I had hoped to be able to get to the hotel from the train station using the subway system and my two-year-old memory of the streets of Prague. I found the right subway stop, but took a wrong turn on one of the streets and discovered that I was lost. Czech taxi drivers can be pretty mercenary to tourists, but we were tired from our all night train ride and ready to unpack, so I hailed a cab and showed him the address to the hotel, which I was certain was only a few blocks away. Sure enough, he took us on creative route, and managed to run up ten dollars on the meter. I am sure that a direct route would have costs us half that much.
The hotel turned out to be charming. It had only been
completed for about six months although it was housed in a
building that dated from the 14th century. Our room was on
the third floor, which had a nice view, but there was no
elevator so we got to know the stairway pretty well over
the next three days. I took Pam by the hand and led her
downstairs and around the corner to show her the most
beautiful town square that I have found in all my travels.
She took a slow 360-degree turn and agreed with my assessment.
Upon returning to the hotel I made arrangements for a cab ride to the Grand Palace. I had the hotel negotiate a set rate for the short trip across the Vltava River and up the hill to the entrance of this extensive palace whose first buildings date back to the 10th century. For the next few hours we toured through the ancient St. George Basilica and the Vladislav Assembly Hall where riders on horseback had ridden into the hall during mid-evil days and where many historic events in Czech history had taken place. We also visited the enormous St. Vitus Cathedral, which is one of the most impressive cathedrals in all of Europe. The 325 steps to the top of the cathedral were tempting, but I had made that climb two years earlier and we had a long day of walking yet ahead of us.
At the walls of the palace you can get a fantastic overview
of the whole city of Prague and there were several members
of a tour group standing at the wall with us and looking
out at the beautiful view. There was also three fairly
well dressed, middle-aged women circulating near all the
tourists. The group’s tour guide called for everyone’s
attention by announcing, “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have
your attention. Please notice the three ladies standing
here,” and he pointed to the three middle-aged
ladies. “These are gypsies,” he announced matter-of-
factly, “and they are here to rob you.” He then switched
to the Czech language and angrily told the three gypsy
ladies to get away from his tour group. They moved away
giving the tour director looks that could kill and a couple
of hand gestures that most anyone could have interpreted.
Most tour books warn that Prague has some of the most talented pickpockets in all of Europe.
We wandered along a narrow street near the back of the Palace complex called the Golden Lane. It got its name from the period when goldsmiths used to do their work in the area, but for some reason, the apartments where they worked and lived were very small. Later the little rooms were used as soldiers’ barracks. Now they are filled with retail shops, but I think that anyone over 5’ 7” would have a difficult time as a clerk.
After leaving the palace we walked through a section of
town called the Lesser Quarter and visited the very ornate
St. Nichols cathedral with its distinctive turquoise dome.
Then we worked our way slowly back toward the Vltava River for a walk across the famous, old Charles Bridge. The bridge was built in the 12th century. It is lined with large statues and there are large mid-evil towers on both sides of the bridge. It is used only for pedestrian traffic and, with the Grand Palace and St. Nichols Cathedral on one side and a view of some of Prague’s famous buildings on the other side, it is certainly one of the most beautiful and romantic bridges anywhere in the world.
There are usually several artists painting and selling their wares along the bridge as well as one or two musicians playing romantic songs in exchange of tips. Like the Old Town Square the Charles Bridge is a point in the city that keeps drawing you back. Before our weekend was over we took many walks across the Charles Bridge, holding hands and relishing the experience.
After crossing the bridge our route back to the square took
us through a narrow pedestrian walkway lined with shops. I
remembered that this was the area where I had purchased a
gift for Pam on my visit two and half years earlier. As we
passed the tiny jewelry shop I recognized it immediately.
I also remembered that I had dealt with a very nice female sales clerk who spoke good English. I asked the girl behind the counter how long she had worked there and she said she had been there for at least three years so I was sure that she was the same one. My purchase back in 1999 had been a gold bracelet filled with red garnet stones.
Pam quickly found a pair of red garnet earrings to give to her mother, and after some looking we were able to find a pair of earrings for Pam that just happen to be a perfect match for her bracelet. My purchase pleased both Pam and the sales clerk, which just goes to show that on rare occasions I can make two women happy at the same time.
We opted for dinner in the small restaurant on the ground floor of our hotel and ordered some traditional Czech dishes, which were tasty and filling. By the time we finished dinner and made the climb to the third floor to deposit our purchases it was dark and time to walk back to the Charles Bridge for a night view. On one side of the bridge you can look up to the Grand Palace and the spires of St. Vitus Cathedral which are bathed in spotlights. The dome of St. Nichols is also brightly illuminated. Looking back to the other side is Prague’s city center with its brightly lit 17th century symphony building, the National Theater building, and the domes of numerous old cathedrals. The bright city lights reflect off the waters of the river below. There are boats cruising the river with strings of white lights lining their decks. There are pleasant scents of good food wafting up from the sidewalk cafes, and usually a street musician playing soft music on a violin. If you have the tiniest bit of romance in your soul it will certainly bubble to the surface as you stroll along the Charles Bridge in the beautiful city of Prague.