Prague (et al) – part 2: castles to rival the imagination

The castles in the Czech Republic may not have the notoriety of castles in the UK or Germany or France, but they are a must add to your travel itinerary.

Thee most well-known is the Prague Castle. Ironically the actual castle is a long, low somewhat staid building. The St. Vitus Cathedral that sits within the castle grounds is what gives the castle its iconic skyline – especially when it is lit up at night.

Prague Castle sitting above the Vltava River

Prague Castle sitting above the Vltava River

Prague Castle lit up at night

Prague Castle lit up at night

Construction on Prague Castle began around 880. This UNESCO Heritage site is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as being the largest ancient castle complex in the world – 70,000 square meters.

St. Vitus Cathedral is the largest gothic church in the Czech Republic. With detail and ornate accents to rival some of the greatest cathedrals in Europe. Within the castle are some unique chapels that have been created by royal figures throughout the years.

St. Vitus Cathedral, sits within the property of the Prague Castle

St. Vitus Cathedral, sits within the property of the Prague Castle

Gold mosaic inlays on the St. Vitus Cathedral

Gold mosaic inlays on the St. Vitus Cathedral

St. John of Nepomuk Chapel in St. Vitus Cathedral

This highly ornate chapel supposedly contains the remains St. John of Nepomuk, in St. Vitus Cathedral

Chapel in St. Vitus Chapel built by King Rudolf II - a proponent of Mannerist style showing incomplete pillars and a less ornate look

Chapel in St. Vitus Chapel built by King Rudolf II – a proponent of Mannerist style showing incomplete pillars and a less ornate look

One of my favorite spots in all my travels is the castle that sits in the idyllic setting of Pruhonicky Park, an hour subway and train ride outside of Prague. The castle itself dates back to the 1270’s, but the grounds were turned into a fairy tale land that stimulates the senses, back in the 1800’s. I could not stop taking pictures so I will let my pictures replace my words for the rest of this post.

Chateau at Pruhonicky Park

Chateau at Pruhonicky Park

My son, Mike, taking in the smells of the fragrant flowers that line the pathways

My son, Mike, taking in the smells of the fragrant vibrant colored flowers that line the pathways

Is it a picture or a painting? A picturesque stream running through Pruhonicky Park

Is it a picture or a painting? An idyllic setting for a romantic picnic along this stream running through Pruhonicky Park

I kept waiting for fairies to flitter out from the this fairy tale setting

I kept waiting for fairies to flutter out from  under the lush green canopies of the this fairy tale setting

More castles: Prague being a fairly small country, allows you to take short day trips to see many of the countries highlights including a couple of more castles.

State Cesky Krumlov Castle, located approx. 100 miles south of Prague on the Vltava River, is comprised of some 40 buildings

State Cesky Krumlov Castle, built in the 1200’s, is located approx. 100 miles south of Prague on the Vltava River, is comprised of some 40 buildings

Dobris Castle, this colorfully ornate newer 18th century castle is located approx. 40 miles southwest of Prague

Dobris Castle, this colorfully ornate newer 18th century castle is located approx. 40 miles southwest of Prague

Must dos and sees: Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the highlights of Prague and the Czech Republic. Try at least one of their home brews to accompany a plate of ghoulish and knedly. Bring a good camera to capture the ornate colorful architecture of the city and the castles that abound through the countryside. Most importantly, relax into the laid back attitude that surrounds you.

 

Prague – Part 1: highlights of an architectural marvel

Prague, Czech Republic: an iconic view of Prague from the Prague Castle

Prague, Czech Republic: an iconic view of Prague from the Prague Castle

Prague architecture

Prague architecture

National Opera House, Prague

National Opera House, Prague                                             The Czechs do love their theater!

Colorful Prague buildings

Colorful Prague buildings

For years I have heard Prague is one of the most beautiful cities worldwide – known for its ornate and colorful architecture. As  I came over the hill from the airport, it took only moments realize this was not an empty sales-pitch.

I have decided to break Prague’s highlights into two posts – so check next weeks post for part 2.  There is just too much to share about this marvelous city and surrounding area.

Following are highlights that stood out for me during my five-day stay in Prague:

  • Charles Bridge:  Walking bridge connecting Old Town to the Prague Castle. Construction began in 1357, by King Charles IV. Most notable statue – St. John of Nepomuk: in 1383, Wenceslaus, King of the Romans, threw St. John into the river. Apparently the priest would not divulge to the King what the Queen had shared in the confessional. There were also rumors of a ‘deeper’ relationship between St. John and the Queen.
Charles Bridge, Prague

Charles Bridge, Prague

Statue of St. John of Nepomuk, Charles Bridge, Prague

Statue of St. John of Nepomuk, Charles Bridge, Prague

  • Old Town: You are embedded into daily life along with locals – you eat where they eat, you drink where they drink, you shop where they shop. The opportunity to live in the beauty of the city is not lost on its people, but rather cherished as much as it is by the multitudes of tourists.
  • Unfortunately the US has a tainted history connected to Prague. The US bombed the Old Town City Center in 1945, mistaking it for its actual target of Dresden, Germany – some 120 km away. It was a ‘blind attack’ meaning they relied on radar, which failed, and they hit Prague instead of Dresden – killing hundreds and decimating dozens of historical buildings.
  • The ground level of the buildings in the background of the second picture actually sit a full floor above the original street level that existed during the 13th century when Old Town was in its prime.
City Center in Old Town, Prague

City Center in Old Town, Prague. The clock tower is the only building to have survived the US bombing.

'New Construction' in Old Town, Prague

‘New Construction’ in Old Town, Prague

  • Country Cottage: King Ferdinand built this royal palace in 1500 showing Italian Renaissance architecture, but eventually decided it was not large enough to house his family of 12, so it was never finished. The palace sits near the Prague Castle at the end of the Royal Gardens. There is a fountain in the garden that sounds like it is singing if you put your ear very close to the running water.
King Ferdinand's unfinished country cottage

King Ferdinand’s unfinished Summer Palace

  • John Lennon Peace Wall: Turn the corner from baroque architecture that sits below Prague Castle, in Mala Strana, and there, tucked off a side street, is an ode to John Lennon. Lennon’s strong voice of peace was a hit in the Communist Prague. There was huge outpouring of grief when Lennon died, and people wrote their complaints and grievances on the wall. Amazing it survived in the Communist regime.
Ode to John Lennon

Ode to John Lennon

  • The Pub: Czech’s also love their beer! There is a bar called ‘The Pub’ where each table has four beer taps. There is a large screen that shows the stats for an ongoing contest for beer consumption between other tables, other Pub bars across the city,  across the country and across Europe.
The Pub in Prague, where we can pour our own beer from our own table taps

The Pub in Prague, where we can pour our own beer from our own table taps

What to do: Bring good walking shoes! The city has so much to see and do. The above ground tram system and subway system are well laid out. But the city is very walkable and allows you to see all the intricate detailing of all the beautiful buildings along winding cobblestone streets taking you to one hidden treasure after another. Take the tram up the hillside near the Castle and across the river – and walk back down the path. Rent a paddle boat and spend a lazy hour floating along the Vltava River and see Prague from a different vantage point. Next week I’ll give you a tour of some of the Czech Republic castles.