To the Streets Below

Aimed with an early start, this morning we walked the streets of Prague, over the near empty Charles Bridge, and up to the UNESCO World Heritage listed Prague Castle.  An early start gives us a reprieve from the tourists, and more importantly, a chance to take in and appreciate the beautifully cobble-stoned streets.

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Spanning the Vlatava River, Charles Bridge was completed in the 15th century.  The bridge is lined by some 30 baroque style statues.

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In the streets below Charles Bridge on the Castle side, a quick detour will bring you to Lennon’s Wall.  Now more graffiti, than tribute, Lennon’s Wall was conceived in the 1980’s, and was filled with Lennon-inspired lyrics and quotations.  In 1988, the wall became a source of irritation for the Communist Government, as students began to voice their grievances on it, which led to a clash between students and police on Charles Bridge.  These students were following the ironically named Lennonism movement, whose members the Czech Government identified as being alcoholics and mentally deranged.

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The streets leading to Prague Castle are a photographer’s dream and the castle grounds afford the best view of the city around.  When we arrive there is a traditional folk band playing, a couple of tourists twirling around to the music. Guards clad in pale blue uniforms guard the Castle entrance.  The Castle was founded around 880 by Prince Borijov and is the largest castle complex in the world.  There are all sorts of buildings within the complex, and although I didn’t see them, the gardens are reportedly stunning.  Due to our beautiful meandering walk up to the Castle, I don’t really spend much time here, because I need to find my way back down to the main square for a tour I want to join.

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Alleyways leading to the Castle

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View of Prague from the Castle Grounds
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St Vitus’ Cathedral

I was glad for the chance to see a quieter side of Prague, especially now on the way down, as the tourists have awoken, and are already filling the streets and alleys.  Prague is a very busy city during the day, tour guides leading their sheep from sight to sight, umbrellas in hand to show the way, meandering slowly, blocking pathways.  I am glad for our small group.

Back in the main square, the atmosphere is inviting.  A rockin ethnic folk band is playing to the crowds, the smoky smell of Old Prague ham roasting on spits hangs in the air and the sun is out.  There’s a different vibe here today, more of a relaxed, festival feel (until you leave the square and into the busy alleys.

There is so much to do in Prague, that it’s hard to decide to do in such a limited time frame.  But one thing that caught my eye was a Communism and Bunker tour.  I meet guide Tereza outside the Cartier store to the side of the main square.  There’s only two of us on the tour today, which is awesome.  Tereza is so knowledgeable and has an excellent command of the English language, though she is Prague born and bred.  She takes us through the history of the Communist party, inserting humour and jokes for good measure.

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Rude Pravo, official newspaper of the Communist Party, was so great if you held it above your held it could protect you from 1kg of nuclear fallout!

We transfer from the main square to the quieter alleys that tourists don’t touch and, moving intermittently from location to location, she continues, onto the topic of the Velvet Revolution, which effectively ended 41 years of Communism in Prague.  Students crowded into Wenceslas Square to peacefully demonstrate the end of their oppression under the regime.

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Memorial to the Velvet Revolution

We stop at a traditional canteen, located downstairs of a small mall, where we grab a snack.  18 crowns for a glass of beer – that’s like $1 in Australia kids!  It’s décor is stuck in the 70’s and it’s all self service, but this is where workers can grab a cheap meal that ‘tastes ok’ in Tereza’s words.

The last stop of the tour is Jalta Hotel.  This hotel was built for communist party officials back in the day, but most passersby would probably never assume what awaits in the basement of this building.

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Yep, a bunker.  Set up to recreate how it would have looked in the past, this was certainly an eye opener for someone from Australia.  The rooms were full of assorted memorabilia including communications equipment, even a morse code machine.  Did you know the basic tone you hear when you get a message on your mobile (you know, sounds something like – da, da, da, daaa da, da da da), is the morse code for SMS?

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My feet are killing me and my head is on overload, but there’s one last stop I want to make – the Museum of Torture.  Unfortunately there is no photo taking allowed here, but the museum holds three floors of medieval torture devices with self-explanatory names such as the Kneeler, the Rack and a particularly nasty piece called the Breast Torner (ouch!).   If that wasn’t enough to deter you, then perhaps the Mask of Shame would do the trick.

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