Out of all the iconic places in Europe, Prague wouldn’t seem the obvious one to be the only place that I’ve driven my van through more than once. As the only intersecting city of this trip and the one two years ago, it was interesting to revisit the Czech capital for an entirely different experience. Whereas the previous journey had been one of relief after the problematic time in Vienna and an opportunity to unwind, this trip was a celebration of reuniting with friends and taking a mini holiday within the travelling. Prague is one of those places that you can visit a million times and have a unique experience on each one, seeing something different each time, so on top of the nostalgia of an epic stopover previously, this trip would only amplify my love for the city.
Having discussed the nightlife in the previous post this one recounts the enticing, hangover curing charms we found nestled either side of the Vltava river and a slice of the history surrounding them. As we had to walk through Wenceslas square everyday we became accustomed to the modern centre of the new town, with the sides lined with shops you’ll see in most cities commercial areas and all the regular fast food chains which occupy any main street. The square is named after the patron saint of the Czech Republic, Wenceslas, who was also king in the 10th century before his brother murdered him because of his religious beliefs which his mother also tried to change after murdering his grandmother. After a tough time what with his family all killing each other, he was posthumously honoured being named as a saint almost immediately after his death and his remains were moved to the dominating St Vitus cathedral within the castle, which became a great pilgrimage site during the medieval period. He also has a Christmas carol which sings his praises.
If the “good king” isn’t the most famous son of Prague than it certainly has to be Charles. In the 14th century the King went about revamping the city and naming stuff after himself. The iconic bridge linking the old town to the castle side bares his name as does the University. (Also the oldest university in Central Europe). Taking such interest in the city he also oversaw the growth of the new town and the beginning of the great St Vitus cathedral which took nearly six hundred years to finish. Regarded as the most loved King, his reign as the Bohemian monarch and later as the Holy Roman Emperor overlooked a golden age for Prague as it became the economic and cultural centre as well as capital of the empire. He was adored for his success through diplomacy rather than war and his contribution to arts and science, as well as his humanistic approach to government and establishment of charities. As his real name is also Wenceslas he’s been buried in the cathedral too.
All of this could’ve been learnt at the history museum which looks over the Square which we passed through daily but, just as it was two years ago, it was closed and under construction so we instead headed to the river to relax on some pedalos. These big floaty cycling machines always seem like a good idea before an underwhelming hour of unwanted exercise but in this case along the scenic river they proved to be a success of leisure as we bobbed along happily listening to music and getting a different perspective of the city. Unbalanced from Henry plopping his large frame onto the front of our vessel there was a danger of a miserable swim in the murky brown waters as the front ended flirted with the idea of ducking under. He nearly came close when the other pedalo flew into our rear end, smashing the body under the elevated rear bumper, jolting us closer to the water. After some failed attempts at inter- pedalo frisbee we returned to land to try flinging the disc around in a park.
As the sun sunk, the park filled up. It’s sloping nature provided a lovely, romantic setting to watch the sky gradually fade from clear blue into a burning orange before night fell. Couples on blankets nursed bottles of wine and pallets of cheese as they calmly enjoyed the serenity of a summers evening above the orange roofs of the old town. This tranquil setting was disturbed by the arrival of several young brits who wielding an uncontrollable frisbee of havoc, spread across the grass and began unskilfully throwing the disc. Inevitably, the frisbee passed dangerously close to groups enjoying the idyllic sunset and sometimes a couples comfort would be interrupted by an out of control bloke chasing a free wheeling frisbee down the hill, as if it were a block of cheese. We ignored the warning signs of potential harm and embarrassment and gleefully continued our sport. After a surprisingly long period of not inciting vocal anger from the on edge crowd the unavoidable happened. Of all people it was the frisbee enthusiast that is Charlie Newhall who in a lapse of concentration wildly hurled the frisbee over the head of Bani who despite his best efforts to intercept the off-course frisb, couldn’t stop it from colliding onto the head of an unfortunate woman trying to enjoy her evening. Bani was left on the end of the boyfriends rant as he apologetically collected the weapon of peace destruction whilst we all looked away in horror.
The following days journey across the river to the Castle was done without the frisbee. The entrance gates to the complex require security scans and checks by armed guards and if they knew the danger that Charlie posed with a frisbee I was sure I’d never see him again as he was dragged away into a van, but luckily he remained an unknown menace and passed through trouble free. After walking through the whole grounds without actually going inside the castle walls we popped out at the other end, just in time to catch the changing of the guards. To the backdrop of some jazzy trumpet playing the uniformed officers took their time to change shifts, probably leaving the rest of the castle quite exposed as they all stood blankly staring at each other. After the drawn out show we queued up again to get back in and this time had a look within the walls of the worlds biggest castle (which every castle seems to be by some definition). Other than the palatial residence and government offices the walls also contain St George’s basilica, shops and restaurants and the massive gothic structure that is St Vitus Cathedral. The twin spires can be seen from most places in Prague and up close the building is even more impressive. The inside is equally as grand, if I remember correctly from two years ago as the queue was too long this time round to bother with in order to gain entrance to look at a lot tombs for people named Wenceslas.