Prague | August 2011

Since I had a week-long trip to London planned for work, I decided to extend my stay over the weekend and go some place I’d never been. After a quick look around, I settled on Prague in the Czech Republic. I flew out of London on Friday afternoon and flew back on Sunday. Given that I didn’t have a lot of time, I decided on a general plan: instead of trying to see a lot of things very quickly, I’d focus on a small area and explore that a lot. I had a few things I wanted to see (Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, Petrin Tower), but other than that, I’d just wander around and see what I would see. No plans, no schedules.

I was staying near Republic Square in Old Town Prague, so close enough to access everything but just far enough from the crowds and noise. After arrival on Friday afternoon, I went out walking. Instantly I was charmed by the “old world” architecture. I love cobblestone streets, narrow winding alleys that lead to unknown places, old buildings that have seen so much history. And Old Town Prague seemed to have all of those in spades.

Republic Square was a wide open plaza that functions as a transportation hub as well.

After passing the Powder Gate, as I got closer to Old Town Square, the crowds got very heavy. It was August after all, so not unexpected. Since I didn’t have any plans, I could just go with the flow, turn off whatever alley I felt like, or just stop and watch the sea of humanity flow by.

Photographers lining up to shoot the Astronomical Clock
Every hour trumpeteers come out from the top of the Old Town Hall Tower to announce the hour; the crowds below crane their necks up for a view
Astronomical Clock at Old Town Square; it is the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the only functioning one
Prague has rich musical tradition, and concerts are to be found everywhere
Reflecting on Tyn Church

I then climbed the Old Town Hall Tower. Although there is an elevator that goes to the top, climbing afforded some nice views on the way up. The view from the top of the Tower was fantastic. A sea of red roofs all around, with Prague Castle standing tall.

Old Town Square, dominated by Tyn Church
A sea of red roofs
Prague Castle dominates the skyline

From Old Town Square I made my way over (along with the hordes) to Karluv Most, or Charles Bridge, one of the major tourist thoroughfares in Prague. A pedestrian bridge adorned by religious statues and thronged with tourists, souvenir shacks, and street artists/performers.

Marionettes are something of a Prague specialty, and there are tons of shops in Old Town selling all kinds, from the very intricate to the very simple
Old Town alley
Charles Bridge
Charles Bridge souvenirs
Prague Castle at sunset
Sunset over Charles Bridge

I wanted to get up in time for sunrise the next morning, so turned in early that evening.

Unfortunately, for some reason my phone (and therefore my alarm) went haywire overnight. It never went off and I slept in. By the time I woke up on my own, it was already 30 minutes past sunrise. Cursing my luck, I quickly got dressed and ran out the door. My consolation was that it was overcast, so I didn’t miss much great light. But even without the golden hour, getting up early wasn’t a loss. As expected, the streets were deserted. I could explore, shoot, and contemplate in peace and quiet as I slowly meandered on my way to Prague Castle.

Old Town Prague
Deserted Prague
Early morning tram on Most Legii
Charles Bridge at sunrise
Thunovska Street
Zamecke schody, castle steps
Zamecke schody, castle steps

When I got to Prague Castle, the area was so deserted, I wondered if I was trespassing by walking through the open gates and through empty courtyards and gardens. But the marching palace guards didn’t say anything, so I figured I was okay. It was just strange to be walking around the castle/palace grounds with nobody else around. But I was very glad too, to have the opportunity to see everything without tons of people around. And later I would find out how right I was.

Prague Castle, which is dominated by St. Vitus Cathedral, is very impressive. Very Gothic and very imposing. Just standing there dwarfed by the structure, one cannot help but imagine what life must have been like in the 14th century. Large, ornate, historical buildings have typically not made a big impression on me, but this changed everything. I was entranced, studying all the little details. I must admit, the gargoyles were quite grotesque and somewhat disturbing, not the often cute ones I’ve seen elsewhere.

St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague Castle
The grotesque and somewhat disturbing gargoyles
Gargoyles
Something about this one really freaked me out

The Cathedral and the Castle Tower were not open yet, so I wandered around a bit more, got some breakfast at an outdoor cafe on the castle grounds.

Found this tranquil park nearby

After a while, once the Cathedral had opened, I came back to go inside. First climbed the narrow winding steps up the Tower for some great views.

View from St. Vitus Cathedral Tower

I am not religious, and don’t find church/cathedral interiors to be interesting (mainly in the US), but I’m glad I went inside St. Vitus Cathedral. It was gorgeous. Everything bathed in a golden light and amazing stained glass windows. Even after a subsequent visit to Notre Dame, St. Vitus still ranks as one of the best I’ve seen. Maybe because it was my first time, maybe because the light was so magical, but I was entranced.

St. Vitus Cathedral
Pews
Gorgeous stained glass imagery
A great place for photography

The only other thing I wanted to hit was Petrin Tower, so after the Cathedral I made my way over towards Petrin Hill.

Just stumbled upon the changing of the guard on my way out
Flowers in the window
Petrin Hill

After a quick drink break at the base of Petrin Tower (it was a hot day!), I decided to forego the more expensive elevator option and chose instead to climb the stairs up Petrin Tower. Many steps later, I was at the top with some grand views.

Old Town Prague panorama: Prague Castle on the left with Vltava River through the middle
Prague Castle from Petrin Tower

After a long day of walking under the hot sun, I returned to the hotel for a late afternoon nap – the benefits of having no schedule! Woke up in the early evening and after a quick dinner, headed out again.

Powder Gate, so named because it was used to store gunpowder
Street music
Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, and fireworks

From Charles Bridge, I could see that Prague Castle was lit up, so I walked over there again to see what it was like.  Just like the early morning, there were very few people, but the lighting made for some dramatic scenes of the Gothic structure.

Prague Castle
Prague Castle

After the Castle, I made my way back.

Communism!
Charles Bridge at midnight

The one last thing I wanted to do was shoot one of the many Swarovski crystal shops. I’m a sucker for bokeh-balls, and wanted to see how the glittering crystals would turn up.

Crystal bokeh

Sunday morning opened with rain; I was tired from the late night out and had to get ready for the flight back to London anyway, so just stayed in. I know I did not see MANY more things that I could have. But given the short time, I didn’t want to rush from place to place, just to tick off a checklist. Wandering around with no advance plans made for a very enjoyable weekend.  It rekindled my interest in some types of architecture that I didn’t think much of. Prague is one of the most fascinating, beautiful, and beautifully preserved cities I’ve seen. I’ll definitely be coming back for a more expansive visit.

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