Thursday, July 1, 2010

Prague, Morning of Day 1

  Well, I'm feeling human again for the first time since I went to Prague.  It was an exhausting trip, because I traipsed all over the city, and then as soon as I got back I plunged into an 11-hour-a-day work schedule.  Not to mention that the sun wakes me up every morning at 6 AM, and I can't seem to fall asleep before 11. Today I drew the line, and went in to IIASA late and came home early, to get a bit of recovery time.  I'm doing laundry, and I'm eating some yummy cheese and bread and salami and mustard and pickled peppers that I just bought, and I'm catching up on this blog.  Oh, and I'm drinking some fabulous beer that I brought back from Prague.  Yay!

  So, Prague.  It was about a five hour bus ride up from Vienna, and we got there just as night was falling.  By the time we found our way to our hostel and got settled in, everything was closed but a Pakistani fast food joint immediately downstairs, which turned out to be pretty good actually.  The next morning bright and early I charged off, led by my Lonely Planet guidebook, which stood me in great stead except that the adhesive holding the cover to the book gave out before I even got to Prague.  I still recommend it.

  My first mission was to walk the guidebook's walking tour of Stare Mesto, the old city (I will leave off diacritical marks throughout; sorry language purists, but I don't even know how to type an upside-down circumflex).  Just a few sights before I even get to that, though:

  I love Restaurace Trilobit's sign.  I wish they had been open.  The other two photos are just lovely ornate building fronts; there will be a lot more of that.
  OK, so the walking tour started at Republic Square, at the Powder Gate:

  Hard to capture in photos.  It felt much bigger than it was, because of the dark stone I think.  Gloomy, threatening, imposing.  Note the shiny bits in the detail photo.  Really wonderful.  In the same square is the Municipal House:

  Wonderful in a completely different way.  The architecture in Prague is just stupendous.  Much more to come.  A quick cappucino in Kavarna Obecni dum, the cafe on the ground floor of the Municipal House, helped me gather my energy for the day to come:

  Note I am the only person there; the tourists buses had yet to arrive.  Although this waking up at dawn thing that my body is experimenting with is involuntary, it does have its advantages.  I soon ended up on a little side street at the Church of St. James, which has a façade that has to be seen to be believed; here is just a small detail from it:

  It reminded me of Rodin's Gates of Hell, but with a rather more positive spin.  The inside of the church is no less ornate:

  I can't possibly document every amazing sight along the way, so now we skip forward to Old Town Square.  Old Town Square is lined with incredible buildings:

  I climbed to the top of Old Town Hall and got a nice view of the city from overhead:

  Note the famed red roofs of Prague; and it really is like that, in every direction you look.  That last photo is of Old Town Square itself, to show you all the kitsch (beer tents, bad street food, some kind of Hyundai extravaganza) that was gearing up for the imminent arrival of the tourist horde.  I generally exclude all this kind of crap from my photos, which means that my photos are not an accurate depiction of what places really look like; but who wants to see all that garbage?  Frankly, I'm amazed that the city allows this shlock to pollute its beautiful historic sites; but presumably there is a kickback greasing the wheels somewhere.  Anyhow, one other thing you could see from the top of the Old Town Hall (and from practically everywhere else in the city, actually) is Prague Castle, which we'll get to later:

  Old Town Hall is famous for its "astronomical clock," which dates back to 1410.  You can read about it on Wikipedia, so I won't attempt to describe it in detail.  It was quite beautiful:

  It performs a complicated mechanical dance, with moving figures and so forth, on the hour, and I was there for it, but I didn't realize that all the action was happening in the little windows you can see near the top, so I was looking in the wrong place and missed the whole show.  Ah well.  Moving on towards the Charles Bridge, I passed some more amazing buildings; the first two are in Little Square near Old Town Square, the last three are in Virgin Mary Square:

  Now I reached Old Town Bridge Tower, at the eastern end of Charles Bridge:

  Climbing up that gave me some more fabulous views of the city:

  I love that maze of towers in the last photo; it really captures how densely packed the architectural wonders of Prague are.  In the first photo, you can see I'm getting closer to Prague Castle; but (ruining the suspense a bit) I won't actually go there until tomorrow.  The orchard in the second photo, however, I walk down the hill through, much later in the day.  For now, though, across the Charles Bridge, which has its own jazz band:

  They were quite good, too.  Apparently they are more or less always there; my guidebook mentions them.  The bridge also has lots of nifty statues, of a religious sort:

  And at the far end of the bridge, more wonders await:

  But first, it was time for lunch; and that deserves an entry of its own.

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