As I mentioned in the Munich blog, we woke up early on our first official morning of the tour and got ready for the long day ahead. After a quick breakfast, the whole tour group boarded the bus, and we were off! The trip to Prague would take four hours so we buckled in and put our feet up.
On the way, Keith, our guide, gave us information on our tour, Germany, and what we were driving past. To either side of the highway we were on, there were fields and farms growing barley, corn, grapes, and other important crops. Keith also gave us information on the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Zone. After all of his explanations, Keith asked one person from each family to come forward and introduce their family to the bus. One by one, people stumbled to the front and gave a brief introduction about themselves and their family. Altogether we were 46 of us on the tour.
After a while, we came to the border between Germany and the Czech Republic which is nothing like the US – Canada or the US – Mexico border (for my American readers). Instead of having our passports checked and our bags searched, we just drove through one of several lanes that were marked by cones, and past a sign that said: “Welcome to the Czech Republic in both English and Czech”.
The road signs we saw along the drive seemed a bit peculiar because every highway or major roadway seemed to have two identifying numbers rather than one. This phenomenon continued throughout the trip. It was later explained to us, that major transportation arteries across the continent have a European name and a local name. For example, one of the most significant motorways in the Czech Republic is the E50, as its known across Europe, however, in the Czech Republic, its called the D1.
When we were about a half hour away from the city of Prague, we stopped at a rest area for Lunch. Prague is the capital city of the Czech Republic. It was also the capital city of Czechoslovakia back when the present-day Czech Republic and Slovakia were one country. We once again boarded the bus and headed towards Prague.
As we neared the city, we noticed that a lot of the rest stops we passed were full of trucks. Turns out, that on Sundays, trucks, which are the most preferred method of goods transport in Europe, come to a grinding halt (no pun intended) unless they are carrying medicines or other important, time-sensitive goods.
Soon, we were within the city limits. We drove past beautiful, old buildings as we made our way through the winding streets towards the Prague Castle. We passed beautiful street cars painted in the classic white and red. We pulled up to the entrance of Prague Castle and waited by the gates as Keith bought us tickets. After getting the tickets, we went to a guard post where we went through security.
Prague Castle is the largest castle complex in the world and holds a Guinness world record title for the same. It has gone through several centuries of construction, additions, remodeling, and refurbishment, and now serves as the office of the President of the Czech Republic. As we walked down the path towards the imposing structure, a large, black, gothic cathedral comes into view to the left, but more on this later. As we neared the archway that would admit us into the main courtyard, there was much commotion.
Three young men in identical light blue formal military clothing approached from inside the courtyard. Their muskets hit the cobblestone several times. Two of the men turned with military precision and walked out a few steps and turned once again so that they were facing two small guard huts on either side of the archway. the two guards who were already present stepped to one side as the new guards marched inside the guard hut. The old guards then marched out and again slammed their muskets against the ground. They again turned and marched back toward the courtyard. It was the “changing of the guards” ceremony, similar to the more popular ceremony conducted in London’s Buckingham Palace. Check out the video I filmed of the ceremony here.
After seeing the changing of the guards, we walked through the archway into the courtyard. There was a large fountain in the center and the facade of the cathedral looming over the courtyard to the left. We took some photos in the courtyard, then met our local guide. She gave us some information about the palace, then led us through another archway toward the entrance to Vitus Cathedral. Like the castle, the Cathedral was built over the years, and additions and renovations occurred over time. The most famous changes to the cathedral came from the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV, who was the first Bohemian king to become emperor, as well as his father, John Luxembourg of Bohemia. The cathedral, in one of its secret chambers, hides the crown jewels of the Czech Republic which, every five years or so, are taken out using joint keys, and put on display for just a little while. Several Bohemian kings are buried in the massive cathedral. Hand-painted stain glass windows line both sides of the cathedral giving the lighting the floor in marvelous hues. High vaulted ceilings, pointed domes, and ribbed columns, tell-tales of gothic architecture, gave Vitus cathedral a roomy, intimidating feel. Its many spires justified Prague’s nickname, the city of spires.
After taking several pictures with some statues, and the pretty windows, we left the cathedral and walked around it toward the exit of the Castle complex. Along the way, we saw the convent established by a famous queen so that the daughters of the aristocracy could get an education. We walked a little further down a narrow, sloping street bringing us to the border between the Castle town, and the Old Town. The city of Prague is divided into four areas or towns. the Castle town, Old Town, New town, and the Market Town. We visited all but the New town.
As we came down the slope, we stopped at a small, shaded overlook point from where one could see the whole city stretched out below. Couples sipped wine at tables all around and sprinklers set around the overlook point sent out a cooling mist to diners and tourists alike. We, again, stopped for a few pictures, then it was back to walking. We finally descended the steep hill and came to the bottom. Our guide explained that we were going to make the short walk through Old town, to where one of Prague’s most famous landmarks is. The Charles Bridge.
The Charles Bridge spans the width of the Vltava River, which flows through Prague. What makes it famous, are the statues that line the entire length of the bridge. The statues represent famous inventors, artists, and figures of the time. The bridge was built by none other than Charles IV, the same man who made Prague the third largest city in Europe at one point. If you haven’t caught on… Charles IV was a pretty big deal in Czech history and he did a LOT in his lifetime.
From the bridge, we could see boats and small tourist ships cruising up and down the river. Along the banks of the river, people were eating and playing. The place just had a really nice vibe to it.
A short walk past the bridge put us in the Market town, where small shops and restaurants fought for space, and small allies filled with even more stores seemed to branch out of nowhere. After making several lefts and rights through crowded thoroughfares, we made it to a large town square with a fountain in the center and a large clock to one side. We were given some time to shop, but after all the walking we had done, we just wanted to sit. It was decided that the best way to re-energize ourselves was to try a local treat where ice cream is pumped into a hollow tube made of doughnut batter, and coated with cinnamon sugar. It was VERY rich, even for someone with a sweet tooth like me, but it was excellent to try at least once. After doing just a bit of shopping, it was time to leave.
We walked for what seemed like ages to get back to the bus and took it to that night’s restaurant. After a lovely meal, Vitale, our driver, drove us to our hotel for the night. It was a bit out of the inner city, but that was okay by me because it gave me an opportunity to see a bit more of the city as we drove through it. When we finally got into our rooms, it took all my willpower to not jump on the bed and fall asleep. It had been a long day… but it was just the first of many exciting days to come!
A quick note before I end the post:
- I’ve been posting videos from my trip to Eastern Europe on my YouTube channel which you can access by clicking here, or by clicking on the “YouTube” icon on the banner of the main page.
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There are more posts on the way from my recent trip to Eastern Europe so stay tuned! Until next time!