Prague – A Charming City

Prague – A Charming City

Prague, Czech Republic – June 20, 2010

Warning – this was a long trip.  It is a long blog post!

I must say, Prague is my favorite city on this planet.  It is absolutely beautiful.  The people are nice, most speak English, and the food is great!!!

We stayed at the Alchymist Grand Hotel and Spa.  This is a wonderful hotel.  I highly recommend it to anyone visiting the city.  It is literally right across the street from the U.S. Embassy.  In the dining room, there is a spectacular crystal chandelier.  The Czech Republic is world renown for the crystal it produces.  The building that houses the hotel dates from 1517.  That is officially the oldest hotel at which I have stayed.

Taking a break while unpacking in our room.
The year in which the building housing the Alchymist Grand Hotel was completed.

After checking-in and settling into our room, we needed to figure out where to eat on our first evening in Prague.  One of the staff at the reception desk recommended David’s.  It was an easy walk from the hotel, only about one block just around the corner and up the hill from the hotel on Tržiště.  That was one of the best meals I have had in quite some time.

Waiting for our meal at Restaurant David.

Following our meal, we returned to the hotel for a nightcap.  Sitting in a 16th-century ambiance was enjoyable.

The entrance to the Alchymist Grand Hotel.
Detail of one of the sitting rooms in the hotel.
My traveling companion beginning to tire.

The next morning, we rose early (not unusual) for breakfast, eager to begin our exploration of Prague.  In the area of the hotel, the streets are all cobblestone.  The patterns are charming.  It was entertaining to watch the red streetcars going by in each direction, taking commuters to their daily business.

Leaving the hotel, we walked to the Charles bridge.  King Charles IV commissioned the bridge in 1357.  We were so early that there were very few people out.  The bridge is world-famous, in part, due to the numerous statues that line the sides of the bridge.

Just south of the bridge, I spotted the Mlýn Huť (Water Mill with Gremlin) on the Čertovka Canal.  I am certain that in the past the wheel provided power for manufacturing or grinding meal.

From the Charles Bridge, looking back to the west, one can easily see St. Vitus Cathedral and Prague Castle.  The views look like something one might see on the box of a jigsaw puzzle.

At the bridge, the river is quite wide, maybe 500 meters (1,640 feet or about 1/3 of a mile) or so.  There is a lot of traffic on the river.  There are also several anglers on the river in small boats at any one time.

A furry friend in the sitting room.
The fox in the henhouse?
Detail of a chandelier in the dining area of the Alchymist Grand Hotel.
The entrance to our hotel in daylight.
View to the east on Tržiště (Marketplace Street).
Two trams passing on Karmelitská.
The tram stop at Malostranské Náměstí (Lesser Town Square).
1714 sculpture of Saints John of Matha, Felix of Valois, and Ivan on Karlův Most (Charles Bridge).
Detail of the sculpture of Saints John of Matha, Felix of Valois, and Ivan.
The Mlýn Huť (Water Mill with Gremlin); however, the gremlin is absent.
The view north along Čertovka Canal.
On the Charles Bridge, looking west toward Malostranská Mostecká Věž (Lesser Town Bridge Tower).
From the Charles Bridge, one could see a couple of anglers on the Vltava River.
From Charles Bridge, the view to Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral.
The Crucifix and Calvary. The original crucifix at this site dated from about 1361. The current configuration dates from 1861. According to local lore, the Hebrew letters were a punishment for a Jew accused of blasphemy in 1696. The words read, “Holy, Holy, Holy, the Lord of Hosts.”
Looking west across the Vltava River.
Detail of a memorial to Charles IV, the namesake of the bridge that dates from 1357. The memorial is beside the Kostel Svatého Františka z Assisi (St. Francis Of Assisi Church).
A passing tram on Křížovnické Náměstí.
The Sovovy Mlýny restaurant (Sova’s Mill) on the west bank of the Vltava River.
Charles Bridge.
A lone swan in the Vltava River.
The large building on the left is the Lichtenštejnský Palác (
Liechtenstein Palace).
The Staroměstská Mostecká Věž (Old Town Bridge Tower) on the east end of Charles Bridge.
Detail of the Old Town Bridge Tower.
Detail of the ceiling in the Old Town Bridge Tower.
A plethora of nesting dolls for sale.
The statue of St. John the Baptist seems to be pointing to St. Vitus Cathedral.
The statue of St. Augustine of Hippo.
A man working on a window sill near The Mlýn Huť (Water Mill with Gremlin).
Detail of the Lužického Semináře (Lusatian seminary).
The gate from Charles Bridge to the city at Malostranská Mostecká Věž (Lesser Town Bridge Tower).
The blue building houses the Charles Bridge Economic Hostel.
Detail of the bust on the Charles Bridge Economic Hostel building.
Maybe I own a part of the royal brewery…
The tram stop at Malostranské Náměstí (Lesser Town Square).
A car passing on Karmelitská.
A street sign for Tržiště (Marketplace Street).
A building on Tržiště (Marketplace Street).
A boar’s head in the Alchemist Hotel.
A couple at a sidewalk café. The sign reads, “and the ladies like it.” A half-liter of beer will set one back about US$1.33.
View of the sign after the couple departed. U Glaubiců is the name of the restaurant serving the advertised beer.
A very intricate door.

We made it back to the hotel around 10:00, just in time to catch our ride to the Czech Crystal Showroom.  Of everything we did while we were in Prague, this was the worst activity.  It ended up being a very high-pressure crystal business.  Some of the crystal and jewelry pieces available were well over US$1,000.  We did buy some wine glasses, but they tried to get us to buy several thousands of dollars’ worth of crystal.  It seemed like a nice at first; after all, they picked us up in a Mercedes.  The showroom was about a 15-minute ride from our hotel.  At the end of that ride, we discovered the error of our ways.

When we made it back to the hotel, we had just enough time to put our purchases in our room before we went out to hit the streets again.

We walked toward the Charles Bridge again.  Just before we got to the bridge, we spotted a small, old, purple convertible Skoda.  As it turned out, we stumbled upon a car used to tour the city.  We were just in the right place at the right time.  We hired the driver to take us on a 45-minute tour.  It was worth every penny.  He was a very nice young man who spoke perfect English.

One of the first stops on our tour was the Lennonova zeď (Lennon Wall).  I made a mental note to return and take some photographs.  Throughout the drive, he explained many of the sites we passed.  At the end of the tour, he brought us back to the bridge.

A man bending down, preparing to photograph an old car on Mostecká.
A driver parking a very bright Skoda on Mostecká.
Leslie and I ready for a city tour.
The driver of the purple thing begins our tour.
The view along Pařížská (Rue de Paris).
People on the sidewalk on Staroměstské Náměstí (Old Town Square) taking a photo of us taking a photo.
On the left is the Palác Golz-Kinských (palace). The two spires are the Chrám Matky Boží před Týnem (Church of Our Lady before Týn).
View of the church from Týnská Ulička.
The Nová Radnice (Prague City Hall).

From there, Leslie and I walked back across the Charles Bridge.  We made our way to Wenceslas Square.  There we found the old city hall and the astronomical clock tower.  The clock seems very complex to me.  If someone were to ask me the time while I was there, I would have to look at my watch!  The upper portion is a clock and the lower portion is a calendar complete with zodiac signs.  There always seem to be throngs of people at this location to watch the clock hourly.

Many people on the Charles Bridge near the St. John the Baptist statue.
Time for lunch at TGI Fridays.
The building housing the Hotel AURUS.
The view along Malé Náměstí (Small Square).
Old Town Square with Town Hall Tower and the spires of Chrám Matky Boží před Týnem (Church of Our Lady before Týn).
The famous astronomical clock dates from 1410. In this particular clock, the earth is at the center. The other planets revolve around the earth.
Detail of the calendar and the signs of the zodiac.
Detail of the astronomical clock.
The Hard Rock Cafe is in the neo-renaissance style “U Rotta” house.
A key sculpture.
Detail of the key sculpture.
A very busy intersection near the Česká Filharmonie (Czech Philharmonic Orchestra) building.
The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra building.
Trams on Náměstí J. Palacha (J. Palacha Square).
A tram on Náměstí J. Palacha (J. Palacha Square).
A boat on the Vltava River heading toward the Charles Bridge.
The Staroměstská mostecká věž (Old Town Bridge Tower) at the east end of the Charles Bridge.

We walked back across the river using the bridge just north of the Charles Bridge, Mánesův Most (Mane’s Bridge).  We slowly made our way back to our hotel.  We found ourselves there in time for a free wine tasting with various cheeses.  That was a nice surprise.

Some posters near the Mánesův Bridge.
Colorful buildings along U Lužického Semináře.
Some posters along U Lužického Semináře.
Detail of the posters.
The detail on a building. It reads, “Miraculous Virgin Mary of Chlumecká.”
A costumed guard outside an entrance to Svatomikulášská Městská Zvonice (St Nicholas Bell Tower).
Nothing is more refreshing after a hard day of tourism.
This poster is also at the U Glaubiců Restaurant. It reads, “gentlemen love it.”
A street sign for the street on which our hotel is located, Tržiště.
The sparkle of wine at dinner.
The local currency, Czech Crowns. Each Kč100 is worth about US$4.60; so, this group is a total of US$82.73.
The water feature in the hotel.
Typical decoration in the outdoor dining area of the hotel.
The coat of arms as one enters the Alchymist Grand Hotel.

The next day, I actually had to go to work!  Yes, this was a business trip.  Within the Department of State, there are historic properties around the world for which facility managers are responsible.  They are known collectively as the Secretary’s Register of Culturally Significant Properties.  I had one such property in Madrid, therefore the invite to this seminar on the best ways to care for them.  The register contains 17 properties scattered around this planet.

Those in charge of the seminar selected Prague as the venue because the U.S. Embassy there is in the old Schönborn Palace.  The main portion of the embassy dates from 1718, although parts date as far back as 1643.  As one might imagine, facilities with such a provenance require different methods of maintenance than a more modern building.

In addition to the embassy, the ambassador’s residence is on the register, so we spent some of our seminar time at the residence.  Two items at the residence I found particularly interesting were an old “StairMaster” located in a gym and a small wooden table.  The StairMaster was interesting because it almost looked like a torture device.  The small wooden table was interesting because of the marking on the underside.  Apparently, during World War II, the residence was a rest and recuperation location for the Third Reich.  The underside of the table has a German SS furniture inventory mark.

A very ancient “stair-stepper” at the ambassador’s residence.
A German SS inventory mark under a table at the ambassador’s residence.

Later that evening, we walked to the U Modré Kachničky (The Blue Duck) to eat.  The food there was delicious and well presented.  As with our first evening, a hotel staff member recommended the restaurant.  We would highly recommend it to anyone spending time in Prague.

The swimming area at then Alchymist Grand Hotel.
An array of signs on Tržiště.
The Čertovka Canal.
A juggler in a park near the Čertovka Canal.
Flags indicating the embassies of Finland and Norway on Hellichova.
Reading the menu at U Modré Kachničky (The Blue Duck).
Leslie’s salmon starter.
My asparagus starter.
Leslie’s pork entrée.
My beef entrée.

The following day, when I returned to the hotel, Leslie and I were able to spend a little bit of time at the Castle complex and St. Vitus Cathedral.  It was a bit of an uphill walk from the hotel, but it was well worth the effort.  Parts of this cathedral date from about 925!  Yes, that is right, 925!  In the cathedral, one of the most spectacular sights is the Tomb of St. John of Nepomuk.  According to church documents, St. John was tortured in front of King Wenceslas IV. That happened around 1393.  The tomb consists of two tons of silver.

When Leslie asked one of the docents about the tomb, he took us aside, without speaking a word of English.  He motioned us into a closed-to-the-public portion of one of the side chapels, near the Sepulchre of St. Adalbert.  We walked to the rear of that chapel.  He unlocked an iron gate.  Again, he motioned us to follow.  We began to descend a flight of stone stairs.  We ended up below the main floor of the cathedral, where some of the royal tombs are located.  The three of us were not able to communicate very well because of language differences, but the “special” tour was very unexpected and very interesting.

An art gallery sign.
A colorful sign above some colorful flowers. The sign reads, “fruits and vegetables.”
The view up Břetislavova.
The entrance to the U.S. Embassy Prague.
A sculpture in the Alchymist Grand Hotel.
Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral.
A panoramic view including the St. Nicholas bell tower.
Some afternoon suds.
Detail of a fence near the hotel.
A beautifully decorated building on Jánská.
The view up Jánská.
The very large building at the upper right is the Schwarzenberský Palác (Schwarzenberg Palace).
A violinist on Ke Hradu playing for tips.
A flag flying over Prague Castle.
The Matthias Gate at Prague Castle. The sculpture is Wrestling Titans.
Detail of one of the guard stations.
Part of the exterior of St. Vitus Cathedral.
One of the cathedral’s stained-glass windows.
Detail of the ceiling in the cathedral.
The Czech Republic coat of arms in the cathedral, reads, “Truth Prevails.”
Stained-glass in the cathedral.
Part of the worship space.
Detail of St. Wenceslas Chapel in the cathedral.
The silver tomb of St. John of Nepomuk in the cathedral.
Mosaic of the Last Judgment at the Golden Gate on the side of St. Vitus Cathedral.

Departing the cathedral, it was thrilling to have a downhill walk back to the hotel.  On our way, we stopped at a restaurant that had commanding views of the town.  We had a lovely dinner there.

The Bazilika Svatého Jiří (St. George’s Basilica).
The Toy Museum sign.
At the Toy Museum, a sign for a Barbie exhibition.
A view of Prague from the castle grounds.
Partial view from our chosen restaurant.

The next morning, we had some time to kill before we had to go to the airport.  I suggested we use the time to return to the Lennon Wall for some photographs.  We did.  Unfortunately, when we arrived at the wall, I realized I had left my camera memory card in the hotel room.  I asked Leslie to standby.  I raced back to the hotel, got the card, and rushed back to Leslie.  Even though the total distance was 1.5 kilometers (nearly one mile), it was worth every bit of the effort.  I ended up with some of my most favorite photographs.  When we left the wall, we wandered through the streets, slowly making our way back to the hotel.  We stumbled across a florist shop.  That is when I captured my other favorite photo.  Then it was back to the hotel, off to the airport, and back to Madrid, Spain.

A panoramic view of Lennonova zeď (Lennon Wall).
“In Tyler we Trust” at the Lennon Wall.
The Lennon Wall is quite lengthy.
Another view of the wall.
Even the wooden door is painted.
The entrance to Panny Marie Pod Řetězem (Virgin Mary under Chain).
A Bentley parked on Lázeňská.
A dog looking in the Red Lion Florists.”
The Mlýn Huť (Water Mill with Gremlin) on the Čertovka Canal.
A café along the Čertovka Canal.
A crystal door pull.
The Morový Sloup Nejsvĕtĕjší Trojice (Column of the Holy Trinity).
Detail of the Column of the Holy Trinity.
A pigeon on the cobblestones.
A Maserati parked on Malostranské Náměstí (Lesser Town Square).
Detail of the fountain at the Column of the Holy Trinity.
A uniquely shaped bollard.

At one point during our stay, Leslie, and I both said, “Prague is just a breath-taking city.”


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