Saying goodbye to Vienna early Saturday morning, we boarded the bus for Prague. Just after entering the fourth country on our tour, we paused for a truck stop lunch to get some Czech crowns from an ATM, since they do not use Euros in the Czech Republic.
The Jalta Hotel welcomed us with free champagne and lovely guest rooms. Then it was back to the bus for a tour of the “Hundred Spire City” with our guide, Hana.
The hotel is located at Wenceslas Square. Best known to Americans in the classic Christmas song, St. Wenceslas was the patron saint of Bohemia and the first ruler of the Bohemian dynasty. A large statue of him stands in front of the national museum in Prague. Unfortunately, the king’s brother, Boreslaus, murdered him in 935 in an effort to become king himself.
In the middle of the 14th century, the Czech Republic’s most famous king, Charles IV, built the “New Town” district to expand Prague as a city and establish it as the capital of the Holy Roman Empire of the German nations. A highly educated ruler who spoke several languages, Charles IV also helped found a university. One of Prague’s most prominent landmarks is the Charles Bridge.
After two failed attempts at building a bridge over the Vltava River, Charles IV consulted with astrologists and numerologists to determine the best time to build and open a new bridge. Inspired by the pyramids, his advisors recommended beginning construction at 5:31am on 9 July 1357. (See the palindrome? 1357 9, 7 5:31). It must have worked because the bridge still stands, even after the 2002 flood, which was the worse in Prague’s history.
The statues on the bridge were added 400 years later by a Jesuit college—they all symbolize Catholicism. We were proud to continue the Heritage Tour’s tradition of a group photo in front of St. Norbert. Now used as a pedestrian-only walkway, thousands of visitors cross the bridge daily. On a sunny Saturday in May, the crowd was massive and moving slowly among the dozens of vendors selling jewelry, souvenirs, and caricatures.
The bus dropped us off at Prague Castle, a complex of buildings from different periods in history, dating back to 870. There are 4 courtyards and 3 churches on the property. Since 1918, it’s been home to the Czech Republic’s president, with the parliamentary buildings below the complex in the Little Town district. What was the moat is now a park and trail. We paused at the entrance to witness the ceremonial changing of the guards.
A main attraction of the Prague Castle is St. Vitus Cathedral. Only half of the church building existed in the time of Charles IV. It wasn’t until 1929 when it was completed in the neo-gothic style. The gardens were added in the 1600s.
The photo gallery captions include more detail about the Prague Castle buildings and grounds.
As we exited the complex, we were greeted with a gorgeous aerial view of Prague. We continued downhill on foot into Little Town Square to St. Nicholas Church. Founded by Jesuits, it offers the best concerts in Prague.
Through crowded streets and in the hot sun, our walking tour led us through the cobblestone streets of Prague and back to our hotel. We freshened up, then 7 of us wandered the streets again in search of dinner.
Brian, Carol, Rachel, Sarah, John, Jenny and me found a traditional Czech pub offering “the best beer.” Sold! The host escorted us downstairs to a lovely basement dining room with natural light from ceiling windows. Carol and I were excited to see grilled cheese with fries and a side arugula salad on their menu. What we received was not your typical American grilled cheese. It was literally a puck of grilled cheese and no bread. We couldn’t help but laugh. Jenny and Sarah ordered a duck dinner platter to share. What they received made us laugh harder. In a mega-sized roasting pan, they had enough duck for 4 people accompanied by some giant-size meat shears for carving. Luckily they shared with Carol and me, and nobody went home hungry.
On the walk back to the hotel, we caught geology professor Tim Flood red-handed (his wife, Sally, was an accomplice) stealing “teaching specimens” (aka, rocks) from the streets of Prague. Don’t worry, we have proof in pictures. Then, for reasons unknown, the Bruesses and Floods broke out into song in the middle of the sidewalk. Composed by Professor Flood, the ode to coffee will now go down in history on YouTube. It was clearly time for bed.
Quote of the Day – “When you buy 500 Euros of gas, you get a free coffee!” – Christoph