Central Europe: Czech Republic - Things to See/Do in Prague

By Cubie - December 29, 2014

After hearing (also reading storiesfrom Little P years back on Prague, I looked forward to see Prague myself. That was seven years ago. Fast forward seven years, the sights are still there, but it has also grown in popularity. I suspect it is now one of the major stops for masses of Asian tours... ok, maybe slightly less popular than Paris... :P

Prague's Old Town Square has been a market square since 11th century. So...

1. Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí)
In the center of the square is a memorial to Jan Hus (a college professor who condemned Church corruption in the past and contributed to Czech alphabet its unique accent marks). However when we were there, a whole heap of restoration was going around Jan Hus' memorial. As of today (or to be more accurate, about 4 months ago) it was bustling with activities - walking tour for tourists, outdoor cafes, wedding shoots, segways, touristy horse buggies...

Wedding photo or advertisement shooting? 
Ham sold by weight
2. Tyn Church (Tynsky Chram)
Tyn Church or The Church of Our Lady was founded in 1385. It is most notable for its 200-year-stint as the leading church of the Hussite movement. After the fall of Hussites, the church returned to Catholicism. 
(Note: Hussites were a Christian movement following the teachings of Czech reformer Jan Hus)

When I first saw the church from afar, it reminded me of the Sleeping Beauty castle in Disneyland, just short of fireworks. I know it is wrong to associate such a great piece of architecture with an animation castle (*shame faced) but this site mentioned that apparently this church gave Walt Disney the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty Castle. It may or may not be true but it did make me feel less guilty :P

3. Charles Bridge (Karlův most)
You won't miss this bridge even from afar. This prominent landmark connects Prague's Old Town and Little Quarter. At the Old Town end of the bridge, there's a statue of Charles IV, the emperor who commissioned this bridge. According to legend, the bridge's foundation was laid in 1357, July 9th, at 5:31 am when written out in digits: 135797531 - pretty cool eh ;) There's also speculation that the end of the bridge on the Old Town side aligns perfectly with the tomb of St. Vitus and the setting sun at summer solstice. 

Of the many statues along the bridge, look out for John of Nepomuk (a saint of the Czech people, the one with five golden stars around his head, near the Little Quarter end). John of Nepomuk was a 14th-century priest to whom the queen confessed all her sins. According to a legend, the king wanted to know his wife's secrets, but Father John dutifully refused to tell. He was tortured and tossed off the bridge. When he hit the water, five stars appeared. It was believed that if you touch the saint, you will be granted a "wish" but you will only get one chance (some said you will return to Prague). If all fails, just look for the shiny brass relief. However, beware of another shiny brass relief depicting a dog, according to our tour guide, touching the dog brings back luck. I'm not sure how true this is, but that was what I was told. 

Touch for luck or to return to Prague?
Apparently if touch the doggie, will bring bad luck...
4. Astronomical clock
The built of the clock is impressive, more so when it dates back to 1410. It not only tells the time, it also tells the month, the sun's movement through 12 zodiac and also the moon (I think!)

The four animated figures flanking the clock represent four things that were despises at that time when the clock was built - Vanity, the miser (money), Death and the Turk. 

Our free walking tour's guide said this was the second most disappointing attraction in the world. I'll leave it to you to decide. Oh, and the apparently top of the most disappointment attraction goes to... Monalisa. I have no idea where the list is though... Grin. 

5. Jewish Quarter (Josefov)
The Jewish Town in Prague is well-preserved because Hitler decided to establish the "Museum of an Extinct Race" in Prague. Valuables from occupied countries were gathered in this area due to this. 

The Jewish Quarter neighbourhood is an easy walk from the Old Town Square. Entrance ticket to the sights is a group ticket. I walked around the Jewish Quarter but did not enter the sights. Among the synagogue, of note would be the Pinkas Synagogue. This synagogue is a memorial to the victims of the Nazis. We were told there an exhibition displaying art drawn by Jewish children who were imprisoned at Terezin Concentration Camp. 

Pinkas Synagogue
If there is a single ticket on sale, I am likely to enter the Pinkas Synagogue, as well as the Old Jewish Cemetery. For about 348 years in the 15th to 18th century, this was the only burial ground allowed for the Jews of Prague. 

Old Jewish Cemetery from street level
In this quarter, you'll find a Memorial to Franz Kafka. Franz Kafka is a German speaking Jewish writer of novels and short stories borned in Prague. This sculpture is based on his story "Description of a Struggle." [No, I have not read this book]

Memorial to Franz Kafka
6. Powder Tower
The Gothic gateway to the town hall, was built to house the city's gunpowder. Silly me when I first heard of the name, thought it was for the cosmetic powder (-‸ლ) (*face palm). Anyway... the decoration on the tower is portraying the Czech kings and said to be the best 15th century sculpture in town. 

7. House of the Black Madonna
Czech Cubism was an avant-garde art movment of Czech proponents of Cubism. Prague was the most important centre for Cubism outside Paris prior to the start of WW1. So here comes the Museum of Czech Cubism in the House of the Black Madonna. This was the first Cubist house built in Europe. 

8. St. Vitus Cathedral
The grand Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle. Entrance is free but certain areas were barred off unless one pays for a ticket. The priceless Bohemian coronation jewels are stored behind seven locks in the St. Wenceslas Chapel (a part of the cathedral). This cathedral is also the final resting place for saints, kings, princes...

I joined for SANDEMANs Prague Castle Tour hoping to get the best of the castle. I'll be upfront and this could be purely just my own experience but I wished I had paid for an alternative option, maybe the audio guide or something else because I didn't feel it was worth the money. On top of that, I had to fork out my own tram ticket.

See the four men in suits? They are the architects and builders who finished the church

Stained-glass window by Master Alfons Mucha
9. Golden Lane (Zlata Ulicka) at Prague Castle
For some unknown reason, we actually had access to the Golden Lane in Prague Castle as part of the tour I joined above (K joined another tour). Golden Lane is an ancient street within the Prague Castle complex. The origin of the name came from alchemists residing in the houses in the past. This lane sure was popular, despite the rainy weather, so here's my miserable shot of house number 22 where Franz Kafka lived with his sister in 1916-1917. 

10. Strahov Monastery
Strahov Monastery, a premonstratensian abbey founded in some time 1140, a little uphill walk from Prague Castle. Sitting on Petrin Hill, it gives a beautiful panoramic view stroll. After a little exercise, it makes it even more justifiable to sample a little beer and have a bite. 

I was told that the Strahov Manastic Brewery (Klasterni Pivovar) has an award winning beer, I believe it was the "Amber" St. Norbert beer

11. Loreta Square
Once you have a little beer at the monastery and decide it might be a good idea have a stroll, close by is the Loreta Square if you take Loretanska street. 

The Loreta (in Czech, or Loreto in English) is a religious pilgrimage site, said to commemorate the legend of a cottage said to have been the home of the Virgin Mary. 

12. The Dancing House (Tancici Dum)
Meet Ginger & Fred, designed by architects Vlado Milunc and Frank O'Gehry. I wasn't aware that the name Fred and Ginger was after the famous dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. 

13. Lennon Wall (Lennonova Zed)
John Lennon's idea gave hope and vision. When he was killed in 1980, a large wall in the Little Quarter (Mala Strana) was spontaneously covered with memorial graffiti. To this day, the wall is remembered as a place that gave hope to locals carving for freedom. 

I wanted a photo under "I'm a dreamer too... " but the busker didn't move away so I took one of him instead

14. Trdelnik / Trdlo
Trdlo is a wooden stake the bread is wrapped around for cooking which gives it its traditional hollow shape. 
I have initially thought the bread was called Trdlo but I was wrong, the correct name is apparently Trdelnik. 
Strangely enough, wikipedia mentioned that it is a traditional Hungarian cake and sweet pastry, though the texture is more like bread and I see it more often in Prague. We had this for breakfast for a couple of days with coffee. It's simple bread coated with sugar but I am really missing this. Can someone bring this to Melbourne please?

The bakery does sells a whole lot of other pastries/cakes/breads too
15. Absinthe
Made from wormwood and herbs, is historically described as a distilled, highly alcoholic beverage. It was described as a watered down version of a hallucinogenic drink. I only had a drink (distilled absinthe), and really enjoyed it.


16. Shopping
Though to be honest, I didn't buy any of the two below, at least not in Prague, I bought a pashmina shawl though :P

Czech crystal and glass
Cheesy matryoshka doll

Side note: Actually one other good thing to do in Prague would be to enjoy an orchestra but our timing wasn't good as the season hasn't started yet, so gave it a skip

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