Praha

Prague Castle above the Vltava RiverWait, where? Praha? Yes, though you know it better as Prague. Not sure why. You might as well still be saying Peking when referring to Beijing. Personally, we like Praha better, so deal with it. You’ve been there, right? You haven’t? It’s AWESOME!!! This is the ringingest endorsement we’ve given to date. Praha, also referred to as the “Golden City”, is magnificently beautiful, and hosts fabulous theaters, museums, galleries and the largest castle anywhere. Forget that trip to Amsterdam. Bruges can wait. Get on a plane and get yourself to the Czech Republic NOW.

Each section of the city has its own distinctive atmosphere, giving the overall city a romantic, magical, dreamy, charming, cosmopolitan, hospitable, and vibrant air. (that’s a lot of adjectives, but Praha deserves a lot of adjectives… trust us).

Looking from the Lesser Town towards the Old Town

View of the Lesser Town (foreground) and Old Town (across the river)

This modern city with an ancient feel, boasting multicolored houses, magnificent bridges, Romanesque rotundas, Renaissance palaces, sumptuous statues and monuments, elegant Baroque gardens, monumental Gothic churches and towers with enchanting panoramas of the city should be at the top of your list. Make it so!Panoramic shot of Charles Bridge

Old town vs lesser town

Due to travel constraints, terrible mechanics, and what we’re sure must have been some type of gypsy curse, Top Down Time was forced to break up our visit into two segments. The first was spent in the “Old Town” to the east of the river Vltava, and the second in the “Lesser Town” west of the river.
Church of Our Lady BeforeTyn
EAST is where you want to be, so you can stay in the Old Town (pictured above, complete with wine shop and toilets!) And we would recommend something right between the neo-Baroque and Art Nouveau Most Legii (with “Most” meaning bridge and “Legii” meaning Legions) and Karlov Most (with “Karlov” meaning Charles… in this case the Fourth, and “Most” meaning… you should know, since we just taught you.) Contrary to the name, the Old Town does not feel old at all.  It’s modern, vibrant, and, with the exception of a couple of spots (namely Charles Bridge and Old Town Square), relatively tourist free.  It’s VERY important you reside east of the river. West of the river is where the “Lesser Town” sits, awash in tourists and those who cater to them.

View of the Lesser Town from Prague CastleBaroque Gardens in the Lesser TownDon’t get us wrong.  The Lesser Town (shown above and to the right) is beautiful, and is the site of Prague Castle as well as plenty more baroque, gothic, and medieval fun. But it also has worse, more expensive food, worse, more expensive accommodations, and an economy seemingly built around nothing but tourism (which makes it a sh*tty place to be a tourist, in Top Down Time’s opinion.) Visit the Lesser Town, but stay in the Old Town. Prague is small enough that you can easily walk between the two. And Taxis for the walking impaired and lazy amongst you aren’t terribly expensive, if you don’t want to figure out the excellent tram system.
Tram in Prague StreetSome trams, which criss-cross both the Lesser Town and Old Town–including the bridges between the two–are modern and sleek. However, for aesthetic reasons, we preferred the old-timey looking ones. The locals who actually use these vehicles may not agree with our assessment, but we posit the older ones sure make for some nice photos!  Of course, having that wonderful architecture in the background doesn’t hurt pictorial matters in the least.  Personally, we found that practically everywhere was ‘walking distance’, and only ever used taxis to get to the airport and train station when we had luggage.  Bottom line: If you have legs, use them.

Food

Liver Soup

Potato Cream Soup in a Bread Bowl
What can we say… the food in Praha is generally AWESOME!!!! Eating out here is wayyyyyy cheaper than in Western Europe, and the quality is almost as good as that of the food you’d get in Bruges. (Almost.) Considering it’s about half the price (or less), we’d certainly say that it’s the best food value encountered to date. But be warned: you WILL get fat in Praha if you don’t pay attention, but you’ll hopefully do a lot of walking to burn off the often-rich food, so enjoy it while you can.  Oh, and one final note:  ALL soup should be served in an edible bowl.  Work it out, world.Fish and Vegetables

Of course, we could talk about fish and soup and pig’s knuckle all day long, but we would be remiss if we did not tell you about a certain treat you’ll find sold out of shops and carts all around town: kürtőskalács (the first ‘s’ sounds like ‘sh’ and the second one sounds is probably silent… we think… you didn’t know that?)  They’re made by taking sweet, cinnamony dough (called milk-break), wrapping it around a wooden spit the thickness of your forearm (not your forearms, juicers… we’re talking about normal folk), covering it in glaze and sugar, and slowly turning it as it roasts over an open flame.  If you’re allergic to bees, stay away.  They’re always hovering all over these Hungarian answers to donuts, trying to steal some easy sugar.  Yes, they’re Hungarian, and we’re in the Czech republic.  We’re close, people.  Buy a map.  In any case, get some and eat some (if you have enough self-control).  Without the proper amount of self-control, your teeth will soon fall out of your head and your newly corpulent physique will be confined to a mobility scooter due to your ever-increasing girth.  They really are THAT good.
Kürtőskalács in PragueBy the way, America hasn’t yet heard of these things, or it would have taken them and wrapped bacon around them. That’s right, carnies… bacon wrapped kürtőskalács. Take that idea and run with it. You’re welcome.
Chicken with Mysterious FlavorNow, when you want to eat cheap, and want something delish which you didn’t quite expect to find in Praha, head over to the Lesser Town, just east of St. Nicholas’ Cathedral, where you’ll find a tiny Chinese take out shop worthy of Canal Street.  When there, we highly recommend item 44, on account of the great taste and fantastic name!  Yeah, Top Down Time ate it, but we’re certainly not going to ruin the mystery for you. Adventure, people!

Museums and operas and theatres, oh my!

National Theatre, Prague, Chariot statue detail
Top detail from the National Theatre building

What? YOUR national theatre building doesn’t have a life sized winged goddess in chariot pulled by three horses in front of its awesome golden and blue dome with way-cool stone bannister? (And that’s just the one corner… you should see the rest.)  Alright, so we actually didn’t make it into any museums or operas. We could have, as we were staying across the street from the National Theatre you see above, but we had no time. You see, ultimately, the city seems to have been built as a giant open-air museum. Rudolfinum, Prague

The architecture is ridiculous (more on that later.) You could walk around for days ooh’ing and aah’ing at the buildings, statues, statues on buildings, bridges, statues on bridges, buildings on bridges, and buildings on statues (there weren’t any of that last bunch). Suffice it to say that Praha has plenty of museums/live music (of both the uppity and common varieties) for your audio/visual entertainment, if you have the time. Go enjoy them all, if that’s your thing (and it should be). The building you’re looking at here?  That’s the neo-Renaissance Rudolfinum, which is a concert hall in Jan Palach square.  Remember it for later. There’s going to be a test.)

Prague castle

Prague Castle secondary gate Tympanum
OK, so we lied. We did, in fact, visit a museum… of sorts: Prague Castle is kind of a museum, but kind of in-use-to-conduct-government-business, state visits, and serve as the official residence of the president (so it’s a bit like the US White House, only with way less white and way more house).
Prague Castle with "Vltava" boat in the river
Most of the time, when you see the definitive tourist picture representing “Prague” (or Praha, as you should be calling it), you’ll see Prague Castle atop a hill. And the (extremely obvious) structure you’ll be focused on is St. Vitus’ Cathedral, which many people, from a distance, assume is the castle, when, in fact, it is just one of the many spectacular structures making up the complex. But before we go there, a couple of facts and figures: the castle complex is the largest coherent castle complex on Planet Earth, walled in at some 70,000 square meters (that’s 18 acres for you people who use a pointy oval ball to play sports). It contains, within its walls, among other bits, and in no particular order: a monastery, viewing towers, a cathedral, the “Golden Lane”, royal gardens, fortifications, a couple of museums, an art gallery, a treasury, a couple of palaces, a torture chamber or three, several cafes, several fountains, the palace guard, a bunch of dead people (some more buried than others), courtyards, vantage points, and way more than a dozen tourists.

Prague Castle Marching BandPalace Guard Marching Band and more than a dozen distracted tourists

There’s a LOT to see, so much so that tickets are good for not one, but two days. Keep that in mind, and plan accordingly to see the various exhibits and structures at a comfortable pace. But also keep in mind that much of the palace grounds are open to the public and don’t require a ticket. So if you really want to stretch things out, you can, in fact, take three or more days to explore the location. But don’t do that; there’s plenty else to see in Prague. There are about a dozen paid exhibits for which you could purchase individual tickets, but your best bet is to get one of the combo deals, one of which allows you to see almost all of the castle, and the another which grants you access to ALL castle exhibits (including the Treasury, which we didn’t see due to the aforementioned mechanical issues mucking up our plans).

"Vanity" St. Brigit. Basilica of St George, Prague CastleWe suppose we could have learned a little something about the best laid plans from St. Brigit.  Yeah, this is her.  Well, it’s a life sized depiction of her (making it all the more creepy), called ‘Vanitas’ or Vanity, depicting what decay does to the human body, warning you to reconsider your sinful conceit.  She’s located in the crypt of the Basilica of St. George. You can peek in at her guarding the crypt, as the architects have (luckily for us) trapped her behind thick metal gates.  Now, we’ve played enough D&D to know that if you tried to enter that crypt to steal the treasure, she’d animate and drain 10,000 XP’s with every hit, so you’d best keep out. Fun little fact about how this work came to be: the artist, a fellow by the name of Bernard Spinetti, carved it to atone for a little sin he committed. You see, Bernie had a girlfriend. And a wife. That’s not good. But that’s not the reason he had to atone.  Mr. Spinetti wanted to solve his little wife/not-wife problem by a clever method known as murdering your mistress. Luckily for the tramp, he failed, and the church got a cool new statue to freak out the peasants. Win-win. You, too, can have your work displayed in a churchzeum.  Some adultery and attempted murder can only grease the path.
Ballista. Golden Lane. Prague Castle
Speaking of killing people, you’ll find quite the selection of medieval and renaissance weapons in the section of the castle known as the “Golden Lane”. It documents, through displays of period furniture, tools, as well as arms and armor, the lives of people who lived in and defended the castle. The cool ones got to shoot ballistae and cannon at the enemy from an elevated position, while the less cool ones would have to risk taking a hurty axe to the face.
Cannon. Golden Lane. Prague Castle
Alchemist Tools. Golden Lane. Prague CastleSome say the Golden Lane–the row of tiny houses lined up against the northen wall–owes its name to the legend of a castle alchemist who toiled to turn lead into gold. Every good castle needs an alchemist, don’t you think?  A more probable explanation is that goldsmiths inhabited some of the dwellings.

The Golden Lane was inhabited until World War II, even counting a Kafka by the name of Franz as one of its residents from 1916 to 1917. When he wrote, “by believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it,” he was clearly discussing alchemy.
Alchemist Tools. Golden Lane. Prague Castle

Now, you can’t try turning lead into gold when visiting the castle, but you can induldge your medieval fantasy of firing a crossbow. This highly recommended activity will really give you an appreciation of the kind of damage a sharpened stick can do once you put a little engineering behind it. Sadly, they didn’t let us fire the ballista.

Yup… that sign won’t be having any more children.  That’s for sure!

Medieval Weapons. Golden Lane. Prague Castle
Medieval Weapons. Golden Lane. Prague Castle
And if shooting a crossbow hasn’t given you a proper nerdgasm for the day, check out the castle’s very complete collection of military wares meant for medieval skull reconstruction.

Which would you go for?  Spiky bits?  Bashy bits?  Slicey bits?  Perhaps some stabby bits?

Top Down Time is not quite sure how to use any of these instruments without bashing ourselves in the frontal lobe with a tatanus-inducing metal spike. But that’s why we’re humble travel correspondents and not medieval warriors (yet).
Medieval Weapons. Golden Lane. Prague Castle

St. Vitus Cathedral

St Vitus Cathedral. Prague Castle
But the real star of the show at Prague Castle is St. Vitus Cathedral. You couldn’t cram any more gothic into this cathedral if it had a black hole at its center. Look at it! St. Vitus Cathedal, or Katedrála svatého Víta as it’s known in Czech, is the seat of the Archbishop of Prague, and serves as the tomb of several Holy Roman Emperors and Bohemian kings. Its third and current incarnation began in 1344, after the prior versions–the first of which dated back to 925–were each, in turn, deemed too un-the-most-awesome-uber-gothic-cathedral-evah!!!
St Vitus Cathedral. Prague CastleWhen they were building this thing, they cranked the spiky knob up to about 16 and let it run ’till the fuses blew. Here, you can see pinnacles, flying buttresses, gargoyles columns, arches… you name it, they added it to the mix.

St Vitus Cathedral Tympanum. Prague Castle

Above the main door is a fantastic Tympanum depicting Jesus doing his Jesus trick.  Oh, that tricksy carpenter!  Look at the stonework.  Now, that sort of detail may be expected above the main entrance to God’s big digs in town, but that level of detail is everywhere, including parts of the cathedral you’d never see.

St Vitus Cathedral Pew. Prague Castle

And if you walk through a fancy door, you’ll certainly need a fancy pew in which to sit your fancy… *ahem*. How do these suit you?  Is the carving up to snuff, or shall we throw the carpenters over the gates, sire?

St Vitus Cathedral. Prague Castle. St John of Nepomuk TombBut wait… it gets fancier.  What we’re looking at here is NOT the treasury room Harrison Ford discovers in the next installment of Indiana Jones (there won’t be a next installment, after Lucas killed the franchise with the last monstrosity, but I digress.)  This is a portion of the gargantuan pile of silver and gold adorning St. John of Nepomuk’s 2 metric ton tomb within the Cathedral. St. John was thrown off Charles Bridge and drowned by King Wenceslaus IV (who, unlike prior Wencesclauses, was generally perceived as more than a bit of a douchebag) when John wouldn’t reveal what the queen had told him in the privacy of confession.

St Vitus Cathedral. Prague Castle. St Ludmilla Chapel

Speaking of being martyred, it’s a great way to make it into the St. Vitus Hall Of Fame, as St. Ludmilla clearly demonstrated after being strangled by anti-Christians sometime in the late 800’s for, among other things, building the first Christian church in Bohemia. She now has her own chapel in St. Vitus, hemmed in by a golden fence. Oddly enough, she’s not interred in her chapel.  Instead, her body lies next door at St. George Church. Considering how many times saints are dug up, chopped into pieces, put into reliquaries and carried between the Middle East and Europe, you’d think that someone would have bothered to move her body a hundred and fifty feet into her own chapel by now!

St Vitus Cathedral. Prague Castle, St Michael Statue fighting DevilNow, we didn’t need to add this photo, but we did, because stabbing the Devil in the throat is way cool. Goooo Mikey. But since we added it, we may as well tell you that what you’re looking at is life-sized and painted, the way heroic statues should be! Those old Greek and Roman statues you’re used to seeing all marbley white?  Those are supposed to be colored, people. Get with the program. We see them unpainted today as it’s a bit tough for paint to survive a couple of thousand years. Just think of how often you have to repaint your house, and that’s with modern paint made from plastic and krazy-glue.

St Vitus Cathedral. Prague Castle. Painted wooden crucifixSpeaking of painted statues, plenty of depictions of Jesus adorn the Cathedral, as you could imagine, many made of silver and gold, their frames and crosses encrusted with jewels and gems.  Many were life sized, or parts of larger, grandiose works. But this humble, lonely, half-sized, painted wooden carving spends its days ignored by the crowds.  But isn’t it marvelous?  Who can give us some info on this work?  The artist?  When was it made?  Be the first to let us know and win either an all-expense-paid trip to be with Top Down Time on the road or a postcard (our choice).  Come on, people.  We don’t want to have to start making things up to sound smart.

We take a lof of photos, as you can see.  But pemission to photograph at the various exhibits and buildings of the castle is a bit schizophrenic. In some areas, you’re welcome to take pictures as you wish. In others, only photos without flash. In others yet, no pictures at all. And in others still, you may take pictures, but only if you paid a small additional fee when purchasing your ticket. It was all a bit confusing, but you can work it all out, smarty-pants. Oh, and that brings me to another note: Germans (and others, but apparently mostly Germans), WTF is up with you using flash photography were it’s banned? Cut that sh!t out. All you’re going to do is get ALL photography banned from those areas. And that will be just great for everyone, so thanks a lot, idioten. And a note to everyone else on flash use in general—it sucks. If you’re using flash, your pictures already look like crap, so don’t bother. kthxbye.

Churches

(and other you’re-not-welcome-without-money establishments)

St Nicholas Cathedral. PragueOK.. this was annoying, and our only real complaint about Prague: so far, whether Top Down Time sees a monumental gothic cathedral or some humble Romanesque chapel, we stroll in and take our time taking in the architecture, art, and feel of the place. Not in Praha. Nearly every church we saw was closed half the day, and, when open, only allowed entry with an admission fee of a few euros. On top of that, they generally banned photography, which is rather rude, after having us pay 8 euros to walk into your one-room structure (which isn’t being used for services). What would Jan Hus, the original Martin Luther, think of this?
Jan Hus in front of St Nicholas Church, Old Town Square, Prague

“I would NOT be amused.”

As such, we pretty much boycotted this horrid system of money-grubbing second only to that of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and just took a few pics of darkened interiors through the glass of locked doors (thank you, ISO3200 and f1.4G), the same locked doors through which old ladies who actually wanted to pray to Jesus had to say their prayers. When we went to visit the famous “Old New Synagogue,” it was more of the same: pay to get in along with the horde of tourists and take no pics. No thanks. Is there a mosque somewhere we can try next time, so we can be asked to pay admission and be banned from taking pics there as well?
Luckily, this museufication of religious institutions doesn’t spoil all the fun, since the outsides of these churches and cathedrals can be quite fabulous as well, as evidenced by the following shot of some high-relief sumptuousness over one of the doors of St. James Church, steps from Old Town Square. And keep in mind, these figures are life-sized, and there are THREE entrances covered in the same style of insanely sculpted splendor.  Doorway sculptures of St James Church, PragueThis church has several cool bits of associated history.  Here is where Count Vratislav of Mitrovice found his resting place… perhaps not by choice.  You see, he was accidentally buried alive in the tomb.  Whoops.  And about 400 years ago, a thief tried to steal from the High Altar.  The statue of Mary grabbed his arm and would not let go.  The monks had to cut off the offending extremity (the thief’s, not Mary’s) in order to free him, and his mummified member still resides in the church to this day.  Add to that a massive organ, over 20 altars, and paintings by several masters, and damn the entrance fee, you really want to see what’s going on inside.  But, of course, we couldn’t go inside and see any of this since the church was closed when we arrived, and would later ban photography, so we asked ourselves, “what would Jesus do?” Jesus would peep his Nikon through the window (hopefully, Mary wouldn’t catch him and poke him in the eye).
Interior of St. James Church, Prague

As huge and golden as you think this is, it’s huger and goldener.

So what’s going on here?  Why is this fantastic interior and others like it made less accessible to the public?  Well, about two-thirds of Chechs are self-identified as non-religious or agnostic.  Of the third who are left, once you take out any non-Christians, they have their pick from dozens of churches in town, each more fabulous than the last, spreading any congregations rather thin.  Combine that with the maintenance costs of structures such as these, and we see why cover needs to be charged (even though we think it’s a bit excessive).  And add to that all the tourists who completely ignore the “no flash photography” rules, and we see why all photography is banned to protect the several hundred year old artwork.  Bleh.  We might not like it, but it all makes sense.

 Church of Our Lady Before Týn courtyard entrance, PragueOh, and one last thing before we forget: if you’re trying to get to the Church of Our Lady Before Týn (perhaps to visit the grave of one Tycho Brahe), you might end up walking around and around and around the block, as we did, trying to figure out exactly how it is that one without the ability to phase through walls is expected to enter.  What you need to do is walk into another building–either a restaurant or a souvenier store.  Passing through, and emerging at the other end, you’ll find yourself in a tiny courtyard with the church doors before you.  We’re not quite sure how this particular architectural feature came to be, but we thought it was cool enough to share.  Oh, and if (unlike us) you’re lucky enough to be there during one of the 0, 2, or 4 hours it happens to be open that particular day, there is no photography allowed, but at least the entrance fee is only a suggested donation!

Architecture and statuary about town

Kranner's Fountain. Prague

OMG
!!!! Who designed this place? There’s simply no other way to describe the city than ‘monumental’ as nearly every sructure appears to have been contructed by the same aliens who built the pyramids–only this time, after they went to art school–with statues and reliefs and columns and frescoes and vases and faces and colors and pediments and friezes… insanity!

Old Town Hall, Old Town Square, Prague
We understand when cities have fancy city centers with signature squares and they make sure the buildings there are archiecturally kosher, but in Praha, it’s not about the city square… it seems as if every street in the whole darn city is vying for the title of ‘Miss Praha’ and all refuse to accept anything less than the View from New Town Hall belfry, Pragueprize tiara, even if their teeth are a touch crooked or they have a bit of a moustache on their upper lips. What the heck does that mean? It means that monumental, beautiful, well-kept buildings are everywhere, but you do see the occasional bit of graffiti scribbled on an otherwise immaculate facade, or McDonald’s sign atop of an ornate entryway which appears to have once been reserved for fine ladies in gowns and gentlemen in tails on their way to a kingly function.  But that’s OK.  Somehow, the minor blemishes ground the city, giving it more life than, say, the immaculate facades of Bruges. These bruises, (in small doses) are what makes the Old Town feel real and accessible; you aren’t afraid to disturb it if you shared in its vitality. Better yet, you could disturb it, and it would welcome the intrusion.

Doorway decorative statues. Prague

Now, we are not saying that the entire city is this outlandishly fanciful… it’s only several square MILES worth of the city. At some point, a long walk from the center, you cross some highways, and you get to see ‘normal’ residential buildings. But you won’t have time to get there (unless you’re visiting the DHL office with its cute, cute receptionist to pick up your overnighted ‘Zoundsmobile paperwork so you can convince the Belgian authorities that the broken car is, in fact, ours… but more on that another day.) But we digress.

Chechuv Bridge, Prague
Even the bridges are not immune from the architecture gods, as is evidenced here on Cechuv Bridge, the shortest bridge spanning the river separating the two halves of the city. But for sheer statuesqueliciousness you’d have to walk across Charles Bridge, a pedestrian path positively downing in the weight of tourists and thirty-odd massive stone statues (most of which have been rebuilt over the ages to repair damage caused by weather, time, war, and jealous gods who never had such fine work constructed in their honor.)
Charles Bridge Stauary, Prague
We could do an entire article of the statues of Charles Bridge (and we will, some day, upon a later visit to the city), but for now, can anyone explain what we’re sure must be an medieval easter egg in the following image?  Can you spot what doesn’t belong before we tell you what it is?Charles Bridge Stauary, Prague
No, we’re not talking about the “shroud” looking thing with the (Jesus?) face on it (though we are a bit confused by that as well). We’re talking about the pair of dice showing a roll of eight in the lower, right hand side. And keep in mind that this image is of a small part of a much larger statue, so the dice are rather hard to spot. What gives, art historians/religious studies majors?
Dancing House, PragueNow, of course, we can show you pics of baroque, renaissance, and art nouveau buildings and statues all day. For the most part, that’s what you’re going to see, and they’re all stupendous. But don’t underestimate the propensity of more modern styles of art and architecture to appear where you least expect them. The ‘Dancing House’ (nicknamed “Fred and Ginger”) seen here is a perfect example, as are the works of David Černý, which are scattered around town. David’s creepy babies (pictured below) are rather disconcerting and absolutely massive (as tall as a man at their shoulders, and as tall as a very, very short man at their elbows).
David Cerny Baby Statues, Prague

Another fantastic Černý piece can be found (literally) hanging David Cerny Horse Statue. Praguearound the Lucerna Palace, now an art deco mall with a theatre, cafes, and shops. We were in there looking for a memory card when we were blasted in the face by this gigantic depiction of St. Wenceslaus riding his horse (we won’t tell you what it really means…  but let’s just say that Mr. Černý’s work quite often has a strong political angle–and he’s not talking about kings from the 1200’s). When we took these pics, we had no idea the works were by the same artist, but some net-tastic research yielded plenty more by this wild creator.  Look him up, and make sure to check out his work “Brown-nosers”. It’s a real treat!  We’ll have to find it the next time we’re in town.

Speaking of statues, while walking along the eastern bank of the Vltava, heading north across the old town, you encounter these twin sphinxes, each large enough to ride into battle, guarding the western entrance to the Rodolfinum.

Left Sphinx guarding the Rudolfinum, PragueRight Sphinx guarding the Rudolfinum, Prague

What? You forgot the Rudolfinum already? We told you there would be a test, and you just failed! Go back and re-read the entire article.

Anyway, while the western entrance to this amazing musical performance space, with its beautifully detailed sphinxes and river views might be grandiose enough in most cities’ books, it just doesn’t cut it for Praha. To be Praha cool, an entrance should look more like the southern facade, which you’ve already seen. But have you taken a really close look?  Let us help you out with that:

Rudolfinum. Jan Palach Square. Prague

Let’s start off with the scale of it all.  Look at the tiny little man in the lower left, hoping the muses seated at either side of the stairs allow him safe passage (or wondering why that fool with the Nikon is taking pictures of him–get out of my shot, grandpa!)  He’s actually a bit smaller in scale than the statues seen here.  And see the stone bannister on the second floor?  That’s a normal-height bannister, giving you an idea how tall the ceilings happen to be. When building, build big!  Now, let’s zoom in some so we can see a bit more detail from the same shot, shall we:

Rudolfinum Detail. Jan Palach Square. Prague

Look at this marvelous winged angel. She would be a fantastic addition to any major art musuem around the world–the billowing drapery of her dress, sense of motion created by her uplifted right foot, and the marvelously detailed corinthian column on which she stands adding to her majesty. But look past her, if you can, and you can see fantastic decorative columns surrounding massive windows topped by lion headed brackets each flanked by a pair of flowery treatments, all beneath marvelous cornices.

Rudolfinum Detail. Jan Palach Square. Prague

Another section shows us ornately carved vases topping the stone bannister surrounding the attic. As it is a concert hall, we also see statues of Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach, among others (life sized, of course).

Rudolfinum Detail. Jan Palach Square. Prague

And what do you do when you have a distubing amount of flat space? You fill it with relief, that’s what! And those reliefs should have heads and flowers and shields and animals and harps and wreaths and stars and should sit under a weathered copper roof guarded by painted lions’ heads.

We wonder what this place must look like from the inside!  We’re guessing painted ceilings and interior columns, but you’ll have to stay tuned for another installment. (Yes, another trip to Prague must be planned.)

Municipal House Hall, PragueOf course, the Rudolfinum, though amazing, is hardly unique in Praha. Hardly. Even Obecni Dum, or Municipal House Hall (which, by name alone, should be a square, windowless concrete box) would serve excellently as the architectural centerpiece of just about any other city on the planet. Yes, wayyyyyyy above street level, where you’d only see it if you were either looking up or riding in a flying taxi, is yet another amazing marriage of sculpture and architecture in this art-nouveau masterpiece.  And forget the statues and facades for a minute… look at that glass dome.  Glass dome.   Ridiculous.

Municipal House Hall Detail. Prague

We told you aliens built this town, and, as you can clearly see, we weren’t lying. Actually, let’s correct that a bit. This building repressents exactly why it is that this town looks so amazing. It wasn’t as if they hired the local architecture firm which had one of its junior partners draw up some plans over the weekend. At the turn of the 20th century, the city commissioned the building, which was built over 6 years between 1906 and 1912. The city originally had a competition for the design, but no clear winner emerged, so two architects gathered together 30 of the greatest designers, sculptors, and artists of the time to collaborate. What you’re basically getting is a top-end art show crammed into a single structure. And from what we can see, egos seem to have been checked at the door, with all aspects of the structure appearing to flow seamlessly into one another other. More, please.

Schwarzenberg Palace, PragueNow, when you’re talking about facades where you can see the works of multiple artists, the most common modern equivilent would be a wall covered in graffiti.  DON’T do graffiti. DO sgraffito. What’s sgraffito? We’re glad you asked. (You did ask.  Don’t deny.)

Here’s your impress-the-art-history-chicks fact of the day: sgraffito (in our case here) is a technique whereby the artist applies multiple layers of contrastingly colored plaster to produce a final image. (The term may also refer to a ceramics or pottery scratching treatment, but we’re not talking about that here.) So why are we bringing sgraffito up? Because the Schwarzenberg Palace outside of Prague Castle is Praha’s best example of renaissance architecture, and it literally covered in sixteenth century sgraffito of North Italian and Venetian type. Look at that… all that detail… it’s not painted on, it’s literally plastered on.  We said it before, and we’lll say it again: craziness!

Schwarzenberg Palace Detail, Prague

For those of you who studied up on Dutch roofing from our last article (as well you should have), you’ll also notice the high gables. Woot! And if you’d llike to learn something entirely new, beneath the gables happen to be lunette cornices (it’s true). With this newfound wisdom (and a modicum of weed), you should now be able to get laid at Tisch. Enjoy, but don’t forget to bag it.

The people

Wedding day in PraguePrahamanians (they’re not really called that at all) are great people. Everyone was very friendly, even couples rushing to take wedding photos at sceneic backdrops would gladly pause to let you take a quick snapshot. Communication was rather easy anywhere in the areas of town you’d be visiting. Even when we ventured outside the city center, we ran into plenty of English speakers (remember that the Czech Republic borders Germany, English is a Germanic language, and the A-Team (the show, not that dreadful movie) was in English, so it’s not a stretch for locals to learn the language invented by George Washington. The one time we were stuck in a fairly deserted area and couldn’t find an English speaker when searching for a taxi, we had a frazzle-haired local walk us halfway down the street gesturing and pointing and generally confusing us with his helpfulness (unlike other non-English speakers we ecountered, he felt that by speaking his local language faster rather than slower, we would have more opportunities to pick up a few words we understand). We can certainly say that the Czech people try to solve any problems they encounter with much more vigor than the more laid-back Western Europeans who are content to point you to someone else who may or may not be able to help you. We also noticed that people in Praha walked the streets faster than we did. It’s an odd thing to encounter. Having spent quite the stretch of time in NYC, we had never seen people anywhere do that!

Graffiti in the modern area of Prague

Of course, every city has its troublemaking youth–the kind you want off your lawn–such as those who graffitied this underpass separating one of the older historic neighborhoods from one of the newer, blander outskirts of town. But there are those who go a step further, tagging areas in the old town, such as this passageway steps away from the Old Town square.

Graffiti in the Old Town, by Old Town Square, Prague

Unfortunately, you see quite a bit of graffiti, but usually to a much lesser extent that in the photos we’ve just posted. Apparently, we were told this wasn’t a problem several years ago. We hope the issue gets resolved sooner rather than later, as it would be a shame to let it take away from the magnificence of this town. But the worst offenders of all, the most eggregious violators of All Which Is Holy, those evil, cruel monsters deserving of nothing better than the 10th circle of Hell are of a type as yet unmentioned. We know we shouldn’t give them any sort of acknowledgement, but we must. They cause us pain too great to ignore. They will be always and forever known as:Bitch Stole My Look. Prague

Bitch.

Stole.

My.

Look.

Public Amateur Piano Performance. Prague
Of course, Good always rises when confronted with Evil. And in this case, this guy was really Good. At playing the piano. He was so dedicated that he had chained himself to the instrument and refused to do anything but practice, all day, every day, in a supreme effort to perfect his craft.  Actually, it’s the chair that’s chained to the Piano.  We’re pretty sure the piano was chained to the building, though if someone really wanted the piano, we doubt a chain would have stopped them.  In any case, the city of Prague has placed a number of pianos in public location for passers-by to give impromptu performances.  In the crowd of onlookers, you see shoppers, businesspeople, kids, tourists, and possibly not less than one ecstatic pickpocket enjoying the proceedings.

Clubbing

Praha has some fantastic and diverse nightlife. There are plenty of bars scattered about town, from high-end lounges (which weren’t terribly expensive) to low-down dives, where you could get glasses of absinthe for a dollar or so. The thing to remember is that the Czech Republic is famous for its home-brewed beer, and, in restaurants and bars, beer is quite often cheaper to order than bottled water (odd, but true). Czechs drink more beer, per capita, than any other people on the planet. Take THAT, you underachieving Germans and Irish and American football fans! If you’re not a beer drinker, and prefer hard alcohol, it’s not terribly cheap, and it’s metered, so make sure you bring more cash and ask for a double shot if you want to feel any sort of buzz (and we do).

Bearded nightclub dancer in a bra. Karlovy Lazne. Prague
You’ll need a triple shot to deal with bearded-dancing-guy-in-bra.

Praha also boasts plenty of great clubs (remember, this is Europe, so if you say “nightclub” you mean “strip bar”—keep that in mind when you ask the old lady in the street for directions). Among the more mundane variety of clubs (call them “discos,” just to be safe) is Karlovy lázně, the largest club in central Europe. This joint is 5+ stories of AWESOME! It reminded us of a larger version of NYC’s Limelight, with winding staircases, twisting corridors, a labyrinthine feel, and every genre of music you could remember (while drunk) playing in one of its dozens of rooms. One mildly disconcerting fact: the age of entry is sixteen. Sixteen!! And old-us weren’t the oldest people in the club, either. But as the club fills up, the age of the crowd tends to settle into the 20-30 range. We could tell you that we saw some very skimpy outfits, but we’d rather show you:

Short Shorts at Karlovy Lazne, Prague“What do they mean “skimpy outfits”? If it weren’t so cold, I’d be wearing my thong.”

The club is so big and the lines can get so long that a number of other clubs have opened in the surrounding area to cater to the spillover crowd which refuses to wait to get in. So Top Down Time’s advice is to get there early and stay late. What else are you going to do with your liver?  Well, you could always take it to the following hepatitis inducing party…

Empty Shop Window with gig advertisement photos. Lesser Town. Prague

It may be a bit tough to see the full detail in that Lesser Town abandoned store window with all those other posters cluttering the view, so let us zoom in on it for you, shall we?
Fekal Party Poster. Prague
Now, you already know that we don’t judge, and we are close to Germany (Top Down Time knows you’ve been looking at those randy German videos online). We wanted to go, of course, not for our own entertainment, or to see performances by ‘Human Humus’ (sounds delicious) or ‘Entrails Massacre’ (not so tasty) but for purposes of bringing you, our inquisitive reader, the full Central European experience.  Sadly, we had a plane, train, and/or automobile to catch on that day, and thus were unable to partake of what must have been an experience worthy of ‘two Top Down Timers’ bringing home ‘one cup’ as a souvenier. If you don’t know what we’re talking about, consider yourself lucky and don’t Google it. Seriously.

The city

So, overall, what makes PragueTop Down Time’s mostest highliest recommendidist city in Europe to visit out of all of our destinations so far? People? Good peeps! Food? Great eats! Clubs? Dancelicious! Museums/Operas/Orchestras/Music? Get some! Architecture? OMFGINCRIDIBLEHOLYCOWWOWWOWWOW!!!! The city is positively monumental. You won’t be staying in a city, so much as staying in a living, breathing museum. It feels like one of those crazy Star Trek cities where the setting looks like it was designed by a Hollywood CGI doodler with too much time on his hands, yet you are surrounded by a populace busy going about its daily business. It’s awesome AND real! Check it out!  We know we’ll be back for more of same as well as to experience more sights and attractions we missed the first time around.

And… one more shot of our favorite place in Praha, to thank you, our loyal reader, for making it this far down the page:

Prague Nightclub. Thank you! No, madam, thank YOU!

2 thoughts on “Praha

  1. this was amazing. definitely inspiring me to visit places i would never think of going. keep it coming. so informative. love it!

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