A WHITENESS OF SWANS (the actual venery term for a “group” of them) wings its way in silhouette downriver at sunset. When you roam around Prague, it’s a good idea to glance down and watch where you place your feet on the awkward and possibly dangerous cobblestone streets and walkways. But if you lift your head and look up, incredibly beautiful scenery abounds.
A gaggle of girls actually talking and not even peeping at their iPhones while Prague Castle, across the Vltava River, peers down on them. Prague Castle according to the Guinness Book of Records is the world’s largest ancient castle, and according to Pondstone is one of the 10 Coolest Castles in the world. I concur: huge and cool.
Pilsner Urquell—the breakfast of Czech champions—is arguably the tastiest beer around, and according to their website, the tour of their brewery is “one of the world’s best-rated tourist attractions,” but at 5% alcohol, the beer compares poorly with the 80 or 90% of Absinthe. But then again, the Urquell doesn’t taste like skunk cabbage soaked in kerosine either.
A bevy of tourists ignores the obvious question here on the Charles Bridge, built in 1357. This is the obvious question here: which came first, the beggar or the tourist? As you walk across the bridge, you see various artisans selling their wares: jewelry, portraits, photographs, paintings. Some musicians play for their supper, literally. You see beggars prostrating like this on the bridge and also in the Old Town quarter of Prague, some are females, some with dogs beside them, usually with backpacks. Bhutan would be horrified.
A covey of coffee drinkers rests under umbrellas at the sidewalk café near the ornate Goltz-Kinský Palace, a beautifully designed structure with a delicate Rococo façade built in 1755, on Prague’s Old Town Square. Frans Kafka’s father operated a haberdashery on the ground floor of the palace, and Kafka attended school in the palace during the late 1890’s. The palace is nestled neatly between Wenseslas Square and Charles Bridge. Yes, you guessed right—“Good King Wenseslas” from Xmas carol fame was Pragueian (10th century CE); the carol recounts Wenseslas’ actual heroic venture to give alms to a poor peasant at Xmas time during a wicked blizzard and freezing cold.
Shall we call it a litter of advertising? I just don’t know…a cat face, and a naked body. Your guess is as good as mine on this one. Perhaps you believe this photo portrays a bit of a superficial side to my nature. In my defense, I believe maybe it’s simply an involuntary reflex response: I see a bare breast, my camera begins to rise. But you’re right, I could have left it out of this collection. So fine, call me superficial. And transparent. Like the art on this train bridge spanning the Vltava River.
However, my inner fish might believe that if we’re not discussing poop or urine or snot or cloacas, then breasts or the mating reflex of black widow spiders would be next-best topics. I didn’t have a photo of a black widow spider.
A marvelous herd of murals and artistic decor adorn The Church of St Nicholas, a fine example of High Baroque style architecture, begun in the early 1700’s, which stands in the center of Lesser Town Square in Prague. Construction on the church lasted almost a hundred years, the size and monumental interior design could actually astonish your senses. According to his wife Constanze, Mozart loved Prague and performed on the church’s massive organ: it has more than 4,000 pipes, some up to 18 feet long.
A curmudgeon of tourists from all over the world gathers in front of the Old Town Hall every hour on the hour, to enjoy a fascinating mechanical performance, which in the Middle Ages was considered “one of the wonders of the world.” For 600 years, the Prague Astronomical Clock, has amazed people with its “procession of Apostles, moving statues and visualization of time.”1 Today, pilgrims still applaud, like clockwork, after each performance.
Notice the cream-colored canopies to the right and just above the heads of the crowd; these provide shade from the sun and protection from rain for diners.
If you climb the Town Hall Tower just before the minute hand strikes the hour and look down, you’ll see a pollution of pilgrims waiting to watch the show, faces turned up—some of them, most likely, those pesky, backpacker types you’ll never find in Bhutan. But get this, the blue building in the top right corner of the photo—that’s one of Prague’s Starbucks. The narrow, dark passage just to its right leads to Wenseslas Square, the large stones at the right lead to Charles Bridge.
Note the different angle here from previous photo of the cream-colored canopies.
On the hour at Prague Castle, perched on the hill across the Vltava River from Old Town, you’ll see the changing of the guard. These men are allegedly the most handsome men in the military and serve the President. Theodor Pištěk, who won an Academy Award for Best Costume Design for the film Amadeus, designed these uniforms. If you ask me, he should have maybe consulted the US Marines for tailoring hints. But there’s a good reason they are that color blue—we’ll save it though for a later sartorial discussion.
Side Note: many scenes from the movie Amadeus were filmed in Prague.
A cache of backpackers takes a rest near the intriguing and famous Schwarzenberg Palace, on the Hradcanske Square near Prague Castle which also houses, of all things, a new Starbucks Coffee shop with a killer view of roofs and chimneys and spires and the city and river beyond, where OK, I admit, I downed a Mocha Frappuccino Grande and chocolate chip cookie (not cheap here) while overlooking the Charles Bridge and Prague’s Old Town quarter.
If you lift your eyes and look up just about anywhere in Prague, you will most likely spy a swarm of exquisite architecture beguiling you to linger, while flaunting almost surreal grandeur, allure, color.
Hitler intent on taking Poland had to take Czechoslovakia first, which his mob of nazis easily accomplished in March 1939. However, Hitler abstained from bombing Prague because reportedly, this is where he desired to retire after being king of the world, so he left the city intact. You’ll find a fluid, visual, orgasmic array of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and among others, Russian-communist-style architecture in Prague.
Side Note: During the summer of 1969, I represented San Diego State University as a foreign exchange student. I spent three months in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, when it was still Yugoslavia. Under Tito, the country was supposedly communist, but it acted a whole lot more capitalist than anything, and thrived. At the end of summer in 1969, some friends and I desired to travel the 415 miles (668km, 7 or so hours) to Prague from Ljubljana, but the Russians had recently invaded the country, demonstrations and clashes were occurring, we decided maybe not the best time to visit, who knew what the Russians might do: convict us as spies, confiscate our caviar, coerce us to purchase Matryoshka dolls. So we ended up in Venice. I hear you…damn the luck. I have desired to visit Prague ever since—definitely worth the wait.
Did you happen to notice that I finally changed my “Next Big Trip” widget? This is my new motto: “No decision is a good decision, doing nothing is also good.”
You can find more entries to DP Photo Challenge here: Look Up
You can find more entries to Lucile’s Rehab here: Photo Rehab
2 Nazi Photo credit: Prague Old Town Hall archive