Day two in Prague we took the tram around the city to see what was outside of old town. It was wonderful to see how people live and worked in this beautiful town. It was extremely clean, and since Prague was almost untouched by WWII it still has a historic feel to it. In the small squares were families gathered together to chat while children played. Along the streets were terrific looking family restaurants and colorful clothes hanging on the lines over balconies of the local flats.
The best part was the Christmas markets were getting set to open and Prague was alive with setting up their streets with natural decorations. Fir garland and pine cones decorate the wooden kiosks with thousands of colorful lights.
The tram around the city ended in Mala Strana or “Little Quarter or Lesser Town” just below the Castle. If you are a shopper looking for good deals this is the place to find that perfect gift. Although no Christmas Markets are held there its still the best for your money. Looking around there were gorgeous table cloths, antiques, and musical instruments for my husband. Most popular are the Russian style hand painted eggs, nesting dolls and of course Bohemian crystal. I fell in love with Bohemian crystal vases etched in gold then lined with petite flowers. They design was similar to what you find on Murano glass art. They are going to look perfect in my showcase at home.
Walking up the stairs to Prague Castle (Hradčany) we wanted to do a little more exploring. Passing through the courtyard the parade of the changing of the guards was just starting. Felt a little like London! We watched a bit but time was short so off we went.
Above the courtyard is Castle Hill a street filled with museums, churches and restaurants and a fine view of Prague down below. First we saw Schwarzenberg Palace which holds the National Gallery’s Baroque art collections and sculptures by the Master’s. The building itself is quite interesting with an etched diamond exterior called scraffito. The design is an Italian Renaissance style using colored plasters, and paints in layers.
Unfortunately the Archbishop’s Palace was closed. We would have loved to have seen the impressive traditional art nouveau building. It gives a special Prague ambiance to Castle Hill area.
Sternberg Palace also part of the National Gallery has some of the best of the European Master’s like Ruben’s, Goya, Greco, Rembrandt, and more. What is it about old European art that touches your heart? Its so beautiful and gives you a small feel as to what it was like to live in those times. Inside the Sternberg is art in itself with unique frescoed arches and ceilings.
The Tuscan Palace is now used by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Similar to the Vatican there are statues that adorn the top floor.
Whatever you do when visiting Prague Castle don’t miss Strahov Monestary. The double libraries alone is worth the price of a ticket. The long hall of the first room is filled with books lining each wall is nice but the ceiling deserves a WOW factor rating. Even better in the second room are arches throughout. Within the room are stunning framed picture style frescoes that make this one of the most decorative rooms in Prague.
Finally coming back down the hill from Strahov is the Loreta Monastery. You can’t miss it, the tall bell tower dominates the building and statues adorn the front. Once rumored to have been the home of the Virgin Mary it is now a popular pilgrimage site. Inside has some note worthy altar pieces. One in particular has two large winged angels holding up a golden oval baroque frame with the crucifixion. Such stunning piece of work. The cloister with its arched hallway is unique with ceiling fresco’s telling stories of the past.
After a good day of sightseeing it was time to take the metro (subway) back to our hotel. Word of warning about the metro, make sure you validate your passes as soon as see a validation machine In the stations there are some questionable workers checking to make sure your pass has been stamped. If not you could be charged a fee of $150 – $450 USD. They will threaten to call the authorities if you do not pay. You also do not want to mess with these guys they are BIG and Mean looking!
Since it was still early we bypassed the metro cross over on the Charles Bridge. There is so much activity with vendors selling their crafts and locals playing jazz on the bridge. We even saw a Calliope with his monkey begging for spare change. Packed with tourists taking photos next to the sandstone statues while others were bargaining for jewelry, paintings and toys for children. You could feel the awe from the people there.
Each end of the Charles Bridge are two ancient looking watch towers. There is no charge to climb up to the top where you can take some great pictures of the castle and Vlatva River. I heard an interesting little story about the bridge, in days of old. If a dishonest merchant tipped the scales or charged too much for their wares they would pay for it in a terrible way. The thief would be lowered off the side of the bridge with a rope and dangled in the cold Vlatva River for hours until they either froze to death or admitted their dishonesty. Bet they didn’t have too many swindlers back then, that river is cold!
After a nice dinner we went to the main square to see Prague’s Christmas Markets. Filled with every color imaginable the lights gave an atmospheric décor at each booth. Aroma’s of food cooked out in the open and of course the infamous Gluhwein (hot spiced wine) was heavenly. We just had to try the gluhwein, unfortunately it was awful! It so spicy it went up your nose like horseradish. Not really wanting to try it again my friend talked me into another try at different market. Guess what? It was delicious! Smaller markets can be found around the city but they didn’t have the excitement and activity of the main market. Maybe it was just too early and they would get better in the next few days.
Other activities at the Market were bands and Christmas Caroler’s singing mostly in Czech but sometimes an english version would be belted out. The bands would change every half hour with each had different sounds and tempo. Just about every Christmas market has a Nativity Scene, either with real people or carved wood or statuesque and Prague was no exception and not over done. Although Prague is not my favorite market, it was fun and festive.