Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Really Big Castle (and Ultimate, too!)

Today we woke up early (7:30) and headed off to the Prague Castle. Unfortunately, we didn't get there early enough, and had to deal with large crowds of tourists. One of the things we didn't realize was how flippin' huge the castle actually is. There are about 40 million buildings and 80 million things to see. We decided to go for the "short" tour so we only saw St Vitus Cathedral, The Old Palace, St George's Church and the Golden Lane. That took us about four and a half hours. One of the best investments we've made in Prague was to pay for the audio guide. Being ... practical... we got one (at the student rate) and shared it.

In St Vitus Cathedral alone, there are about 20 different chapels. Each one is dedicated to a Czech saint with an unpronounceable name. We found it interesting that the main part of the cathedral was only finished in the early 1900s (according to our guidebook, just in time for the 1000-year anniversary of the death of St. Wenceslas), although it was started in the 1400's. We assumed the entire cathedral was much older. Natasha found the stained glass windows very beautiful and we took many pictures of them. There was also a chapel with one of the 770 cannonballs the church was bombarded with in the 1700s (?), which was kind of strange.

The most interesting saint was St John of Nepomuk, who was thrown off the Charles Bridge and drowned. The only part of him they found was his tongue, which is now perserved in effigy on his really big silver tomb.

Another interesting feature of the Cathedral was when we climbed 287 stairs up one of the towers. We had good views of Prague, and we were also able to see the church's flying buttresses from above. It was a long, hot climb, but well worth it.

We also learned a lot about Czech's eternal ruler, Wenceslas. Officially he will rule the Czech Republic forever and the current ruler is just standing in for him. His chapel has 1300 semi-precious stones embedded in the walls and the door to his crown has seven locks. The keys to these locks are held by seven different government and church officials.

Then we went to the Old Palace. The Vladimir Hall is the largest unsupported gothic hall in Central Europe. We tried to waltz there, since it is huge and there was tons of space, but some guy kept yelling at us in Czech. We weren't sure if he was trying to tell us that a) there should be music or b) we were being disrespectful so we decided to play it safe and stop waltzing.

The main highlight of the Old Palace was that we kept being in the wrong room so the audio guide wasn't making a lot of sense. Finally, with the help of some staircases, we did eventually discover the right rooms but, after this happened two or three times, we decided that the palace really was a bit of a maze and needed clearer marking.

The Golden Lane was actually kind of cool with little houses that have now been turned into shops. It was fun to poke our heads in and out of them, especially the oldest house on the street (which dates back to the 16th century) which now sells antique instruments. Dave also appreciated the "smallest house in Prague", which was about the size of a large closet.

Then it was off to the Charles Bridge which, because of the throngs of tourists, we basically just walked across. Although some picture taking did occur!

After Charles Bridge we made our way to the Chocolate Museum. Although it was interesting to see different works of art, all painted with chocolate, the highlight was painting our own chocolate pictures. Dave did a realistic portrait of the Charles Bridge with an abstract Prague Castle in the background and Natasha painted a six-year-old's interpretation of a grand piano! (Note to readers: Natasha is the main author of this post, so she is allowed to write that!)

Then, after doing some shopping, we headed off to the north side of the river to the giant metronome. The base on which the metronome is built used to support a statue of Lenin but after that was pulled down, the metronome was built in its place. It has been going continuously since 1991 and is supposed to symbolize that all political reigns must eventually end. Being into music, and especially having played piano, we both found this sculpture highly intriguing.

On our walk through the park to get to our supper destination, we happened upon a group of Czech Ultimate Frisbee players. Seeing our envying looks, and outright stares as we stopped to watch, they asked if we wanted to join them. Of course, we said yes. They were just learning the basics of the game and it was fun to play with them, despite the hazards of Natasha wearing sandals and guarding men in cleats. Ow! But she was more than willing to sacrifice a few toes for the chance to play Ulti in Prague :) And Dave even hammered successfully so he was thrilled. (Note to readers: Although Natasha is the prime author of this post, the above sentence came straight from Dave, so she is not maligning his Ultimate ability!)

For supper we headed off to Fraktal, at Dave's mathematically-insipred request. Natasha had an excellent Greek Salad and it was an atmospheric place to be.

Then we walked along the north side of the river to the nearest metro stop. It was interesting to see Prague as a modern city, rather than as a tourist site. Plus we even got a Czech grocery shopping experience.

We rode the metro about twenty extra stops so we could visit the Chodov station. Dave had his reasons for wanting to go there, and enjoyed the chance to get some fun photos.

Tomorrow we are looking forward to seeing a few last places in Prague before we catch our flight to London in the evening. Fortunately the weather was less hot and humid today, so sightseeing was more enjoyable and we are looking forward to a good night's sleep, despite the train roaring past every few minutes.

Good night,
Natasha and Dave

*To read about our last few days in Europe, go here.
*To see our final pictures of Europe, go here

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