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Prague - with Charles Bridge in the background
Prague is the capital and largest city of Czech Republic. It has one of the most beautiful and best preserved historic sites I've ever been to. An amazing 866 hectares of the historic centre of Prague is included in UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites since 1992. Walking down the streets of Prague makes me feel I've traveled back in time - the uneven cobbled paths, stunningly beautiful churches, ancient stone bridge etc.
Karlštejn Train Station
The first thing that X and I did after dropping off our bags at the hostel was to take a 40-minute train ride from Prague main station out to Karlštejn.
We were lucky to have a clear, blue, sunny day on that day! The past few days have been really chilly and we were glad to bask ourselves under the sun (though I will regret later... haha).
View Hrad Karlštejn atop a hill
The place that we were visiting was the Hrad Karlštejn. Sitting right atop a hill, it's a 20-30 minute hike up the hill (yes, that's when I wished that the weather wasn't so sunny... but I guess it's still better than a rainy day...)
We walked through the small town and as Hrad Karlštejn is probably the most popular and famous Czech medieval castle, there are many souvenir shops and tourist restaurants along the route up the castle.
Hrad Karlštejn was built between 1348 - 1355 by Czech King and Roman Emperor Charles IV. Throughout our stay in Prague, we learned the importance of this man in Prague's history (apparently a lot of historic sites are named after him, include the Charles Bridge!) This castle serves as a safekeeping place for the royal treasures, especially the King and Emperor's collection of coronation jewels and holy relics.
The most famous room will be the Chapel of the Holy Cross as it contains 132 gothic desk paintings dating from 1360 and the walls of the chapel are inlaid with more than 2,000 semi-precious stones. There's no photos of them because photography is only allowed outside the castle...
Finally reached the entrance of Hrad Karlštejn! Waiting for the tour to start.
There are two tours to sign up for:
- Passes through Courtier's Hall, Hall of Knights with chapel of St. Nicolas, Chapter Deanery, Royal Bedroom, Audience and Banquet Halls, Hall of Ancestors, Treasury and Jewels Hall, former castle prison.
- Maximum 55 people per tour
- Duration 50 - 60 minutes
- Adults: 270 CZK; children and students: 180 CZK (English tour)
- Passes through Church of Our Lady, Chapel of St. Catharine, former Sacristy, suspension wooden bridge, museum of lapidary, castle's picture gallery, library with exposition of the last reconstruction of the castle as well as the Holy Cross Chapel.
- Maximum 20 people per tour
- Duration 100 - 110 minutes
- Must reserve in advance (we reserved on the day itself)
- Adults: 300 CZK; children and students: 200 CZK (English tour) + 30 CZK reservation fee
View from the Hrad Karlštejn
As Chapel of the Holy Cross is a must-visit, it's definitely more worthwhile to book the second tour. The tour is pretty interesting. As all doors to the castle are locked, the guide will unlock the door one by one for us to enter, and locking it immediately after we left the room. The guide will hold a huge bunch of keys and it's amazing how they know which key is for which door!
View from the Hrad Karlštejn
The second tour is pretty long - almost an hour and a half and there's quite a bit of climbing involved. But to be rewarded with such a view? I will say it's definitely worth it.
The last room (which is also the highlight), Chapel of the Holy Cross, has a very strict control over the regulation of air in order to protect the paintings in the room, hence there's a limit to the number of people that can enter the chapel. We were pretty lucky to be able to book the tour on the day itself! (:
National Museum of Prague
Founded in 1818, this museum houses 14 million items ranging from history, natural history, music to arts. We didn't have the chance to go in though. /:
Prague Astronomical Clock (left and middle photo) built on one side of the Old Town Hall Tower (right most photo), located on Old Town Square.
Old Town Square is located very near the Charles Bridge and where many tourists (including myself) gather in awe in the ancient and mysterious charm the square exudes. Every hour, many tourists will gather right in front of an ancient medieval astronomical clock to observe the procession of the Twelve Apostles. This astronomical clock was installed in 1410, and is the third oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still in working condition.
I think most people will be fascinated over the astronomical clock above and neglect this working calendar... Did you realise there's words written on the calendars? They are actually names - one name for each day! Our tour guide (from the walking tour) told us that all Prague citizens have two names - one given by the parents, and the other given by the calendar!
Church of Our Lady before Týn
The first word that ran across my mind when I saw this church was: Disney! I don't know about you, but somehow the spires really reminds me of the Disney castle. (: This church is another historical site since the 14th century.
An interesting characteristic of this church is that the two spires aren't equal in size - the right one seems to be a little bigger than the left one, no? We learned that this is a main characteristic of gothic structures, which is a represesntation of the feminine and the masculine sides of the world.
Charles Bridge at night
After dinner, we went for a long walk from the Old Town Square, crossed the Charles Bridge (and also touched the famous plague on the bridge - more on that later) and then all the way this spot so X could photograph the night view of the Charles Bridge.
Close up of the Charles Bridge
And guess what happened while we were there?
It was really a magical sight to see the brilliant fireworks illuminate against the night sky, and we totally had no idea there was a fireworks display, I guess we really got some luck for touching the plague on the bridge huh? (;
Charles Bridge was crowded with people even late at night (there's nobody here because of the long shutter speed used to capture the photos), but I actually prefer Charles Bridge in the day - much, much prettier.
Jewish Clock with Hebrew Dial (below)
A really amazing place of visit in Prague is the Jewish City Hall. The Jewish Quarters were burned down many times, and many times it was rebuilt, only to be demolished in 19th Century, with only a few buildings remain standing - and Jewish City Hall is one of them. The Jewish Clock goes the opposite direction from right to left, which is the same way as how one reads the Hebrew script.
Prašná Brána (Powder Tower) [left] and Obecní Dům (Municipal House) [right]
The construction of Powder Tower commenced in 1475 during King Vladislav II's reign. It is one of Prague's 13 origianl city gates that lead to the Old Town.
Sitting on the Republic Squre, the Municipal House is an major landmark in Prague with rich architectural and political history - the declaration of independent state of Czechslovakia took place in this building. There's a beautiful concert hall, Smetana Hall, inside the Municipal House.
Fruits for snacks!
I love the strawberries in Europe - small, ripe and most of the time insanely sweet! It's really hard to find such red strawberries in Singapore (with the exception of Korean strawberries)!
We walked past Charles Bridge again - this time in the day! As mentioned earlier, this stone Gothic bridge was built during Charles IV's reign in 1357. It was said that egg yolks were mixed into the mortar to strengthen the construction of the bridge... and it probably did help because the bridge survived many floods.
Touching the famous plague of St. John of Nepomuk
A total of 30 Baroque statues are placed on the Charles Bridge, and the most popular statue will be St. John of Nepomuk. St. John of Nepomuk is a Czech matyr saint who was executed during the reign of Wenceslas IV by being thrown off the bridge into the Vltava. It was reputed that touching the saint on the plague will bring one good luck, so you should touch the saint that was being thrown off the bridge, but we saw that many people are touching the lady instead (guess they didn't really know who to touch!)
The tall building is St. Nicholas Cathedral
This cathedral is located on the other side of Vltava in the Lesser Quarter in Prague. There are striking similarities between this cathedral and the St. Nicholas Church in the Old Town Square because they were both designed by the same Baroque Czech architect.
Entrance to St. Nicholas Cathedral
Originally an ancient parish church believed to be built in the 1283, it was demolished in 1703 and Krystof Dientzenhofer was tasked to redesign a Baroque cathedral. When he passed away, this project was entrusted to his son, Kilián Ignác Dientzenhofer, who designed the dome of the cathedral which became a striking landmark in Prague.
Entering the cathedral
It costs 60 CZK (adults) / 30 CZK (students) to enter the cathedral. The interior of the cathedral was decorated with numerous magnificent statues, beautiful paintings and frescos.
From left to right: ceiling fresco; pulpit; altar
Staircase that leads to the Prague Castle
Leaving St. Nicholas Cathedral behind, we made our way to the Prague Castle and...
... this is the entrance to the castle. There's a never ending crowd of people visiting the Prague Castle - afterall according to Guiness World Record it's the biggest ancient castle complex in the world!
Prague Castle Complex
This castle has a history of 1,100 years - it was transformed over many years from a wooden fortress in the 9th century to its huge, magnificent and imposing form today. For the full history of the castle... you might want to wiki it - I don't think I have the stamina to write out 1,100 years of its history!
St. Vitus Cathedral
One of the most stunning sights in the Prague Castle is definitely the St. Vitus Cathedral. It is the biggest and most important Gothic church in Czech Republic and contains the tombs of many Bohemian Kings and Holy Roman Emperors.
One of the many stained glass windows in the cathedral - look at how intricate it is!
Interior of the St. Vitus Cathedral
Church and Monastry of St. George
The church is the oldest surviving church building within Prague Castle while the monastry now houses Czech National Gallery's collection of 19th century Bohemian art.
View of the city from the Prague Castle
We headed back to the place where we watched the fireworks to take some evening shots of the Charles Bridge before we call it a day.
And we saw cute little ducklings! Super adorable!
Czech beer - Pilsner Urquell - excellent!
We went to U Provaznice for dinner on our first day - "U Provaznice" means "At the Rope-Maker Wife's" and it has an interesting story behind the name (story from here):
"A long time ago, a beautiful lady lived in town who was well-known for her grace and beauty. Many men longed for her but she loved only her husband - a rope-maker.
The rope-maker was a master of his craft and often travelled and stay away at sea, far away from home. The loneliness was too heavy for the beautiful wife to bear and she requested to open her own pub.
The rope-maker loved his wife so much and agreed. The beautiful wife set out to work and her pub was one of the most popular in town. Many men came from all over to visit her pub.
Very soon, news started to spread around that the beautiful wife provides the men not only with tasty food and drinks but also with other services. When the rope-maker learned about it, he hurryed back to his beautiful wife. Without even confirming the rumours, he strangled his wife with his ropes in a fit of jealousy.
Since that day, her spirit haunts the pub and she will never find peace until she heals all the souls suffering from love.
Today, a noose hangs at the corner of the pub and it is said that anyone who has a relationship problem should touch the potrait of the rope-maker wife's in the pub."
Česneková polévka (Garlic Soup with croutons)
I remembered they have English menus, so placing orders will not be a very difficult thing. Česneková polévka is one of the most appreciated Czech soups (from what I researched) so I immediately ordered it when I saw it on the menu. X didn't really like the soup but I liked it - it had a light garlicky flavour that was not overpowering and it's so addictive!
Traditional Czech Potato Soup with Bramborák (potato pancake)
Bramborák is a potato pancake made by combining grated potatoes with eggs, milk, flour and garlic and then pan-frying them till golden brown. The pancake was delicious and the soup was very hearty and delicious.
Svíčková (marinated beef tenderloin/sirloin)
Svíčková is one of the most famous popular Czech meals. This very tenderly braised beef is served with a delicious sauce made by boiling mainly root vegetables (carrot, parsley root, celeriac and onion) with herbs and heavy cream. It also comes with cranberry sauce and knedlíky.
Knedlíky is a dumpling that can be made with wheat flour, stale bread and yeast or potato flour. The mixture is then rolled into logs and then boiled in water. It is normally sliced thickly and served hot/warm. They are served as a side dish for almost every single Czech dish (except for desserts I guess).
Vepřo-Knedlo-Zelo (roasted pork-dumplings-sauerkraut)
This is considered the national dish of Czech Republic - you will see this dish in almost every restaurant in Prague, especially those touristy ones that claim to serve authentic Czech cuisines.
The roasted pork was really tender and juicy, though there ain't much meat... The dumplings comes in two variety - the yeast dumpling and the potato dumpling - it was dumpling-overload for me!
Sauerkraut is made by fermenting finely shredded cabbage (either red or white) with various lactic acid bacteria. It has a distinctive sour taste due to the formation of lactic acid when the bacteria ferments the sugars in the cabbage. It was an interesting side-dish but it's something that I truly can't appreciate. Even though I love vinegar, I can't tolerate the sour taste of the cabbage... /:
Crepes for desserts
I wanted to try Czech Pancakes (Palačinky), which are very thin pancakes (similar to French crepes) rolled up with sweet or savoury fillings inside, but unfortunately they don't have it there. They had chocolate crepes / panacakes with peaches, which sounded pretty tempting! However, when the crepes came, the peaches were canned peaches and it wasn't that awesome ): Oh well...
Address: Old Town, Praha 1, Provaznicka 3
Opening hours: 1100 - 2359
Verdict: It's a bit touristy overall, but the food served is still pretty good and they have excellent beer!
Czech Delicacies Festival!
While we were there, it so happened that there was a food festival at the Old Town Square! Of course we have to go and try the food!
It's all about potatoes!
Potatoes cooked in two different ways - not very cheap, taste decent...
Most people call it the Cinnamon Roll, but it's actual name is Trdelník. Trdelník is a pastry made from rolled dough which is wrapped around a stick and grilled to perfection. It is then topped with sugar and other various toppings, with one of the more popular flavours being cinnamon sugar flavour. It is, however, not a Czech dessert! It is from Slovak town of Skalica though it's gaining popularity in Slovakia and Czech Republic.
We settled our dinner at Klub Architektů on the second night. Klub Architektů interior is small and cozy (primarily because it's pretty dark in there). It was a bit further away from the Old Town - less crowd and less tourists.
Home-Made Tender Pasta a la Cappelleti, Stuffed Salmon with Butter and Parmesan Cheese
Yes, this is the full name of the dish in the menu! It essentially meant salmon dumplings - salmon wrapped with home-made pasta. It was a very interesting dish - the salmon was fresh and the sauce was heavenly. I just wish the portion was larger!
Pan-Fried Turkey Snitzel with Tartar Sauce and French Fries
This was what X ordered - the turkey was well-breaded and well-fried, but there's no wow factor in this dish.
Left: Fernet Stock; Right - Becherovka
We ordered these two herbal liqueurs because they were brewed in Czech Republic. Fernet stock is a very bitter herbal liqueur flavoured with approximately 14 herbs with 40% alcohol content. It tastes really, really herbish (is there even such a word?) and bitter... which genuinely reminds me of medicine.
Becherovka is slightly sweeter - flavoured with approximately 34 herbs with 38% alcohol content. It is served cold and I can really taste the cinnamon flavour in this liquer - I like this liquer much more.
Both liquers are often drank for health benefits, particularly to aid digestion.
Medovník (not the original)
Medovník is the most popular cake in Prague - it is a 10-layer honey cake flavoured with cinnamon.Obviously this is not the original - it has only 5 layers... but I wasn't able to get the original in Prague so I have to settle for something right?
This version of Medovník has a strong honey taste but the sweetness is not overpowering the whole cake. It has walnuts in the cake as well (I think) and the overall cake is really light, airy and taste heavenly! If this is already so good, I wonder how will the real one fare? Hope I'll have the chance to try it one day!
Address: Old Town, Praha 1 Betlemske Namesti, 5a
Verdict: Reviews online are pretty mixed, but we had a great time dining there - the place was cozy and the food, albeit serving size a bit small, was good and well worth the money; there's also lesser tourists as it's a little bit hidden away. (:
And that's all for Prague, the magical, beautiful and history-rich city. The next stop is... (shall keep you in suspense)!