Sunday, October 18, 2015

Europe 2015 Day 2 - Prague Old Town & Prague Castle

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Europe 2015 Day 2 - Prague Old Town & Prague Castle
Prague, Czech Republic - 25th September 2015
The Old Town Hall at the Old Town Square, it has an rare and unique working astronomical clock.
After a good introduction to the charms & beauty of Prague the previous evening, we are raring to go out and explore again. Yesterday was just a teaser and today we had plans to go see more of the Old Town Square, visit Prague Castle and walk along the famous Charles Bridge. Somehow we ended up doing more than just that!

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A quick stop for a jump shot before heading for the Old Town Square. Yeah! I was happy indeed, the weather is cooling, the skies are blue and there will be much to see!
Normally, I would not be able to do this butterfly jump this beautifully, I guess there must be something in the air here.

Here's a a panoramic shot of the Old Town Square showing the beauty of the buildings, a beauty that had enraptured me to be so butterfly-jumping happy.
At the centre is the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn (with it's two towers standing behind some shops) and at the right is the Old Town Hall tower with a clock. The buildings are architecturally beautiful and in varying bright pastel colours.

Some are decorated with nice sculptures...

... while others have large murals on their façade walls.

Instead of joining the many free short walking tours that start from the Old Town Square, we opted to go for a paid Superior Walking Tour which also starts fro the old town square. At a discounted price of 770 Krunos for a six-hours tour that included lunch and a river boat tour, we felt that it was a bargain.  But we were early and decided to explore the quaint narrow lanes nearby...

... and observe the locals starting the day's business.

John, our walking tour guide, with an old sketch of the Old Town Hall.
Back at the town square, John our walking-tour guide started off with a detailed talk on the town square and it's buildings. He was very knowledgeable and professional, and included old photos and sketches of the buildings and places that he took us to.

This map shows the route we took and the destinations we visited during the Prague Old Town Superior Walking Tour.

Then it was to the Astronomical Clock located at the southern side of the Old Town Hall, where he briefed us on the workings of the clock. It's a majestic clock, almost three stories high. I admire the workmanship of the clock-makers of old; built in 1410 and even after centuries the clock is still working perfectly. Called the Orloj, not only does it tell the time, it has many other functions. The dial on the top tells time, solstice, etc. The bottom one tells the seasons and quite accurately tell when to plant, harvest etc.
Psst.... that's me trying to look "John Travolta" cool in front of the clock.

A closer look at the top clock which has several dial faces and many hands. It tells the month of the year, position of the son and moon in the skies, sunrise & sunset times, etc.

Perhaps this diagram (by Wikipedia contributor Leonard G) can be helpful to understand the clock more.

Short of time we did not climb up the tower but did go into the ground floor rooms where there were pretty murals of medieval scenes on the walls.....

.... and also on the ceiling, a bit of tilting of the head required here.
These murals in the Old Town Hall ground floor rooms are not old and are in fact relatively new, being drawn just over a hundred years ago in 1904 by Czech artist Mikolas Ales.

Walking around was good; at the slower pace as we head for the next destination, it gave us time to pause and admire the beautiful buildings of Prague Old Town. The buildings element are intricately designed and built, with detailed balconies, window arches, roof gables. The above building even have a corner bell tower.

Carved stone statues hole up balconies.....

... and window alcoves.

Even simple windows have been beautifully done up to draw the eye of the admirer...
... okay okay, the pretty woman did draw my eye too... *smiles sheepishly*

As we walked on, we passed this group of cyclists stopping to admire the neo-modern stainless steel sculpture "In Utero" by David Černý. Being an avid cyclist myself, my itchy cycling legs were egging me to join them... hop on a bike and go!

Okay, stop daydreaming and back to reality; I am touring with a group on non-cycling friend and will have to find some other time to scratch that cycling itch.
Back to admiring David Černý's the "In Utero" statue; it's a contemporary sculpture of a pregnant lady in stainless steel cuboid layers. The shiny surfaces of the the many stainless steel angled surfaces catch the bright lights of passing cars and surrounding buildings, and reflect them back in shimmering psychedelic colours as one walks around the statue.

Our first destination, the St. James Church was not successful, the church was closed. Well might as well admire the beautiful carving above the doorway.

Next was the Prague's Jewish Quarter (Josefov) where we viewed several synagogues...

... and walked along the street next to the Jewish cemetery where there are shops selling souvenirs and other what-nots. The shops abut the wall of the cemetery, so it's a surrealistic experience buying things here.

At the Prague Municipal Library, Cheong & Marina poses in front of a tower of books assembled by Matej Kren. I wonder whether the books used were those banned during the Cold War.

Tunnel vision inside the tower, mirrors make it look like a very long tunnel!
This reminded me of how I felt during my days as a student, burning the midnight oil studying for the exams..... dizzy, dizzy.

A break for a tour-inclusive lunch at Restaurace Sedm konšelů. The beers here were good, the Czech food just about okay; what was not okay was the haughty attitude of a waitress here. She was arrogant to the point of being rude, by passing and ignoring us when we were ready to make our orders. Grrrr! .... no tips & posting of the food photos here for them. Serves them right for not serving us well!

From nearby station we took a tram over to the Prague Castle; it's a spectacularly grand place and we were to spend almost two hours there (which I thought was not enough). With three courtyards, several grand buildings and a total built-up area of 70,000 sq. metres  on grounds covering 18 acres, Prague Castle is considered to be the largest castle in the world. It is not just the sheer size of the building and grounds that impress visitors; it is also the intricate and varied architecture of the buildings, and the green landscaped grounds that awes them too.
Above is a photo grab of the "Four Seasons" girls at the entrance; I wonder who is which season but never got around to asking them.

The jewel in the crown of the castle is the St. Vitus Cathedral with its impressive towering Gothic spire. It's similarity with other Gothic spires ended with it's jagged edges.

Lynn posing contrasting against the bright pink of the St. George's Basilica.

Inside the basilica was a simple but beautiful altar.

At the Toy Museum on the far end of the Castle grounds, is this bronze statue of a naked young boy. It seems that touching the statue's penis will bring good luck to a person, so the four ladies took their turns too. Looks like many believe in this too as the little boy's equipment seems to be well polished by constant touching!

As we exited the castle into its garden, from a vantage point, we had a lovely bird's eye view of Prague Old Town, the red roof of the houses standing out distinctly.

Prague Castle's gardens are a favourite for bridal couples to take their wedding photos. These happy couples just add their brightness to the place.

And so did our colourful four seasons....
Oops! One of them seems to be missing, let's hope that she had not run after that handsome groom!
(... read more about the Prague Castle).

Picture of the Charles Bridge taken from the river boat tour.
From the castle we took a short walk down through the Lesser Quarter to the Charles Bridge. An amazing bridge, it was once link the trade route between East & West Europe and made Prague an important city.

What I liked about this bridge are the many statues of Catholic saints that lined both sides of the bridge, like the one above of Jesus on the Cross.

And this one, is it of Mother Mary carrying the infant Jesus?
The names of the saints are carved onto the statues, sadly I don't read Czech so I could not tell.

The bridge is also another favourite spot for wedding photos.
Hey! It's the same couple, they seem to be everywhere!
But see how happy they were.

And see how happy John, our guide, having a pretty Marina to hold onto.
(... read more of the Charles Bridge)

We exited the bridge at the old town end and while getting ready to go down to the river cruise jetty, we managed to catch a glimpse of the green dome and tower of the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi.

John led us down some stairs to a dim tunnel just below the Charles Bridge Museum. Interesting, there are tunnels below the buildings! Down there is the jetty where we will begin our river boat tour along the River Vltava. I guess back in th past, these tunnels were regular access to the waterways which were then a major means of transport.

On board the cruise boat: A cheers of ice-cream before we start.

The boat took us on a couple of loops to view the Charles Bridge (see top-most photo) while the pilot also acted as a tour guide an narrated the history of the places she took us to. Then it was across to the other side and into the canals. There are a fair bit of canals in Prague making some call it the "Venice of the north".

Sitting back to take in the relaxing cruise, we suddenly saw swans through the windows..

There were swans serenely lining the sides of the river, gracefully swimming and every once in a while, with a flutter of their wings a flight will take off soaring up into the skies.

Our day's tour was over and we took a slow walk back to the Old Town Square. Along the way we passed by the Swarovski showroom, magnificently showing off their glitter. Thank goodness the girls were still enraptured in their thoughts of the beautiful castle, the graceful swans and did not think to go in, and we were spared burning a hole in our pockets.

Two days into Europe and we were already missing Asian food and went hunting for a Chinese restaurant we passed by the previous evening. Finding it - the Chinese Summer Palace Restaurant, we did have a satisfactory Chinese dinner.

Well... Times Up!
It had been a long and eventful day, and it's time for bed as we have to rise up early the following day... we will be going to the market!


(For more photos of the day Click Here)

This is page 2 of a 12-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.

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