Prague… “Praha” – I
I didn’t know much about Prague or Czech Republic until recently. As a kid I had heard about the war-torn Czechoslovakia and later when I grew up I saw Skoda cars, which I knew, were from Czech. My recent visit to Prague, the capital city of Czech Republic, changed my perceptions. I still don’t know much about its history or other details, but I have brought back with me an impression which is going to last for a long time and a desire to go back again.
I went to Prague on a trip organized by Pangaea (a university club for international students). Pangaea has been organizing annual trips to Prague since last 7/8 years. Caroline and Sabine, the coordinators of the club, seemed very enthusiastic about the trip and they said that each year they are as excited to go to Prague as they were on the first trip.
Prague is about 800 kilometers from Leuven. We were a group of 42 and we went by a bus. It took us about 12 hours to reach Prague. One would be tempted to take a flight rather than travel 800 kilometers and spend 12 hours in bus. No doubt it was little tiring and time consuming, but I was able to see how things changed as we passed by Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and Czech. The highways, the road signs, the speed limits, the fuel stations, the toilets, the landscapes, the coffee… everything seemed different. I would have missed them had I gone by flight.
We entered Prague probably through its modern or newer part. At first sight, it was not very impressive and a little disappointing. But as we drove through the city towards the older part, my disappointment started fading away and the sight of the river, the bridges, the statues, the ancient buildings, the towers, the castle, and the cobbled streets was impressive and breath-taking. This made me glad that I made a good choice of coming to Prague and I started looking forward to the 4 days which we would spend there. Our accommodation was arranged in a youth hostel called Ritchie’s Hostel which was conveniently located in the heart of the city. The hostel provided bed and breakfast. It was neat and clean, and the staff was friendly and helpful.
As per the trip’s itinerary, there were two guided tours and a dinner organized by Pangaea and rest of the time was free for us to explore the city on our own. For the first time, I hadn’t planned as to what should be done in the free time. I didn’t want to prepare a checklist and go over it. I wanted to keep Prague a secret and let it unfold on its own. I am glad that I did it :).
The city is divided in two parts by the river “Vltava” flowing through it. Most of the old Prague is situated on both the banks of the river with major portion on the eastern bank. The newer Prague is entirely to the west of the river. We had two guided tours for the older Prague, eastern side on first day and western side on the second day. As we embarked on the tour, I soon realized that I had two choices – first was to listen to the guide who was telling us the historical facts and the related stories, and second was to see and get lost in the beauty of the city. Each building was different in its color, style and architecture. Each street and each square was a different scene. Anyways it was not a hard choice to make. I preferred capturing the life and sights of the city with my eyes and camera over knowing the history; my reluctance for history dates back to my school days :). I always had to run and catch up with the group because while I would stop to see and click photos, they would move ahead.
On the first day, we first visited the Old Town Square – the place which I liked the most. You just have to stand still and feel the life in the place. You will see people of whom some are following and listening to their guides, some posing for photographs, some taking photographs, some watching around, some passing-by unaware, some listening to the music played by a band of old-timers, some dancing to its tune, some resting on the benches, some enjoying a coffee or drink in the cafes around the square, some playing with their kids, some keeping an eye on their kids who are chasing pigeons, and some like me just observing. In the center of the square you will see a big statue called “Monument of Jan Hus”. Towards the north you will see a church called “Church of Our Lady before Tyn” and opposite to the church is the Old Town Hall Tower and Astronomical Clock. Besides the tower, you can see the St. Nicholas Church. On the eastern flank of the square, is the house where Einstein lived at some point. Over the next few days, we passed by the square several times and it was always a pleasure.
The other places which we visited were the Republic Square, the Wenceslas Square and the Klementinum. Wenceslas square was interesting as there was a very wide road on its eastern side. There was the big building of National museum on the other end of the road and in between on both sides of the road there were showrooms, restaurants, hotels, etc. The feeling at this square was more urbanish and fast moving unlike the old town square, where time seemed to have stood still. Klementinum was a large complex besides the river and opposite to the Charles’ Bridge. The complex had Astronomical Tower, Mirror Chapel and Baroque Library Hall. You can take a guided tour of the complex by paying entrance fees which is 140 CZK (Czech Krones) for students. For me the best part of the complex was the Astronomical Tower and not the library and chapel. The library was dedicated to foreign language theological literature and I didn’t find the chapel very impressive. What I liked in the Astronomical Tower were the interesting astronomical devices kept there and the amazing view of the city’s skyline which I got from the top of the tower. It was fun getting to the top for which we had to climb concrete, iron as well as wooden stairs.
Continued in Part II…