Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Golden City

Old Prague's "skyline" of towers and turrets
It was in 2002, I believe, that I visited Prague for the first time. My dad had just moved back to Berlin after my mother's death, and to distract him I borrowed my brother's car, told dad to pack a few days' underwear, and get ready for a field trip. And so we just took off. I was so impressed with the city that a few years later I simply had to take Judy there, even though it was during the coldest time of the year. And during this current trip to Europe, Prague was once again on the schedule, together with Sabine.
The river Moldavia / Moldau
From Munich it was about a 4-hour trip with the new IC Bus that is run by Deutsche Bahn, providing an inexpensive, comfortable way via the autobahn. There are trains, too, but they cost more (at least for right now). Staying with my theme of "matress runs," I had set us up for three nights in the two local Hiltons, alternating from night to night to maximize "stays." We spent two nights in the Hilton Old Town Prague, which is maybe 200 meters from the Bürgerhaus, a Nouveau Art gem, and the Prasna Brana, the old Powder Tower that presents one of the entry points into the Old City. Our middle night we spent in the same Hilton as where I had stayed during my former trips, albeit this time in a nice upgraded suite—you gotta love paying for rooms with points when the $$$ signs start spinning out of control.
One of the old towers, Prasna Brana
We spent our three days with what one does in Prague: sightseeing and listening to music. After our arrival on Thursday afternoon, we headed for the Karlsbrücke, a super-solid medieval stone bridge across the Moldau where life concentrates on its way from the Old City to the west banks of the river that runs through Prague. It seemed as if half the globe's population had congregated here, either in the form of tourists or otherwise as beggars, musicians, artists, or street vendors. Just in case, I put my wallet in my chest pocket as this looked like prime pick-pocket territory.
Street musicians on the Karlsbrücke, 1158 A.D.
We walked to the other side of Prague, to the bottom of the castle hill. Since it was getting late and we still wanted to gussy up at the hotel before venturing out for the night, we just took in some of the incredible night sights of this intriguing city.
The concierge at the Hilton had organized tickets for us at one of the best-known jazz venues in Prague, and we totally enjoyed our evening at the cozy Reduta Jazz Club, which was hosting one of the many ongoing 35th International Prague Jazz Festival events. It was a pretty long day for two old folks....
Bill Clinton took the stage here, playing the sax at Reduta
Our first full day in the city was not too exciting in regard to the weather, as it was cloudy and grey, yet dry. The weather forecast had called for just that, so it was easy not to be disappointed. We did our best to hit some of the indoor hot-spots while keeping our eyes wide open walking through the amazing streets of Prague. This city was spared any of the devastation that most European metropolises experienced during the two World Wars. As a result, the inner city more or less looks the way it did 100 or 150 years ago. It seems as if a lot of money is being spent (government money?) for the upkeep of apartment and municipal buildings alike. If it has not  been repainted or revitalized, it probably has a scaffold and work is ongoing. No telling how much tourism money is flowing into Prague these days, and any smart politician is going to recognize that it takes money to make money.
Typical apartment building in various stages of a facelift
Tourist highlights of the day included a visit to the Hradshin, the castle hill on the opposite bank of the Old City. We bought a combination ticket to visit four of the most memorable sights; even the small "Golden Lane" now has to be accessed via a turnstile. Churches all command an entry fee as well. And going to the bathroom anywhere is going to cost you half a dollar. But who can blame them? The upkeep can't be cheap, and visiting Disneyland also costs a pretty penny. Tourism has changed since the days of Alexander von Humboldt.
Inside St. Vitus Cathedral
Atop the Hradshin
See Prague by Segway!
Finally some food and drink, in a small and cozy pub
If Friday had been overcast and a bit on the dreary side, Saturday showed off Prague's finest side: A glorious fall day, with blue skies, nothing but sun, and golden leaves on the trees. We clambered up one of the guard towers at the Karlsbrücke from where we had an incredible view of the entire city. Later we toured the magnificent art nouveau Obecni Dum, an opulent hall built for the people. We watched the street musicians, and we even found a micro brewery where we sampled a bunch of hoppy, malty beers while eating the best beef tartar ever. In the evening, we went to another jazz club (Agharta), the same vaulted cellar venue where my dad and I had enjoyed good tunes years ago.
Vendor preparing the famous Prague ham
Clocktower detail on the main square
The river Moldavia as seen from one of the guard towers of the Karlsbrücke
Busy, busy, busy ...
Art nouveau bar in the "ladies room" of the Bürgerhaus
Music in the park
The crusaders used similar devices to keep their lonely wives celibate
Great view from up here
More jazz, at Agharta
On Sunday we took the bus back to Munich and then the 20-minute train ride to Freising. Wow, what an amazing (long) weekend trip. I wholeheartedly recommend a trip to Prague as it must be one of the most fascinating cities in Europe.


No comments:

Post a Comment