We decided we should take advantage of the 3-day weekend Natalie has due to President’s Day and take a small trip. We let two 3-day weekends slip away in January without traveling anywhere. I can’t view those as lost opportunities but rather a reprieve from all the traveling we did over 3 weeks at Christmas! Therefore, we concluded Prague would be the perfect destination. It’s a 5 hour drive from Stuttgart and we could hit all the highlights as tourists in two full days. Hey, we can cram it all in; we’re Americans – likely also known as with ‘Turbo-Tourists!’ 🙂
With the hope of avoiding tons of traffic on our 5 hour drive from Stuttgart to Prague on Friday evening, Jason left work and pulled Natalie out of school early. On the way home they stopped by ADAC, the German version of AAA, to pick up road maps. We have become so reliant on our GPS that the road maps were an afterthought; but we are old school and like to see the ‘big picture.’ The helpful staff at ADAC asked if Jason would also like to purchase the vignette permitting us to drive in the Czech Republic. (The vignette is a sticker placed in the windshield allowing temporary permission to drive on the roads in that country. It is not cost prohibitive and varies in price according to the length of stay in that country. Not all countries require them. If caught without the vignette, the fine is quite steep.) Vignette? We need a vignette? Oops! Perhaps we aren’t as prepared for this trip as we ought to be…
Our hotel was only a 10 minute walk from Wenceslas Square so we set out on foot, happy to leave our car behind in the car park. Wenceslas Square is a giant rectangular pedestrian mall with modern-day shops, businesses, and offices lining either side. There are interior passageways (openings without doors) on the ground floor of some of the buildings leading to more shops and businesses whose main entrance is in the passageway.
One of these passageways had a larger than life sculpture of Saint Wenceslas astride a horse – except the horse was hanging upside down! Its front and back hooves were tied together with rope and then hung from the ceiling. Its tongue was hanging out of its mouth and apparently it is common for vandals to steal the horse’s tongue; therefore it often has to be replaced. It was very strange. There was a tour group that came across this sculpture as we were viewing it, but unfortunately the tour guide was speaking into a headset microphone and all participants in the tour were listening on headsets so we were unable to listen in and learn about this unusual sculpture. 😉 Researching it later, I learned that this was a way of poking fun at the impotence of government officials running the Czech Republic.
We followed another passageway viewing interesting architecture and lovely buildings as we wandered toward the river Vltava. After crossing the river, we went to Petrin Hill park where we rode the funicular to the top. This park is set into a steep hillside where there is an orchard as well as walkways winding up the hill. I imagine it is beautiful in the springtime when the orchard is in bloom, but even now in mid-February it was lovely, covered with the green grass. At the top of Petrin Hill is a replica of the Eiffel Tower that is about ¼ the size of the actual Eiffel Tower. We climbed the 299 stairs to the top of this observation tower and took in unobstructed views of Prague.
Prague is called the ‘City of 1000 Spires,’ and from this vantage point it appeared aptly named. We saw the green onion domes of many steeples as well as square and rectangular shaped steeples, seemingly all with spires sitting atop. It appeared that nearly every building has a red tiled roof.
After descending from the observation tower, we entered a Mirrored Labyrinth. It was relatively small but made almost completely of mirrors that were situated in such a way that the halls appeared to go on forever. Short of bumping into the mirrors, we found our way through the labyrinth by looking at how the wood floor was laid. Perhaps that’s cheating…
The labyrinth ended with a room of mirrors that would distort our features. It was as entertaining watching other people pose and take pictures as it was looking at ourselves in the mirrors.
It was well after lunch time so we grabbed a panini in the café located at the bottom of the Eiffel/observation tower. It wasn’t authentic Czech cuisine but it was quick and it was easy, and that seemed more important.
We have quickly learned, while traveling in Europe, that if there is a restroom available, we should make use of it. As usual there was a long line for the Ladies and we had to pay to use it, but it was clean. That’s the thing about European bathrooms; if you have to pay, they generally are very clean making payment tolerable. We waited about 15 minutes because there were only two stalls. While I was taking my turn, the person in the stall next to me seemed to be locked in! She kept trying to unlock the door to no avail. Interestingly, she didn’t call out for help but simply kept turning the lock and trying to open the door which made a loud rattling sound. This went on and on until finally someone in line must have alerted the bathroom attendant who then helped her get out. Sort of an interesting crowd mentality.
Since we rode the funicular to the top of Petrin Hill, we walked back down. We passed a building surrounded by a wire fence with signs posted, “Property of United States Government,” and an American flag flying on top. It was a bit of a surprise because all the other buildings in this park appeared to be tourist buildings or restaurants. Later we learned that it was the US Embassy.
On the way towards Charles Bridge we stopped to visit the Church of Our Lady Victorious, which has become something of a shrine to a wax figure of Baby Jesus. According to tradition, miracles have occurred that can be attributed to this wax figure. The church itself was lovely and the alcove where Baby Jesus lay was extremely ornate but the most interesting thing was that he was wearing a miniature monarch’s robe and cape. There was a museum adjacent to the church and the various ‘outfits’ that Baby Jesus wears were on display; some included a crown. It all seemed a bit odd. The wax figure was a small person with a full head of curly hair and one hand raised in blessing – just so much different from how we normally see Baby Jesus depicted. This must be a popular attraction, possibly due to the miracles attributed to him, because we saw replicas of wax Baby Jesus, in full regalia, in many souvenir shops.
We strolled across the Charles Bridge admiring the statues as well as the view of the buildings next to the river.
We caught the 3:00 p.m. chiming of the astronomical clock on the town hall in Old Town. It is a bit of a show with figures, including a skeleton, on either side of the clock face ringing bells, a rotation of statues looking out a window, and a rooster crowing.
Afterward, we rode a 1999 award winning (best design) elevator to the top of the clock tower and took in unobstructed views of Old Town, including the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn, as the clock was chiming 4:00. From up above, we could not see the activity of the clock during the chiming but it was entertaining to look down and see the crowd looking up at the clock as it chimed.
We descended the tower and perused a rack of fliers advertising various concerts in the churches around Prague. Natalie saw one advertising an organ concert featuring Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor and exclaimed, “I would go hear that!” It began at 4:30 p.m. so we raced to the church, which wasn’t too far away in Old Town. The church, St. Giles, was beautiful…and unheated! There was a pile of lap blankets available for use and everyone in attendance took advantage of that; we could actually see our breath! However, the music was amazing on this organ with a trumpet supplement on certain pieces. The concert lasted an hour.
We left the concert quite chilled so we didn’t feel like wandering around outside in the cool air. Although it was early, we decided to eat dinner with the added benefit of warming up! Apparently after being on our feet all day and using the last of our energy reserves to keep warm during the organ concert, even dinner couldn’t re-energize us. We walked back to the hotel taking the most direct route, cranked up the heat in our room, and collapsed.