Saturday morning, we metroed our way over to Malá Strana, or the Little Quarter. The sun came out!!
We had the option of climbing up to the castle or taking the tram. Hello, tram. We’d only walked about 4,000 miles already. In the cold.
st vitus’ cathedral
We got there right as the castle (Pražský Hrad) opened. We would discover later that this was a most excellent plan.
The centerpiece of the castle is St. Vitus’ Cathedral. It’s too monstrous for photos. I’ve never see a church that big. It was begun in 925 by St. Wenceslas. 1,000 years later, it was completed.
st vitus’ cathedral
We bought tickets for the tour, because that was the only way to get into the crypt. How could you not go into the crypt? Well, it included other important things, too, but mostly the crypt.
As with all the churches we had visited, no photography was allowed. Hence the crappy quality. It’s not like that really stops me, but I have to be quick.
st vitus’ cathedral
We saw the tomb of Good King Wenceslas. The book even pointed out the ornate door handle to which he clung while being murdered by his own brother. Hey, at least he didn’t get tossed out of something. Most others did, from what I hear.
The crypt was very quiet, but not terribly spooky. They had some of the pieces of the original church there, and also the tombs of the royal people not important enough to get a spot on the main floor.
stained glass window
tomb of st john nepomuk
We saw the tomb of the little man we rubbed for good luck. You’re not allowed to rub his solid-silver coffin for good luck, though. The guards would defenstrate you with a quickness.
While surreptitiously taking photos in the cathedral, I tried to blend in with a busload of Japanese tourists. Then I realized I was a head taller than all of them. I fail at blending.
st vitus’ cathedral
gold mosaic on st vitus’ cathedral
The south-facing side of the cathedral is the most interesting. One face of it has a giant gold mural, that seems not in keeping with the rest of it. Even the windows have gold accents, whereas they don’t on the rest of the building. Also, there’s a large gate decorated with the signs of the zodiac.
This is the side that faces the palace, which pretty much takes up the whole south wall of the castle.
Our tour included Golden Lane, which was also critically important to me, because Kafka had lived there for a few years. It was originally built for the palace guards, but became a slum until they cleaned it up and made it all nice and touristy. Now it’s a series of souvenir shops. It’s very cute. The houses are painted in a rainbow of colors, and don’t seem like the kind of thing you’d find in a castle.
franz kafka lived here
I’m not sure what this sculpture is about. It doesn’t really fit, and I can’t find anything about it. It’s right outside Dalibor Tower, near the back of the castle.
We had coffee and went to the bathroom with the Japanese tourists, then saw Dalibor Tower, where they would lock prisoners in a deep underground dungeon to starve to death.
view of the little quarter from the castle
I haven’t mentioned yet that Prague has an Eiffel Tower, too. It’s on the hill in the distance, hiding behind those trees.
I’ve heard Prague is always hazy like this. There’s definitely a lot of air pollution. By the end of the trip, I thought I was getting a cold. I was coughing, sniffling, and my throat hurt.
In the far-off distance in this photo is the Soviet-era TV tower. A modern artist was hired to spice it up; it now sports gigantic babies crawling up and down the legs. It’s really freaky. [here’s a movie of the view]
vladislav hall (royal palace)
Of course we had to check out the palace, if only because it had stairs specially-designed for horses. This hall supposedly looked like a giant market in the olden days. In fact, I bet it was exactly like the Christmas Festival in Old Town Square. I hope, at least. Wait, we haven’t gotten there yet.
My favorite spot in the palace (besides the horse-stairs), was the site of the DEFENESTRATION. I’ve always loved that word. Hell, I’ve always loved that concept. They have a term for tossing people out windows!! Turns out that word originated here, with the infamous defenestration of 1618. The dudes survived by landing in a dung heap. Just FYI.
Wait, can we just review why Praha is the coolest? Golem, defenestration, Kafka, horse stairs, people being tossed from bridges, Pilsner, and Squash-brand cherry vodka for, like, $4. Granted, Budapest did have a holy hand. That’s nothing to shake a stick at.
crowd outside st vitus’ cathedral
We walked back up towards the front gates of the castle, and holy crap. There were a million people there. We were really glad we got there early.
We bought a ton of stuff at the castle gift shop. I got a tarot deck with Prague scenes on it, and a bunch of gifts.
my favorite photo: restaurant on hradcanske námestí
We walked up the hill through Hradcany, the little town that had sprung up around the castle. It’s mostly tourist-oriented now: fancy hotels and restaurants. And also a famous pilgrimage site, the Loreto.
The Loreto was specifically built to attract people on pilgrimage, so it’s way over-the-top. I had to really sneak photos in this place, because the guards were vehement.
The centerpiece of the place is the Santa Casa. It’s supposed to be a replica of the house the Virgin Mary lived in when visited by the angel. I didn’t really understand it until I went inside: it looks like a little cottage on the inside, as opposed to the weird Greek monument it appears to be externally.
At the Loreto, we had one of the creepiest moments of the trip. In the main chapel, the Church of the Nativity, they have several relics, including skeletons that are fully clothed and have wax faces molded on. While I was being consumed with horror over those, Bertine was having a panic attack over the cherubs. They were evil, demonic-looking cherubs. They were unbelievably scary.
There was a guard standing at the back of the chapel, yelling at people with cameras. I had mine up my sleeve, but didn’t dare. It absolutely killed me that I could not photograph one of the scariest things on Earth.
[Note: I have this described as such in my journal: scary2 cherubs! Also, here’s a fascinating movie of me writing in my journal]
statues outside the loreto
looking toward the castle from the loreto
changing of the guard
We got back down to the castle in time to see the changing of the guard. There was a huge crowd there. Afterwards, we decided to walk down the massive staircase to the Little Quarter.
view from the castle gates
steps to little quarter
looking up towards the castle
We were really glad we’d chosen not walk up. There’s a limit to how much two people can move in a week’s time. Not surprisingly, even with all the awesome food we ate, I lost weight in Europe. So much exercise!
We explored the little quarter, which is mostly shops and restaurants and a very steep hill. There’s a cute little Italian neighborhood there. We stopped for lunch at an overtly-touristy place that cost way too much, but the food was great as always. I had blini-like pancakes with spinach, garlic, and cheese, and Bertine had broccoli gratin. We had Pilsners, because finally we had made one critically-important realization about the dehydration situation: drink beer. It’s even cheaper than pop by volume, and you get a glass so large you’ll be lucky to be able to drink it all. Problem solved.
near the church of st. nicholas
statue of st. cyril in the church of st. nicholas
old engraving in the wooden railing upstairs
We toured the baroque Church of St. Nicholas, which was quite a change from the gothic cathedral we’d seen that morning. It was all gold and (fake) marble, and warm colors. The dome is one of the best-known landmarks on the west side of the Vltava River.
church of st. nicholas
We shopped in the Little Quarter. It was much like shopping in Old Town. We stopped at a little shop to buy a tiny bottle of absinthe. How can you be there and not try it?
beethoven plaque on the house at the golden unicorn
We got a little confused by the Wallenstein Palace and walked into some highly-secured building. The guards looked at us funny and directed us to the right place. There was a line outside, and we’d kind of seen enough in terms of palaces already. We decided to cross the river back to Old Town.
little quarter and castle
old town bridge tower
old town hall
We walked all the way back to Old Town Square, which felt like quite a ways. We were thrilled to see that the Christmas festival had begun!!
the christmas festival
The booths had either food or crafts and souvenirs. The very first booth we saw had roasted chestnuts. I was ecstatic.
choir in old town square
jan hus monument
We circled the festival, checking it all out. There was a raised bridge in the center, so people could climb up and see the whole thing from above. There was a little nativity-like petting zoo, a giant Christmas tree, and a choir performing all day. We nearly died of excitement when we saw the carp pond on the map. However, it was too early in the season to buy your Christmas carp. We missed out.
jan hus with the church of st nicholas in the background
potato pancakes, sausages, and such
We tried everything there. I had potato cakes kind of like latkes, with fennel in them. Bertine had a sausage wrapped in a potato pancake. I finished up the chestnuts and had a cappuccino. Our very favorite thing, though, was a grilled pastry they were making on round rollers. (We just called it ‘circle’, as in, “Where are people getting those circles?”) They were so good.
I wanted to come back and see the festival after dark, so we had an hour to kill. We decided to take our stuff back to the hotel. On the way, we discovered to our vast delight that Humanic had indeed opened just for us.
Bertine bought a pair of shoes. I bought boots and clogs. They’re fabulous, and also cheap. I really wish we had that store in America.
church of st nicholas
We went back out around 7:30 to see Old Town Square lit up. It was just starting to snow big, puffy flakes. It was beautiful.
old town square
The choir was singing Carmina Burana. I made a little video of the scene.
old town hall
We walked around for a while, and I discovered that delayed flash takes good snow-pictures! And then we headed back to the hotel.
church of st nicholas again
staromestská metro station [here’s a movie of this same thing]
We went back to the Turkish place for dinner again. I had a falafel sammich, and she had gyros. We stopped at the Target of Prague again lest we have missed anything exciting before we left. I was sad that we were wrapping it up so soon.
We went back to the hotel, determined to try the absinthe. We split the little bottle (one should be careful with supposed neurotoxins, I hear), watered it down, and added fake sweetener in place of the sugar. It tasted horrible. Like Jagermeister, but worse. It really didn’t do anything for us, but I suspect that was the very small quantity. Hey, we tried it!