Hiking, Art, and a Bone Church Days 3 and 4: Prague

On our third day in Prague, we decided we would do some more walking. Holes in my shoes be damned. I did manage to find some inserts on my own at the local department store after waiting around for twenty minutes for anyone who spoke English to guide me in the right direction. While most of the city is English friendly, there were definitely pockets that only knew Czech. 

2015-04-04 10.30.53On many of the top-ten-things-to-see-in-Prague lists was the Dancing House. Affectionately called Fred and Ginger after the famous Hollywood actors, these two buildings are wrapped in a dance embrace right along the Vltava River. Nothing more than office space, the only reason to stop by is to see the complex curves of the architecture. I can imagine the workers inside getting tired of people gawking at the building they have to check in to every day. The building was completed in 1996 and designed by Frank Gehry, the genius behind other skyscraper designs like the Beekman Tower famous in the New York City skyline and the Battersea Station famous here in London.2015-04-04 11.17.11

From the south side of town, we decided we would cross over the river and do some light hiking around the Petrinske Skalky and then the Petrinkske Sady parks or probably most known as Petrin Hill. Once you cross over the Hunger Wall, you are in the Sady section of the green, just an FYI.

Now, I have no idea what those words mean. Each time we looked at a map, it was naturally in Czech. So, we just wandered around finding the steepest paths to view the high points of the city. But the Hunger Wall was something that caught our eye from the East side of the river and we wanted to see what it was about.

2015-04-04 11.34.51Looking a bit like a miniature Great Wall, the Hunger Wall or Hladova Zed was a medieval defense wall built between 1360 and 1362 by Charles IV, the same man responsible for the Charles Bridge. It’s original purpose was to strengthen the defense around the Prague Castle. But why it’s called Hunger Wall is because in 1361 there was a famine that gripped the city, and working on this wall meant you could earn a wage to feed your family.

Our hike took us around a small lake, a small rose garden not quite in bloom, and Prague’s 2015-04-04 12.00.02version of the Eiffel Tower or the Petrin Tower. This is just a small tower on the top of the hill that allows a panoramic view of the city below. Considering all of the hiking we had done in poor shoes, we decided against climbing the 299 stairs. We had seen gorgeous views of the city already and intimately. But we did find ourselves on the other side of the mountain now climbing down toward Kampa Island.

2015-04-04 12.09.21I haven’t spent much time talking about the food of Prague yet. I was worried I was going to find trouble finding gluten-free options in another bread and cheese country, but actually, for the first time in a long time, I never felt sick or uncomfortable. There seemed to be many more options that did not contain wheat. And what thrilled me was when we came across a little restaurant called U Zavesenyho Kafe on Uvoz 6 near the embassies that had gluten-free crepes. And these weren’t also overly cheesy. Usually crepes are just cheese with a side of bread and meat. It was nicely balanced and a fun, funky atmosphere blasting Frank Sinatra over the speakers. I mean, what better place for me? (Fly me to the moon…)

2015-04-04 15.11.49To burn off our crepes, we walked over to the New Town on the other side of the river. Now, when traveling to Prague, where you want to stay is in the Old Town, hands down. That’s where a lot of the action is and just the best place to be in the center of things. Don’t let the word “new” throw you. New Town is far from that and actually quite depressing. We walked through it as quickly as we could and ended up at the Boulevard of Wenceslas or Wenceslas Square.

A quick history on Wenceslas Square. This is a huge main street and thoroughfare that leads up to the grand Czech National Museum. Across the roundabout from the museum is a statue of St. Wenceslas riding a horse. This day, the middle sidewalk area was covered in little wooden stands selling Easter food, and the street itself catered to mostly tourists with one restaurant called “Typical Czech Food.” How original right? But it seemed this is where the tourists convene to shop and eat and where “stag dos” find their strip clubs of choice to send off the new groom.

But some important dates occurred on this square that are just fascinating:
October 28, 1918, the reading of the proclamation of independence was read for Czechoslovakia;
January 16, 1969, a student set himself on fire in protest of the Soviets invading Czechoslovakia;
but the most monumental was from November to December of 1989, a peaceful protest was held to eventually transition Czechoslovakia from communist rule to a parliamentary republic.
As a bit of trivia, Czechoslovakia became the Czech Republic on January 1, 1993 also forming the country of Slovakia.

The next morning was Easter morning. We finally decided to try out the public transport and make our way to a small city IMG_2456just outside Prague called Kutna Hora. The real claim to fame this small town has is something called the Bone Church. How fitting to see this on Easter Sunday when we saw the Pope last Easter.

The train ride was just about an hour in a cramped train car (at least not as cramped as the one we were shoved into from Casablanca to Marrakesh), and arrived just as more snow decided to descend. Freezing in this near-empty town, we wandered around following the tourists that were also on the same mission.

IMG_2468The Bone Church or Sedlec Ossuary is in the middle of a functioning cemetery and just one building. While your eye immediately goes to the large human bone structure in the middle of the room, there really isn’t much else to catch your eye. It’s just one room covered in bones in intricate designs not unlike the Parisian Catacombs. We only stayed in there for a bit because dozens of other people were trying to fit into this small chapel. Don’t get me wrong–the designs were remarkable, but it was just the one room. We had seen online that it was a bit of a let down, so our expectations were properly set.

IMG_2475

From there, we walked our way toward the Church of Saint Barbara. After looking online, we saw that people had suggested getting a bus or taxi because the walk was about 2 miles. We scoff at 2 miles now that we were on our way to a 40 mile trip finish, so we walked through some of the not-so-nice areas of Kutna Hora to find this church. But the church kept escaping us like a mirage.

2015-04-05 12.24.43Each time we came across a building that was a church, the signage told us it was some other dilapidated structure in need of much repair. But finally, in the distance, we saw the famed roof of the Church of Saint Barbara. It is incredibly distinctive and beautiful. We dragged our tired legs up and down the “rolling hills” of cobblestones to get to this place.

What we did learn is that the Czech Republic has a large atheist population. So why there are so many churches baffled us. Prague is actually known as the city of one hundred spires, but most of these churches are for decoration and act as relics to the past. And if any church in the area was a prime example of decoration it was this one. We stepped inside the massive structure and were actually almost disappointed. The outside was so spectacular and massive with a unique look to it, but the inside was rather plain and cold. And I don’t just mean the temperature, which yes, it was freezing as we dusted the three whole snowflakes off our coats. It was not a welcoming space by any means.IMG_2489

St. Barbara is the patron saint of miners, which made perfect sense for this town as it was a hub for silver mining. What is also remarkable about this church is that construction began in 1388, but it was only recently completed in 1905 due to interruptions largely due to the dwindling production from the silver mines.

As we ventured back into the cold, we searched for the Sunday bus, but being Sunday, there were limited times not to mention it being Easter Sunday. Luckily, cab drivers were there to capitalize on the situation. Our poor feet would not have made it back to town. But on our way back to the station, we stumbled through the now over-crowded Easter market and managed to get some sausages and “chips” for our traditional Czech lunch.

The last thing we wanted to see back in Prague was the National Gallery. If you read the blog loyally, you know we love galleries and art. Prague is home to some Picasso and Rodin artworks that we wanted to see, so we rushed from the train to the Old Town to find the gallery just before they closed. But what we found out is that the National Gallery actually consists of not one, but six palaces scattered throughout Prague, and this one did not have the classics.

Exhausted and burned out, we decided to call it a night and head back to the flat with some wonderful food along the way. (If in Prague, you must check out a place called Lokal and then tell us how it was. The wait was atrocious, but the word of mouth is all positive.)

All in all, we covered 40 miles of the Czech Republic, and we feel like we didn’t scratch the surface. We didn’t go inside many of the places, but we certainly took in many, many, many views of the gorgeous city. Jeff and I debated whether or not we spent one too many days in Prague, but I argue that we didn’t. We were able to take a day trip outside the city, but with everything we could have done and ran out of time to do, we could have stayed another week!

 

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