The Prague Castle
We escape a gruesome fate. We visit the Prague Castle and where the Thunderbirds are go. Cycling spontaneously turns into a barbecue (part 1).
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I have to commit these lines to paper while there is still time left and before my last strength fails me, for we have just been roasted like two slices of bacon in the Czech sun.
Where were we? Ah yes, the day after Prague. As we had spent two days mostly walking, we chose to spend the day around the pension, enjoying the sun in the garden. Between the stack of books that we brought and two smartphones filled with apps* and games, that was no problem at all. Vonne started out on Imogen Robertson’s Circle of Shadows, while I immersed myself in the new Sherlock Holmes adventure The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz.
During the afternoon, we went to check on the lake across the golf resort to see whether we could go for a cooling swim. Once there, we were the only ones present and a closer look at the water made us doubt our plan. Was it a rainwater basin, a drainage basin for the golf course, or a manmade lake? A few fish were darting through the water and we had seen other people swimming in it earlier, so those were good signs. On the other hand, it was located right next to some buildings for the golf course technical services and we found a broken sign in the grass with big black Czech lettering which quite possibly stated “swim here and die”. We had also not seen the Czech people who swam in it again. So there was that.
We decided to let caution guide us and strolled back to the pension. Once back, we entered the words for as far as we could remember them into Google Translate, and they turned out to be several variations on “Danger”, “Irritation”, “Poison”, “Life” and “Don’t do it”. It is possible that the sign came from elsewhere or had been abandoned there after the lake had been cleaned up six years ago, but I will just choose to assume that we narrowly escaped death and that the people we saw earlier are now sleeping with the fishes.
Prague: Part Deux
One day is not enough for Prague, so on Wednesday too we departed for the capital to see the sights. The metro-escalator-ride up was already more pleasant this time around, so you apparently adapt and develop the required tunnel vision quickly. We wanted to visit the Prague Castle, where the palace and the imposing St. Vitus Cathedral are located. A daily highlight is supposed to be the changing of the guard at the palace, which happens around noon. So just before that time, we walk onto the palace square to watch the spectacle. Right on time. Wrong. As any Prague aficionado will be able to tell you, is that the event is more popular than even the Charles Bridge, and you are going to have to show up well in advance to get a spot up front. Otherwise, you end up behind three rows of tourists and a veritable forest of extended phones, cameras and—not kidding—iPads.
The Tour de France has nothing on this: the guardsmen come marching onto the square, flanked by an impenetrable row of tourists, with their formation closely followed by another group of tourists at least as big. At the palace, the ceremony takes place with a parade to some heroic music, which reminds Vonne immediately of the Thunderbirds. As the Prague guards do indeed carry light blue uniforms, I half expect the palace roof to suddenly slide back to make way for a rocket launching from within, but nothing like that happens. The guards in the cabins are expertly and efficiently relieved from their duty by their fellows and the whole parade marches back down the square. Within no time, the herd of tourists has dispersed as if vanished into thin air. Fortunately, Prague still has plenty more on offer.
With the Castle once again appropriately guarded, we can safely enter and do so. We soon find ourselves in front of the enormous cathedral, which stands within the castle walls on a square, from which it turns out to be impossible to capture the entire building on a single photograph. I can hear Vonne sigh when she realises that this event is going to be used as a future excuse to justify the purchase of a wide-angle lens. At the information desk a variety of tickets is on sale for the several parts of the castle and we purchase one that grants us access to the entire cathedral, the old royal palace, St. George’s basilica and the Golden Lane.
Inside Prague Castle
The cathedral interior is very beautiful with the usual stained glass windows and several chapels, but also with the impressive grave of St. John Nepomucene. We do miss the Bohemian crown jewels that are supposed to be on display somewhere, but fortunately we can behold them later in the day in a souvenir shop which carries replicas. When ordered by both price and dignity, they rank from gold to metal to plastic to cardboard. We get a pretty clear impression of what they look like, although the mental image of the Bohemian King assembling his cardboard scepter remains an amusing one.
The St. George basilica is a bit less impressive, especially as the burial chamber currently serves as a repository for electronic equipment. That is what you get for defeating a dragon and going down in history a saint: you get the noble task of guarding the construction workers’ hifi-set and extension cords. The old royal palace is equally lacking in splendour. Of course, the Great Hall really is very great; if you are able to have your armoured knights come riding up a beautifully domed hallway into your hall to have a tournament right there, you are doing something right. But there are hardly any furnishings left in the castle, and the only real furniture are the bookshelves which once stored the royal administration, accompanied by signs explaining which committee was responsible for which section and in what year their tasks were delegated to which bureaucratic office. I mean, as a historian I can appreciate the value of that information, but is that really what you want to draw visitors with?
The mental image of the Bohemian king assembling his cardboard scepter remains an amusing one.
More interesting is the Window of the Defenestration. You see, they invented a pretty innovative way to get rid of your political opponents, which is by defenestrating them. Now, you might wonder what sort of special procedure that is which has gotten so ornate a name; well, it is the deft removal of one’s opponents by tossing them out of the window. Works best on higher situated floors and with houses or castles located on a precipice. And this specific window had three catholic gouvernors tossed out of it in 1618 by protestant rebels, an event which ignited the Thirty Years’ War. What happened to those unfortunate enough to be defenestrated, depends on whom you ask. According to the catholics, all three were graciously saved by an angel of God. The protestant version agrees with their salvation, but points out that the angel did choose to appear in the form of a pile of manure which had been outside the window. A Czech tourguide addressing a group of Americans went with the version that the hillside underneath the window in all likelihood had broken their fall, from which point they rolled down to safer territory. Odd people, the Czech.
My imagination did not particularly trigger on the words Golden Lane: a street with small houses along the city wall, which had once housed the goldsmiths. But apparently the houses had passed from their original owners to a great variety of inhabitants who had actually lived there until the Second World War. Franz Kafka, for example, lived in one for several years, while another belonged to a Czech cineast who had hidden a large amount of film reels in it from the nazis during the war and had regularly displayed them for fellow enthusiasts in a tiny room. One could not call any of the houses along the Lane spacious or any variation thereof (not even the inn, which was impossible to enter or exit with as little as two people at once), but some were really tiny. A living/bedroom slash kitchen, a seperate room for the toilet and an extra room of two by one metre: that is it. About half of the houses now serves as a souvenir shop, but the other half retains its original furnishings, giving a good impression of how they were inhabited.
Once out of the Lane, our visit of the Prague Castle came to an end as well. We had another lovely dinner in a Prague restaurant before taking the now familiar route along Zličín back to Vysoký Újezd.