Springtime is beautiful here in Europe. The sun
is bright and warm, the flowers are in bloom. Its a great time to
be here. Except for this year. This has been the coldest and
rainiest spring in anyones memory. But no matter. We thought it
would be a good time to take a long weekend in Prague. We had heard
lots of great things about Prague: great food, a beautiful place,
cheap prices. Theyre all true; Prague has a lot of "Oh, wow!"
moments. They even had a welcoming committee
for us, sort of. After we got through immigration and cleared
customs, we walked into the area where travelers are met by
whoevers meeting them and the first person we saw was a big guy
wearing a T-shirt that said "Atlantic City, NJ."
Prague sits on both sides of the Vltava River,
Staré Mesto to the east, Hradcany
to the west. The river is pretty wide through Prague so the
panoramic vistas are beautiful. On the west side of the river is the
Prague Castle which sits high on a hill. Its visible from almost
everywhere. According to our tour book, its the largest ancient
castle in the world, about 1870 feet long and averaging 420 feet
wide. The book said it covers seven football fields. I dont know if
it really meant futbal fields or FOOTBALL fields. Whatever, its
big. It started being built in the 9th century and has a
whole lot of different architectural styles because each new ruler
had his own tastes so its a real hodge-podge. Since that time, its
been the official home of the Czech head of state although the Czech
Republics first president, Václav Havel, chose to live in his own
home. The castle has three courtyards, a toy museum (where they were
featuring, of all things, Barbie dolls), a couple chapels and a
large cathedral, the St. Vitus Cathedral.
There are many bridges that cross the Vltava
River, one being the Charles Bridge (Karluv most) which is
pedestrian only. The bridge is loaded with vendors selling arts and
crafts and to my very uneducated eye, the stuff appeared to be of high
quality in most cases; it wasnt garden variety junk. Along the
bridge there are about 30 different baroque statues lining both
sides of its 1,600 foot length. A previous bridge on this site, the
12th century Judith Bridge, was washed away by floods in
1342, and in 1357 Charles IV commissioned the current one. (There
was a serious flood there in August 2002 and we were told that
tourist areas have fully recovered but some other places have not.)
It took almost 40 years to build this thing but it didnt take
Charles name until the 19th century. The bridge
withstood wheeled traffic for almost 600 years (according to the
legend its endurance was because of eggs mixed in the mortar make
sense to me) and became pedestrian only after World War II. At the
eastern end is the
Old Town Bridge Tower (also
here) said to be
"the most beautiful gate of the Gothic Europe" and at the western
end is the
Not far from the eastern side of the Charles
Bridge is the
Old Town Square
(Staromestské Námesti). This is a
large open area that looks substantially like it did 700 years ago.
Its dominated by the Astronomical Clock and Old Town Hall Tower.
This clock strikes the hour and every hour there is a large crowd
waiting for it to happen. A figure of Jesus marches out followed by
the disciples in a grand procession. The crowd loves it. It was fun
to see but I was underwhelmed. The clock itself, though, is pretty
impressive to a clockophile like me. This thing was built in the 15th
century and somehow it shows signs of the zodiac and phases of the
moon and maybe even the next solar eclipse.
Just north of the Old Town Square is the Jewish
This geographically very small
area was the home to six synagogues. The oldest of
these is the Old-New Synagogue. The odd name comes from the fact
that when built in 1275 it was the "New Synagogue." As the years
went by and there were other, newer ones, it sort of morphed into
the Old-New Synagogue. Prague makes more of its Jewish area than any
other European city weve encountered although the current Jewish
population is only about 7,000. Josefov is prominently mentioned on
maps, tours are offered and its a major tourist attraction. The
the Jewish Quarter started around the 13th century
when Jews were forced to move into a single area.
For some time prior to that, they had been forced to wear yellow
caps or Stars of David on their clothing. It seems that Hitler
wasnt original. In 1781, Emperor Joseph II of the Austrian Empire
issued an edict giving the Jewish population civil rights and
removed the requirement of caps and Stars of David. This Joseph is
the namesake of Josefov. Part of the reason that area is preserved
is a perverse piece of history. The Nazis apparently wanted to make
the area an "Exotic Museum of an Extinct Race." It didnt work. Im
Our hotel was on a street called Václavské
Námesti. We learned that in English this means Wenceslas Square, the
same guy as in Good King Wenceslas. According to our tour book, he
was definitely good but not a king, merely a duke. Theres a large
statue of him at the south end of the square. The square is actually
a rectangle. Its a very wide boulevard and about a half mile long
until it abruptly ends at a pedestrian area. Along with zillions of
shops selling crystal, china, and silver, nightclubs, casinos, and
restaurants galore, the place is filled with history. In 1848 a
giant Mass was held there during the revolutionary upheavals. The
creation of the Czechoslovak Republic was celebrated there in 1918.
In 1989, a week after the Berlin Wall came down, there was a police
attack on a student. Thousands of people gathered there night after
night for a week protesting the action. Finally, Alexander Dubcek
and Václav Havel appeared on a balcony before an enormous crowd.
They were greeted with a deafening ovation as they declared the end
of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia.
There is some amount of modern architecture in
Prague, too. On the river there is a building called Tancící dum,
It was designed in part by Frank Gehry, the American architect who
Walt Disney Concert Hall
one they'd rather you see) in Los Angeles and the
Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. He lives in Santa Monica and I
have some pictures of his
There are more
The building is on a gap site left by a stray American bomb. Older
Czechs think this building has hit them with a second bomb.
Sometimes referred to as "Fred and Ginger" they complain that the
"Ginger" side looks like a crushed Coke can. However, two thirds of
Praguers feel positively about the building so apparently it works.
We saw leaflets being handed out everywhere for a
Gershwin concert at Obecni dum, the Municipal Hall, on our last night.
The place is a grand concert hall like the Kimmel Center or the
aforementioned Walt Disney Concert Hall, but this concert was in one
of the smaller rooms. The musicians, five strings and a trumpet,
were from the Prague Symphony. They played not only Gershwin but
some Broadway favorites. We were homesick. Homesick and very happy.
Two Americans left Prague the next morning on a very high note.
See all my pictures of Prague.
videos from Prague