Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A walking tour of Prague

We arrived in Prague on Sunday evening (well before what I predicted on the itinerary, as I was happy to point out to everyone).
The little B&B, Dum um Velke Boty (which means something about a boot) was charming (or so Mom kept telling me), and we had the entire top floor (which was a bit of a hike up a curvy staircase) all to ourselves. It was across the street from one embassy (maybe Austria?) and a block down from the American embassy (which Dad was quite intrigued with). There was no sign but, as Rick said, masses of geraniums in the window boxes clued us in to our destination. Upon arriving we all first argued over who had to/got to share the room with Lauren (Dad kept insisting L prob should share with them, while we insisted we would share with her bc we would not be seeing her while they were in Vienna), anyways, it was a strange conversation but in the end, O, L, and I had a big room and the parentals slept next door. (L's bed was like a rock, I just kept hoping that she would never bother to sit on any of the other beds or she'd be rather shocked to see how we were all sleeping).
That evening we planned to do laundry. Trusty Rick Steves had listed a few places in Prague but we found out they were far off and were 'pay per piece of laundry' which sounded a bit outrageous. The hotel offered to do the laundry but mom was not about to let anyone touch her clothes. In the end, O somehow convinced Simone (lady at the front desk) to let Mom put her stuff into the washer, then Simone put in the soap (like a bucketful) and started the machine. We did a few loads and set our stuff up to dry, hanging stuff literally all over the third floor. We took it easy that night, playing on ipads and computers (and me left with only the guide book for entertainment. Being the only one without a computer, I had to try to grab up everyone else's when they took a bathroom break). 
Monday morning we woke up and headed to breakfast. L had told me to book hotels that included breakfast and now I see why-it was really quite a delight. The house owners were up making us scrambled eggs to be served with toast, bread and rolls, cheeses, meats, fruit, yogurt, etc. My only complaint-which actually has to be said for all of Europe-the warm water! Not only was there no ice to be found (on the whole continent!) but the water was always lukewarm. Who drinks lukewarm water???
We had booked a walking tour (8 hours total, 4 hours on Monday, 4 on Tuesday) and our guide picked us up at the hotel. Jana, a very small person with purple hair, took us our a walking tour of the castle complex that morning. It was amazing! The castle, construction began around 1000 AD was great (there was a bit of rain but nothing too serious) and the cathedral quite Gothic. 
We went into some parts of the castle where they used to have jousting tournaments (right in the grand hall), banquets, markets, court with the King, and all that. 
Great hall:
We even saw the windows where they chucked out some of the Hapsburgs (I think) people who were trying to force Catholicism (the Hussites did the chucking). Unfortunately, when the guys survived the million foot fall (by falling into manure) the whole fiasco turned into a miracle and really strengthened the faith of some. (throwing people out of windows (to kill them, not just to embarrass them) is an extremely popular activity in the Czech Republic. They call it "defenestration" (who has a word for throwing people out of windows?). Nearly every building we went into had some window where so and so was thrown out, even today, there are still some laws that allow for you to toss people out I think). 
Seeing the Castle and church complex and hearing the history was interesting because Austria and Prague have long been so connected. Prague (and the Czech Republic) were ruled by the Hapsburgs (part of the Austro-Hungarian empire) and so it was fascinating to see how the rulers were really quite popular in Austria with the people, but not so much in Prague (they were sort of thought of as foreign rulers, with the exception of one or two Hapsburgs who actually moved the capital to Prague and ruled from there, one of the Franz Joseph's I think). My favorite part of the castle was the Golden Lane. Set into the castle wall is this tiny lane of houses. The best way to describe it is a bunch of playhouses. If you were little, you would just die to play house here! The houses were mini, like the size of one or two bathrooms put together, just a little space for a bed, a table, and a few pieces of furniture.(I'll soon put up my own photos but here are some just to give you a visual)

and the other side-the rooms are build into the yellow wall.
They had no plumbing (granted I don't think anyone had plumbing back in the 1400s-I think that is the time period) and did their cooking out front. It is a tiny little lace, with living spaces on both sides of the lane, on some places, your shoulders can brush both walls, while in others, it is large enough for a wagon to drive down. Seamstresses, goldsmiths, alchemists, and other tradesmen lived here and you can walk through and see some of their furniture and the rooms all set up. Perhaps my favorite was one of the medical person's abode-it looked straight up just like Gaius's rooms (from Merlin)!
People lived here as late as the 1940-50s, including Kafka, who lived in a 'house' owned by his sister. People were moved out during communism but fortunately, the communists did not bother to destroy them. They were truly enchanting. From the Golden Lane we peaked into the dungeons, mom did not bother and the rest of us were pretty sick as we saw the torture devices still hanging on the walls, and then headed to some panoramic vistas for picture time.
Castle town took up our 4 hours of walking and the guide left us at the corner to the castle gardens, warning us (mostly just looking at L) that Tuesday would be a lot of walking, even more than we had walked that morning. We all laughed bc she so pointedly told L to be ready (she and Dad kept leaning against walls and stretching out weirdly), then walked through some royal gardens, complete with a grotto (caves were all the rage in the 1700-1900s I think).
By this time we were all fairly exhausted so we sat down to lunch at a recommended restaurant and had some great good (svikova for O, L, me). Afterwards we headed back to the boty for a nap, before heading out for fried cheese (yes, who doesn't love a good patty of fried emmentaller cheese?!?) and a concert at St Nicholas's church. (We passed the church on our way to the castle and Dad, upon finding out it was St Nicholas's church, St Nick, or Santa that is, was extremely taken with the place. He was so excited to go in and check it out-in fact I think he expressed more excitement for it than for any other site in Europe. It was actually quite puzzling, but we were all thrilled to get him inside to look around.) The concert was excellent-an awesome opera singer, a great organist (teacher at the prestigious school of music across the street) and a unique setting (very baroque) with great acoustics. The pews could have been more comfortable (but I don't think they could possibly have been less) but all in all, it was a magnificent performance. Following our music spectacular we had a few hours until dinner. O herded Dad and L off to some grocery store for all sorts of Czech treats while Mom and I walked over Charles Bridge (most famous bridge in town, build in like the 1100s) to watch street performers (we saw a trio of cellists and a marionette man-they have EVERY KIND of marionette you could never need ALL OVER Austria and C Rep. and have talented people maneuvering them. While quite interesting, I lean towards finding them super creepy, they remind me of Madame Elaine-who was not a marionette, just a scary looking doll-on Mr Rogers) and look at the souvenir shops. 
Charles Bridge

A marionette on Charles Bridge (I have no idea why almost all the marionettes look like hobos, I guess hobos are really popular in Europe or something)

Typical marionette store (which is like every other store practically)

(enough to give even the most sensible people nightmares!)

We all met up at McDonalds for dinner-throughout which Mom and Dad raved about European McDonalds (they are quite nice, I must admit) and, after enjoying 20 chicken nuggets, a few hamburgers, 3 ice cubes in our drinks, and a Magnum Mcflurry, we headed back and collapsed into bed.


Kathy C said...

magnum mcflurry? genius.

Lauren V said...

Ja ja ja ja I love European breakfasts. And it wasn't a debate over who got to share a room with me, it was about who had to share a room with me.