Today was a full day, with lots of incredible sights and views. We began by taking the little passageway by our apartment, which emerges on the street leading up to the Castle Quarter. When we first arrived, it seemed a bit crowded, but with good planning and some tips from Rick Steves, we were able to artfully dodge the tour groups and take our own self-guided tour.
The Castle Quarter sits high above Prague on Petrin Hill. It is an enormous complex, consisting of several churches, palaces, and the everyday buildings and residences that were required to keep royalty living in the way that they were accustomed.
We arrived at Castle Square, where we enjoyed the music of a great quartet. Here you are surrounded by the Renaissance Schwarzenberg Palace, where the Rozmberks stayed and now housing collections of the National Gallery, the Rococo palace where the archbishop still lives, the Sternberg Palace, with more National Gallery treasures, and the Castle Gate. Also in the square are the Plague Column and a statue of Tomas Masaryk, Czechoslovakia’s first president.
We entered through the Castle Gate, purchased our tickets and started at St. Vitus Cathedral. Started in 1344, this gothic cathedral was actually not completed until 1929. As Larry said, those contractors really stretched out that job! 🙂 The cathedral is home to magnificent stained glass and carvings, as well as the Royal Masoleum (the tomb of the first Hapsburgs to rule Bohemia) and many other tombs, including that of St. Wenceslas.
Outside the cathedral, we noted the obelisk, built in 1928 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the establishment of Czechoslovakia.
Next we entered the Old Royal Palace, which was the seat of Bohemian Princes, starting in the 12th century. The Large Hall, with it’s interesting gothic design and domed, flowered ceiling, has been used for jousting, royal elections and as a marketplace for the nobility. There are a number of smaller rooms where the royals conducted their business. We also enjoyed a great view from an adjoining balcony.
We then toured the Basilica and Convent of St George, Prague’s best preserved Romanesque church and the burial place of Czech royalty. St. Ludmila, the grandmother of St. Wenceslas, is also entombed here.
We strolled down through the castle grounds and along the Golden Lane, which originally housed castle servants and now is the home to many small shops. We also stopped in at the medieval prison.
Leaving the castle grounds, we meandered through the Little Quarter and stopped for lunch at a restaurant in an Art Gallery. Debbie and Larry enjoyed soup and salad, Harvey went Italian with spaghetti and I had the American staple of a club sandwich and fries. It was all very good and D&L especially liked the Turkish coffee.
After lunch, we headed up Petrin Hill, stopping to take in the Monument to the Victims of Communism. This moving monument consists of several statues – as the statuettes move up they hill, they gradually atrophy, not dying but losing body parts.
After a very strenuous climb up the hill, we reached the Petrin Tower, which is loosely modelled on the Eiffel Tower – it is 1/5 the size, but it’s position atop the hill gives it similar elevation. The views of the city as we climbed the hill were wonderful!
A path from the tower lead us to the Strahov Monastery, Loreta Square and back to Castle Square. Here we stopped at what arguably could be Starbuck’s most picturesque location – overlooking the city of Prague.
We toodled back home for our afternoon wine and then decided to return to yesterday’s restaurant for dinner. Larry & Harvey swapped dishes, each having what the other had the night before. Deb ordered the grilled, smoked chicken leg (which she described as so good, something she has never tasted before) and mashed peas with fried onions. I tried the baked pearl barley & wild mushrooms (delicious) and farmer sausages (which turned out to be basically wieners – could have given them a miss). Again, the presentation and flavors were so far above what one would expect of a tiny neighbourhood pub.
A stroll across the river and back across the Charles Bridge and the end to a very interesting day!