Sticks & Stones

I'm So Boho Hobo

 

Saturday 17th January 2009

We woke up early, far too early according to Julie.

With daylight filling our room we noticed there was something missing. There wasn't any curtains to draw shut over the windows. We instantly felt exposed.

Despite being up in the rooftop we were potentially overlooked by a couple of the surrounding appartments. That put an abrupt stop to any flouncing about naked.

I got up and brought us back a tasty breakfast in bed. The toasted bread was delicious, malty and quite substantial. It was called a Chleb Marocco and was so moreish.

(That's moreish not moorish)

The Zerve cream cheese we spread thickly all over it was just as good.

It was all washed down with a rather nice cup of coffee. When I got up again to make another cup I went upstairs to the rooflight.

I popped my head out to see how the day was turning out.

"Bloody hell it's cold" I gasped as the freezing air hit me.

The skies were a dismal grey but the view was still as spectacular.

The red roof tops and the palaces of the Old Town Square added much needed colour to the scene.

Despite the chilly conditions I stood here for quite a while taking it all in.

Close by just tucked away to the right I could see the domes of the Church of St.Gall and in the distance to the left Prague Castle and the Catherdral of St.Vitus dominating the city from its hilltop position.

I returned to bed with our guide book and we planned today's itinerary of what to see, when to eat, where to drink.

It was almost 10 o'clock when we left the appartment and made a start on the day; already behind schedule!

Wrapped up warm for the bitter weather we had worked up quite a sweat by the time we reached the ground floor. The hat and the scarf had to go.

A few short steps from our appartment we came across an attraction that we hadn't planned on seeing!

It was an ornately decorated door frame, the entrance to what's known as the "House at the Two Golden Bears".

I don't think there was anything of much interest inside so we only stopped briefly to have a look before moving on towards the Old Town Square.

Walking through a narrow enclosed alleyway called Melantrichova we popped out directly opposite the Old Town Hall. It was quite an atmospheric introduction.

Despite being just off the square we were looking at its main attraction, the Astronomical Clock or Orloj as its known.

Legend has it, as was always the case during the dark medieval ages when someone had been comissioned to create a masterpiece of unpararell beauty, the evil benefactor in an attempt stop the artist from recreating his work for someone else maimed or blinded the poor unfortunate soul.

The storytellers tell of the clockmaker Hanus who succumbed to this most common of artist's fate.

If it were true the evil scheme worked as it's certainly the most beautiful clock I'd seen, far better than the glockenspiel on the New Town Hall in Munich.

It makes you wonder how things of beauty were ever created. Surely artists would be less inclined to excel if they thought they would be blinded or lose a limb if their work was considered too good!

The highest face of the Orloj was the astronomical clock.

It had zodiac signs, arabic numerals, the course of the sun and the moon. It seemed a very complex mechanism. It could tell us a great deal about our position in the universe but you couldn't easily tell the time which is a drawback for a clock.

The lower face was just a calendar and was far simpler.

There were also eight figures flanking the two clock faces.

The pair that caught the attention most was Death and the Turk, standing side by side. On the other side of the clock was Vanity and a Jewish moneylender.

Stereotypes of the 16th century, the Turk represented lust and the Jewish money lender was representing greed.

The calendar had also figures either side but the guide book neglected to go into any detail about them.

Completing the figures would have been a procession of the 12 apostles that circulated at the top of the Orloj every time the clock struck the hour. We didn't bother to hang about to wait for 11am.

The entrance to the Town Hall, its tower and the tourist information office were just to the side.

The view over the city from the top of the tower would have been well worth the few hundred steps of effort but Julie was mightily pleased that it was shut until April.

(Although I think there was an elevator available. )

We walked away from the Old Town Square towards a smaller square called Male Namesti.

Jumping out at us with its brilliantly colourful facade was the Hotel Rott. Every available surface was painted in a lovely autumnal leafy design. with characters drawn from 16th century Bohemia bringing it to life.

In contrast the ground floor was a Hard Rock Cafe albeit without the cafe. It only had the memoriabillia store open which of course we had to have a look around.

My father and I have this recipricol arrangement where he buys me HRC badges where ever he goes and I do the same for him. Together we've probably got quite a collection!

It was in this square we saw this curious carving of a frog-like creature on a wall. I never did find out what it represented.

Moving on we returned back into the Old Town Square. Along the way this vagrant shuffled over towards us. He looked like he hadn't had a wash since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

He held out a shaky dirty nail-bitten hand holding on to a dirty polystyrene cup with some small change in it. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a 50 crown coin and dropped it in his collection tray. His eyes almost popped out of his head as he couldn't believe that I had just given him almost £2.

I momentarily thought "Shit, how much was that?" but it was too late to reclaim it. He bared his rotten teeth in what was a frightening smile and trundled off a happy tramp. At least I felt a little better that I had made someone's day.

Jan Hus Monument, Old Town Square, Prague

Back in the main square we gravitated to the centre where there was a huge monument to a Czech national hero who symbolised struggle against opression.

He went by the name of Jan Hus, a 15th century Catholic priest whose own struggle ended when he was burnt at the stake as a heretic.

He rebelled againt the catholic church in what was the forerunner of the protestant movement which Martin Luther galvanised a hundred years later.

The anniversary of his death is a public holiday in the Czech Republic such is the high regard they have for him.

I don't think his popularity was only a result of his own acheivements but also the legacy he left behind. After his death his followers, known as Hussies, sorry I meant Hussites, began a revolt declaring war against the catholic rulers of Bohemia.

His spirirt was revived during the 18th centry revolt against the Austrian-Hungarian occupation and again during the communist rule he was a source of inspiration and hope.

Dominating the skyline of not only the square but of the entire city was the Church of Our Lady before Tyn. A peculiar name for a very unique church. Those gothic spires are probably Prague's most recognisable landmark.

Jan Hus Monument, Old Town Square, Prague

Old Town Square, Prague

It was closely connected with the Hussite movement as it became the principle church of the Reformed Church of Bohemia.

I've often wondered why the term Bohemian meant more than just "someone from Bohemia".

To be Bohemian is to be unconventional, artisitc and free spirited. Romanticised images of flamboyant writers and musicians spring to mind. A life lived with sense of adventure.

It's a trait that I find quite attractive and one I naturally aspire to. The boho hobo.

Julie braved her backside on a frozen bench at the base of the memorial as I shuffled around the square taking countless more photographs.

The other church on the square was the Church of St. Nicholas. In comparisson to the spikey towers of Our Lady before Tyn it looked quite tame. Although the statues on a ledge high above the entrance were interesting.

We left the square along Parizska. I don't know if the street name was associating itself with the French capital but it certainly had the feel of a Parisian avenue lined with all the exclusive designers.

At the street where the Old New Synagogue stood we turned and walked across towards the Jewish cemetery. We hadn't realised that today was Saturday and therefore was also the holy sabbath.

Apparently on the seventh day God said thou shalt not open your cemetaries to the public so we had to make do with peering in through the locked gates.

At least we had another two days in town to visit this medieval graveyard so we weren't too disappointed.

Next on the tourist trail was to cross the Vltava river over the famous Charles Bridge.

Along the way we stumbled across another memorial to Jan Palach in what was his namesake square Namesti Jana Palacha.

Another outpouring of wreaths and candles were laid before it.

We crossed the square past an interesting art instalation.

Large white alphabet letters from all over the globe were connected together forming a human torso looking out over the river towards Prague castle.

We had no idea what it represented although with Hindi, Arabic, Chinese and Russina script mixed with our familiar alphabet we guessed the artist's message was one of world peace and unity.

We shuffled like a pair of drunks along the frozen riverside path stopping often after every slip to compose ourselves and take the moment to admire the glorious views of the red roofs of the Mala Strana district below the commanding St. Vitus Catherdral.

"We're not going all the way up there are we?" asked Julie.

I couldn't help but smile with a "Maybe"

We eventually arrived safely at the splendidly named Square of the Kights of the Cross where the statue of "Good King" Wenceslas looked down at us stepping cautiously along.

The little square was busy with groups of tourist, the first we'd really seen. As this was where the entrance to Charles Bridge was found it was always going to be busy, even on a cold day in January. The pavements had also been salted and cleared here so it was a lot safer to walk on.

Walking through the arch of the dark Old Town Bridge Tower was quite exciting. It was disappointing however to find half the bridge undergoing renovations.

Much of its charm was lost as almost the whole right hand side was hidden from view by scaffolding.

With only half the available space it not surprisingly became congested. Some parts were so narrow and overcrowded that we couldn't stop to take any photographs. We just had to go with the flow.

Things got a bit better towards the second half and we managed to step away from the tide and begin to appreciate the who's who of Bohemian saints that lined the entire length of the bridge.

Darkened by polution they appeared quite ancient and intimidating. There has been a stone bridge crossing here since the 12th century. The original was called Judith Bridge but it collapsed during floods.

The Charles Bridge has existed for over six hundred years but the first statue wasn't added until the late 17th century.

It was that of St. John Nepomuk, a Jesuite priest who was tortured and killed by King Wenceslas IV and then thrown off the bridge. Every where has such brutual history and Prague is no exception.

Gradually over the years more and more statues were added . It's quite astonishing that the most recent one, St. Cyril, was only completed in 1938.

It was bitterly cold standing still and with St. John the Baptist pointing the way forward we continued our journey over the Vltava.

Dominating the view as we approached the other side were the cupola and belfry of the barqoue Church of St. Nicholas. (Not to be confused with the other Church of St. Nicholas we saw earlier in the Old Town square. )

Walking through the arches we stepped into Prague's prettiest of streets.

The character of the Little Quarter was immediately quainter with its narrow lanes and colourful town houses.

The delightful Mala Strana district was even older than the Old Town.

Our thoughts turn to lunch and we spotted a cafe called the Bohemia Bagel.

I took off my bear-skin like jumper and sat down to peruse the menu whilst Julie went downstairs into the cellar to find the toilets. A few minutes had past when we all heared loud banging noise, a persistent thud, thud, thud. I turned to look at the young waiter behind the counter. He looked back with an alarmed expression.

The noise stopped briefly. I turned around to see that everyone in the cafe had stopped eating and were trying to work out from where the noise was coming.

It then restarted again, this time louder and more frantic as if someone was trying to knock down a wall.

It turned out to be someone trying to break down a door!

A red-faced Julie walked back into the room having had yet another embarassing toilet trauma. She had locked herself in the toilet but then couldn't unlock it. She was banging hard to get someone's attention and was on the verge of shouting "Help!" when a waitress realised what had happened and unlocked it from the outside.

We left as soon as we possibly could after sharing a cream cheese and "shredded vegetables" on a bagel .

Only a few steps away was the Church of Our Lady Beneath the Chain. The Maltese cross abpve the entrance was a clue to its history. The fortified priory was gifted to the Knights of Malta who are still its custodians today.

Along its exterior wall to its garden was our next attraction but when we first walk past we didn't even notice it!

The John Lennon Wall appeared during the 1980s when the city's hippies would gather and write messages of peace and love in protest of the communist rule. The secret police would whitewash over it only for the graffitti to reappear the following day.

This game continued until the iron curtain fell in 1989 but when the church was returned to the Kinghts of Malta they also wanted to whitewash the walls.

A campaign was set in motion to save Prague's answer to the Berlin's East Gallery and the Maltesers eventually agreed.

They repaired the wall, whitewashing it at first but then comissioned a local artist to repaint Lennon's face.

There wasn't much of artistic merit left on the wall, everything had been completely saturated with graffitti messages. One twat had violated Lennon's face but in many ways that's exactly its purpose.

Moving on we continued down hill slightly towards an islet in the Vltava river called Kampa.

We crossed over onto Kampa across a small bridge at which point we saw this huge wooden water wheel of the Grand Priory Mill. The narrow piece of water it rested in was called Certovka aka The Devil's Stream but there was no turning today, the spokes had all frozen up.

With our Time Out guide in hand we were in search of some Potato and Thyme soup. They promised us a pub-restaurant called U Karlova Mostu and that they served the most delicious soup with topinka, toasted bread rubbed with raw garlic.

We looked everywhere for it, ending up riverside taking in a different angle of Karluv most and the view of the Old Town.

It was a lovely secluded spot down here.

Disappointed that we didn't find heaven in a bowl we gave up and retraced our steps off Kampa, back up the hill past the defaced Lennon face, beyond the Church of the Lady in Chains (or something like that?) and onwards and upwards.

Passing the American Embassy we meandered up a very narrow cobbled alleyway that took us up the hill to join a street called Nerudova.

This was the main street that lead up to Prague Castle and it became increasingly steep.

The view looking back down the hill of the colourful houses and the dome of the Church of St. Nicholas was exceptionally picturesque. It was straight out of a storybook.

Adding to the street's fairy tale ambience were the strange and wonderfully descriptive names of the houses such as the house At the Green Lobster, At the Three Fiddles, At the Golden Horseshoe.

Even the churches had wonderfully wacky names. One on Nerudova was called the Chruch of Our Lady of Unceasing Succour!

The street itself is named after a 19th century poet Jan Neruda who lived at the House At the Two Suns. He wrote many short stories situated in this part of Prague.

An impressive plaque commemorates Neruda's residency and below it we could see the original sign from which the house derived its name.

Apparently up until the late 18th century the city didn't allocate street numbers to its houses. They instead came up with these silly names based on what distinguished the house from others.

Another saint showed us the way up towards Prague Castle alongside the Schwarzenberg Palace with its three dimensional painted facade.

With each step we gradually rose above the roof tops and were rewarded with fantastic views across the city.

When we reached the top we didn't move for quite some time.

We weren't just taking advantage of standing on level ground for the first time in almost half an hour of contstant uphill marching but we were also captivated by the view.

From this vantage point we couldn't quite see the river nor Charles Bridge but through the wintry haze we could see most of the city's other landmarks.

The cityscape was saturated with the domes and steeples of churches and the pinnacles of many towers.

We could easily see why Prague is often referred to as the city of a hundred spires.

The nearby cupola of the Church of St.Nicholas could easily have been from any Italian Renaissance town, in the distance those spectacular Gothic spires of the Church of Our Lady in Tyn were unmistakenly Prague.

Once our legs had stopped throbbing and regained feeling we continued towards the Castle gates from Hradcanske Namesti square.

Standing guard on either side of the gates were two soldiers staring coldly into the distance.

 

No matter how many jokers stood in front with their cameras trying to make them laugh they just looked straight through them with an unnerving gaze.

They both looked extremely bored.

I'm sure they get put on guard duty as a form of punishment. Being a cerimonial sentry must be the most tedious task in the armed forces.

A fat load of use they were as we waltzed straight past them without being challenged or questioned and we entered the first courtyard.

We walked immediately through into a second courtyard before eventually finding our way through an arched passageway beneath the President's Office to stand at the foot of St. Vitus Cathedral.

We couldn't but stand so near to the cathedral. We had to crick our necks to see the top of the looming twin spires.

Whilst it looked like classic medieval spleandor most of the west front with its rose window was not completed until the early 20th century.

In fact it was 1929 exactly a thousand years after the assasination of the good king, St. Wenceslas.

Inside the cathedral was quite stunning. The vast vaulted ceilings creating the heavens were illuminated by the sun through a wall of stained glass windows that ran almost the entire length of the building.

We walked down past various inset chapels towards the chancel end where we were amazed by the wonderous tomb of St. John Nepomuk made from solid silver.

On the return leg one of the side chapels was St. Wenceslas Chapel and the highlight of them all.

The frescoes, an ornate golden steeple and the gem encrusted tomb of St. Wenceslas himself were quite special.

We couldn't stand still for too long without shivering in the cold air. As strange as it seems it was actually colder inside the cathedral than it was outside.

We blew out clouds of condensing moisture every time we spoke. The stones must have absorbed the coldness overnight and was behaving like an iced cool box.

Back in the relative warmth outside in the large inner courtyard we could now step far enough away from the cathedral to see it in all its glory.

On this its southern side we could see the dramatically titled Golden Portal, the original 14th century entrance.

A little further along, standing in the Jirska Namesti square behind the cathedral, we both agreed that St. Vitus had a rather attractive back side with what they called a flying butress design.

Wrapping the cathedral snugly were a layer of palatial buildings.

Most didn't appear to be open to the public but it was possible to go inside the main Royal Palace Kralovsky Palac. We chose instead to continue with our stroll.

"I'm not in the mood for it" I said.

Julie couldn't agree more.

On the other side of the Jirska square there was a pretty terracotta coloured facade of St.George's Basilica.

We again decided not to go inside despite the adjacent convent housing the Czech National Gallery the proud home to Bohemia's best baroque art.

We usually do an art gallery when we visit a city but I don't think either of us were in the right frame of mind.

Our aim was to find a picturesque street within the castle complex called the Golden Lane; a collection of brightly painted tiny little cottages.

Somehow we missed the turning and ended up leaving Prague Castle rapidly down hill through an arched entrance gate.

"Do you want to go back?" suggested Julie but the thought of having to walk back uphill was enough to put us off.

We were more than happy to let gravity pull us down.

We stopped at a viewing platform immediately outside the castle walls which gave us another captivating yet different viewpoint of the city..

One landmark in particular drew our attention. It was an intriguing blot on the landscape, a dark grey wall in a corner of a park with ghostly figures emerging from the stone.

It was more inspired gothic art instalation than a permiter wall.

I found it strange that there was just nothing in the guide books about it.

I later found out that it was called the Grotesquery and part of the Wallenstein Gardens, Valdštejnská zahrada.

"It's really spooky" said Julie "it's giving me the heebeegeebees!"

It certainly captured that ominous vibe of a stalagmite dripping wall of a limestone cave.

Moving on we began the descent slowly down to Malostranka square. Thankfully the Old Castle Steps were gradual and well gritted, but it didn't stop Julie from shuffling cautiously down with one hand permanently on the hand rail.

It was fortunate her fear of falling on her arse made her hold on tight as her grasp was soon called upon.

I was striding with confidence when I skidded on a slippery manhole cover.

With quick feet and a frantic wave of the arms I managed to restore my balance.

I must have look hilarious as Julie almost fell over with laughter when it happened!

Eventually we safely reached the banks of the river. It was very quiet around this area. There was hardly anyone else down here. There were a few bars open but we carried on towards Charles Bridge.

With our Time Out guide book in hand we found Sport Bar Satlava just off Mostecka a stone's throw away from the end of Charles Bridge.

It was a tiny little bar with the tv images projected onto a huge screen that covered one wall. We sat down to watch some ski action and had our first Czech beer of Urquelle Pilsner.

They must have got their pricing wrong as my large beer and Julie's small beer were charged at the same price of 30Kc.

Thumbing through the pages to shortlist somewhere for lunch Julie pointed out one she liked. "I don't know why it's caught my attention but this one sounds good."

I read its descrption. "It'll be the "heaps of mashed potatoes" that's why!" I commented.

I then suggested another place called Cowboys. Julie read the details and said "It'll be the "scantily dressed ladies" that's why!". Touche! as they say.

As it happened the mash potato restaurant was literally around the corner so it was an easy decision to make.

The near unpronouncable Cukrkavalimonada was in the small square by the Maltese Church of Our Lady Beneath the Chain.

It was a good choice. I really enjoyed my savoury mushroom pancake whilst Julie went for the Chicken.

"I'm really looking forward to my mash" she said.

"Did it say what it was served with?" I asked.

This horrible realisation dawned on her that whilst the Time Out guide said they had the Chicken with heaps of mash we didn't actually see that description on the menu.

She said a little prayer "God I hope it comes with mash" but it arrived without any form of potato on the plate. Her motto of "A meal's not a meal without potato" was recited. It was a crime against her palate. Fortunately the Mickey Mouse shaped red pepper that came with the side salad softened the blow. That and the fact that the chicken was very tasty.

We had a long lesiurely lunch making the most of the cafe's comfortable vibe. We couldn't stay there all afternoon however so we returned over Charles Bridge back into the Old Town.

The walk over the bridge seemed less congested this time so we had a little bit longer to admire the statues.

It was still bitterly cold as the easterly winds swept down the Vltava river.

Our plan for the remainder of the afternoon was to turn down Liliova street for a mini pub crawl of its numerous bars; ending up in Tesco to buy snacks for this evening without getting arrested for being drunk & disorderly.

The first bar we came across was O'Che's, a Cuban twist on the Irish theme.

We were a little disappointed that the only Cuban in the room was the Che Guevara posters on the wall.

They didn't even serve the quintessential cocktails such as Mojitos or Daquiri although we could have had Sex On The Beach if we fancied it.

At least the Irish theme was more in evidence, perfect for satisying Julie's potato craving. So we sat down with our beers and a bowl of chips to share. They were so nice we had to order another bowl.

The bar also had a large screen that was scheduled to show English Premier League football. It was unfortunately going to be a Manchester Shity game on the big screen but on the small television sets dotted around they were going to show the Manchester United. Beer, Chips and United on the telly, a real home from home. (Actually beer, pizza and United on the telly would have been an even better home from home.)

Just as we finished eating Julie's phone rang. It wasn't a number we recognised but she answered. It was rather noisy inside so she popped out. A few minutes later she returned with a shocked and confused look on her face.

"That was someone from stay-prague.com" she said.

"What did they want?" I asked joining the confused.com club.

"They asked me, quite bluntly, "Why did you pull the washing machine out?" "

"What"?" I was getting even more confused.

Julie continued "They said "Why did you pull the washing machine out? You have flooded the apartment!" so I answered them back saying " Pull the washing machine out? I wouldn't be that stupid!" "

In the end they reluctantly accepted that Julie nor I were not guilty of premeditated flooding, nor did we conspire to sabotaged the washing machine with the intention of flooding. (Actually is there a name for a compulsive flooder? Like an arsonist is to fire what would it be to water?)

It turns out that one of the neighbours had phoned stay-prague.com complaining that water was dripping down through their ceiling. So it was quite serious!

"We should go and have a look" suggested Julie.

With only ten minutes to go before kick-off I decided to run back to the apartment. I even ran up the five floors. When I opened the door I was expecting a disaster zone but everything had been mopped up and put back in its place.

The wooden kitchen floor did show signs of dampness and there was a nasty scratch where the washing machine must have shook itself free from the kitchen cupboard, falling onto the floor and releasing itself from the waste pipe. That must have been a lot of water!

Before leaving I quickly checked the Czech TV and found that the United game was showing on Channel 3.

So it was a quick change of plans.

The mini pub-crawl was cancelled as we decided to return back to the comfort (and much larger TV) of our appartment during the half time break.

I had a few more beers at O'Che's whilst watching quite a tense first half. With the score at 0-0 when the half time whistle blew we left the Irish-Cuban bar and meandered our way back towards the Old Town square.

We had about fifteen minutes to make it back in time for the second half.

Having reached the square inside five minutes we had plenty of time to stop at a stall selling potato cakes. The pattie made with shredded potato was incredibly greasy but most delicious. We shared one but wished we had one each they were no nice. I was a bit concerned about their vegetarian credentials though.

Anyway, back in the appartment we sat down on our comfortable sofa to watch the second half.

After celebrating a narrow victory thanks to a last minutes goal from Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbetov we decided to have a siesta. All this drinking in the afternoon had made us very very tired.

A couple of hours later we woke up still as tired as we felt earlier. Neither one of us felt remotely like going out for the evening so we agreed to survive on the toasted moreish moorish bread with cream cheese for our supper and an early night.

We were in Prague, party central on a Saturday night and we were both fast asleep by 9:30pm!

Tomorrow night we promised would be different.

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