Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Day 3 Saturday: Touring With Guide

I planned today a bit around the free walk tour. It was rather cold that day because of rain during the night. After breakfast I ventured into the city again for the tour.

The meeting point: Near the Astronomical Clock.

The starting time: 11:00 and 14:00 for 3 hours walk tour.

I arrive at the spot around 10:45. The guide of this particular group will be the one carried light blue umbrella. With a little time to kill I wandered around a bit. It was not long before peopel start gathering around. In the end we became a sizable group of almost 20, including a bunch of young french tourists :P

Our tour guide of the day, a young Canadian woman who came to Prague with her bf, she started the tour with some tidbits about the Astronomical Clock. She told us that when the clock was finish, the city councilmen were very happy with it that they invited the designer/maker to dinner, in order to poke his eyes so he cannot make a better clock elsewhere...

Next it was a bunch of cross signs in the ground in front of the city hall. She told us that the crosses were there as a memorial to the knights who were slain on the spot protecting the city.

Then she led us around the another church and another one surrounding the old square including a plaza with Roman style decors. Then she led us to the Jewish quarter, pass a building with colourful fresco. The building has Hardrock Cafe, she said it was controversial when Hardrock cafe was first announce their plan of buying this building. The neighborhood and the city thought it would not fit well with the surrounding and atmosphere of the area. However, the issue drop after Hardrock cafe said they will pay for the maintenance of the fresco on the front of the building.

Next we continued to Charles Bridge. During our journey across the bridge, we learned that the statues on the bridge will be replaced periodically overtime. And the original ones are kept in the museum nearby. There are also a few tidbits regarding the statues on the bridge:

  • Christ on the cross with Hebrew scripture on the top in gold: This one was said to be the result of how a thief was caught who turn out to be jewish. So as a punishment the Jewish community was fined by being ordered to create this statue.

  • A plague and statue of St. John of Nepomuk: He was a priest who refuse the king's order to divulge the queen's confession to him because the king was suspicious that the queen might not been faithful to him. The king ordered the priest to be tortured for the night. The priest relent and by the morning the king gave him one last chance to divulge the confession. The priest complied by saying that he will only tell one soul in this roomand the king agreed. He then told everybody to clear the room except for a dog. This, of course, make the king furious and ordered the priest to be thrown into the river. It was said that were five stars shine on the spot where the priest hit the water. Thus, the statues of him were usually include halo of five stars which usually depicted with Jesus or Virgin Mary. The plague under his statue is said to given love fortune or money fortune depend on which plague you touch with your left hand.

After reach the other side of the bridge, we got a little pit stop at a convenience store. And then we began our trek toward the castle. But first we walked by the a small bridge which was said a mean old woman used to live in. And across from that is the location of Lennon wall. The Lennon wall is a wall that youngster used to paint anti-communism graffiti on it. The police then paint the graffiti over but new things would be painted on soon after. This routine stop after the communism were gone from Czech and police finally concentrate on their more important duties :p Nowadays, the graffiti still going on, over the graffiti that's already on the wall. Our guide said that the wall change everyday, and she gets to see the progress as she came daily as the guide.

Next we continue toward to castle. This path was not as steep as the one I used on Friday. It even have steps. Along the way she pointed out that there are many embassies in the area and that the buildings in those times use symbol instead of numbers as the sign to differentiate each houses.

We finally arrived at the castle. The guide gave us a brief history of the place. I don't remember much, it could be read online anyway. The tour ended at the exit on the other side of the castle. The guide gave us the location of her recommended traditional Czech restaurant. After we split, I eventually decided to pay for the ticket (the cheap one) to enter the 'Golden Lane'.

The Golden Lane was comprised of a row of small houses which has been converted to souvenir shops on the first floors and a museum on the upper floors which seems to take the space of the second floors of all the houses combine. Some of the shops sell nice items like metallic bookmarks with matching symbols, one sell Christmas tree ornaments and another sell traditional soap and bath products. I did not buy any though… As they are quite pricey and the later two look rather fragile.

At the exit of the Golden Lane, there is an entrance to the tower which has a dungeon basement where prisoner were kept in at a bottom of the pit. I went inside to take a quick look. There was not much to see but

Then I walked back to the main church on the castle. There was a long line of people queuing to get inside St. Vitus Cathedral. I went to queued up and it was not long before I got in. The inside of the church was beautiful. I took many photos :)

And then I left to leave the castle ground the same way I did yesterday. I found out that the restuarant with scenic hillside view was close for private event. It seems that I was lucky to have went to the castle the day before otherwise I would have miss that path. So I have to go down hill on the perhaps official path which had not a lot to see except for stone walls and cobble stone paths. It all came out around the same path as the last times and then I use the subway to get back to my hotel room.

After a brief rest I went out again for something to eat. I am not sure what I had then but it was probably some Panini in the fastfood chain near by.

I rest that night pondering whether I should buy a tour trip out of the city since I already visited most of the free (and some paid) tourist spots.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Day Friday 2 : Touring Prague

Due to my laziness I will not post a shot by shot photos of Prague. I have uploaded all Prague photos already so please check it out. I have added the link and preview in the left column.

So, each morning I started the day by having breakfast in the hotel. They have buffet breakfast, one of the reason I chose this hotel. They have the staple menus of scramble egg, several kinds of breads, cereals, cheeses, and yogurts. With alternate menus of mini sausages, bacon, bean soup, mushrooms, fruits, etc. Overall the breakfasts were very nice, it usually early evening by the time I got hungry again.

I began sightseeing by walking to the Astronomical clock in the old town square. Along the way I saw many many souvenir shops. I must have passed by 20-30s shops by the time I reach Prague Castle. All the shops seems to follow a couple of patterns and looks almost identical. This reminded me a lot of the souvenir shops I saw in Camden market. I did not buy anything from these shops though. Although the glassware looked nice, I did not want to worry if my purchases will still be in one piece by the time I got back home. After all, I still have Amsterdam to go to next.

Once I arrived at the Astronomical clock, it was nice but wasn't much to look at, I start wandering around. I had gone through a street through the main square and finally arrived at Powder Gate and then I walked further toward Charles Bridge. But once I couldn't find it I look at my map and realize that I went the wrong way. I walked back and ended up at Palladium Plaza, a big shopping mall. So I did a bit of pit stop before asking their information desk for direction. I ended up using the subway to get back to Mustek station so I can start over from the old town square. Eventually I did made it to the bridge :) A few parts of the bridge were in renovation and maintenance, but other than that it was nice. There are numerous souvenirs stands on the bridge as well selling paintings and some accessories for women. After the bridge I began walking toward the castle.

Along the way I noticed a walk tour group. I decided to follow one of them for a while. This lead me into a building with the path that I would never choose to go by myself. After going through a small gate I ventured into a large garden of sort with something about senate in the name sign. I am not sure what the place is for but it was unusual looking. The most amazing thing about this place, however, is that as I was about to leave a peacock glide out of nowhere and landed in the garden area :O. It was the most peculiar squawk I have ever heard. I cannot really describe it, only that the sound that came out did not match the appearance, at least to me. After finish seeing the garden and gawking at the peacock, I left the building and continue to the castle.

It was an uphill climb, literally. My feet began to hurt from the pressing spots with my sneakers. I tried to wiggle my feet around but it didn't help much. Eventually I have to loosen the strings all over. I did have to ask for direction once though. I passes an uphill path with amazing view overlook the city. I took several photos of course :)

Finally I reach the top of the hill. I rested at the near by statue and survey the surrounding. Then I headed into the castle. I walked through the big gate, through an archway and saw a steel steps leading to the ticket office with rubble underneath, it seems that they are renovating the stairs. I went into the ticket office and found that there are a range of ticket prices with recommended audio guide to listen to the history of each location and artifacts as well as allow you to get right into one of the cathedral without waiting in line. However, the audio guide was 350 Ckz. I am not going to spring for that amount of money just to get the audio and minor priviledge. While I was browsing the room, I noticed a brochure of Free Walk Tour. I picked up, read through, and found that I was already late for both times that they offer the tour. I planned, in my mind, to do this free tour tomorrow.

I left the ticket office and tentatively walked further into the area. I found out that I can enter through the main gate without ticket. So I walk through another archway and was greet by the sight of St. Vitus Cathedral. Then I walked pass it a large widen plaza area. I noticed WC sign and went in a building which also has a museum shop. The toilet here look modern and very nice. I took a pit stop there and rest up a bit. It was pretty windy and chilly. It was quite calming sitting quietly in a nice clean toilet :P

After the rest in the restroom, I walked out and walk further. It was a bit of downhill path with a few fence erected for construction crew to work in. They were fixing the cobble stone walkpath. I did saw how they make cobble stone street. They literally arrange the stone and then pound it with hammer one by one. This way they ensure that the stones will be put in order and make a nice path. Then I passed some more shops, then an entrance way into the famed Golden Lane. Ticket is required for entry so I did not went in. I continued onward and passed a section with house an Inca gold exhibit, Toy Museum and a blacksmith. Yeap, a real blacksmith doing metal works and selling his wares at near by stand.

I surveyed the area, looking for a place to eat but they either too expensive or written in Czech which I can't read. so I headed toward the exit. There is another city overview spot right outside the exit. After taking a few looks I continue down the path. I soon encounter a fork in the road. I take the right path as it is a gorgeous hill side path with small vineyard and a restaurant with great garden. I continued down the path, eventually off the hilly area and onto the street. The subway station near the area is not hard to find but surprisingly the entrance is located in a medium size park. The entrance building itself also have a restaurant which I find rather odd :P

I took the metro back to Muztek station to get back to my hotel.