PRAGUE FOR THE FIRST TIME
I longued to visit Prague for years. So when I got our airtickets I felt so excited I started planning the trip. We took a cab from the airport to the hotel, left the luggage there and went to grab the best of Prague. Good news are that the oldtown is small and everything is walking distance, which makes it very friendly to discover. However, the city is literally crowded on that side of Prague and one must exercise some patience. This is important to know in advance so you can get better organized if you don´t like long lines (who does?).
DAY 1: ROMANTIC PRAGUE
We began our journey strolling through the famous Charles Bridge (or Karluv Most). Built in the 14th century with a Gothic style, this bridge crosses the city over the Vltava river. The path is 600 meters long with 30 statues (now replicas) watching over from both sides. Painters, musicians and street vendors cheer up the day. It is a lively place but be ready for a slow walk, because as I said before, tons of people are taking pics and enjoying the views. The bridge connects the oldtown with the Malá Strana neighborhood, on the other side of the river, where many reknown attractions are located. A tower stands on each side of the bridge and the views from the tops are stunning.
Our first stop was the Prague´s Castle and the buildings that are part of the huge complex of buildings. To get there one can either walk up to the Castle (not recommended in summer, it´s very hot) or take the tram 22 and get off on Královský Letohrádek stop, in front of the Palace´s main entrance. It takes only 10 minutes to get there if leaving from the oldtown. We arrived just in time to see the “Changing Guard” ceremony, which takes place every day at 12pm. Once inside the Castle complex we picked St. Vitus Cathedral to begin with -the jewel of the place- and the line to visit was about 3 blocks long. If you are there on summer do not forget to bring a hat and bottles of water along with you, because it can be extremely warm. In winter, gloves, scarfs and fur hats are a must.
St. Vitus Cathedral is built in a gothic style with a superb architecture and gargoyles watching all over the place. We have seen many cathedrals in Europe but few times I have been caught by the mysticism of light. The sunrays transmit a spiritual atmosphere through the colourful stained-glass windows that decorate the interior of the Cathedral. I didn´t pay much attention to the altars as I got caught by this unexpected emotional moment.
Just around the corner, the Great South Tower (you can pay the fee there) provides a viewpoint with beautiful sights of Prague. Take into consideration that the stairs are narrow and there is no ventilation (the top is open air) and there is no lift as well.
The whole castle complex is open from 6am to 10pm. For opening hours and tickets, check in advance https://www.hrad.cz/en/prague-castle-for-visitors
Among other things, the Old Royal Palace, the Gardens, the Basilica of St George are also worthy to visit. It just depends on how much time you have. We took back the tram 22 and drop off at the Discalced Carmelite Church of our Lady Victorious (also in Malá Strana neighborhood). First built as a Lutheran church, due to a religious war was turned into a Catholic church. Later, during the Communist era religions were forbidden, so churches were closed. It is a famous church because it hosts the sculpture of Little Jesus of Prague. The image holds a golden world in one hand. People from all over the world go to worship Little Jesus. The sculpture is very small and is dressed with a special design. It is a very important place for Catholics and the church offers masses in many languages, not only Czech but also in English, Spanish, French and Italian. There is a small museum (the entrance is inside the church, on the right door next to the altar) that displays the dresses that many countries have offered as a gift to Little Jesus.
It was almost 5 pm when we left the church and we were starving. We knew it was time for a “trdelník“, a delicious pastry filled with fruits, cream, chocolate or anything you want. I can still remember the sweet smell of the sugar that is stuck to the dough once is cooked and the dancing bees all around them (kind of unpleasant, but as they are everywhere you have to get used to those insects!). Believe me “trdelník” are exquisite and a yummy must try.
We were so full that it was clear we needed a walk. We headed to the John Lennon´s Wall (also in Malá Strana). The wall is on Kampa Park and it is very significant for the locals, although John Lennon never visited Prague nor performed in the Czech Republic. So I was intrigued “why is so important about this place?” It is a hommage to liberty. It is a hommage to freedom of expression. It is a hommage to artistic voices. John Lennon´s songs were prohibited in the Czech Republic by the Communists. When Lennon was murdered in 1980, an artist painted a graffiti with his face on that wall; however the day after, the police had wiped away the drawing and painted the wall white again. This only boosted the everyday graffitis on that wall along with pacifist messages. Today anyone -not only artists- is free to Paint so the wall never looks the same, changing every day. It is a very thrilling place to visit. Don´t miss it!
We had dinner very early because most of the kitchens on the oldtown close early, around 9.30pm.
DAY 2: PRAGUE AND POLITICS
I had this romantic idea of Prague, one I must admit it is a real one but also pretty shallow as well. The truth is, I had done my research on where to stay and eat properly but relied only on friends suggestions about what to do. Wrong! Because those recommendations proved to be useful but clearly not enough. Thanks to the hotel´s concierge we got tons of tips about what to visit, those “not-to-miss” stuff that locals carry on their DNA. I always trust tips provided by locals because -in general- are the best ones. So, we followed the hotel´s advice and went to visit the MOC “Museum of Communism“. It is a middle-size museum that displays the history of communism and its impact on the former Czechoslovakia, now Czech Republic. It is small building where one can learn what meant to live under the communist regime. How people´s lifestyle changed completely into a monotonous routine and a uniform pattern. Prague was the place where “monoblocks” were born as the new dwelling living style. The museum also shows how propaganda had an influence on people, controlling the media, voiding the freedom of expression and many other measures. I left the museum heartbroken, in silence, I could barely speak. I didn´t want to. It wasn´t my first approach to a museum like this one. Perhaps the way things are exhibited here produce a different impact on people. I cannot say. I just know it is a place for learning and I recommend it 100%.
I needed to breath, so we went to walk around the oldtown and the famous square. Our hotel was located in front of the Prague astronomical clock, so it was a perfect accomodation were to move from. The Old City Hall has an interesting viewpoint, with a modern lift and wi-fi! yes! So we got up to the top to discover an amazing panoramic view of the city, with the classic rooftop red tiles so typical from Prague. The medieval astronomical clock was being restored so we couldn´t stop to watch “The Walk of the Apostles” (every hour sculptures of the apostles go out and move round to mark the hour). There is also more to see in the old square: the Presbyterian St Nicholas Church; the Catholic Church of Tyn, the house of Kafka and lots of people displaying their art: musicians, acrobats, singers and even two crazy people disguised under huge Panda bears customs (I can´t imagine what must feel like to be inside it in summer!). It´s a very lively place, with restaurants, just-got-married couples. A cool place to visit.
We were in Prague for the 50th commemoration of the Soviet occupation, so lots of memorials, shows and concerts were going on. We went to see a photographic exhibition which displayed pictures taken by journalists of those times. I felt devastated, but I do not regret having watching at those photographs. They are the living memory of things that shall not happen ever again.
We ended up the day with a “Thai foot massage”. I don´t know why they are so popular in Prague. I mean, I can grasp some understanding: the massage feels amazing! There are plenty of stores in the oldtown. Go before midnight because they get really crowded and you don´t want to miss your opportunity!