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Adventures of a short vet

The Lights of Prague

CZECH REPUBLIC | Monday, 23 May 2011 | Views [549]

Prague Astronomical Clock - first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the only one still working.

Prague Astronomical Clock - first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the only one still working.

A 6 hour train trip took me form Budapest to Prague, where I managed to find Art Hole Hostel without too much trouble using the map I’d picked up from the previous hostel. It’s amazing how sitting on a train all day doing nothing can tire you out!

After a hearty included breakfast I headed off relatively early to pick up my train ticket to Krakow before walking into the Old Town via Wenceslas Square (yes, like the song), where I watched the skeleton on the town clock strike the bell as a random trumpeter announced the new hour. I joined a free walking tour, but ended up switching to a different tour group as ours was too big, and was glad I did as the new guide was a local from the city. We walked from Starometske namesti (Old Town Square) where 12 crosses in the tiles by the clocktower serve as a memorial for the 12 people executed in the square, to St James church where the mummified hand of a man who tried to steal some jewels from the Madonna statue but lost his hand to the executioner when the statue ‘grabbed’ it, still hangs on the wall. Unfortunately an American girl in our group had her camera stolen out of her bag as she left the church (the classic “bump & grab” technique) – not something you’d expect to happen in a church but I guess that’s what they bank on. From there we headed to the Jewish Quarter where we saw the Pinkas Synagogue that has all the names of the Lost Jews on the walls. Ironically the synagogues in Prague are well preserved as Hitler had decided to keep them intact to act as “museums of an extinct people”. We then walked over the famous Charles Bridge (also notorious for pickpockets), where you can touch certain statues for luck or to “return to Prague” and finally up to the Prague Castle, where we watched the changing of the guard and learnt more about “defenestration’ – throwing unpopular politicians out of windows. After the tour I climbed the Castle Tower to take in the city view and check out the massive bell, before heading over to the Toy Museum to see their massive collection of Barbie dolls, as well as all the old original toys and to learn about the origin of the Christmas Tree. To top off a busy afternoon I visited the massive St Nicholas Church and the Leonardo Da Vinci Museum, where you realize just how ahead of his time that genius really was. I’m surprised he wasn’t burnt at the stake! A final stop of the day was the John Lennon wall where people used to write secret messages to each other during the Communist era.

Unfortunately I had to miss breakfast as I headed out early to catch the 8am train to Kutna Hora to visit the Sedlec Ossuary, or “Bone Church” where the bones of 40,000 people killed during the Hussar wars and then a plague or two have been assembled into a bit of a morbid collection. The story goes that a bishop scattered some earth from Golgotha (the mountain where Jesus was crucified) in the cemetery, making it a popular place to be buried as bodies were said to be cleaned in just three days. The cemetery soon ran out of space so the bones had to be stacked to save room. Later a woodcarver decided to arrange the bones into pyramids, then a massive chandelier and coat of arms. Pretty crazy. I managed to arrive early enough to have the place to myself for a few minutes before the schoolkids and tourists arrived, and it was quite a creepy atmosphere being the only one in the quiet room. Once the hordes arrived I escaped into the cute little town of Kutna Hora. I walked past the Plague Monument – a tall statue erected to ward off further plagues, the massive well which was under reconstruction, and visited the Stone House – a museum of some famous house with a stone façade and little cellar full of carvings. I also visited the large cathedral up on a hill which had some beautiful old frescoes and a statue of a miner to commemorate the town’s history of silver mining. I also enjoyed sitting in the park having lunch and chilling out with an ice-cream in the town square.

The following day I cunningly managed to hire a bike for 6 hours at half price by using a voucher from the hostel, and headed over the river and through a lovely park past the exhibition hall towards the zoo and Torj district. After an early lunch and short nap in the peaceful park I cycled back down the river and up the hill to the Metronome in Letenske Sady which has been erected to replace an old statue of Stalin. Tip of the day: Don’t miss the path turnoff or you will end up having to carry your bike up the steps and there are a lot of steps! Instead of heading up to the castle I cut back to the river and cycled back through Kampa Park looking for the “pissing sculpture” but instead finding some random crazy penguin statues on the waterfront and some creepy crawling baby sculptures without faces. I didn’t make it up to the Petrin Tower, which is supposed to be a mini-Eiffel Tower (meh, seen the real one), but instead headed across the river and down to Vysehrad Castle. I didn’t want to take the risk of leaving my rented bike outside the grounds so just wandered through the castle grounds, discovering a small food fair where I bought a beer and chilled out in the garden enjoying the family atmosphere. I would definitely recommend cycling outside the city and staying out of the Old Town with its one-way streets and mad trams.

After a shower I headed back into the Old Town to take in the city lights. I usually don’t advocate wandering around a strange city as a single small female, but felt pretty safe walking through the busy streets packed with tourists and locals. Headed out to the bridge and was treated to a show of fireworks on one side and a lightning storm on the other. It wasn’t long before we had to rush for shelter under the archway on the bridge as the rain came pelting down.

Tags: bone church, charles bridge, kampa park, kutna hora, mummified hand, pickpockets, prague, wenceslas

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