This post is a continuation of a series documenting our travels through a small part of Central Europe. We were at our last destination Prague and spent the first evening in the Little Quarter and enjoyed a pleasant and spectacular for photography early morning walk from Old town square to the Charles Bridge.(Prague, Part 2 – An early morning walk from Old town square to Charles Bridge & back)
The plan for the first half of the day was to see the Prague Castle as it opened and then walk around the adjoining Petrin Hill & Strahov Monastery. With that plan in mind and a delicious hearty breakfast in our tummies we started walking from our hotel Hastal in old town towards the Charles bridge. We could have taken a tram or the Metro from the nearby Staromestska station to Malostranska, where we would be taking the 22 number tram up the hill to the castle. But since it was early morning the streets were still empty and the better half wanted to see the Old town square and Charles bridge too.
So we replicated the walk I had done in the morning (except for the part where I got lost!) and walked through old town square, through Karlova and on to Charles Bridge.
We had spent the day yesterday without using any form of transport other than our two feet. So we needed to buy tickets for the transport system before we took the tram. We asked around and found a newspaper stall on Malostranska selling the 3 day travel ticket that I was looking for. While most of Prague is very walkable the travel ticket which is valid for all forms of Public transport in Prague gives you a greater degree of freedom. Plus it was only 310 CZK (12 Euros) for a 3 day ticket!
We then boarded the tram 22 and validated our tickets and settled in our seats for the short journey up the hill to the Pražskÿ hrad tram stop. We then disembarked and stood in the security line to enter the castle at it’s Secondary Northern entrance. Early in the morning the line was very short and we were soon in the main courtyard where the one of the ticket offices is situated.
There are multiple options for the tickets to the Prague Castle. We took the cheaper Option B which includes the main sights of the St Vitus Cathedral, the old Royal palace, St George’s Basilica and the Golden lane. The only thing it didn’t include was the Story of Prague Castle exhibit which we were anyway not too interested in.
The aim was to be at the gates of St Vitus just as it opened so that we get some good photos of the magnificent cathedral without the associated crowds. We succeeded in that and had the inner part of the cathedral almost to ourselves for a few minutes before the groups started pouring in.
As we entered the ticketed part of St Vitus it was like an art Gallery. The famous stained glass window by the Czech artist Alphonse Mucha was first and it was one of the most beautiful stained glass windows I had seen, and I have seen a fair many!
Granted that it is not as old as the ones in Chartres and it is just one window against the grand collection of St Chapelle. But it has its own charm and beauty. Taking photos of stained glass doesn’t do it any justice but I had to give it a try.
As we reached the centre of the nave we took a look back at the crowds assembled at the free part of the Cathedral and the line of people waiting to get in and started to move on.
I’m not going to attempt to describe the various altars as I’m not an expert on religion but they certainly were very photogenic and I took a fair number of photos before moving on.
Then there was the glittery tomb of St John of Nepomuk, whose statue we had seen on the bridge in Krumlov. The narrow walkway around St Vitus meant that even my ultra wide lens couldn’t get the entire tomb in frame. Sigh!
In the centre of the Cathedral is the Royal Mausoleum which holds the remains of the first Habsburgs to rule Prague.
The most colourful part of the Cathedral is the Wenceslas Chapel where the patron saint of the Czech Republic has his tomb. While the chapel is cordoned off it was a beautiful place to photograph with the painted walls and the colourful floor being lit by the soft light coming from the stained glass windows.
With that we had completed a full circle of the beautiful church but I couldn’t leave without taking a few photos more of the magnificent gothic structure.
We had rushed into the Cathedral without taking any photos of the exterior and the facade. So we now took the photos of this comparatively recently constructed facade which is made to look much older than it actually is! It was only finished in 1929, though construction started in the 14th century. ( Reasons for the delay are varied from plague to lack of interest!)
With the most important part of the Castle done we then turned to the Royal palaces and took a stroll through the rooms on display. With nowhere as much of the grandeur of the other palaces of Europe, these rooms are comparatively plain. The most interesting part of these nearly empty rooms were the designs of the ceiling vaults.
A very interesting room was one with paintings of the individual crests of each of the families that were in power in different parts of the region. Creativity at its best.
Lastly we doubled back to the Balcony attached to the main hall which gave sweeping view of Prague. Though the light was not favourable for photography so we just took in the views before moving on.
Next was the St George Basilica which is one of the oldest structures existing in the Castle complex and predates the start of the cathedral by a good 400 years.
The interior is simplistic but has pleasing proportions. Thickset walls, stout pillars and a wooden roof show the construction from a period where arched roofs were still a dream! Simplicity done right is beautiful at the Basilica shows that.
After sitting in the pews for a few minutes in the Basilica we moved out into the sun and trundled our way towards the golden lane. The golden lane is supposed to be uncomfortably crowded on most days and I was highly apprehensive of being caught with crowds in a narrow lane. Thankfully it wasn’t crowded when we entered. The lane has small houses with colourful exteriors & interiors representating of how the working class lived in the old days.
The rooms of the royal tailors, jewellers were done with the utmost care and looked as if the person living might walk in any moment.
The most interesting room was one belonging to a lady astrologer who in Nazi times predicted the fall of the Third Reich and was promptly executed by Hitler for the same.
There was a room which Franz Kafka inhabited shortly before his death. The room is nothing much to speak about, but there was a shop in it selling what they claimed to be the original beer shampoo. We promptly bought a bottle as a consumable souvenir!
That was the last sight that we saw in the Prague castle and we exited through the Palace Gardens on the South of the Castle and walked through the gardens taking a few photos enroute before exiting near the main gate.
By now the castle square was full of groups of all nationalities lining up to enter and I was pleased that we had completed our castle visit before it got really crowded.
With one last photo of the main gate (which we hadn’t encountered since we entered the castle at the Northern gate) we moved on towards Petrin Hill and the Strahov Monastery library.
But that is topic for another post, some other time. This one is already a bit too long for my comfort.