Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Prague in the Well - Part 2

Thursday was a full day for us.  As I mentioned in Part 1 of "The Prague in the Well", I got up early today so I could get some snaps of the Charles Bridge.  

We were out of the apartment early, and after a hearty breakfast we made our way to our first stop. Right near our apartment in Mala Strana Square, is a very large, and rather unassuming church named St. Nicholas (1673-1752).  But when you walk inside the massive doors, your eyes are treated to a Baroque masterpiece. 

St. Nicholas Mala Strana with it's majestic green dome.

Apparently our friend Motzie played the organ in St. Nicholas on one of his many visits to the city.  Rock on Wolfie.

All that glitters is gold baby, gold.

We had to do the double take on this one.....

Street on our way up to the castle.

Next on our agenda was Prague Castle and the Gothic beast St. Vitus.  

But first, we had to slip past this fella.  I thought Communism was gone from the Czech Republic??
The Castle was disappointing.  The tour didn't really encompass much of the castle, and the bits that it did were "what ever".  St. Vitus, was something entirely different.  Wow.... Construction began on the cathedral in 1344.  The Cathedral has some of the most incredible stain glass windows that you will ever see.  When you see the exterior pictures that we shot, note the windows and how dark and muted they look.  When you get inside, even on a dull, flat light day like we had, it is incredible how the stain glass colours pop out.  Those windows are enough to cast an enormous amount of natural light into the cathedral to light it up.  Just awesome.  
Note how dark and muted the windows look.

Those are the same dark windows from the exterior!
The natural light inside is astonishing.

Credit to Bronwyn for this fantastic shot.
Also on the property within the Castle complex is the modest, yet very funky, St. George Basilica. 

St. George Basilica founded in 920!  It is the oldest church building in Prague.
The interior has a very heavy Medieval feel to it.
Maybe the coolest crucifix that I have seen.  I love the massive hands.
The frescoes were amazing.

Fin's growing like a weed in Europe, he barely fits in buildings now.  It must all the pastries.
Do you remember the "Man with the Golden Ball" in Salzburg?  Do you think that they are related?
From the castle we wandered back across the river to have some lunch, and to visit the old Jewish section.

For lunch we went up to the U Prince Hotels awesome rooftop terrace that overlooks the Old Town Square, and much of Prague.  Mediocre food, fantastic setting.

A bunch of kooky Europeans waiting for the Saints to pop out of the astronomical clock.  Tourists...

The second time we have seen the sun!  This time it was for about 90 seconds.  It was glorious!

After lunch was walked to the Jewish quarter and visited the Old New Synagogue (1270).  Um, I don't get it.  Is it old, or is it new?  Why can't they just pick one, and go with it?  We weren't allowed to take pics (not that it ever stops Stacey).  But, I can tell you that the inside was very small, and it had really cool wooden seat stalls around the perimeter of the walls.

After the Modern Old New Old Synagogue, we wandered around trying to find the Jewish museum.  Along the way bought a cool little jewish trinket for Gil and Dionne.  Please don't say anything to them, we want it to be a surprise.

We finally found it.  "Sorry, we are closed for the day."  So with that, we started the long walk of shame out of the Jewish Quarter.  What made the walk even worse, was that we were walking along a 12 foot wall that extended the entire length of the street.  This was possibly the only spot in Prague that isn't lined with incredible architecture.  As we got near the end of the wall, we noticed a few people looking through a small opening.  What lies behind the wall is something pretty amazing.  This was the site of the Old Jewish Cemetery.  It was used as a cemetery from the early 15th century until 1787.  It is estimated that there are 12,000 tombstones and over 100,000 people buried there.  In some spots, it is estimated that they are as many as 12 bodies deep.

As we were walking back towards the old town, I saw a sign for a building complex called the Klementinum.  I had read that they have live classical music performances in the old library.  So we diverted towards the Kelmentinum in search of the music.  Success!  We found the building, and as it turns out, the show started in 30 mins.  Fintan's cat like reflexes ensured that we procured some prized front row seats.  With no pictures or video allowed, you can bet that Stacey was ready for action.

The quintet was absolutely fabulous.  They played about 5 popular classical pieces, and then they finished with Winter and Summer from Vivaldi's Four Seasons.

What a treat.  Loved every minute of it.

So how do you follow up a brilliant classical music performance in a 232 year old room?  I'm glad you asked.  Well, if you were with us, you would go to a Medieval Torture Devices Museum!  OMG!  You would not believe the tools they used.....  All I can say, is that this one was by far the worst....

And with that, we walked back across the Charles Bridge to the Lesser Quarter, found ourselves a restaurant and had dinner.

That was quite the day.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Prague in the Well - Part 1

The last couple of days were pretty action packed.  By the time we would get back to the apartment,  I didn't have any energy to work on the blog.   We are currently sitting in a cafe in Dresden, Germany.  We got up in the wee hours this morning (6:30 train) to make our way to Strasbourg, France.  If all goes well on the connections, we will arrive in Strasbourg around 19:00 tonight.  So ya, we have a long travel day ahead of us.  But that's ok, the train makes for great downtime which is something we don't have a lot of on our trips.

So let me start getting you caught up on the last few days.  Firstly, Prague is awesome.  If you like architecture, history, beer and sweets, then Praha is for you.  The weather while we were there was absolutely savage for the end of March.  For most of our time there, it was around -9C with windchill.  We prepared for cooler, wet weather by bringing layers, but we were not prepared for winter-like temperatures.  As a result, we ended up buying the much needed "I heart Prague" and "Czech Me Out" sweatshirts for the kids.

The apartment that we rented was in a fantastic location for exploring the city.  The "Old Town" is broken up by the left and right banks of the Vltava River, which is the longest river in the Czech Repulic, spanning over 430 KM.  The left bank, where we were staying, is referred to as the "lesser Quarter".

On Thursday morning, I got up early so I could take a few pictures of the Charles Bridge with no people on it.  Any other time of the day, it is swarming with people.  They started building the bridge in 1357, and it was completed in the early 15th century.  Taking that long to build, it sounds like it was a government project...Here are a few of my favourites.

Facing "Lesser Quarter Side".  Prague Castle, and the awesome Gothic Cathedral St. Vitus are on the upper right.
Facing the "Old Town".

I am really glad that I got up early and made the short walk to the bridge.  I wish that I would have had the time to do it this morning though.  When we left the apartment, there was a blanket of fresh snow on the ground and rooftops.

Sweet smile Fin...
Walking towards the Old Town Square.
The kids looking for "The Prague in the Well."  Or is it "The Frog in the Prague"?  So confused. 

Opening that leads into Old Town Square.  Every Saturday since 1100 there has been a market here.  It has also been the home to large military gatherings over the years.

The third oldest Medieval Astronomical clock in the world (1410), and the only one still working.  Every hour the doors open at the top and the Saints make an appearance, while the skeleton who represents death, rings the bell.  We waited for 15 mins to see it, and it was quite unspectacular.

St. Nicholas Baroque Church (1735)
Interior of St. Nicholas.

Czech lady preparing those tasty churro things.  We think they are called Trdelnik.

Despite the snowy skies, we took a climb up to the top of the Old Town Clock Tower to check out the vista.

You can avoid the climb up the clock tower by jumping in this ultra hip tube elevator.  The Medieval dudes had it all figured out...  We walked.

Tyn Church (1385). Gothic Exterior, Baroque interior.  Think black clothes with white a black make up on the outside, and Beverly Hills girly girl on the inside.

Old Town Square and the Easter Markets.

This was the first time we had seen the sun since Calgary.  It lasted about 40 seconds.
Kooky skeleton handling the bell.

Fin checking out the view of the Old Town and Charles bridge from Legil Bridge.

The sprawling Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral. 
We ended the evening with a stop for a cafe and dessert at the highly recommended, Cafe Savoy.  We did some major damage to their pastry supply, then called it a night.

Cafe Savoy.
A tram whizzes by as we cut up the street, past the police and guards at the US embassy, and into our apartment.