Sunset on the Final Day in Prague

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.

Saint and Martyr, John of Nepomuk

The Charles Bridge has 30 statues that line the balustrades on each of its sides. The statue pictured here is that of Saint John of Nepomuk; it was installed in 1683 and is the oldest statue on the bridge.

John was born in a small town in Bohemia (today’s Czech Republic) in the 14th century. He studied canon law in Prague and Padua in Italy, and eventually became the head vicar of a large cathedral in Prague. At this point, John ran afoul of Wenceslaus IV, the king of Bohemia, over the appointment of an abbot to a powerful abbey in Bohemia. To add some spice to the stew of religious nonsense that John got caught up in, there were two popes at the time, one in Rome and one Avignon, France. Naturally, the two popes were antagonists quarreling over the kind of stuff that religious types always seem to be fighting about; you know, god, beliefs, doctrine, all of which generally boil down to money and power. In the case of the abbot’s appointment, the king’s man was favored by the pope in France, while the choice of the Archbishop of Prague, John’s boss, was supported by the pope in Rome. In the event, John appointed the archbishop’s nominee. The king threw a hissy fit and, on 20 March 1393, had the hapless head vicar tortured and thrown off the Charles Bridge to drown in the Vtlava River. John was canonized some 300 years later; there was only one pope in Rome at the time.

The Charles Bridge Quartet, Prague

I have a feeling these four are a regular weekend attraction for people walking the Charles Bridge on a Saturday, as I was. I am not sure how to characterize their sound – jazz of a sort I suppose. I enjoyed listening for a few minutes while I snapped a few photos, and before walking on, I put 100 Czech Koruna (a bit less than $5.00) in the guitar case. The clarinet player gave me a look as if to say, “Is that all?” Whatever, it was before noon, and it was clear the band would walk away with, at the very least, enough geld for a good dinner and several pints of fine Czech beer later in the day.

Old Town Gate, the Charles Bridge

The Charles Bridge spans the Vtlava River, connecting Prague’s Old Town on the east bank of the river with Lesser Town and Prague Castle on the west bank. Construction of the bridge began in 1357 and was completed in 1402; the Charles replaced an older span that had been damaged by flooding. Wikipedia’s Charles Bridge entry is a relatively short, interesting piece about the the history of this Prague landmark.

My visit to the bridge began with an early morning walk along the banks of the Vltava River. The comfy budget hotel where I stayed on the Old Town side of the river was located on a street that nobody would label picturesque, but I was only about 150m from the Vltava. It was an overcast morning, and the weather forecast called for rain, gusty winds and falling temperatures beginning later in the morning. My plan was to walk along the river until the weather became threatening, at which point I would return to the hotel or seek shelter in a café.

Sure enough, a bit more than an hour into my walk, the wind began huffing and puffing, and I turned away from the river and headed into the Old Town where I could find someplace to sit if it started to rain. As I checked the map to get my bearings, I realized that my walk had brought fairly close to the entrance of the Charles Bridge. No more than 10 minutes from the bridge, I decided to take a chance with the weather and walk over. As I approached the Gothic Old Town Gate of the bridge (pictured here), the solid gray overcast gave way rather suddenly to puffy white clouds with rays of sunshine peeking through. Instead of blowing in a rainy day, the wind had carried the rain clouds away. Delighted with this happy turn of the wheel, I realized it was time to walk across the Charles Bridge, and that is exactly what I set out to do. (To be continued with more photos at a later date.)

The Oldest Pub in Town, Prague

The round sign in the window claims the Tavern U Krále Brabantského was established in 1375 and is the oldest pub in Prague. The tavern’s website equivocates, informing us that the place is “one of the oldest” pubs in Prague. When I walked by at 8:30 on a Sunday morning trudging up the hill to Prague Castle, the place was closed and I was unable to go inside and look around. In any case, it was a little early for a pint, though I did try the beer mentioned on the sign, Pilsner Urquell, elsewhere during my stay in Prague. Excellent. In fact, I did not have a glass of anything but world-class beer during my stay in Prague. The Czechs know how to make – and drink – their beer.

St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague Castle

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.

The Powder Tower, Gate to Prague’s Old Town

On my first day in Prague, as I walked slowly from my hotel to the Old Town square, I passed Prašná brána – the Powder Tower in English – one of several gatehouses that formed part of the defensive wall that surrounded the Old Town. I got my first sight of Prašná brána at 8:30 on a brooding, overcast morning; this formidable example of Gothic architectural design dominated the surrounding area. Built in the 15th century, the tower was used later in its history to store gunpowder, thus the name Powder Tower.

The rain predicted for my first day in Prague never materialized; instead, the clouds gave way to glorious sunshine in the afternoon. When I passed Prašná brána at 4:40 on the way back to my hotel, the sunlit tower was decidedly more welcoming than it had been in the morning.