Prague: An Amazing Surprise!

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

(There were so many photos, I tried to condense them a bit. Just click any picture to see it in larger detail!)

Our visit to the Czech Repulic capital city of Prague was a short one, albeit a very rewarding trip! We really didn't know much about Prague to be honest, it hadn't even started out on our initial list of places to see while we're living abroad. But we'd started hearing some good things about it from friends that had visited and when we looked up a couple travel options, it was clear that just about anyone who'd been there had loved it. So we signed up and rolled out of bed at 3:30am to catch a Friday flight to the City of a Hundred Spires. And I'm so glad we did.

Situated on the Vltava River in central Bohemia, Prague has been the political, cultural and economic centre of the Czech state for more than 1100 years. For many decades during the Gothic and Renaissance eras, Prague was the permanent seat of two Holy Roman Emperors and thus was also the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. Today, the city proper is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of over 1.9 million. Since 1992, the extensive historic centre of Prague has been included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites, making the city one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, receiving more than 4.1 million international visitors annually, as of 2009. -Wikipedia

It was bitter bitter bitter cold, and our suitcase missed our extremely brief connection in Paris and didn't arrive until 2am, leaving us to fend off the freezing temps with the measely jackets and clothes we'd worn on the flight. But that certainly didn't stop us from getting started. We managed the airport-to-the-bus-to-the-train-to-what-the-hell-street-are-we-on process and found our hotel, Hotel Melantrich, fairly easily. (I dare say we're getting better at this whole bus and train-riding thing, I'll have it down pat by the time we leave!) Okay, so I'll give an honest review of our hotel real quick. We found it on Expedia.com, a money-saving wonder when it comes to flight and hotel packages just about anywhere. And it's so easy to book it all in one fell swoop. Anyway, we'd looked at pictures, read reviews, poured over maps and locations and had decided that this hotel would definitely do, based on the price and the happy customers that had stayed there. And we have yet to show up and be totally disappointed by Expedia's guidance. So no, it wasn't that bad.

But I had my doubts when we found the hotel and walked in a dark unlit entrance and pressed the creepy yellow buzzer for the Melantrich. After it crackled back and announced our entry, we found ourselves in a dirty gray concrete stairwell, also with no lighting, and an eery sense that I'd seen this place before in some horror movie. But after we climbed the stairs, pushed through the metal gate ("Um, why is this here?") and walked through the door of the hotel, it was a drastic improvement. The place was light and cheery, small but well kept. And our room was actually a fairly decent size, even though the bed might have come from the stone ages (literally... stone). So I guess Prague's many businesses and buildings are hidden within mazes of dirty concrete halls and sinster looking doorways barred with metal gates. Charming! But at least the buildings are colorful and fun to look at, with lots of unique architecture.

Since we didn't have a suitcase to unpack or clothes to change into, we had that awkward "well, I guess we've seen the room, so what next?" moment. Leaving our carryon bags behind, we traipsed just down the street to a rustic little gem of an Italian restaurant and nabbed the last table during the lunch rush. Papa Giovanni Pizzeria served us our first taste of Czech beer, Krusovice (the country's love of beer is so great, it's almost the unofficial official national drink). We loved it! A lager that didn't taste like... well, one that was good! I had pasta in a spicy sauce and greca salad while we enjoyed hearing the people talk at the tables around us. We even ordered another round of beer after we were done, just so we could sit and watch the foot traffic on the cobblestones outside and laugh at a table of four skinny little girls who each ordered pizzas, thinking they were small personal pizzas, only to be served giant pies apiece. They still ate them all.

After stopping at a nearby store for a much warmer hat, we headed over to Old Town Square, which was just a couple blocks from our hotel.

This area of town is pretty much a gold mine for several gorgeous pieces of history, like the Astronomical Clock on the tower wall of Old Town Hall, St. Nicholas Church and Tyn Cathedral. The square itself is marked by the Jan Hus Memorial monument, which was created in 1915 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the religious reformer's death, burned at the stake.

I think our favorite part of the trip was spent here. It was our very first true impression of Prague. I mean, it literally drew a breath of surprise from me when we exited a narrow shop-lined street and stepped out into this beautiful expanse of old city. It was also our last impression, since we spent our final night in the square eating the most incredible kebab dinner at Zlate Konvice, followed by a couple hours at an outdoor cafe right on the square--warm under blankets and heaters and sipping on litres of Krusovice.

Our second day was a wrap... literally. We had our suitcase by this point and I'm pretty sure I wore every single article of warm clothing I had bought. Without going into details, I was much warmer than the day before! We stopped for a couple pictures inside the St. Nicholas Church off Old Town Square then headed across the Charles Bridge. It's a famous bridge, especially for its role in connecting the Prague castle, Old Town and surrounding areas from its creation in the 15th century to about 1841.
The bridge is 516 meters long and nearly 10 meters wide, resting on 16 arches shielded by ice guards. It is protected by three bridge towers, two of them on the Lesser Quarter side and the third one on the Old Town side. The Old Town bridge tower is often considered to be one of the most astonishing civil gothic-style buildings in the world. The bridge is decorated by a continuous alley of 30 statues and statuaries, most of them baroque-style, erected around 1700. - Wikipedia

There were some wierd pyramid shaped things in the water, a little ways off from the bridge that we could never figure out what they were for. You could see them very clearly from our areial viewpoint at the lookout tower on the other side of the bridge. Thanks to Wikipedia, we now know they were ice guards. An understandable precaution, since the Czech Republic pretty much enters a frozen state during winter. Blimey, it was cold.

Next, we saw a wooden toy shop, tried another tasty lager (Staropramen), ate Frankfurt soup (sausage and potato), and walked about eight flights of icy stairs to the Prague Castle.

That's when we landed at the entrance to the Saint Vitus Cathedral, inside the castle grounds. What a sight. This was the most beautiful thing, by far, we've seen. Founded in 1344, it is the seat of the Archbishop of Prague and was faithfully attended by Charles IV, King of Bohemia. It also houses the Bohemian Coronation Jewels. Several lifetimes of builders and architects and painters contributed to its final immaculate results, and it even suffered a very damaging fire in 1541, slowing the process even more. The stately Roman Catholic Gothic church wasn't actually completed until about 1929, nearly 600 years after it was began.

(You must view these gorgeous photos in detail, click to enlarge!)

Perhaps the most outstanding place in the cathedral is the Chapel of St. Wenceslas, where the relics of the saint are kept. The room was built by Peter Parler between 1344 and 1364 and has a ribbed vault. The lower part of the walls are wonderfully decorated with over 1300 semi-precious stones and paintings about the Passion of Christ dating from the original decoration of the chapel in 1372-1373. The upper part of the walls have paintings about the life of St Wenceslas, created by the Master of the Litoměřice Altarpiece between 1506 and 1509. A small door with seven locks, in the south-western corner of the chapel, leads to the Crown Chamber containing the Bohemian Coronation Jewels. -Wikipedia

We also ducked into the Church of Our Lady Victorious so I could see the Infant Jesus of Prague. It's a very storied past with a lot of mixed origins and is easier for me to summarize the parts that are consistent. Basically, the statue originated in Spain and was given to a duchess in 1556 who was traveling to Bohemia to marry a nobleman. Either by the duchess or her daughter, the statue was eventaully given to the Discalced Carmelites (a Catholic mendicant order) in Prague, who honored the statue and gave daily devotions to Jesus in its presence. The friary where the statue presided was later plundered by a Swedish army and the statue thrown into the rubble. It was discovered by Father Cyrillus in 1637 and restored. The statue is paid homage by thousands every year, and it also recognized by an annual procession and coronation.

Having known absolutely none of this before stepping foot in Prague, and leaving with such a great trip and beautiful monuments to remember, our trip to the Czech state was pretty fulfilling. The people were really, really polite and the food was delicious. Lots of soups, pastas and meat. Gosh, we ate so much meat! They love goulash and starchy, hearty staple foods... probably a result of their long, super cold winters. I know Prague is beautiful in the summer time, but it was also neat to see it in the snowfall. Here, here to the land of Pilsner!


  1. I could not WAIT to check your blog when I got home! I LOVE the way you do your pictures! Amazing trip......thanks for sharing!!

  2. Thanks Mom! We really had a great time, I'm so glad we decided to go. Next is Phantom of the Opera in London!!!!


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