Monday, November 21, 2011

Look At That Building!

My cold is finally waning such that I can do more than stare around the house bleary eyed and sniffling. So...I can start my posts about our trip last weekend, which we spent in gorgeous, beautiful, stunning Prague (location of the INXS video for "Never Tear Us Apart," and a city Nathan's wanted to visit since seeing the video as a teen)! Nathan named this blog post because that's all he heard for three days. We visit many beautiful cities, but Prague is surely the most comprehensively beautiful. Every single street is lined with gorgeous buildings - Renaissance, Baroque, Gothic, Art Deco, all the styles are there in a hodge podge of colors, rooflines, fanciful decorations, and every single building is stunning. Many big cities we visit have pretty architecture, but it might be one or two buildings among five or a few streets of a historic quarter surrounded by a more modern, austere, boring section. I'm sure Prague has that boring, outer section, but the core is huge, and in the 2 square mile section that we walked over and over in our three day visit, we didn't find a single, uninspiring building. The core area consists of five main districts, Castle Quarter, Mala Strana (Little Quarter), then over the Charles Bridge to the Old Town, Jewish Quarter, and "New Town," founded in the early 1300s. My overriding questions that I've yet to research are (1) how did the city escape WWII destruction, and (2) how on earth did the architecture in such a large city survive Communism and the ugly rebuilds so often found, especially considering Prague was home to the largest statue of Stalin in the world (now torn down with a giant metronome put in it's place).

Our favorite Trdelnik stand
We flew up on Friday afternoon, took the very easy public transportation into the Old Town center, and walked the two blocks to our hotel. We stayed at Hotel U Zlateho jelena (Hotel at the Golden Stag - lots of buildings in Prague have names like this, such as House at the Black Madonna, House at the Two Golden Bears, etc. These usually refer to some type of exterior decoration on the building). The hotel had the best location imaginable, only a few buildings down from Old Town Square, a huge...ummm, square...with a food and wine market going on for the weekend - yay for us! Our days were not complete without a little stop at one of the tiny, wooden huts for a cup of hot wine and a Trdelnik. Trdelniks are ingenious - a simple dough is rolled into a rope, then wrapped in a coil around a large metal tube that turns over hot coals. Once it's toasty brown, the Trdelnik maker slides the treat off, rolls it in some cinnamon sugar, and passes it over to the lucky eater. Yummy!

We spent our days and nights just walking around, picking a new section to walk each time, helped along by Prague's complete embracing of the pedestrian zone concept. While probably very annoying for the city residents and shop delivery vans, tourists speak with their money and seem to flock to Prague. I was expecting the city to be somewhat quiet in the winter and was sorely mistaken. The streets were packed, wall to wall people, even with temperatures in the 20s! I cannot even imagine what the city is like in the warmer months! Our first two nights for dinner, we only got tables, in out of the way restaurants no less, by looking respectable and agreeing to eat in under an hour before the folks with actual reservations were due to arrive.

While Prague has a number of museums, historic sites, towers to climb, and a large Jewish section with lots of synagogues open for touring as well, we elected to spend our days walking, walking, walking, just soaking in the city. Upon our Friday evening arrival, we set off to walk the famous, Charles Bridge by night, a must do for any visitor is to walk the bridge through the soaring, 18th century statues that line it's edges as the bridge connects the Old Town with the Castle District. The Wikipedia page for Charles Bridge has a gorgeous photo, so click on the link if you want to see a far better picture than the ones we took!

Here's a quick bit of history for you: A bustling, trading town by the 900s, Prague later enjoyed great success under the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV during the Middle Ages, when he selected the city as his Imperial Residence. A number of institutions were founded then, including a large university. Prague was the home of Jan Hus, a preacher who spoke out against the Catholic Church, which led to Hussite wars in the 1400s, then in the 1600s, a Protestant Revolt and 30 Years War led to a decline in the city's fortunes. Another hundred or so years later, Prague experienced a Renaissance and rekindling of civic pride before finally becoming capital of Czechoslovakia, an independent republic, in 1918. Initially a democracy, the country soon became ruled by the Nazi Party, then Communism, until the Velvet Revolution (because no blood was shed) in 1989, and in 1992, the country split into two, Czech Republic (of which Prague is the captial) and Slovakia. And there you have it - 1000 years of history in one, brief paragraph.

But I left out the most interesting tidbit of all, which regards a prince of one of Prague's early ruling families. Christmas is coming, and have you ever given thought to what the carol "Good King Wenceslas" even means? Guess where he was from - Prague! Wenceslas was a prince (also called a duke, depending on which account you're reading) from the 900s who ruled the government from age 18 to approximately 28, at which time he was assassinated by his younger brother. The Holy Roman Emperor posthumously gave him the title of King. Our Christmas Carol today is based on the many legends of his kindness. And that's how a little known man who lived hundreds of years ago and ruled only a small region for a short time, spending most of that time fending off attacks from other kingdoms, is even still immortalized once a year by carolers the world over.
The Good King himself, in front of the National Museum

No comments:

Post a Comment