Early Tuesday we left Vienna and took a ride through beautiful farm country and small towns to our final destination, Prague (Praha to the natives).
After a quick lunch at our hotel, we set out on a walking tour of the "Old City" area. Prague has been a thriving city for over 1,100 years. It is the home to Franz Kafka and the Golem; two of the strangest characters of all time. One of the city's great charms is the architecture. There was never any thought to tearing down old buildings (as in our "urban renewal"), so entire blocks are a fascinating mixture of Romanesque, Baroque, Rococo, Renaissance, and modern architecture, often, a "new" building has been built right on the foundation of an older one! The buildings are also decorated (via color, statues, ornamentation) to be unique. Here are some examples.
Later, on our way to a wonderful dinner at Kampa Park restaurant, we crossed the Charles Bridge. This iconic structure was built beginning in 1357.
Along the 650 foot bridge are 30 stautues, most with religious significance (and yes, those are Hebrew words surroundig the cross in the picture below).
Then, dinner overlooking the Moldau River at Kampa Park restaurant (more on that in the next post).
It was still light out when we walked back at 9:15, and there were a lot fewer tourists around. The main street of this area is totally full of tourist stores, ranging from the cheapest t-shirts and bumper stickers to the most expensive crystal and garnet (both local products). In a sense, it reminded us of Venice; the old buildings with the capitalistic catering to the tourists. However, instead of the Venetian masks, many of Prague's stores sell marionettes. We thought this was just a gimmicky thing, but our guide told us today that these hand-made puppets were actually used over a hundred years ago for a very good reason. At that time German was declared the official language and it was forbidden to speak Czech. German was taught to the children in the schools. But the people did not want their language to die, so they used the puppets to teach the children old folk tales in Czech! This is also a reason why Prague was not bombed during the war; Hitler felt that this area was really part of Germany, so he did not want to destroy his "own" territory. This is also why there are only a few war memorials in this city.
Wednesday began with a tour of the Prague Castle and St. Vitus' Cathedral. According to Guiness, this is the biggest castle in the world! ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prague_Castle and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Vitus_Cathedral) It is a huge complex of buildings actually built over many centuries (and again, in many different architectural styles). It is currently used as the President's offices, so we were not able to go in. But we were able to tour the Cathedral. Its beginnings date from the 15th century, but much of the work was not completed until 1929 in honor of the 1,000th year of St. Vitus. Even today, there are many parts of the exterior that are not done, but they spend so much time and money on just maintaining the rest it is questionable whether it ever will be finished. We have visited a lot of churches, but this one has to be one of the most amazing. The structure is an immense Gothic stonework, and the walls have the most beautiful stained glass windows (one exception is a rare painted glass window done by Mucha - see below).
From this, you can only imagine what it looks like in person.
Then we took a tour of the Strahov Library ( http://www.strahovmonastery.cz/ ). And it was actually a tour thanks to Tauck (our tour company). All other mere tourists can only look inside from the doorway. OK, so big deal...it's a library. Well, this IS a big deal! The library building itself dates from the 1700s and has beautiful frescoes on the walls and ceilings. But the 30,000 volumes(and antique globes) are much older than that! The oldest is the Strahov Gospel (the library is part of a monastery) from 860. No typo there: 8-6-0! The books are in 22 languages; the 22nd being represented by a solitary bible in an Eskimo-Lappland language!
After the visit to the library, Wendy went to Terezin (Theresienstadt) and Wayne continued to explore the city.
We began with a tour of the Estates Theater. This theater was built in 1781 - 1783. In 1787, Mozart himself conducted the premiere of his opera Don Giovanni there. And we have tickets to see the very same opera there on Friday night! (Not sure if Mozart will be conducting or not.) Before we left, we were treated to some period music played by a 7-piece ensemble of the theater's musicians.