Prague, Czech Republic – I : Old Town

Solo Travel for Introverts Ratings

Sensory Calm  3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) – Prague is increasingly becoming a party-hub and nightlife center. Although, compared to capital cities in Western Europe, the place is less crowded.

Solo-Friendliness 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) – Many visitors to the city are solo backpackers and tourism is built around adventurers.

Commute Friendly  4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)–  Prague is the heart of Europe connect by trains. Excellent public transport.

Predictability4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) Fairly predictable. The currency is Cesky Cronas. Make sure you get a decent exchange rate from Euros or US Dollars.

Safety  5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) – Very high.

Nerdy stuff5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) – Many whacky museums, a ballista and a bone-cathedral.


What and Where

Prague (or Praha) is today, the capital of modern Czech Republic and has previously been the capital of Czechoslovakia and medieval Bohemia before that.

The original name Praha (as it is called locally), was pronounced in French as Prague, and English began to mispronounce the French misspelling to rhyme it with ‘vague’ in songs. Where the country’s name is concerned, although it was ‘officially’ changed to Czechia, locals hate it, and using the new name is an invitation to a bar-fight.

This Bohemian City (in both the senses of the word) is an eclectic mix of  the pretty and the dark. There are medieval timbered houses, Parisian-style promenades and balconies. There are both cafes and absintherie. There are Communist-era blocks, and dark, existential postmodern sculptures.

The best way to get here is take a flight to Munich or Vienna and get a train from there. It is the heart of Central Europe and 2-hours away from major cities on all sides – Berlin, Munich, Vienna, Budapest, Krakow etc. Right from the first sight, this city became my favorit. Their train station  was adorned with coats of arms of various Bohemian dynasties.


Old Town Square

Astronomical Clock Tower – I couldn’t get a photo, so here’s one by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash

The Old Town Square of Prague (Orloj) has several sights to see in walking distance, and I felt even an entire day wasn’t enough to cover them all. One of the most iconic parts of Prague is the Astronomical Clock Tower – the oldest working astronomical clock in the world. The clock has a mechanism – “The Walk of the Apostles” – an hourly show of moving apostles and trailing them is a skeleton Death striking the hour.

You can go around the Old town 3 ways – through horse-carriages, to get a medieval feel. Or through vintage American cars from 1960s and 70s carefully preserved and prized in a Soviet nation to feel like you’re in a James Bond movie. The last option is the beautiful trams and cable-cars. Since I was interesting in stopping every corner and stuffing myself with chocolate, chimney-cakes and absinthe, I preferred walking.

When I reached the main town-square, I was in for a treat. I was met with a local “Traditional Wear” day celebration. Many people represented Czech Republic’s provinces – such as Bohemia, Moravia etc. in full regalia and walked on stage.


Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge is the pretty old bridge of Prague, lined with 30 different statues. The most interesting one for me was St. John of Nepumuk – identifiable from a halo of 5 stars behind his head.

According to legend, King Wenceslaus suspected the queen of having a lover and ordered her priest – John to reveal her confessions. However, John refused to break the Seal of the Confessional and for it, was drawn on to the bridge and drowned. As soon as his body fell into the water, a reflection of five stars appeared around his head in the water in a perfect halo, and with that perfect rating coming from the heavens, he was made into the patron saint of Bohemia.

There are many cafes and restaurants across the Charles Bridge where you can sip local liqueurs on the rock and watch the boats passing under it.

Charles’ Bridge

Prague Castle

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world. It has housed leaders from all eras from Holy Roman Emperors to the modern President. It is a giant complex that contains several palaces, churches, halls and gardens and is worth an entire day by itself.

Changing of Guards

Prague – Change of Guards

The ceremonial Changing of the Guard happens at noon in the castle. We followed dressed guards on a long march and saw a ritual where the rifles were exchanged with choreographed precision and discipline.

St. Vitus Cathedral

Prague has many cathedrals and St. Vitus was my favorite. The construction of this cathedral went on and off from 1200s to 1900s and completed after 700 years. The church has symbols of all donors encased in walls and window icons, from coat-of-arms of Holy Roman Emperor to logos of modern-day banks and insurance companies.

The church mixes the old and the new even in function. My favorite part was coin-operated electric candles. If you insert coins in a box, an electric candle lights up for a few minutes which is formally accepted by the church as a prayer. The people in front of me were a group of nuns who lit several candles and read out names from a list – and it was a very long list.


Old New Synagogue

Prague, like many cities in Central Europe, has a vibrant Jewish history, and attempts are made in modern times to revitalize the traditions, after a long history of anti-Semitic pogroms from the times of the Holy Roman Emperor to the Third Reich. Although I passed by the Old New Synagogue, it was closed in the evening, so I couldn’t see the interior. This is one of the oldest synagogues, built in 1200.

If you have heard of the Golem of Prague, this is where the mythical creature resides. Legend has it that in the 16th Century, Rabbi Leow created an animated being to defend the Jewish community against anti-Semites. However, on one Sabbath, the Rabbi forgot to remove the Shem (the tablet of commands which gave it life), and thus the Golem, upon violating Sabbath, turned into a monster.

The Golem was de-activated and its pieces, and it was put to rest in the attic here.


Mala Strana

Mala Strana

Mala Strana means “Little Side” – this is the oldest part of the city, built in medieval times around the castle on the west-side of the river Valtva, where Germanic craftsmen immigrated and settled. Mala Strana has narrow alleyways with small timbered buildings where houses of medieval smiths are displayed along with their products, from armor-suits, to torture-devices and an actual ballista.

Ballista

The walk of Mala Strana ends in a vantage point where I got to see the city and identify rings of different time-periods – medieval, golden-era, communist and modern skyscrapers in the farthest distance.


Coming up Next

  • Food, drinks and nightlife in Prague
  • The dark & spooky side of Prague

On an end-note for this section, my first impressions of Prague was – it mixed the dark and the light. There are extremely pretty candy-colored buildings right out of a fairy-tale, but along with it, there are also wacky torture devices, spooky statues and signs of a Kafkaesque sense of dark humor. (He was from this country). It is definitely an underrated city.

4 comments

  1. This post makes me want to go back to Prague. I adored my trip there, which was literally this time last year. The mechanisms behind the Astronomical Clock Tower is fascinating to me, but the St.Vitus cathedral was a highlight. I would literally spend hours just walking through the city and marveling at the richness in culture.

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