Blog of Justin Cheuk, home to writing on London, Hong Kong, Studying Abroad, Trains and Travels.

Europe 12: Old Town, Prague

Justin Cheuk: When HK Meets UK

The Vltava river is, of course, one of the best sights in the magnificent city of Prague. Nevertheless, when Prague is mentioned, one would probably think of the Castle and the Medieval Old Town that, fortunately, have survived until now.

After all, without these impressive buildings, Prague will no longer be Prague.

It’s safe to say all tourists would mark the Old Town Square as one of the very first places to visit in the city. Deep entrenched in the narrow roads of the old town (especially when cars pass through they take up most of the road), it is perhaps the sole spot within the old town to get some fresh air.

We arrived in the Prague on the final day of EURO 2012. (Yeah, these blogs are taking absolutely ages…) In order for all to watch the match between Spain and Italy, the city has set up huge television screen in the middle of the square. Of course watching a match with a whole bunch of people was a great experience, although it did not start off smoothly as we the Spain bandwagon jumpers found ourselves surrounded by Italian men…yep, it exacerbated when they were 2-0 down pretty quickly.

A quick flash of rain sent everyone running towards the buildings for shelter, and as we return we got ourselves back on the Spain side and cheered even louder as -even- Torres scored. Except for the fact that we were soaking wet it was a good night.

Anyway, thus on the day we arrived most of square was occupied by the screen and various stores and stages. This, combined with the fact that it was July the tourist season made the square very crowded, but exceptionally so as the time approached the hour-mark, as we all flocked to watch the performance of the astronomic clock. The clock was constructed in 1410 and is the oldest clock in the world that continues to function.

Whenever the time hit the hour-mark, the astronomic clock would show figures and sound the bell like a cuckoo clock. The figures represent vanity,  greed, death and Turks (? clearly constructed by medieval Christians to represent all sins of the earth lol). Above the clock also features the twelve discipline, to warn humanity against all these sins.

Frankly, watching the figures spin was quite lame considering what other entertainments we have available nowadays. However, this was perhaps the greatest spectacle that medieval city-dwellers of Prague could have enjoyed.

Without all these new entertainments, they still got on with their lives. Perhaps, after all, whatever we have to do is not the most important, but how we feel when we are doing it.

Unlike Spain, the square is not enclosed by buildings, although many impressive renaissance-style buildings do surround it. The Churches probably raised the most eyebrows. The Czechs really have their knack of preserving their historical buildings. Sometimes, especially in former Eastern Bloc countries, it’s often a rarity for these old buildings to have stood, let alone in such great conditions. We really have to applaud the Czechs for that.

The Castle is the other main attraction in town. The Prague Castle is the largest castle in the world (at least, according to Wikipedia) and was the seat of the Kings of Bohemia and various Czech government afterwards. Since its construction 1000+ years ago, it has been constantly maintained and new buildings were added on, thus one could almost see all types of European architecture in this place. This huge collection of buildings contains four churches and four palaces. As long as you are not a take-a-photo-and-then-run-off style tourist, you would probably need a whole day to visit them all.

However, we have only stayed within the Castle premises for about three hours, because if you are ignorant tourists like us, you would find that it’s pretty impossible to visit all places.

Firstly the entry price: considering entering the Castle premises and thus viewing the building from the outside costs you nothing, a 350 Czech Kroc (14 Euros?)  ticket to enter all buildings is probably unnecessary. Maybe it’s just that I have always enjoyed viewing the exterior of these great works than its interior anyway.

Secondly, I would have to say that as a person who is quite interested in History, I found the palaces really similar, and I didn’t really feel that the interiors bear much difference between them. Perhaps I am not learned enough to understand the essence of these historical buildings?

I would suggest that the short trip ticket which provides entry into the St. Vitus Cathedral, Old Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica, Golden Lane with Daliborka Tower’ would suffice, as it would have given you a taste of the interior and still allow you to enter the Golden Lane- where I found it the most fascinating in the whole complex.

The name ‘Golden Lane’ implies something imperial and rich, however actually it was only a small lane literally hanging onto the castle. It housed the servants and guards of the castle during the monastic times and was leased to the public afterwards. The name ‘Golden’ came from some alchemist who spent their time chasing their dreams there. All the houses are quite short, and for a moment I really thought I entered a land of miniatures. However, please do not look down (excuse the pun) on this small street which once housed the likes of Kafka.

I found it really strange that commoners could live right next to (or even within) the imperial palace. I mean, compare it with say the Forbidden City in Beijing. I don’t see the Chinese Emperor sharing the palace with a commoner…

Nowadays, the Castle authorities have restored the house into different periods of history and created an outdoor museum, where we can peek into the lives of those who never quite made it into the history books.

When walking down the steps from the castle, keep right- and enjoy the view across the Vltava of the Old Town.

I’ll stop here. Up next, random piece of Prague.
Previous: The Three Angles of the Vltava river

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