crowded and a makeshift staircase had been erected (due to the marathon) it was almost impossible to see the astronomical clock. But we got a quick photo and came back the next day for a better view.

ln 1364 the Old Town Hall Tower was joined to a private house adjoining it, which in turn was knocked into other houses beside that. This amalgamation of buildings became known as the Old Town Hall.
Extensive renovation in 1470 further integrated the various houses of the Old Town Hall, and refurbished the whole in the Gothic style.

Old Town Coat of Arms

We continued strolling through the thick crowds. The sun was popping in and out.

We decided to cross the Charles Bridge. What a sight this bridge is, never mind the view up towards the castle from there. I will have nicer photos in upcoming posts when the weather is nicer.

Charles Bridge (Karluv Most) is a 14th century stone bridge linking the two sides of Prague. This magnificent structure is one of the city's finest attractions, and is the main pedestrian route connecting the Old Town with the Lesser Town (Mala Strana) and Prague Castle.
King Charles IV commissioned the bridge. The foundation stone was laid in 1357. Charles IV's favourite architect and builder, Peter Parler, oversaw the majority of the work. The initial idea was to build a functional construction for knight tournaments, and for many years the only decoration on the bridge was a simple crucifix. Later, the Catholic desire for ornamentation resulted in 30 statues being erected between 1600 and 1800.
Stare Mesto entrance. I'll post some brighter photos of the statues in an upcoming post, as this was quite a dark and dreary day.
Only one side of the tower still has original decorations on it: patron saint Vitus flanked by two kings: Charles IV on the left and Wenceslas IV on the right. Above them are Saint Sigismund and Saint Vojtech. Underneath it you see the Bohemian coat of arms and the kingfisher, symbol of King Wenceslas IV. The original decorations were created by Peter Parler in the 14th century.

The statue represents Saint John of Nepomuk, the court priest of King Wenceslas IV. Legend has it that he was killed by request of the king, because he refused to tell the king about the queen's confession.
Touching the statue is a Prague ritual. It is supposed to bring good luck and to ensure that you return to Prague soon.

The other plaque is less touched, but depicts a dog and the scene of the confessional. Touch this and you will either have a dog some time in your life or never drown while sailing. Supposedly.

 The bridge is lined with musicians and artisans.
 MalaStrana - the other side of the bridge towards Lesser Town. Two towers line up to welcome visitors to the castle district, and the lovely street Mostecka. The door in front of the smaller tower once led to the old customs house and dates to 1591.

The bridge takes you across to Lesser Town

The large Trinity Column stands in the small sqaure in front of the Church of St. Nicholas. This column and many others like it were erected in cities with a strong Catholic presence in the 17 and 1800’s. Some were built in honor of the Holy Trinity, the Virgin Mary, or just the church itself, but many, including this one, were erected to thank Virgin Mary for helping to end the plague. It was built in 1713 and the top of the column shows a radiant triangle shape. We've seem several plague statues on this trip.

At Nerudova no. 5 you’ll see Morzin Palace - a large building on the left with a pair of larger-than-life Moors holding up the balcony over the entryway. Baroque architecture has many cases of muscular stone people like these, forced into an eternity of heavy labor holding up buildings. These two are rare in that they portray a clearly exotic people, with feather arm bands and decorative chains. Some say it’s a pun on the name of the building – Moor-Zin. Today this is the Romanian Embassy.

About halfway up the hill you’ll see Thun-Hohenstein Palace, which is home to the Italian Embassy. Of visual interest are the eagle sculptures hovering in a twisted way above the door. These are by the same Matthias Bernard Braun who made statues for Charles Bridge, the Clam-Gallas palace, and Vrtba garden.

Lesser Town Square, or Malostranske Namesti. This section of Prague is called Malostranske Namesti, which can be translated as “Little Quarter” and other times “Lesser Quarter.” But there is nothing inferior about it. The preservation efforts have been very successful and it boasts more embassies and palaces, not to mention the castle itself, so this is a fine address indeed.

We really didn't need to eat, but we had heard so much about this unique pastry what's one to do?
Here's a shop serving up the popular Trdelník, a traditional sweet and flaky pastry made by wrapping dough around a stick (wooden or metal) and roasting it over an open flame until it is golden brown. Trdelník is typically served with a dusting of cinnamon, sugar, and/or nuts.

DH standing in line.
and finally handing over his money.

Prague Castle is the largest medieval castle complex in Europe and the ancient seat of Czech kings throughout the ages.
The Prague Castle complex comprises three courtyards and a great many buildings, including Saint Vitus Cathedral(the most recognisable landmark in the city), several palaces, viewing towers, museums and art galleries, cafés, a monastery and Golden Lane.
This is just a highlight of the castle as we will spend more time here another day.

The Giants' Gate opens into the enormous Castle Square. Its main feature is a pair of giants, one raising a knife, the other a club, against defeated enemies. The original 18th century sculptures have been replaced by more weather-resilient copies. The fence on either side of the gate showcases symbolic figures important to Czech heritage.
Pass through the Gate of Giants into the First Courtyard of Prague Castle.

St. George's Basilica is the oldest church building within the Prague Castle complex. It is also the best-preserved Romanesque church in Prague.
St. George's Basilica was founded by Prince Vratislav (915-921). The basilica was then enlarged in 973 with the building of St. George's Benedictine Convent.

To many people, St. Vitus Cathedral is Prague Castle. While the huge Prague Castle complex includes many fine buildings, St. Vitus is the one that dominates the city's skyline.
St. Vitus is the spiritual symbol of the Czech state, and a Gothic masterpiece.
Work on the cathedral was commissioned by Charles IV and began in 1344 upon the site of an earlier 10th century rotunda. In all, it took nearly six centuries to complete.

Gargoyle on St. Vitus

The Golden Gate - the southern entrance to the cathedral of St. Vitus - is decorated with a unique work of art, a coloured, richly gilded mosaic representing the Last Judgement from 14th century.
The gates have sculptures depicting the zodiac.

Time to head down the steps and wander back to the Old Town.

Along the way we passed these statues near the Franz Kafka Museum. These statues were created by famous Czech artist and sculptor David Cerny. Statues represent two bronze sculptures (clearly both male) peeing into their oddly-shaped enclosure. However they are not just peeing, with the stream of water they write quotes from famous Prague residents. You can’t see it from the photo but they move realistically by means of an electric mechanism driven by a couple of microprocessors swivels the upper part of the body, while the penis goes up and down. These statues became so popular among visitors that now you can send SMS message from mobile phone to a number, displayed next to the sculptures and the living statue then ‘writes’ the text of the message, before carrying on as before.

Back across the Charles Bridge and it is getting chilly so we stop for coffee.

Time to wander back to hotel and put our feet up before heading out to dinner around the corner at an Italian place that was recommended.
It was a great meal, other than a couple and two women from our tour group that were loud and obnoxious. Blame shared equally - the two women were Canadians and the couple were American loudly voicing their opinions on everything. Luckily they left soon after we arrived and we had a peaceful meal of salad and pizza.

Time for bed after an estremely long, interesting first day in Prague!!

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