We had one full day in Prague both to explore the city and have fun. When I planned the European portion of our adventure I made sure that all our lodgings were within walking distance of the most important sights. In older European cities most of the activity swirls around the city center where there’s usually a public square, a church or cathedral, and a castle. In Prague the historic district straddles the Vitava River with a hilltop castle on one side and the vibrant city center with it’s town square, shops and neighborhoods on the other. The two sides were connected by a series of bridges, the most important being the 14th century Charles Bridge named after it’s builder, Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV.
We were staying on the castle side of the river and since we had spent our time in Budapest in the old hilltop castle district of Buda, we decided in Prague we would focus our attention on long walks through the city center. Setting out we wound our way through cobble stone streets and found ourselves in a beautiful neighborhood riverside park. Yellow fall leaves remained and added a splash of color to the lush palette of greens. As we walked a path along the Vitava we could see gothic spires in the distance and the many stone bridges fording the river. We crossed over and found ourselves in the bustling city center with wide modern streets criss crossed by cobblestoned ones. (Cobblestones are hard on the feet so wear good walking shoes if you are not accustomed to them.)
The city center was large and would take several hours to explore. The first area we walked through was fairly modern with electric trolleys, large stores, smaller shops, back alleys, and bistros. Christy wanted to find the local camera pro shop, we had directions and a map but the maze of streets were still confusing. While studying the map, a man walked up to us and in perfect english said “are those Leicas?” No they’re not, we’re using Fuji’s and a big Nikon DLSR. I showed him my little Xpro-2 and Christy her XT-2.
He introduced himself as Misha and we began talking. He had lived in the US for 40 years but returned to his native Prague because he objected to his tax dollars being used for US wars in the middle east. We talked some more and he insisted the camera store we were looking for was in an opposite direction than we had been told. He even asked us to walk with him over to another street and around the corner and pointed down an alley. Christy and I looked at each other. Then Misha smiled, said he had to catch a trolley, kissed our hands and hurried away.
We did explore the alley, just a little, then walked into a shop and asked questions. There was no camera shop in that neighborhood. Returning to the map we went back to way we had been headed and after several minutes found the correct shop. Unfortunately they didn’t have what we were looking for but I did see some great books including several by and about Josef Koudelka who had witnessed and photographed the Soviet invasion of Prague in 1968.
We continued to criss cross and explore the city center and worked our way over to a little Italian restaurant that had been recommended to us for lunch. It was cold so I ordered Minestrone soup and a salad. Christy had ravioli. The soup was light, warm and wonderful, just what was needed. We took the opportunity to rest our feet for a few minutes and I pulled out my journal to write for a bit. Happy and warm we ventured back outside. There was a torture museum nearby with a mannequin in a torture device in the window. Christy wanted to go in, I refused. I had made the mistake of going through a torture museum in London several years ago and I will never do it again. Man’s inhumanity to man has been horrific and grotesque, I wanted no part of it.
Have I mentioned that cobblestones are hard on the feet? They are. We walked and walked and some more. They city was beautiful and soot covered bits of ancient gothic architecture would poke out at various locations reminding me of its long history. As we headed back toward the river we found the town square and the Christmas market had begun. Food stands selling local treats, meats and hot wine were thronging with people. The hot wine looked and smelled so good! Christmas Markets are one of my favorite things about Europe this time of year.
We crossed back over the Vtiava, this time on the Charles Bridge. The Charles was a beautiful gothic stone bridge, probably the most beautiful I’ve seen. There were several religious statues lining the bridge, one in particular with panels rubbed smooth by centuries of devotees.
It wasn’t far back to our lodgings and we found ourselves doubling back through the pretty little park we had passed through in the morning. It hadn’t lost any of it’s charm.
I think Prague may have become my favorite new European city, excluding Venice which is a world unto itself.