Wednesday 9th September 1998
Tour of Vysehrad Castle
The weather today was much improved - sunny but not boiling. We waited in reception for our driver to arrive to take us for our boat trip and tour of Vysehrad castle. When the driver appeared we recognised him straight away - it was the same man who had collected us from the airport on Monday morning. After collecting a few other people along the way from other hotels, he deposited us at a meeting point for the tour company. However, our bus was late - it had been involved in an accident somewhere in the town centre. Consequently, the tour guide had to do a lot of talking even before we'd seen anything, just to pass the time. Also on our tour were a couple from Rio de Janeiro and a couple of old ladies from Suffolk. The two ladies, who were sisters, seemed to be whingers at first, but we warmed to them later.
On the tour we saw loads we'd seen already seen on postcards and the tour guide was a mine of useful information, telling us the history of all that we saw. Only thing is because of the delay earlier, he was flying through everything too fast so you were lucky if you heard him or even saw what he was talking about. This was not going to change throughout the tour!
We walked through a graveyard where all of the Czech scholars, composers, scientists and other important people from the country's history were buried. One of the two ladies had to skip this part of the tour as she had a heart condition. Still, it didn't stop her smoking her B&H! Then it was on to another church and then the ruins of Vysehrad. Less of a castle, more of a tower ruin on the edge of a hill with a commanding view of the river to the north and south.
We then took a minibus ride back to the old town area with the guide giving us a running commentary on anything we drove past, again enlightening us on bits of Prague (and the Czech Republic) history at lightning speed. The guide also pointed out the family home of PM Vaclav Havel which was smack bang next to one of Prague's new architectural offerings, The Dancing Lady. We made a mental note to go and have a look at this strange building later.
Out on foot again, and once more with our running shoes on, we visited the church Prazske Jezulatko - which has the infant Jesus of Prague. Basically, a doll that gets dressed up differently every day and has new clothes donated by visiting dignitaries and so on. A blessed Barbie, or something like that.
We then joined a boat tour that cruised up and down the Vltava. We were sat with the old ladies who were great company. They had travelled extensively but had a soft spot for the Caribbean. Conversation was occasionally broken by the uninvited arrival of a wasp but I soon developed a way to get rid of them. The wasp, not the old ladies.
When the boat trip ended we stepped back up on to Charles Bridge. The tour guide lead the way with the use of a little baton decorated with ribbons that he'd hold above his head. The bridge can get quite crowded and it was with this in mind that he warned us about pickpockets. Finally we found out the history of the statue that everyone touched. It was a statue of St John Nepomucky, otherwise known as the patron saint of bridges. The story goes that old John sided with the archbishop against the king in a power struggle between the church and the state. At the command of King Wenceslas IV, the king's men threw him off the bridge. The corpse was later recovered further down stream, but the statue was placed at the point where he was thrown off. How that gives him the credentials to be a patron saint of bridges is beyond me - hardly seems like a blessing!
Church of Our Lady Before Tyn
We then headed in to the old town centre, home to the astronomical clock and the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn - two of the city's most famous images. We said our farewells to the guide at this point and also to the two ladies who we'd chatted to quite a bit during the course of the morning. Before venturing anywhere else, Manda and I sat down for something to eat in an Italian restaurant right underneath the twin spires of the impressive church. Our view from under the canopied restaurant was across the Old Town Square with the war monument on our right and the tower of the town hall in front.
Another group of oldies sat next to us - we seem to attract them - who were having problems with their camera. I said I'd have a look at it, see if I could fix it for them. A little bend of a misshapen prong in the winding mechanism was all it took to fix the camera. The old duffers were well happy and took a picture of Manda and me to remember their saviours by - but not before I'd taken a test photo of one of the old ladies with a mouthful of food!
We stopped by the astronomical clock - it was about to turn the hour so an expectant crowd was gathering waiting for the clock to do its thing. And that was for a series of characters to pass a window above the clock face while marionettes danced either side, with a grand finale of a hen crowing. Hmmm, it wasn't the most riveting performance we'd ever seen but at least it explained why so many street vendors in the square were trying to sell clucking model chickens to the tourists.
Then it was tower time. The climb up the tower of the Town Hall was quite tiring but Manda was more bothered about the final stretch. After walking the inside perimeter of the tower, the final steps were a metal staircase directly above the out-of-service lift's shaft - a view from high up straight down a gaping hole! Still, once out on top, it was soon forgotten, replaced by the fantastic views all round.
Late afternoon was just drawing in, and the walk seemed leisurely and relaxed as everyone around us was beginning to unwind. Soon we came to the powder tower which stands right next to the golden municipal building. Like the National Theatre, the golden municipal building is used for a number of high profile events and the decoration reflects the artistic shows that are hosted here.
The Dancing Lady
We jumped on to the tube at this point (Namesti Republiky) and headed to Karlovo Namesti (or Charles Square to you and me) to find the Dancing Lady, the warped new building we had seen from the bus earlier. The building won an architectural award and is supposed to represent Ginger Rogers and Fred Astair waltzing across the floor. We then headed back in the direction of the National Theatre and found out what others invariably find in Prague - if you walk just a couple of streets away from the main tourist centres, the price of a meal can immediately be halved. And so it was in the Romanticky Restaurant. We had a 4 course meal and the total bill came to £14!!
Night time photo opportunities
After the meal we wandered back up along the length of the river. It was already pitch black outside. The castle across the other side of the river was floodlit in a spectrum of colour - a photo opportunity made for the intrepid tripod owner! After taking quite a few pictures here, it was time to head back to Old Town square for some more night time photos.
We took photos of the tower with the Church of Our Lady in the background from a few different locations. It was a whole different ball game in the evening, with fewer people milling around in the square, most of them instead taking a pew in the open air restaurants. We decided to join in, give the photos a knock on the head and try some of the cocktails on offer. Following that, we took a walk back into the centre of the new town where Planet Hollywood is situated. Unlike the Planet Hollywoods in other countries, this one doesn't have queues to get in, or at least it didn't on the night we were there. In fact, it wasn't really all that busy inside, but the crowd that were there made up for the lack in numbers with noise. They didn't appear to be tourists - it was more like an office party.