Holidays in our family don’t really happen anymore – now Catriona and I are both in our mid twenties I guess that’s to be expected. We did therefore, of course, jump at the offer of a trip to Prague to ring in the new year!
After a short flight we arrived in the city and made our way across to our lovely hotel . We decided to get out straight away and tread the pavements so wandered across towards the Old Town Square to enjoy the Christmas markets which were still in full swing. It was freezing cold so of course we needed something to warm us up – you can imagine our delight when we noticed that a cup of hot wine was cheaper than tea – well it would have been rude no to hey…?
The Old Town Square (Staroměstské Náměstí) is a historic public square which has been an important, central market square in Prague for over 1,000 years. Beautifully well-preserved Gothic and Baroque buildings surround the square whilst cafes and restaurants now line the cobbles. It’s incredibly beautiful.
In the square you can’t help but admire the Týn Cathedral (The Church of Mother of God before Týn). If you look closely you might even spot the asymmetry of the towers; one, Adam is larger than the other, Eve. This representation of the masculine and feminine sides of the world is characteristic of Gothic architecture of the period.
One of the main landmarks of the Old Town Square is the beautiful Astronomical Clock. Prague’s astronomical clock is only the third oldest of its kind in the world, but it’s the oldest one that’s still in working order. The mechanical clock and astronomical dial date all the way back to 1410. Every hour you can see the presentation of the Apostles at the doorways above the clock. All twelve are presented every hour.
The clock has a history of legends. One legend claims that the clockmaker, Hanuš, was blinded on the order of the Prague Councilors so that he couldn’t repeat his work… It really is an amazing piece to admire.
We wandered around the square for a little while, enjoying the Christmas markets and festivities which were taking place. The sights, sounds and smells were all incredible.
Having spent some time in the square we wandered through the cobbled streets down towards the iconic Charles Bridge. This insanely beautiful bridge dates back to a crazy 1357 and was built by King Charles IV. The bridge is not only a means of getting from one side of the river to the other. In the 17th-century, it became a symbol of Catholicization rebirth after much religious conflict with the Protestants. Statues of saints were added, each with a story or legend of their own. For example, the eighth one on the right as you’re walking toward Old Town is St. John of Nepomuk. According to legend, he was wrapped in chains and thrown to his death from this bridge. Touching the statue is suppose to bring good luck and the promise of a return trip to Prague. From the looks of the worn spots on the statue’s base, people galore have put those fairy-tale wishes to the test…
We spent a little while enjoying the atmosphere on the bridge, listening to the live music and admiring the wares of the artist’s stalls. Standing on this bridge, with its two towers either end and a castle in the distance, it really is like standing in a real life fairytale land.
Now on the other side of town it seemed the perfect time to warm up with a hot chocolate and a slice of cake – perfect!
As the evening drew in we wandered back over the bridge towards the old town and set about finding a spot for dinner. We decided on Mlsna Koza, a lovely restaurant serving traditional Czech food. I didn’t really know too much about Czech food but was completely sold by the beef goulash which was served in a huge loaf of bread – delicious!
Full up from dinner we wandered back down to Old Town Square (via the most amazing cookie store!) to enjoy the night time festivities and to take in the electric atmosphere – it really is such a lovely area of the city.
After the chill had got to us (did I mention it wasn’t half cold?!) we popped into a little café for hot glasses of mulled wine for a night cap.
The next morning, we woke up bright and early and wandered back down towards the Charles Bridge. You can, for a small fee, climb up the towers at either end of the bridge and are treated to the most amazing views across the city – it’s most definitely worth doing. We climbed the tower on the Old Town side which gave us great views of the castle in the distance.
Back down on ground level we wandered back over the bridge on the search for a little stop of for a morning coffee.
We ended up settling on Café Milani which had the most amazing selection of sweet treats on offer. Unbeknownst to me, the (what I thought was a chocolate cake) was more of Czech delicacy than I had bargained for… Who knew sour yogurt cake was a thing? Hmm not sure I would order that one again, but at least the coffee was good!
Having enjoyed our coffees and, erm, cake, we wandered up the steep hill towards the Prague castle (Pražský hrad). En route, Catriona was lucky enough to find her doppleganger….
The castle, dating from the 9th centry is the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic. The castle was originally a seat of power for the kings of Bohema, Holy Roman Emporers and Presidents of Czechoslovacia. According to the Guinness Book of Records, Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world, occupying an area of almost 750,000 square feet!
We wandered round the castle grounds for a little while; there was just so much to see around every corner and the views out down towards the city were certainly not to be missed.
Having admired the surroundings we made our way back up towards the main castle gates to watch the ceremonial changing of the guards. It was at this stage that the person standing behind me asked me to take my hat off! Apparently it was too tall and they couldn’t see over it…!
Having enjoyed watching the ceremony we wandered out of the castle compounds and down towards Petrin Hill where we hopped on the funicular railway back down to ground level.
That evening, after a couple of beers at U Kostela we headed to the Music restautant on Uncle Alasdair’s recommendation. We literally had one of the nicest meals here – delicious!
The next morning, bright and early, we wandered into town….
Catriona and I decided to do our own this this morning and were particularly interested in exploring the Jewish quarter of the city (Josefoz). The areas torrid history dates from the 13th century, when Jewish people were ordered to vacate their disparate homes and settle in one area. Over the centuries, with Jews banned from living anywhere else in Prague, and with the new arrivals from Germany, Austria and Spain joining them, more and more people were crowded in. Today, most of the significant historical buildings remain a testimony to the history of Jews in Prague. They form the best preserved complex of historical Jewish monuments in the whole of Europe. The monuments even survived the Nazi occupation in the 20th century. Adolf Hitler himself decided to preserve the Jewish Quarter as a ‘Museum of the Extinct Race
Whilst in this area, Catriona and I paid a visit to the Jewish museum before wandering outside and visiting the incredible Old Jewish Cemetery. Operational from the first half of the 1400s until 1786, the cemetery has laid to rest some key figures in Czech Jewish history including Rabbi Jehuda Live ben Becalel, businessman Mordecai Maisel, historian David Gans and Rabbi David Oppenheim. It really is fascinating to see all these ancient gravestones criss-crossing over each other – I could have spent hours in here. After the cemetery we decided to pop into the Old New Synagogue. This Synagogue is the oldest in Europe, having been completed in 1270! It was a super interesting place to visit, and the first time I had ever stepped foot in a synagogue.
After enjoying a morning in the Jewish Quarter we met back up with the parents and stopped off for a hot drink and cake break. I settled on mulled wine, whilst Catriona chose the strongest hot toddy known to man..! Seeing as it was now new years eve, we popped back to the hotel to get changed before heading back across the Charles Bridge and grabbing some beers at one of the underground bars.
For dinner we stopped off at a really nice little Italian restaurant for a delicious meal and all the prosecco…
rtedAfter a couple of cocktails we sta hitting the pavements and watched the new year come in from one of the bridges just down from the Charles Bridge – the firework displays were absolutely amazing – it was definitely a memorable way to spend the new year (that was until I was hit by a firework which caused the BIGGEST bruise on my arm… typical!)
That brought our little trip to Prague to an end. It really is the most beautiful city where there is something new and beautiful to see around every corner. I really couldn’t recommend it more.