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Sunday, January 08, 2017

PRAGUE the fairy tale city

We were at the spacious railway station in Vienna ,our tickets to Prague was already confirmed by our travel agent but we made a small payment and confirmed our seats thinking as Indians do   and wasted around twenty Euros ,this was not required as enough seats were available .

The Vienna station had a big food court with lot of Indian choices ,we also bought some food for the train again not needed as small refreshments tea and coffee was available in the train by a push cart run by a very good looking stewardess !
The train meandered into the platform punctually and we got into our seats ,the seats were comfortable with charging points huge glass windows for viewing and within no time we were on the move through the city and later the farms of Austria ,

The train journey was pleasant as we moved from Austria to the Czech Republic there was a distinct difference in the lay of the land ,more pastoral with large fields and clumps of hay gathered on them with quaint stations but people were still hard to find .

We reached Prague in about four hours and got down to a cavernous station with plenty of shops and food courts ,
this turning of public places into malls is great business idea it not only brings in the greenbacks its very useful for the traveler something Indian policy makers need to think about .

The holiday factory representative for our hotel pick up was nowhere to be seen ,we had gone down and as we waited we saw him ,he had collected two other families and we were bundled up in a couple of cars and sped into our hotels .
After this the tour company would only be seen for our pick up to airport on check out ,this was convenient as we hated being herded like cattle into tourist buses ,the holiday factory provides just accommodation and transports ,the rest is on your discretion ,the only issue here is time management of seeing the best places in shortest of time within our budgets ,we found the online travel application Viator very useful for this ,one could easily pan all tours available ina city see videos photos read reviews adjust to the time we have and book by card and just keep our vouchers ready and remember the schedules ,so far i had used it in Vietnam ,Malaysia other parts of Europe etc and it had never failed me most tours were exactly what they claimed to be and we had the freedom to be with ourselves and not in a group and had time for our self to we weren't mindless tourist robots managed by remotes .
Our tour was only for the next morning and we had the evening before us ,
We were staying in Hotel Anananas which was a bit far off the central part of the town and one had to walk a bit to the the metro station and travel a bit change stations travel more to reach the historical area of old town ,

 republic did not accept Euros strangely and we needed Czech Kroners which had a low value and one had to carry lot of money .
we managed to exchange about 20 euros in the hotel ,buying tickets in metro were all through machines and we bought a day ticket for unlimited travel ,
the Prague metros were more ancient and a little drabber to the one seen in Austria ,the trademark of socialism was sticking to it ,it was also very deep cut  into the bowels of the earth it was one of the deepest metros I had traveled so far ,its escalators went down endlessly and the crowds were big people too weren't as prosperous as seen in Vienna and Bratislava .

We got the hang of the travel and managed to reach the old town within a short time as metro was quite fast and efficient .
The old town was a real treat for our eyes with lovely 18 th century look all along the streets leading to the square there were small and big shops some shiny some qauint some opened and some closed ,the square took out breath away as it was a big huge open place filled with art work statues people in horses all around were Gothic churches with tall spires clinging bells old town houses halls buildings restaurants it was like stepping into mediaveal times horse carriages clacked in and out completing the picture there was even was a female driver for on of the hackneys 
Harry potter fans would love this place 
The square was a stone paved broad space on onside stood the magnificent baroque cathedral of St Nicholas ,opposite was the old town hall tower and on one side near the tower was the most famous astronomical clock which was made in 1410 ,there also was the Gothic church of our lady of tinny 


The roads from the square led off to narrower ways to the freedom square with the gun powder tower and later on to the Charles bridge winding its way up to the Prague castle ,there were plenty of restaurants bars souvenir shops and currency exchanges the crowds were boisterous and as it was a cold evening many were merry with drink ,

Prague was known for petty crime so we were a bit careful as we needed more Kroner we went into an exchange shop but finding the rates abysmally low ,as we stood debating what to do a middle aged tourist sauntered along and stood near us and commented these exchanges they offer very poor rates cheating tourists ,we thought this was another friendly tourist airing his views all of a sudden he said I have some kroner and as I am leaving today ready to sell it at a very good rate ,that sounded plausible and we got tempted but parted only with twenty euros and he counted exchange currency and gave it to us all very good and then he just disappeared ,
we never knew there was a problem but when we tried to use the currency given we were told that it belonged to a defunct Belorussian currency and wasn't Kroner at all ,we realized we were conned but at least not a very big amount but a bad lesson indeed .

The third oldest Astronomical clock in the world and the one still working is in Prague ,its on the side walls of the old town house and a big tourist attraction ,built in 1410 .

The clock has a dial with positions of sun moon and celestial bodies ,walk of the apostles where every hour as the clock chimes the twelve apostles would make a walk ,the death figure which could appear any time during walk represents the suddenness and inevitability of death  .
It was made by clockmaker Miculas of kadan and Jan sindel a mathematics professor and astronomy at Charles university .
It is said the clockmaker was blinded by the city corporators so that he could not repeat the clock in another city ,in turn the clock maker disabled the clock and it could not be repaired for another hundred years !

We rushed in to the front of the clock before it struck again ,there was a huge crowd all ready with their mobiles for the opportune video and then it started ,as the bells chimed across the square the bevy of saints benignly paraded one after another while the skeleton too made his shifty appearance ,a rare spectacle indeed ,
over times the clock had been renovated many times the last being in 1945 during the WW II and the Prague uprising and the Germans fired and destroyed a part of it later it was restored in 1948 .

We returned back to the hotel  a bit wary of the thinning crowds and distant metro which we alighted to make the way back which now appeared more sinister and lonely .
Reaching or room we slept soundly 

Next morning we wound our way back to reach the historical square
 we had to reach the Freedom square to join the heritage tour that day ,

most countries abroad have these excellent tours with very well trained guide s,
tours are very professional and leave on time ,our guide was a lady in  early sixties but agile and talkative she told us we would go in our coach to the Prague castle and spend around two hours in a walking tour and also have some lunch later we would descend the hill see Charles bridge and get back to where we started by end of day .

that was good as we had a Vltava  river cruise in the night booked 
The square where we started itself was a bit of the medieval times with ancient buildings bordering the cobwebbed road ,one had to appreciate the upkeep of these buildings ,even shops ,hotels ,offices and houses there were all in such buildings ,the past seamlessly merging into the 

present .
One imposing building as one entered the freedom square was the legendary Powder tower so called because it was used to store gun powder in the 17 th century though when built in 1475 it was one of the gates of the city built in commemoration of the coronation of Vladislav II .

we walked under the powder tower though did not go inside .

There were antique cars parked on the road either for weddings or for paid ride for tourists ,horse drawn carriages too clanked along merrily .


 We got into our coaches ,which were quite comfortable ,most buses and coaches require you to wear seat belts ,the guide was near the driver and was continuing with her lecture on every detail of Prague its rich history ,present government ,its demographic indices etc ,but she was strangely quiet on one small segment of her country's history the years Czechoslovakia was under the communist yoke ,post second WW Europe was divided between the western NATO and the Soviet WARSAW Bloc ,from 1948 Czechoslovakia was under the Soviet bloc and till the Velvet revolution in 1989 the Czechs were under Soviet regime ,a drab state with rationed goods regimented lifestyle no free market or elections and active spying within the population and barricaded borders .

Our guide had no good words on those times of course as she had lived through some of it .

But today the Czech republic is a vibrant capitalistic state with flowing shops  of upmarket goods .

We were off to the Prague castle ,this was a huge complex of turreted baroque buildings ,

It had palaces churches restaurants shops a city by itself ,it also had a very famous change of guards where blue uniformed soldiers did their dramatic marches to take over from their colleagues

there was a couple on whom a pre wedding shoot was on .
the security check to enter the castle was long and meticulous ,Most of Europe in the grip of terrorism was definitely being careful .

The Prague castle was begun in 870 AD Church of st Mary was built first later the Basilica of
 St Vitus and Basilica of St George were added ,over the years it was destroyed rebuilt renovated new buildings added for certain periods even abandoned depending on rulers wars etc ,in 1918 president of Czechoslovakia made it his presidential address
On march 15 1939 Adolf Hitler stayed in the castle and gazed admiringly at his new possession and checkoslovakia  stayed under the Nazis till the end of the war and later under Soviet occupation during the communist regime .
 It has towers ,castles ,palaces ad churches specially the Gothic St Vitus cathedral ,St George's cathedral
 Before we entered the castle the guide asked us to wait for the change of gaurd spectacle ,

I got a vantage point aiming my mobile which takes excellent videos at same time clicking on my SLR to catch the moments,the blue uniformed guards marched with military precision sure and slow and it was over quickly ,
later we joined th security check line where our bags and cameras were meticulously but politely checked and finally we got into the castle grounds ,

on all sides were baroque buildings and our guide filled us with facts ,it was photo time again ,she took us into more scenic spots and since the castle was on a hillock she took us to where we could see the sprawling city below
 later we went to a heritage restaurant where  we had our choice of lunch or small eats refreshed ourselves

and then descended down vineyards shops gardens gradually and finally reached the ground level walked through narrow alleyways and more heritage buildings finally reaching the Vltava river itself ,and there was the most famous Charles bridge spanning across the Vltava more like a museum with an array of statues on its sides ,caricaturists and painters sat doing their jobs

The Charles bridge was constructed in 1357 by Roman King Charles IV by architect Peter Praler who also constructed the magnificent St Vitus Cathedral and was completed in 15th century ,it was around 621 meters in length with 16 arches and three towers ,there were more than 30 statues all baroque style but today replaced by replicas mostly of patron saints


till 1841 the Charles bridge was the only connection between the old town and the Prague castle
the Charles bridge suffered the vagaries of war as some of the fiercest wars were fought on the bridge ,of natural disasters like flood after the nineties it is only allowed for walking and modern methods of reinforcement makes it resilient to natural disasters to a large extent
 the crowd was enormous and we waded through to the other side ,there was a gate with many locks on it this was again seen in so may places in Europe and it was done by public who believed their wishes more on romantic side became true once locked away

The tower at the old town side was called the old town bridge tower and one could go up to view the city from it though we did not
 At other end of the bridge was a quaint little township Mala strana or lesser town or little town with fine cottages gardens cafes shops etc we walked through to reach the heritage old town square again and here our guide bid us farewell it was exhausting but worth it and we returned to our hotel for some rest as we had to be back for the river cruise around 8 pm .

 The large old town area Stare Mesto once had moats surrounding it which is now covered up with roads ,it started in the 12th century as a huge market ,Romanesque, Baroche ,Gothic buildings were built all around ,like the old town house ,with astronomical clock on one side,St Nicholas church ,church of St Tyne

in centre is the Jan hus statue who was a saint who felt the catholic church was corrupt and the church burned him in the stakes for his troubles ,after this his followers rose against the church and the Hussite wars followed

We returned back to the old town area by metro by 8 pm ,by now it was familiar to us ,we were in search of our Dinner cruise booked online ,we had to walk a bit to the Vltava river side and it was quite chilly too ,soon we reached a bridge and we had to descend by stairs on its side to reach river bank and get into our luxury dinner cruise ,we were taken to our table right in front and on our side was the flowing river the other side was the small stage where a singer sang with a guitarist giving the rhythm ,soon the boat filled up as I nursed a vodka to drive away the chill .
the dinner itself was nothing to write about though the view was magnificent as we floated along the banks with towering media veal fairy tale castles looking ethereal in the dusk and magical in the moonlight ,we went through a series of locks rising and falling and bobbing away ,some couples rose to dance while others watched the fun a fitting end to our visit to this magical city of thrt past Prague for we returned back the nest morning 

Astronomical clock prague in old town House in old town sqaure ..built in 1410 by mikulas of kadan an

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