13.06.2014

THE CITY WHERE TIME STANDS STILL

THE CITY WHERE TIME STANDS STILL, Gönül Midesiz | 13.06.2014

My friends had been recommending that I go to Prague for a long time and I'd wanted to go forever as well, so the first chance that I got to visit the city was one that I knew I had to take. I went in March... Actually they say that the best time to visit Prague is between May and September but I didn't want to postpone my trip any further. I was lucky anyway in that even though it rained a bit while I was there, there was pretty good weather for most of the time I was there.

After a 2-2.5 hour flight me and my friends landed in Prague. I'm always interested in airports because they form the first impression of each new country you visit, so I took in the Prague airport. The Czech Republic is a member of the European Union but the currency is the Czech koruna. We got the metro station by bus and then went by metro to the Old City (Prague 1) where our hotel was located. After getting settled in at our hotel we set out to explore the city.

Our first stop: The Old Town Square. This was the scene of some of the most important events of Prague history including things like enthronement ceremonies or executions. For example this was the spot of the execution of 27 leaders of the rebellion against Emperor Matthias. According to local belief the souls of the 27 return to the square every June 21st, the anniversary of the executions. The 27 crosses that you can see on the Old Town Hall represent these bloody events.

Prague is synonymous with its world famous Astronomical Clock, which adorns the tower next to the Old Town Hall. The watchmaker Mukulas Kadane and the astrologer and mathematician Jan Sindel built the Astronomical Clock together in 1410 in a collaborative effort, and included the sun, moon and stars with the signs of the zodiac reflected in the stars. We climbed up to the top of the Astronomical Clock tower to take in the 360 degree view on top of the red brick roof that looks out over all of Prague.

Right across from the tower is the Tyn Church that was built in 1385. Inside the church are many important works and tombs from the Gothic, Renaissance and early Baroque periods.

On the other side of the square is the 13th century Saint Nicholas Church that was built in a Roman style. The octagonal dome and the statue in front of the church are quite remarkable.

Right in the middle of the square is the Jan Hus Monument. Jan Hus was one of the country's major religious leaders who was burned to death and it was built to commemorate the 500th anniversary of his death.

If you continue on the street from the entrance to Tyn Church you'll see a lot pretty little shops of all shapes and sizes. Because Czech Bohemian crystal and Swarovski crystal are so famous there are lots of shops selling crystal souvenirs.

After checking out all of the historical buildings in the square we decided to have a coffee break in one of the local cafes. The square is the most heavily touristed part of the city and is really crowded. Like every touristy city around the main square and especially around the Astrological Clock the prices for cafes are higher than they should be, so just make sure you know that going in.

Just as it was beginning to grow darker we walked to our second stop, the oldest bridge in the city Charles Bridge. It wasn't random that we happened to be visiting the bridge in the evening since we'd heard from just about everyone that it looks incredible in the evenings. The original name is Karluv Most and it's a bridge that sits over the Vlatava River. The original bridge was a 10th century wooden bridge but because it was constantly damaged by flooding it was replaced by a stone bridge in 1170. However, this bridge itself was destroyed by a flood that made it all the way to the square in 1342 and the Holy Roman Emperor Karl IV built the current Gothic bridge on top of 16 columns.

On either side of Charles Bridge are two towers. As with the towers in the Old City you can see all the statues that go along the bridge. Because my friend is really into photography and had bothered to drag a huge camera all the way to the bridge, we ended up spending just about 2 hours there after which we went back to the Old City Square to get some food. We left Prague Castle for the next day even though it was right across from us.

Czech cuisine involves a lot of game animals and as a result doesn't really appeal too much to the Turkish palate. We decided to head to one of the Italian restaurants that are all over the city.

The next day we woke up early and after breakfast we headed out of the hotel. Our destination for the day was Prague Castle and the Kafka Museum. Prague is a great walking city with its lovely cobbled streets... All of the history of the city is really well-preserved and hasn't been ruined at all. As a result just wandering the streets totally aimlessly is really enjoyable all by itself. After a little bit of wandering ourselves we went over the Charles Bridge and took a few more pictures and then made our way to the Mala Strada region of the city where Prague Castle is located. After a fairly steep climb we eventually we got to the entrance which greet you with sculptures of a massive lion and Eagle.

Prague Castle was built in the 19th century and is like its own little city within a city... They say this is the biggest castle complex in the whole world. Inside is a gorgeous cathedral built in the Gothic style, a monastery, a museum with both Renaissance and Baroque works of art, a ton of towers, a garden, streets, courtyards and the various wings of the palace. The castle has been home to Bohemian kings and Holy Roman Emperors. Every period of history has left its mark on the castle and extended it in some way. The current president of the Czech Republic resides in the third part of the castle, and other than this part the entire castle is open to visitors. There are some of the important jewels of the Bohemian Empire hiding in a secret room of the castle. It reminds one of the Lord of the Rings. I think all of the battle scenes from those movies should have been filmed right here.

We skipped the museum and entered the massive line to buy tickets to get into St. Vitus Cathedral. The cathedral is breathtakingly beautiful, and has magnificent stained glass windows. The cathedral is the burial place of some of the kings of Prague and the royal family jewels and treasure is hidden in a part of it.

After the cathedral we decided to walk around the historical homes along Golden Lane, homes which have now been converted into souvenir shops for the most part. In the old days there were cellars where people were tortured and the instruments of torture are now on display. Continuing on into the Royal Garden, we decided to head to a cafe looking out over the top of Prague hill and have lunch there. All around us were vineyards, which made it all really pleasant.

After eating we went back down to the end of Karel Bridge towards the Kafka Museum. We ended up being unable to prevent ourselves from entering the puppet shops. Would you rather puppets of your favorite film stars or a doctor or a nurse or a cook? Whatever you're looking for they have it! I bought a Pinocchio for my nephew and a witch for myself (since there's a little witch in all of us :) ).

In front of the Kafka Museum there are some really imaginative and wonderful sculptures. Right inside this original museum there's a slideshow that explains Kafka's life and the museum also has his manuscripts and drawings and books. Outside the museum there are a bunch of second-hand booksellers, bookshops and cafes.

After a coffee break we walked to Wenceslas Square which is in the New City and used to be a horse market. This is like a large boulevard, and houses St. Wenceslas Monument and the Statue of Jan Palach, as well as the National Museum across from it.

As evening approached we returned to the hotel and went right around the Old Town Square to get some food and try out Czech beer. I'd done some research online about which beers were the best so we went to a pub that brews its own beer, only the pub was already jam-packed and we couldn't find anywhere to sit. We just drank standing up and tried our first sips of Czech beer. Afterwards a bit of room opened up and we were able to sit down. These places actually kind of resemble Turkish meyhanes. There's no food service, just things to eat with a beer like schnitzels, French fries, and sausages. On the walls there were photos of famous people the owner has taken his photo with, one of which was even with Bill Clinton. If you want to go the name of the pub is “U Zlateho Tygra”.The Tiger beer that the pub produces was light and delicious.

On our third day we decided to go to the Jewish Ghetto (Josefow). A third of the entire population of Prague used to be Jewish. Jews were seperated to live between the Vlata River and Old Town, and it was illegal for them to live anywhere else. The old synagogue in all of Europe called the Old-New Synagogue is in the ghetto along with 6 other synagogues and the Jewish Museum. The synagogue was consistently in use except during the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia between 1942-1945.

After leaving the Josefov region we took a nice 2 hour tour along the Vlata River, seeing the same places we'd seen on foot from the boat.

Then we had to get out of the boat and walk back to our hotel before heading to the airport for the journey home. There are many other things to see in Prague but our time was limited and we saw everything we could in the three days we had. For those staying longer there's a spa town called Karlova Vary 1 hour by bus outside the city.

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