Trafalgar Tours - Prague, Vienna and Budapest: Chapter 3
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A guided walk and music by candlelight
I had the best night’s sleep ever in a hotel and awoke
greatly refreshed. The buffet breakfast was superb with a great choice of food
and it set us up good and proper for the first of our included guided walks
with a local specialist. A golden sun, very hot at 9.30am, lifted our mood even
more. A cloudless sky, flawless and blue.
Parizska Street is Prague's most prestigious address.
Consumerism is big business and a large number of branded stores have opened
here. It was just around the corner from our hotel. Gabbana, Prada, Gucci, Tag
Heuer , Tiffany and many others. Tree-lined all the way to Staromestske
Namesti, Old Town Square - one of Europe's most touristy sites.
Josefov (Joseph's Town) is Prague's Jewish Quarter. Again it
is very close to the hotel. In the old Jewish Cemetery, closed on Saturdays,
1000s of tombstones date back to the 15th century. Grave stones tilt at awkward
and impossible angles. 12000 graves containing over 100000 people are piled on
top of each other like a layered sponge cake.
Due to unrest in Europe, security checks had recently been
introduced at Hradcany - the castle district. Queues were long but the Czech
guards were fast and efficient and soon we were inside the complex. It's the
largest ancient castle in the world, a city within a city. The views alone are
worth the visit. It’s the residence of the Czech President - with the
motto, ‘Truth wins’. The complex houses St Vitus cathedral, the Royal
Palace, Royal Gardens and much more. Apparently it has a footprint of over 100
football fields, enough to cope with the 8 million visitors who peacefully
invade each year. It’s free to enter too. Peter and Jan, our guides, were
superb - just the right amount of history given peppered with humour at each
The Gothic cathedral of St Vitus is excellent. Climb the
south tower and wobbly knees are guaranteed. It’s still a work in progress, as
it was started in the 14th century and only finished in the 20th (and I thought
our builder was slow!). The stained glass windows are lovely and of great
beauty, especially the large Rose window - 34 feet in diameter. The Alfonso
Mucha window is a must see. It was always a great honour to be allowed to
design a window, it was never done for money. With the ever present sun
flickering through the glass and casting haunting kaleidoscopic light on the
walls it was truly a very special moment. It’s worth looking at the Gothic
frescoes in St Wenceslas chapel too.
Golden Lane. As you would imagine from the name, goldsmiths
did live here and ply their trade. Short, narrow and ever so sweet, it is a
popular destination for tourists who flock here for souvenirs in the narrow
converted houses, just behind the cathedral.
Gabor dropped us off in Republic Square. We strolled near
the Czech Mint, the Czech equivalent to The Bank of England, then through
Powder Tower and into Old Town Square. Powder Tower was formerly a gunpowder
store and is still the starting point for the Coronation or Royal Route to the
castle on the hill.
The square was brimming with history, architectural gems and
people with the Old Town Hall (the view from the top is worth the £5 entry),
Kinsky Palace and Tyn Church, to give it its full title, The Church of Our Lady
before Tyn. Its turrets and spires reach high into the sky, closer to God. They
could almost touch heaven.
At 12 noon we found ourselves looking and waiting at the
famous Astronomical clock (known as Orloj) waiting for the March of The
Apostles. The clock is fascinating and indicates the position in the sky of the
Moon and Sun as well as telling the time. The bell rings on the hour every
hour. At 600 years old, it’s putting many newer models to shame - our kitchen
clock lasted less than 4 years.
Blink or sneeze and you will miss it. It starts with the
skeleton ringing a bell and inverting an hour glass. Life is short. Life is
finite. You are a long time dead so be happy in the short time you have to live
- so sprinkle your life with humour.
Robotic figures traipse out, do their business and traipse
back in. Job done for the delighted crowds below. A tip: don't take photos,
just stand and watch and enjoy the spectacle.
Our guided tour over, Babs and I had lunch at the very grand
Grand Cafe Orient - situated in the House of the Black Madonna above the Cubist
museum just off Old Town Square with impressive cubist furniture and lights.
Oh, the fruit cup (peach, kiwi, strawberry and fabulous custard) was
awarded 11/10 by this type 2 diabetic. And the main reason for our visit - the
coffee, which was superb, give it a try in an elegant setting that was quiet
even on a Saturday lunchtime.
We had an early meal on Saturday night in Pasta Fresco. A
memorable Maltagliati (square pasta) Lamb Ragout. Lovely staff, friendly and
attentive. The experience was made even more memorable by the old couple on the
next table. He was laughing so much that his top set of teeth fell into his
spaghetti. Unforgettable. Almost as funny as the oh so camp Hollywood style
uniforms the guards in the castle were wearing.
As the sun set the famous skyline reflected in the almost
still Vltava river. Swans glided by with panache: stunning, beautiful and
magical. At 8pm it was still humid, almost like sitting in a big oven. In the
city, still masses of people, a multicultural melting pot. At night, Prague
takes on another side. Streets and squares twinkle with lights and
monuments cast shadows on cobbles below. It is raucous at night, that is to be
expected. But we saw no trouble: just people of all ages enjoying life.
Steamy and seamy but all in the best possible taste.
Pilsner is the only beer to drink. Try Pilsner Urquell and
Staropramen or Budvar. Czech people consume more beer per head than anywhere
else in the world. And looking at the antics of the stags and hens, they too
had drunk plenty. Legs not in unison, arms even less so. Some staggered, many
tottered - a sniper’s worst nightmare. A couple fell into a heap a shape
reminiscent of a Barbara Hepworth sculpture, which was great fun to
Trafalgar offered two excellent optional excursions. One of
the best ways to see the city is from the water. The relaxing river cruise was
enjoyed by all. The gigantic buffet and wine were well received and enjoyed by
all. Non-alcoholic drinks were available too. Our group enjoyed listening to
the myths, legends and secrets of this amazing place, told by an excellent
guide. Later, many went on a tram ride around the city supping wine again and
Prague's superb beer.
Having done a river cruise and tram ride before, we decided
to go to a classical concert. The city has always been a musical centre of
excellence. Haydn, Mozart, Liszt and Beethoven all spent time here. It
caters for modern tastes too. Sax appeal is evident at Jazz Dock, firmly
anchored on the Vltava - a place to rock the boat.
So on Saturday night we were sat enjoying a candle light
concert in St Michael's monastery, which was almost a private concert with
only 13 in the audience. On the menu was Vivaldi's superb The Four
Seasons, Bach, Mozart and Dvorak 's ‘Largo from The New World’ - the Hovis
advert with the lad in his flat cap climbing that steep hill pushing his bike. And
much more. There were only three in the mini orchestra plus a soprano, who gave
a great flamboyant rendition of Carmen by Bizet, alongside a harpist, a
solo violinist and an organist. Frantisek Stratny had a small organ but what he
did with it impressed us all!
Afterwards under a bright moon we walked, strolled, arm
in arm along tree- lined streets the street lights casting haunting shadows. A
perfect end to a perfect day.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Trafalgar
- Trafalgar Tours - Prague, Vienna and Budapest: Chapter 1 - preparing to travel
- Trafalgar Tours - Prague, Vienna and Budapest: Chapter 2 - a stunning city and new friends
- Trafalgar Tours - Prague, Vienna and Budapest: Chapter 4 - city wonders and cafe life
- Trafalgar Tours - Prague, Vienna and Budapest: Chapter 5 - Vienna bound
- Trafalgar Tours - Prague, Vienna and Budapest: Chapter 6 - a Viennese whirl
- Trafalgar Tours - Prague, Vienna and Budapest: Chapter 7 - having a ball
- Trafalgar Tours - Prague, Vienna and Budapest: Chapter 8 - Budapest bound
- Trafalgar Tours - Prague, Vienna and Budapest: Chapter 9 - Big bustling Budapest
- Trafalgar Tours - Prague, Vienna and Budapest: Chapter 10 - Goodbye Budapest
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