Ahhh, Prague. Prague had been on my bucket list for quite a number of years, but when we moved to Paris, it quickly went from dream to potential reality. So when Husband finally said “well let’s go somewhere!” Prague was at the top of my list. I knew it would be more than just a weekend trip, especially when hauling 3 kids around with us, so we checked the calendar and picked a 4 day long weekend in April, in hopes that the weather would be nice, but the city wouldn’t be full of tourists yet (and with the exception of the first day there, the weather WAS beautiful, and while the Saturday was busy with tourists, it was not unbearable by any means). Our Flight There Anyone flying with kids knows how stressful it is, even for a short, hour and a half long flight. The more painful part isn’t even the flight itself, it is the several hours at the airport before! Luckily, our kids are getting to be pretty seasoned fliers, and it is getting easier and easier to entertain them. The older ones, at least! The favourite way for the 6 and 4 year old to pass the time is with their tablet, and their whiteboards. They make up games, draw pictures, and practice writing words. The baby, on the other hand, is a bit more difficult. Ok, a lot more difficult. His favourite thing to do is bang on the seat in front of him with his fists or kick it with his feet, and make loud squealy noises. Sorry passengers in row 8! And now that he is fully mobile, we probably won’t go anywhere ever again. At least until he can handle a marker and whiteboard without drawing on the seats and windows.
We arrived in Prague at about 8 in the evening, and the company who owns the AirBnB apartment that we stayed in sent a driver and van (equipped with an infant seat for the baby) to pick us up and take us to the apartment, which was helpful. Hunter and Bennett fell asleep pretty quickly, but Taigen stayed awake to see the lit-up Prague castle on the hill, and we were not at all surprised by her audible little gasp. We got settled into the apartment and hit the sack!
The next morning we got up and headed out to find some breakfast.
The first thing that we came across that we pretty cool was a fountain (Kranner’s Fountain( at the end of our street, and across the road from the Vltava river.
Once we were at the river across from Kranner’s Fountain, we had a fantastic view of the castle district. These photos were taken on 2 separate days, the first morning we were there it was cloudy and grey, and the second morning was bright and sunny!
So to get to the Castle from our side of the river, we first obviously had to cross the river. This was accomplished by walking over the Charles Bridge. Construction on the Charles Bridge, or Karlův most in Czech, began in 1357. The bridge is 621 m long and nearly 10 m wide, resting on 16 arches. It is protected by 3 bridge towers, one of them on the “Old Town” (south) side of the river, and the other two on the castle side of the river. The bridge is decorated by 30 baroque style statues, which were put in place in the 1700s.
Once we had crossed the river, and hit up a McDonald’s for breakfast (I know, my first meal in Prague was at McDonald’s! Don’t judge me, my kids needed to eat!), we set off to find one of the more popular routes into the castle, that being via the “Old Castle Stairs.”
Once we got to the top of the stairs and gave Daddy (the stroller carrier) a breather, we looked at/out/over the old ramparts that run along the outside of the castle. Hunter loved to pretend he was shooting arrows out of the holes in the wall!
From the Old Castle Stairs we entered the castle through the eastern gate, which was guarded with two ever-dignified and austere guards. The castle area is full of cool old buildings that used to be houses, meeting halls and the actual old “castle” itself, as well as St. Vitus Cathedral. Our first stop was pretty much right inside the Eastern Gate, in an old, 4 or 5 story building called Supreme Burgrave’s House, which was the house of a very important person- the highest official and the deputy of the king. When the king was out of the country, the burgrave was the dude that got to call all of the shots! This office was served by the most prominent members of noble families. The originally Gothic house was built in the 13th century, then restored several times. For a short time it was a contemporary accommodation for the Czech king and the Roman emperor Karel IV. Today’s Renaissance look comes from the year 1555, when the house had to be reconstructed after a big fire. The gate is decorated by coats of arms of four important burgraves from the 17th and 18th century. The North wing of this building houses the Toy Museum, which is the second largest exposition of toys in the world, from ancient Greece to the present! I wanted to make sure we had a good mixture of stuff the kids would like to do, as well as things to satisfy the history buff in myself, just to keep everyone happy.
After the Toy Museum, we continued our walk through the castle complex, and came up to the back side of the stunning St. Vitus Cathedral. The cathedral, like so many other great European cathedrals, is constructed in the gothic style, and contains the tombs of many great Bohemian Kings and Holy Roman Emperors. The current cathedral is the third of a series of religious buildings at the site, all dedicated to St. Vitus. The first church was an early Romanesque rotunda, founded by Wenceslaus I in 930. Wenceslaus had acquired a holy relic- the arm of St. Vitus, from Emperor Henry I, hence the name St. Vitus Cathedral.
In the year 1060, prince Spytihněv II embarked on building a more spacious church, and a larger basilica was built in its place. Part of the rotunda was incorporated into the new church because it housed the tomb of St. Wenceslaus, who had by now become the patron saint of the Czech princes.
The present-day Gothic Cathedral was founded in 1344, one of its patrons being Charles IV, King of Bohemia and the next Holy Roman Emperor, who intended the new cathedral to be a coronation church, family crypt, treasury for the most precious relics of the kingdom, and the last resting place cum pilgrimage site of patron saint Wenceslaus.
Apparently the most impressive part of St. Vitus is the Chapel of St. Wenceslaus, but it isn’t open to the public. The walls are adorned with hundreds of precious gems, and a small door with seven locks, in the south-western corner of the chapel, leads to the Crown Chamber containing the Czech crown jewels, which are only displayed to the public only once every 8 years. In order to unlock the door, all 7 keyholders must be present- the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, the Prague Archbishop, the Chairman of the House of Deputies, the Chairman of the Senate, the Dean of the Metropolitan Chapter of St. Vitus Cathedral and the Lord Mayor of Prague.
Next stop was the Golden Lane. This is a street in the castle complex where, legend has it, alchemists would go to look for reactions to create gold. Basically, it is a short street of cute, colourful houses.
After the Golden Lane, you exit into the Daliborka Tower, which was built in 1496 as part of the original fortifications, and was the castle’s dungeon and torture chamber. The walls are 2.5 meters thick in places!
We went to check out the Old Royal Palace next. Like many historical buildings, it has quite the history- began in the 9th century, but destroyed, rebuilt, knocked down, rebuilt, added onto, etc etc etc. One of the most significant places in the Old Royal Palace is Vladislav Hall, a huge room that used particularly for royal state purposes. It was the scene of coronation festivities and banquets, markets with artistic and luxurious goods, and even for knight’s jousting tournaments! Even today, the elections of the president of the Czech Republic and ceremonial gatherings connected with important days in the life of this country take place in it.
Another room I saw was The Old Diet. This was the room where the courts would converge, with thrones for the king and the archbishop.
There were a couple rooms open to the public that I didn’t get pictures of, and these were two Chancellory rooms. One of them is a historical place, where the Thirty Years´ War actually started: the rebellion of Czech Protestant nobles started here with throwing two imperial governors out of the window in 1618- called the Defenestration of Prague!
From here we went to the main (west) gates of the castle complex to watch the changing of the guards ceremony. We couldn’t see much during the ceremony because we were quite far back, but the kids thought it was neat, and afterwards we went out and took some pictures of the main gate.
The last thing that we really saw in the castle complex was powder tower. Powder Tower was the largest of the cannon towers, and was built at the end of the 15th century as part of the new castle fortifications. In the 16th century the bell maker Tomas Jaros lived and worked here. And his bell, Zikmund, still rings overhead in the cathedral’s bell tower. At one point, an alchemist’s laboratory was located here; later it was a gunpowder store and a dungeon, and until the 20th century it served as the residence of the cathedral sexton. Today it houses a permanent exhibition about the Castle Guard.
Like I mentioned before, the view of the city from the castle complex was simply amazing. Breathtaking. One of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen! And, not surprisingly, I took about a million and three pictures of it!
We left the castle district to walk around the rest of Malá Strana a bit, including down the famed Nerudova street, which has a ton of cool buildings and nice views. These are the pictures from our random walking around in the “Lesser Town.”
One of the last things we did on our first day was also, in my opinion, one of the most amazing. We went to the Lennon Wall. The wall used to be just a plain white wall in the Lesser Town. But in the early 1980’s, students started painting quotes and lyrics from Lennon and the Beatles, and also grievances they had against the government. By 1988, it was a source of irritation for the communist regime. In November, 2014, the wall was painted over in white by a group of art students, leaving only the text “wall is over.” This was done on the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, the end of the communist rule in Czechoslovakia. But 5 months later when we visited, the wall was filled back up again, and the “wall is over” graffiti had been turned into “War is over.” There was a couple of guys playing guitar and singing Beatles songs, which totally made my day. Of course I wasn’t prepared enough to even have a black sharpie, but I did have a pen, so the kids signed their names before we left.
And that pretty much ended our first day. On the way home from the Lennon Wall we stopped and checked out Kampa Island a little bit, and then we trudged back across the Charles Bridge, much more slowly this time, and hauled our tired kids back to the apartment for dinner and bed!
Next up- Day two of our Prague trip: Petrin Hill, Vysehrad, and Nové Mesto!