Prague (7 to 12 August 2018)

We came to Prague to meet up with some friends who had just finished a walk in Italy.  The city has changed a lot in the 25 years since Julie was last here.  The architecture is the same, but more has been restored and the sheer amount of historic buildings is overwhelming.  So, unfortunately, is the number of tourists.  Of course, one follows the other and we are tourists too, so we can’t really complain.

The Charles Bridge is rightly famous for its beauty and the intricate statues that adorn it.  

In case you are wondering why the dog is so polished, it’s simple.  This is one of two brass panels at the base of a statue of Saint John (Jan Nepomucky) who was allegedly thrown off the bridge by King Wenceslas I for refusing to reveal the matters told to him by the Queen in confession.

This panel shows the Queen in the background giving her confession, and the other panel depicts Saint John being thrown into the water.  Superstition holds that if you rub the image of Saint John in the other panel, you will be certain to return to Prague.  Lots of people do it, so he’s pretty shiny.  There’s no dog in the story, and no superstition attached to rubbing his image, but lots of people rub the dog instead of the saint because, well, he’s cute.

Throughout the old town and the Prague Castle precinct, it’s almost visual overload.  

It can be hard to walk in a straight line, such is the temptation to keep looking up.

 

 

 

 

Even the old part of the train station was magnificent.

Prague has some unique exhibitions, like the Gallery of Steel Figures.

The Apple Museum claims to have the world’s largest collection of Apple products, including one of every product made between 1976 and 2012.  

And there’s some quite funky street sculptures.  

Yes, that last one is a segmented, rotating head of Franz Kafka.

Anyone who has seen the movie Ted 2 will know why we found this next guy so funny.  If you haven’t seen the movie, we can recommend it.  But a word of warning: even though the lead role is a teddy bear, it’s not for kids!

We don’t usually write about food, but the pork knuckles in Prague deserve a special mention.  If you are a meatatarian, Prague is a great town.  Over our few days together, the four of us had some sensational porcine delights, washed down with liberal quantities of excellent Czech beer.   Even if you are not a big meat eater, you really would be short-changing yourself to come to Prague and not indulge.  On the other hand, if you are a vegetarian, probably best stay home.

We had dinner in the oldest brewery in the Czech Republic, and also in this ale house where the resistance fighters met to plot.  For some reason, it’s now full of cat and tiger memorabilia.

Cesky Krumlov

Our friends had booked a day trip to Cesky Krumlov, so we joined the booking.   The historic centre of Cesky Krumlov is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site and, after the castle precinct in Prague, is the second largest in the Czech Republic.

On the grounds of the castle is a Baroque-era revolving outdoor theatre.  For centuries it was operated by hand, with rotation, lights and smoke used to distract the audience whilst sets were changed in and out by the long suffering actors who had to double as stage hands.  

The views over the town from the castle are stunning. 

On the drive back to Prague our very sprightly 80+ year old guide shared the secret of his youthfulness –  he begins each day at 4am with a shot of a Czech digestif called Becherovka.  Its 38% alcohol content made us question the wisdom of drinking it at 4am, but it is certainly tasty after dinner, as we discovered when the four of us polished off a half bottle that night!

Kutna Hora 

Kutna Hora, 60kms from Prague, is a sleepy town, mostly visited for its gothic churches and the Sedlec Ossuary.

In 1278, Henry, Abbott of the Cistercian Monastery, returned from a trip to the Holy Land with some soil from Golgotha (the place of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion).  He sprinkled it over the ground of the cemetery, whereupon the Sedlec cemetery became one of the most desirable places in Central Europe to be buried.

In the early 14th century, the cemetery was enlarged to accommodate thousands who died from the Black Plague.  But then it was decided to build a church on the site, and an ossuary was built beneath it to house the bones of those exhumed to make way for the foundations of the church.

The ossuary contains the bones of between 40,000 and 70,000 people.

In what sounds like a Monty Python storyline, a half-blind monk was given the task of stacking the bones.  Well, he might have been half-blind, but he was certainly a creative fellow.   A large number of bones are stacked in four gigantic piles in the ossuary, but as well as the stacks, bones have been used to make wall decorations, the coat of arms of the House of Schwarzenberg and even a chandelier.

The chandelier contains at least one of every bone in the human body, and garlands of skulls hang from the ceiling.

The coat of arms is a reproduction of the real thing, including the feature of a bird pecking a human’s eye out.

And this one is made from the bones of children.

We have seen some weird stuff on our travels.  This was right up there on the list.

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