I spent an October day in Innsbruck, Austria, a chance to relax in between larger, more demanding travel venues. The small city is beautiful, featuring plenty of scenic vistas provided by the Tyrolean Alps, more monuments to the Hapsburgs, and good food and beverages. I did little more than wander around for a day, but was in town long enough to get this postcard cliche shot of a lovely Gothic church in late afternoon light with the rugged Alps in the background.
Completed in 1619, the Church of Saints Peter and Paul is an example of the Baroque style, Kraków’s first structure built in this style. The group in front of the church appears to be Polish high school students on a field trip. Lucky kids, busy teachers.
The Church of Our Lady before Týn is on the east side of Old Town Square; it’s Gothic towers were directly opposite the sun that was soon to set in the west. St. Nicholas’ Church, pictured below, is on the north side of the Square; the light on its facade was a subdued gleam, not the intense glow of the other church. The next morning I would leave Prague on a train headed to Krakow in Poland. The magnificent sunset on my final evening in Prague was a wonderful send off.
St. Vitus Cathedral is the centerpiece of Prague Castle; perched on a hilltop, the cathedral’s towers are readily visible from throughout Prague. Construction of the Gothic cathedral, the third church to be built on this site, began in 1344, and proceeded for several hundred years, interrupted by war, fire, lack of funds, and changes in designers. Work on the church was not completed until the latter half of the 19th century. The cathedral was finally consecrated in 1929. Just short of 600 years – this must be a record of some kind.
The massive cathedral stands in a courtyard that is small relative to the size of the building. I used an ultra-wide 20mm lens to capture the entire building in a single frame. The price one pays for the wide view this lens gives in tight places is perspective distortion. It is possible to correct for this distortion in Photoshop, but bringing the towers to a position perpendicular to the ground flattens the image. The towers looked squashed, for lack of a better word.
I headed out to Prague Castle early on a chilly October Sunday morning, arriving at around 8:30. The ticket I bought gave me entrance to several of the Castle’s attractions including the interior of the St. Vitus. But because it was Sunday morning, the church was closed for services until after 12 noon and I never made it inside.
When I began thinking about a trip that would take me to central Europe, Prague was at the top of my list of destinations. What little I knew of the city conjured up romantic visions. Though unfamiliar with all but the broadest outlines, I knew Prague had a long history and had played an important part in regional history and development. I had seen beautiful photos of the city, many of which seemed to be focused on the Vltava River that runs through the heart of old Prague.
I am not a fan of travel guides, I don’t carry a copy of Lonely Planet or Frommer’s in my bag, nor do I spend much time with online travel guides. I am, however, very interested in the history of the places I visit. I read a decent, though definitely not world-class, account of the Hapsburgs, which consisted mostly of a series of portraits and anecdotes of Hapsburg rulers over the years. Rigorous historical analysis of the societies the Hapsburgs ruled and molded, and the influence this pivotal family had over hundreds of years on the drama of European history were largely missing. I started and put down after 50 or so pages a history of Venice. Because the book contained blatant factual errors that a non-expert like me could identify, I assumed that the large parts of the story with which I was not familiar were also riddled with factual errors and misinformation. Seemed pointless to continue reading.
Finding information on the history of Prague proved difficult. There are a number of books tracing the 20th century history of Czechoslovakia, established at the end of WWI after the demise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Freed of Soviet domination with the collapse of the USSR in the early 1990s, the Czech and Slovak areas of Czechoslovakia agreed on a friendly separation and on the first day of 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovakia came into existence.
That is all well and good, but there is simply not much written in English about the Czech people and the Czech lands before 1918 when Czechoslovakia was born. For hundreds of years Prague was the social, economic and political center of the Kingdom of Bohemia. Many of the city’s best known historical sites and tourist attractions had their origins during the Bohemian years. Bohemia was a key part of the Holy Roman Empire for much of its 1000 year history. Beginning early in the 1500s, Bohemia became one of the lands ruled by a Hapsburg monarch, and it remained a Hapsburg dominion until the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1918. Complex, convoluted history, the stuff I find fascinating – I will continue looking for reading material that provides more about Prague, Bohemia, and central Europe more generally.
I stayed in a hotel within easy walking distance of Prague’s Old Town, originally a walled enclosure that formed the center of the medieval city, the origins of which date back to the 9th century CE. My walk to the Old Town took me through a part of the New Town, a latecomer to Prague’s development founded in 1348, an area of some paved avenues with considerable traffic, public and private, and quiet cobblestone streets lined with buildings displaying a medley of architectural styles. Walking west past the Old Town brought me to the famous Charles Bridge, and after crossing that I found myself in the Lesser Town, a walk through which takes one to Prague Castle, perched on a hilltop and visible from many parts of the city. Honestly, trying to figure out how the various old districts have been put together into what makes Prague today is material for a world-class headache. Suffice it to say, Prague is a beautiful city. On all of my walks, I was treated to alluring mixes of very old to merely old to relatively modern structures – Baroque churches, art-deco public buildings, medieval gothic towers, and the occasional contemporary low-rise hotel or office building.
The St. Nicholas Church pictured here is one of the landmarks of the Lesser Town. The baroque church and the buildings around it are an example of the stylistic medley that makes up much of Prague.
The Grand Canal glows as the sun rises behind Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. It’s a breathtaking view from where I am standing on Ponte dell’Accademia, which spans the Grand Canal several hundred meters distant from the basilica.
Countless thousands of photographers have stood on the same bridge – the morning I was there, I shared the bridge with more than a dozen people photographing this sunrise – taking similar photos of Grand Canal sunrises. In short, this photo is a cliche, I know it, and am genuinely thrilled to have the image in my portfolio.
Paris in the summer of 2017.
Nhà Thờ Tân Định is a Roman Catholic church in Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon. A well-known local landmark, the church was built about 150 years ago when southern Vietnam was a French colony called Cochinchina, a part of French Indochina. I have no idea what the pink color is about. Da Nang’s Roman Catholic cathedral is also a garish pink.
A Vietnamese Nativity at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi. Complete with orchids.