Prague is another of those cities where you don’t understand a thing of the language. Luckily for me, my cousin lives there. So, as I stepped off the train, I was greeted by him and then led safely to his flat without having to worry about finding my way around.
Long lost relatives
I was happy to meet my cousin for the first real time. I probably knew him up to the age of 3, while I still lived in Romania, and then we met for a short while when I was 10. But that was the whole extent of our knowledge of each other. He lives on the 5th (and last) floor of an apartment building in Prague with his girlfriend. It’s quite cozy and nice and both of them went out of their way to make me comfortable. Like they said, hope I get as spoiled at all the other places I’ll stay.
Old Town Square
After a wonderful night of sleep on their fold out couch, I went to the Old town square (Staromestské namesti) where I was to meet up with a free walking tour. I got there half an hour early so I explored the square on my own for a bit. I was quickly amazed by how beautiful all the buildings are. The thing is, Prague was mostly unscathed during the war(s) so the buildings are all very old.
Just before the tour started, at 11, the clock “came to life” with it’s old mechanisms. There are 4 figures visible at all times, one of which is a skeleton representing death. The other 3 represent other fears of the people of old. Death turned it’s hourglass and started ringing a bell, telling the other they were going to die eventually. The others make a “no” sign with their head. Then some doors open and the 12 apostles march in front of them and a rooster sings. Then at last, a man comes out of the top of the tower and plays the trumpet.
The tour then started with our very charming funny guide named Filip. He told us about Czech history in a short condensed version. He assured us we can now call ourselves Czechsperts. I don’t remember the whole of it, but what I do remember is that Czech republic has a long and complicated story about being a hundred different countries or so. They also had one king they loved very much and that would be Charles IV. They were under the communist regime from 1948 to 89 and many of them were depressed after Prague Spring in 1968 when their hopes of a bearable communism were crushed. Last but not least, they divorced Slovakia in 1993 and only since then are they a country of their own.
Now I won’t repeat the whole tour in here but there were some very interesting highlights. First, the communist museum is situated besides a McDonald’s and under a Casino. Second, and this I was told by my cousin and not the guide, the communist party has been allowed to live on but they renamed the street on which their headquarter is to “Political prisoners”. Third, the movie Casino Royale was filmed in the national Museum, it was used as the hotel.
Square of the Republic
Another stop of the tour was the Namesti Republiky. Around it, are situated many different buildings, including the municipal house, a majestic art nouveau piece decorated by Mucha himself, a tower of the old fortifications, and a bank. Another funny highlight would be that part of Vin Diesel’s movie xXx was shot on the balcony of the Municipal house, and a sniper shot at him from the Bank’s roof.
We also learned that in the old times, the gold was stored on the roof of the castle to protect it from thieves. It used to make a golden haze around the castle and that’s where the Golden Prague name comes from. It is also said that to this day there is a gold piece on top of the bank so that the have never dies down.
Prague is also one of the few places were people were crazy enough to try and build cubic buildings. There is a cubic museum built in that fashion with cupid furniture and plates and all. Very crazy!
Church and thieves
At St James church we were told that a thief tried once to steal the necklace of the virgin Mary and that the statue sprang to life and gripped his arm. The next morning, the priest came in and saw the thief and together they tried to free the repented man but to no good. In the end, the thief suggest they cut the arm and the father agreed. When he got ready to cut through the thief’s arm he cried and specified he meant the statues arm. To which the priest answered that if she got angry at him trying to steal her necklace, he would not risk trying to cut her arm off. When the arm was cut, the statue let go of the arm and the thief ran away. The priest then modified the arm and it is still in the church as a warning to other thieves.
In the jewish quarter we find another history of discrimination. The jews had been allowed to live only in that neighbourhood for hundreds of years until at some point they were allowed to move. When that happened, 80% of them ran away and the poor settled in, making it a very unsanitary place. Some king decided to tear the whole place down and build anew. The ground in that neighbourhood is about 2 meters higher than it was originally. The whole area is also one of the most expensive now.
We also walked by the jewish cemetery which houses a hundred thousands corpses on about 11 layers because they ere forbidden to expand the cemetery and jews can only burrow their dead.
We also saw a Hugo Boss shop and were told that Hugo Boss designed the Nazi Uniform.
Old new synagogue
The old new synagogue is said to host it its attic the Gollem built by a Rabi to protect the jews. It was put into retirement after an outburst of rage and no one knows if it still exists. No one dares to go look because it is said that a german officer went up the attic and never came back. Some say he fell in love with the Gollem 😉
For more, visit the gallery and read about stuff under the pictures.
After the tour ended I went across Charles bridge and up the western side of the river. Charles Bridge is very old and very touristic. It’s only got pedestrian access and a ton of art and jewelry and caricature vendors. The construction started at a very “lucky” hour determined by Charles astrologers that read the same in whichever direction.
After my long walk I got back home and at night we went out with some of my cousin’s friends from work. He brought us to a very wicked club that had a steam punk theme with mechanic pieces all over. I spent at least an hour just looking around me. The people were really nice and we had a great time.
We moved to a closer pub at some point and got to play the nails game. It consist of a big log on the middle of the bar and you put nails in it. Each player has one and in turn they have to try to hit it with the narrow side of the hammer. The one that looses buys drinks for everyone.
The next morning we woke up very late. It was a national Holliday so my cousin was off work. He brought me to Prague Castle and we walked around the buildings and grounds. It is situated pretty high and gives a very nice view on the city.
St Vitus Cathedral
The major and central piece of the castle is a magnificent Gothic cathedral. It houses a stained glass by Mucha amongst other things.
From the Castle we spotted a very weird wall down bellow in some court so we made our way to it. We figured it was on the Senate’s grounds and it consisted of an illusion garden with a wall sculpted as a grotto. There were many hidden faces and snakes around and the birds had nested inside its many crevices. It was very weird. There were also a few peacocks, a fountain and many statues on those grounds.
Prague’s Eiffel tower
Next, we went up Prague’s Eiffel Tower. In case you didn’t know, Prague has a small version of an Eiffel tower that was made to look like it. It is rather not as sturdy though and when on top it moves from side to side. Quite scary! The view though is quite splendid, since the tower is 60m above the highest ground around Prague.
Exit through the Gift Shop
That night, we watched the Banksy film “Exit through the Gift Shop”. It was a rather interesting documentary on a crazy guy that created his own fame and people bought it. It was very interesting to follow the other graffiti artists around though and have an look at Banksy’s studio.
On Friday we headed to the Mucha museum and on our way, my cousin brought me to a shopping mall with the weirdest statue I’ve ever seen. A man sitting on an upside down horse, hanging from the ceiling. What were the Czech thinking?
The museum, though quite small, was amazing. I love Alfons Mucha’s poster and and art and it was really nice to see sketches of the posters and studies and also paintings he made. I wish I was that good! We also saw a short movie on his life and so we learned about all his different projects such as the Slav Epic, dedicated to his home country.
Afterwards, we headed by car to the town of Kutna Hora, which is home to the famous ossuary. It has decorations made of human bones and is quite an impressive sight. The people that made it must have been crazy but they did a good job. The chandelier is very impressive as are the chalices and pyramids and all. The bones were cleansed and whitened so it’s not as creepy as the Paris Catacombs but it’s still somewhat unsettling.
Since we drove for about an hour and a half to get there we decided to visit the town at the same time. It was quite pretty although small. It was in the “mountains” and so had a very interesting landscape.
Kutna Hora cathedral
We also visited a very nice cathedral in the village, which had a beautiful exterior although no actual tower like we’re used to. It was sadly somewhat dark and my pictures didn’t come out that good.
On our way to the cathedral we saw an exhibition that announced Warhol, Mucha and others that I don’t remember. We decided to go visit since we had a bit of time left. So after 2 rooms of modern art, most of which was just weird as modern art often is (although some pieces were rather nice) we got the the Warhol room. It was very dimly lit and housed one painting by Warhol and one painting by another artist. And that was it. We never actually found the Mucha pieces and left rather disappointed in their advertising methods.
And so ends my stay in Prague. I didn’t get a chance to see a doctor for my knee but it hasn’t been hurting as bad as in Dresden. I did get to know my cousin though and that was very nice. They didn’t want me to leave anymore though and it just confirms my thought that if I had planned to go to Romania I would have needed way more time. It will have to be for another time!
Now I’m on my way to Warsaw and I’ve never heard a train this noisy. See you on the other side!