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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Prague - Trial by Walk

St Vitus Cathedral on the Prague Castle grounds
Trial by walking - that's how I'll remember today for the rest of my natural life. Let me explain. Both Jo and meself love city bus tours and looked forward booking one here in Prague. After perusing a tour pamphlet at our hotel's concierge desk, we signed up & paid for the tour. That brings us up to this morning when a shared van transport picked us up at our hotel. That was followed by a pleasant 20 minutes or so, chatting with our fellow passengers, also Americans, and here in Prague for a wedding.
Jo on the right

We weren't the only van on this tour and everyone gathered together.

We met our v. adorable twenty-something year old Czech tour guide. Like every other Czech, she was fluent in English and heavenonlyknows how many other languages
Our guide for the day
Our tour guide told us all about our current local, then marched us to a second spot. From there she told us all about the 2nd Czech President Edvard Benes, at the base of his statue. Asked to take the photograph for a v. sweet couple from Asia, I did so. They liked the photo so much they made a happy fuss over it so I was asked to take several other photos for other people. Hum... second career on the horizon? Just kidding, but it certainly started us all group bonding. Our tour guide also gave us a choice of lunchs which were a part of the tour. Jo said we were going to have an awesome dinner so she was going light on lunch. I did the same and ordered salad. 
The Czech Republic's John Adams
Now we headed out again, walking further downhill to the great palace, which as can be seen below, is quite the popular tourist attraction. 

Prague Castle
Our guide told us we'd meet back in front of the palace, after we'd had 20 minutes to enjoy the area on our own. That gave everyone time to walk around and enjoy the festive atmosphere.
A motley pair 
Nearby there was a long row of independent booths.
Booths by the castle gates

The booths had all sorts of wares for sale, some manufactured using old ways, on the spot.

There were plenty of heavy duty snacks

including all the yummy Klobásas you could eat.

And if you weren't open for buying stuff or snacks, you could wander over to the edge of the palace mesa and look down to the panorama of the rest of the city.
Looking down towards the central area of the city
I was wondering when we would meet up with the bus for the remainder of our tour, when our guide gathered us up again. We got on line to enter the gates into the central palace area. We had to pass through a TSA like inspection of any handbags and such.

Thank heavens, the line into the inner castle area moved fairly briskly.

From the inner circle I got to watch as the royal guard goose-stepping their way to the front gates.

The castle grounds was chock-chock-a-block full of impressive buildings off all sorts. In the courtyard, there's the Královská Cesta Fountain, that dates back to the late 17th century.

the Královská Cesta Fountain
The castle grounds were immense with numerous museums, churches and such.

Area in front of  St Vitus Cathedral 

St. George's Basilica, which is pretty in pink

A big hit with the tour group was Mr. here on the left. Smug looking isn't he? Lots of women in our group touched his naughty bits in exchange - or so we were told - for increased girlie type fertility.

This git gets his nads handled & patted so often that his boy bits have been polished to a golden sheen. No wonder he seems so smug.

Which was oddly situated near the toy museum. There were several museums on the castle grounds but we didn't go into any of them.

Toys on display outside the Toy Museum

It took a couple of hours to wend our way to the rear of the castle grounds, and I looked around for the bus, but our tour leader had started down long, long l-o-n-g gently sloped stairs. I figured we'd get on the bus down the hill.
The long and winding stairs looking upward...
It was way past noon when I found myself trudging sullenly downhill. Where WAS the effing bus? I was starving and grumpy. At the bottom of the stairs, there were little shops with the yummiest treats on display, so cute and so fascinating I thought I must be hallucinating. The curly-cue things in the photo below are fried potatoes on a stick. Yum...
Some of the yummy snacks I walked past along downhill trek
At the bottom of the hill we were told, next on our agenda was the lunch we'd ordered hours ago. But first, we had to cross the lower palace grounds, which began with a beautiful pond with statues. There were a few birds - a Common Gallinule and some mallards, and I'm sparing you my umpteen photos of them.
The awesome little man-made lake
We continued marched, strung out along our route. The lower grounds were composed of beautiful buildings surrounded by carefully manicured lawns and highly polished statues.

And still I wondered, where was the effing bus? Exiting the lower palace grounds we headed uphill on adorable little Prague streets.

No wonder everyone says Prague is Europe's prettiest city - even the back alleys are show stoppers
A workman repaired damaged cobblestones. No wonder Prague's  paved streets stay so lovely
Our lunch was in a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that has proudly been in business since... wait for it... wait for it... 1375. <-- not a typo. It's been serving chow since the 14th century.

Serving beer and chow since 1375 (that's the year, not the address)
Not to be too whiney, but it was HOT in the restaurant and my salad was composed of lettuce with a lot of green pepper and maybe someone had waved a cuke over it. The salad lunch option contained no cheese, no meat - just a vegan meal (vegan meal = death by starvation).  I considered returning to the pond on the castle grounds to catch a duck and eat it raw. The lunch was a part of the trip but I was too much of a coward to fuss.

After lunch our tour guide told us were were headed for one of the most popular spots in Prague - Charles bridge. There we would take the river cruise included in the tour.

Slowly, my feeble and starved brain slowly mulled over the possible places we might board a bus - before or after the river cruise?
Headed for the Vltava River
Then it dawned me. Was there not going to be a bus? I mean, it was like one o'clock... was there no bus? Was I actually engaged in some sort of cruel medieval trickery and there was NO BUS? Maybe I'd gotten on the wrong tour, the one without a bus. We reached the Charles Bridge and our guide now led us down off of it, and we walked over to the boat dock.
Looking up at the Charles Bridge
Along the way I whispered my theory to Jo, who then  marched up to our guide, She asked the fated question to which our innocent guide responded, "Bus? No, no, this is 6 hour walking tour."

My reaction on hearing  '6 hour walking tour'
It was brought up that I could take a taxi back to the hotel, but I was having none of it. It was a matter of pride. It was a matter of shoes that were doing pretty damn good all considered. And, I was going to starve to death in short order so where the tour ended was a moot point.

But I did not starve. Our faithful tour guide gave us all treats  Some sort of jam filled, frosted gingercakes. I ate mine. I stole Jo's and ate it. I found another unguarded on board the boat and ate that too. I and my fat stores would survive the day. Pardubický perniks - Czech survival food!

Our cruise along the Vltava River was cool, relaxing and came with complementary drinks.
Cruise boat beneath the Charles Bridge
Hydras guarding a river bridge.
Note the discrepancy of 3 reptilian heads and four mammalian tits

Lovely pictures along the Vltava, which I took quick pix of and otherwise paid the scenery no mind. There were birds to shoot!  Mute Swans - actually a native species - numbered in the hundreds, mallards, Great Cormorants, several corvid (crow) species, and even a magpie and a Little Grebe. Hurrah, BIRDS!
Mute Swans by the hundreds, and mallards
Black-headed Gulls in alternate plumage

Following the cruise, we all climbed back up to the Charles Bridge. The bridge was jam packed with tourists.

The Charles Bridge is not just a way to get from shore A to shore B. 
Our tour guide and Jo on the bridge
All sorts marched along the bridge


Along the route there are artisans hawking their wares, performers putting on a show

The Crucifix and Calvary 
Oh! And thirty (30!) statues, mostly saints, begging attention.
Saint uh... well, saint somebody over the crowds below
The statues are touched for blessings, rubbing the touch spots golden
St. Norbert, St. Wenceslas and St. Sigismund
Patting a pooch for luck, at St John Nepomuk's statue
Approaching the end of the bridge

At the end stood the old town bridge tower.

Awesomely gruesome gargoyles dot the tower 
Below the tower, a ballet of swans performs
It was now late afternoon and many of the twenty-somethings on the tour had begged off, deserting the tour because they were tired. I'm not making that up. Jo and myself were determined to finish up the tour, as a matter of honor if nothing else. So, marching off, following our patient and sturdy leader.

Foot weary but arrived at the Old Town Square. The red roofed hostel - a dead gorgeous building - sits before the towering Church of Our Lady before Tyn.
Grand and beautiful old town square
Fancy shops lined the square
There were carriage rides about the square
On we walked, and finally we got to the tower, that Jo and I weren't able to find on our own the last couple of days: the Astronomical Clock Tower.

The clock celebrated it's 600th birthday 2 years ago
The clock tower is truly beautiful, and I nicked this info from the internet.

"Clockmaker Hanuš, who perfected the clock on this town hall façade in 1490, was supposedly blinded so that he wouldn’t make a more beautiful version elsewhere. As the perfect revenge, Hanuš stopped the clock from functioning, and it was a hundred years before someone would figure out how to repair it. "

On the Zodiac clock below, the Sun & Moon revolve the clock-face. At it's corners stand figures representing Vanity (man with mirror), greed (a Miser with bag o' gold), Death (skeleton) and Lust.  We were too tired to hang around watch, on the hour, the skeleton strike the time as the other figures shake their weary heads.
The Sun and the Moon orbit the face of this clock
A skeleton stands on the upper right corner
The lower clock is relatively new. It is face with the 12 apostles that bless the city on the hour. This gold faced clock was installed between 1865-1866 - it is the baby of the clock pair.

The Apostles ring the clock-face
Our you tired? I'm tired just reviewing this. After oggling the great clock tower, our tour was at an end.

I was thinking we could take a taxi back to our hotel, but despite the hustle and bustle of the square, there were no taxis. So, we walked. Whew! All in all we calculated we'd walked around 10 to 12 miles today. We survived a trial by walking the streets of Prague and lived to tell the tale.

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