When work travel takes me to fabulous places, I am making it a goal to spend some extra time. Last week, I was leading a training course in Prague, so I left on Saturday to spend the weekend exploring a city I’ve heard so much about. You may recall that I visited last year for work, but I had visitors and didn’t get to stay a weekend at that time. I was a little stressed about seeing ‘everything’ in a day and a half, but as usual, I managed to see the highlights in the little time I had. Saturday was crazy hot! Since it was already after 1:00 when I arrived, I opted to drop my things at the hotel and get up to the Strahov Monastery & Library as quickly as possible. A taxi made the most sense, but it was the first of many HOTEL taxis that blatantly ripped me off. I read before going to Prague that taxis should be ordered through your hotel, since the ones on the street are mostly dishonest. Turns out, my hotel was worse! I hate when a city lives up to a negative stereotype! Such a disappointment. It was clear it would be better to be a pedestrian in Prague for the weekend. Founded in 1143, the Strahov Monastery & Library has dramatic history. Today, you can see two incredible libraries – Theological Hall (1679) and Philosophical Hall (late-1700’s). Both are amazingly ornate. In the corridor is an unusual display of crustaceans, insects, and other taxidermy. A bit of a ‘natural science museum.’ The wackiest things were an elephant trunk and an armadillo. I thought those were only in Texas!
This was the first of what turned out to be several amazing places to see views of the city below. I couldn’t get enough of the colorful rooftops! Here you can also see St. Vitus Cathedral & Prague Castle:
[The church at the monastery was so beautiful inside. A lot of Baroque characteristics.]
[I thought of quite a few cat-loving friends when I passed this store on my way down to the castle.]
I’m really grateful that more things haven’t been covered in scaffolding while I’ve been touring Europe for the last year and a half. But, I always chuckle when I see amazing things covered in scaffolding. It always takes me back to when Cristo Redentor was covered in scaffolding in Rio de Janeiro…on Easter of all times!
[This truck was spraying water on the crowds, because it was so hot! Kind of like a sprinkler for adults!]
[The statues at the entrance gate were so scary!]
Prague Castle is made up of a lot of different things. I bought a ticket that granted me access to four different sites. First, St. Vitus’ Cathedral. It was seriously enormous, and I was obsessed with the stained glass windows inside!
[Do you see the guys in suits at the bottom of the big, round window? They are the architects & builders who finished the church. It was started in 1344, but it wasn’t completed until 1929 for the 1,000th anniversary of the death of St. Wenceslas.]
[The famous artist, Alphonse Mucha, designed this window in 1931.]
This is the tomb of St. John of Nepomuk (whoever that is). It has more than a ton of silver! Can you say over. the. top?!
[This royal oratory was for the king to be able to attend mass in his pj’s!]
The Wenceslas Chapel is where the tomb of St. Wenceslas lies. For those of you who think his name sounds familiar, it’s likely because of the Christmas carol that starts, “Good King Wenceslas went out on the feast of Stephen…” I don’t know about you, but I think I had to learn it for a Christmas musical in the seventh grade. He was the Duke of Bohemia in the 10th century and is credited for ‘Christianizing’ the nation.
Upon exiting the cathedral, I saw a RIDICULOUS site…a bride and groom taking a selfie with a selfie stick!!! What is the world coming to?!
Outside of the cathedral stands an obelisk. Rick Steves gave the following explanation:
“It was erected in 1928 as a single piece of granite celebrating the 10th anniversary of the establishment of Czechoslovakia and commemorating the soldiers who fought for its independence. It was originally much taller, but broke in transit – an inauspicious start for a nation destined to only last 70 years.”
The Old Royal Palace was the seat of the Bohemian princes beginning in the 12th century. The large hall (with the incredible ceilings!) was a multipurpose hall. It’s purposes varied to include jousting, market shopping (the market stalls were set up inside, so the royals didn’t have to go out), and elections.
[And there go those rooftops again being so beautiful in the sunshine!]
[The original Czech crown jewels are locked up, so these replicas will have to do. Where they found stones that large and that bright, I’ll never know!]
[The Basilica of St. George is much less elaborate than the previous two stops in Prague Castle, but it’s likely because it is so old! As in founded in 920!!]
My final stop in Prague Castle was the Golden Lane, which was an adorable little cobbled street full of shops. Above the shops was a corridor full of armor, shields, and weapons. Some of which were really entertaining:
[A hat for every day of the week!]
[A torture room that was downright terrifying!]
[I loved the beautifully painted shields!]
As I exited Prague Castle, I walked across the street to enter the Lobkowicz Palace. Build in the late-1500’s, it is privately owned and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It contains the private collection of the Lobkowicz family. The property was confiscated by the Nazis and then the Communists. It was not reclaimed by the family until the 1990’s. After the reclamation, a tremendous amount of restoration work took place. This was one of my favorite things in Prague. I’m not always an audio guide listener, but I listened to everything, and I was completely amazed by the family history that was recounted. Incredible art, ceramics, and other treasures are displayed – most of them with an incredible story to accompany them.
We weren’t supposed to take photos inside, but I had to capture a couple in the music room, so I wouldn’t forget. The seventh Prince Lobkowicz was a sponsor of the arts. He is the one who is credited with paying a ‘salary’ to Beethoven, so that he could focus solely on creating music. Several manuscripts are present, including Mozart’s reorchestration of Handel’s Messiah, but the most famous manuscript on display is Beethoven’s Opus 55, Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major (Eroica), which was composed in 1803-1804. Originally, Beethoven intended to dedicate this work to Napoleon, but in the end, it was dedicated to Prince Lobkowicz! Amazing!
I meandered my way down the hill toward Charles Bridge. Stopping for a bite to eat at Certovka, which overlooks Charles Bridge. To access the terrace, you have to walk down a very narrow sidewalk that actually has a stoplight for pedestrians!
Charles Bridge is just phenomenal. Construction began in 1357, and today is lined with statues (several of them are replicas, since the originals are housed in some of the local museums).
On Sunday morning, I headed for the Jewish Quarters. The Lobkowicz Palace gave some interesting perspective into Jewish history in Prague, but I knew there was more to see and learn. I intended to visit the Maisel Synagogue, since I heard it would have one of the shortest lines for purchasing tickets to all of the sites in the Jewish Quarters. However, when it arrived, I found a sign telling me it was closed for refurbishment. Bummer.
The next stop was the Pinkas Synagogue, which was built in 1535. Before entering, I read about how the names of the 77,297 Czech Jews killed during the Holocaust are written on the walls. For me, there is always something emotional about seeing something like the names to quantify how many people that it. I mean, 77,297 is a really big number, but when it takes two floors and a number of rooms to capture all of those names, it makes it very real. The names are organized by hometown then family name. Name, birthday, and last known date alive are the items that are captured on the walls.
Upstairs, I found something even more moving – an art exhibit showcasing art drawn by Jewish children imprisoned in Terezin Concentration Camp. Based on the descriptions I read, I gather that all of these children died. The children captured the depressing nature of the camps. Some drew images of the trains they rode to get there while others captured the showers or other daily activities. I have no idea how these were preserved in the midst of such horrific circumstances. What a unique view to see the hardships from the eyes of a child.
Outside, I entered the Old Jewish Cemetery. Between 1439-1787, this was the only burial ground allowed for Jews in Prague. They estimate that there are approximately 100,000 tombs here – many buried seven to eight layers deep. Apparently, it’s against Jewish belief to move a body once it is buried, which is why tombs haven’t been moved. Plus, the ground settled over time making the tombstones crooked.
I peaked into the Ceremonial Hall and Klaus Synagogue before heading to the Old-New Synagogue. This has been the most important synagogue for more than 700 years! It was built in 1270, and it is the oldest synagogue in Eastern Europe.
And finally, I stopped into the Spanish Synagogue, which blew me away! I wasn’t expecting something so elaborate!
At this point, I began roaming a bit through Old Town. The buildings are so beautiful!
I visited the Municipal House, which is over 100 years old. It is referred to as the “pearl of Czech Art Nouveau.” It is also important, because it’s balcony was where Czechoslovakia’s independence was announced in 1918. It is also home to Prague’s largest concert hall, which was really beautiful.
I stopped for lunch at a beautiful rooftop terrace overlooking Old Town Square – Teresa U Prince. It’s menu claimed that it’s one of the “Top 15 Most Spectacular Hotel Rooftop Views in the World.” I don’t know if that’s true or self-proclaimed, but it was pretty fabulous.
I spent time in the Havelska Market, where I found a really fun piece of art.
I also roamed around New Town to see Wenceslas Square (which is more like a street) and the outside of the National Museum, which is so grand!
The same artist who designed the amazing stained glass window in St. Vitus’ Cathedral had a little museum in New Town called Mucha Museum. I went to check it out to see some of his other work. Mucha is credited as being one of the founding fathers of the Art Nouveau movement.
In the evening, I went back to the Municipal House for a classical concert in Smetana Hall. The concert was called Strauss, Mozart, Dvorak & Opera with Ballet. It’s an hour of very popular pieces (clearly for tourists), but I loved the live music! There was a really great opera singer performing, and it’s the first time I heard The Magic Flute by Mozart performed live. It was fantastic!
I ended the evening at Restaurant Sarah Bernhardt, which was a really delicious French meal complete with live piano music. A wonderful way to end a great weekend exploring Prague!