A walk through old town

Trip Start Sep 20, 2009
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Czech Republic  , Bohemia,
Sunday, October 25, 2009

After settling in to our new home and our new city, Natalie and I finally embarked on a day of real sightseeing yesterday. It was a beautiful day. The early winter that plagued most of central Europe for the last few weeks has finally left us, and we're back to autumn. The leaves that survived the cold are now starting to tinge and we’re creeping into double-digit temperatures. It’s a real improvement.



Feeling emboldened by the sunshine, we decided to do a walking tour of old town Prague, hitting as many sights as we could in a day on foot. We both wore running shoes. We looked like tourists.



We boarded the 22 tram from outside our apartment and rode to the Malostranska metro stop. The lobby of the subway station would probably take over as the nicest urban space in most of the other cities Nat and I have been to. There are a dozen cafes and a park with two still pools and wild roses that are somehow in bloom in late October. From here, we went up. I once heard that Prague’s terrain could rival San Francisco’s as a jogger’s nightmare. It’s a hilly place, but after a long upward trek one is usually rewarded with a breathtaking view. The walk up the Hradcany castle steps is no different.  We huffed and puffed our way to the top, and then I lost Nat to her trusty camera for a few minutes (thanks P&K).



The castle was built in the 9th century and has been a seat of power ever since. Ancient Kingdoms, the Holy Roman Empire, and the former Czechoslovakia were ruled from this place, and the Czech government still has its offices here. After getting our bearings and snapping a few photos of the famous St. Vitus Church, we were approached by two young English guys who were on their way out. They had each bought the $25 total access pass to all the castles attractions and were nice enough to hand them off to us. We were planning to just have a look around, but now we had access to galleries, museums and the "Golden Lane".



First, we sped through a standard renaissance art gallery – clouds, angels, portraits of random people, etc. etc. -- and then came the fun stuff. 



The Golden Lane is a cramped alley on the North side of the Castle’s fortifications. The houses were originally used by the castles sentries, but were later occupied by squatters. One of the smallest houses, number 22, was home to one Franz Kafka. He wrote at least one masterpiece in the tiny space that now sells his collected works at inflated prices. 



At the end of the lane, we came to the medieval Dalibor prison. Nat’s photos do this place better justice than my words can, but I’ll do my best.  Headsman’s swords and axes were on display beside cells that make Kafka’s old house look spacious. As with most things in Prague, the prison has a fascinating legend attached to it. The prison got its name from its first inhabitant, Knight Dalibor of Kozojedy. It’s said that when he was first imprisoned in 1498, he asked for a violin. He spent day and night with the instrument, and eventually taught himself to play. His music was soon so beautiful that the residents of Prague began to gather outside the tower to hear him play. However, the "fiddle" was actually a torture device similar to the rack and he "sang", as in told secrets, while he was being tortured -- not quite as fun.

After the prison, we walked through the castle's vineyard on the way back to Malostranska. From there, we walked along the Vlatava River to Na Kampe -- the small square that Tom Cruise sprints across in that famous scene from Mission Impossible. Two minutes from there, we came to the oft-photographed water wheel and a row of railings adorned with hundreds of locks. Couples come from all around to write their names or initials on small locks to leave here. It's a nice tradition.

Our last stop was the Lennon wall -- a famous two dozen feet of cement in the heart of Prague. The wall is covered with layers and layers of graffiti, poetry, peace signs, and messages of love. It was originally used by youth in the late 80s to speak out against communism, and Wikipedia says it led to a clash between students and police in 1988. Today, it serves as a fun tourist stop and a venue for young local artists to showcase their work. It's also a good place to end a long day of sightseeing.

Na Shle from Praha,

James


                                                                                                                               
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