Thursday, December 13, 2007

St. Vitus Cathedral

While visiting the Prague Castle, we spent a good bit of time in the cathedral. St. Vitus is a Gothic church and was started in 1344 and was designed by the same architect as Notre Dame in Paris. You can definitely tell when looking at the back. Unfortunately, this architect died before the church was finished.

As with many other churches in Europe, there are many tombs and there is one very decorated one. I believe it is the tomb of a priest who was killed for not telling the king his wife's confession. Later, his tomb was opened and they discovered that his tongue had not disintegrated. The people took this as a divine act and made him a saint. Later, his tongue was analyzed and realized that it was actually his brain!

This church also has a stained glass window designed by the Czech artist, Alphonse Mucha, who started the art nouveau movement. There was also another important relic in the church but I don't recall its history. Maybe John will edit this post or put it in the comments.

After wandering around the church, we saw a place that you could climb up. There was a sign saying that it was about 200 steps but I thought I was going up to the second level of the church (I had seen people up there). Nope, there really was a lot of steps and we were in a tower to the top of the church. Once we got to the top, we were rewarded with amazing views of the city.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Praha Castle

If you are a regular reader, you know that we love castles. Well, I love castles and I think John really likes them, too. :) And Prague has a castle. A giant castle, one of the biggest in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records, in fact. It measures 70 meters in length and an average of about 130 meters wide!

The history of the castle dates back to 870 AD! The Basilicas of St George and St. Vitus were founded in the first half of the 10th century. The first convent in Bohemia was founded in the castle, next to the church of St. George. A Romanesque palace was built there during the 12th century. In the 14th century, the royal palace was rebuilt in Gothic style. In the 1600s, the castle was abandoned and run down due to wars. In 1918, the castle became the seat of government and was renovated up to 1936.

Since we only had about 4 hours to spend at the castle before things closed, we opted for the shortened tour (supposed to take about 2 hours). I am glad that we chose the short tour because we barely had enough time to explore everything that we had access to! I guess I just take too many pictures and go at a slower pace than the average tourist. After returning home, I met a woman who had been to Prague the previous week as well. She saw the castle in an hour! I don't know how she did that.

Anyway, the cathedral was definitely the high point of the grounds (it will get its own post). We probably spent at least an hour and a half in it just reading about the history (which I promptly forget) and looking at all the different chapels. I also enjoyed St. George's Basilica. As with other older churches, important people are buried there, including Prince Vratislav and Boleslav II. A wooden tomb was also on display. The palace itself wasn't that impressive. But then, we didn't get to see much of it.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Praha by night

Prague is a beautiful city. The architecture is wonderful to look at. The buildings are tall, but not too tall. There are a lot of red roofs. Some streets are narrow and windy. There are towers around town, cathedrals, and a castle. This is a city photography dream. Night time didn't let me down, either. The city is just magical at night.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Christmas markets

Part of the reason that we went to Prague in December was to check out their Christmas market. We were disappointed with the quality of merchandise (and didn't buy much) but I loved the atmosphere of the markets. The merchandise looked mass produced (except for the black smiths). However, we still enjoyed wandering around drinking the mulled wine and eating the slozem, a sweet pastry made on a roll over an open flame.

The market also had a stage where people performed. Sometimes there were carolers, other times there were other performers. Most of the time they were entertaining. Some of the churches also had people singing and all around, the market had a really good "buzz" to it. The atmosphere was the best of the three markets that we've gone to.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

On the road again

This past weekend, we were in Prague for the Christmas markets. As usual, we took loads of pictures. Mostly, we wandered into churches and around the markets drinking mulled wine. While wandering around Prague, I realized that I am getting a bit used to European architecture. A lot of it doesn't impress me as much as it used to. Instead, I find myself comparing cities.

As we walked down Wenceslas Square, we noticed that we could have been in just about any major city. Many cities seem to have this major "shopping street." It was a wide boulevard with major shops on either side of the street. I noticed many of the major European shops. There was Marks and Spencer, Tesco, and I believe a Debenhams! Then there were other chain stores whose names escape me at the moment. As we walked down the street, we were struck by the structural similarity of this "square" to Las Ramblas in Barcelona, the main street in Paris (the name escapes me), 5th Avenue in New York, the Magnificent Mile in Chicago. Change the stores around a bit and we could have been walking down any of these streets.

Later, we wandered into a shopping mall. As we looked down on the glass escalators and open spaces from the top floor, we again realized that we could have been almost anywhere in the world. There was nothing really indicating that we were in Prague. Most signs were symbols rather than language. The shops were international. The restaurants had chain names or English names. The only hint we got that we weren't at "home" was that the menus on the restaurants were written in Czech.