The cramped 3-bunk compartment with luggage provides some rest on the overnight train to Prague. I am sick of being ripped off by taxi drivers and take public transport to Hostel Arpacay up the hill right at the foot of the castle. The climb with the backpack better be worth it! Housed in a gorgeous pink period building, this hostel with its labyrinth of passage ways and rooms hidden around corners turns out to be a well-chosen stroke of luck.
The colourful magnificence of Prague lies before me on the walk down the hill towards the Vltava river where I cross over the Charles Bridge bumping into other tourists that, like me, are also doing the Wimbledon thing of looking from side to side at the statues, the street vendors, the river in all its meandering beauty. Built in 1357 under the auspices of Charles IV, this structure has remained in place in spite of the almost annual flooding of this river.
The ‘free’ (notwithstanding tips) walking starts from the Astronomical Clock installed in 1410 and still working detailing the position of the sun and the moon, the ‘walk of the Apostles’ chiming every hour and the calendar of medallions showing the months. Beware of the four puppet-like figures on either side, says the Catholic Church – Vanity holding up a mirror, Avarice clutching a bag of gold, Death in the shape of a skeleton and the Turk that some say represents pleasure and entertainment and others Islam or ‘forces from outside’. Our guide tells us of the useless King Wenceslas (not the one from the carol!), the proactive visionary Charles IV, the horrors of the Jewish quarter and its cemetery where bodies had to be buried on top of one another because there were so many and the site was so small. Here too, the people of Prague did not escape the repulsive high-ranking Nazi or ‘the butcher of Prague’ Reinhard Heydrich. One dreads to think what happened to the soldiers who were instructed to remove the statue of Mendelssohn the Jew from atop the Rudolfinum, the music auditorium, and who by mistake, destroyed long-nosed Wagner’s effigy in stead since there were no inscriptions of names to go by!
There’s an extensive market in Prague where you can buy everything from fashion to food and this is where I head off to find a cheap lunch. For a cinch of €3,50 I get 3 huge delicious spring rolls and a large beer. The cheap and efficient metro takes me to Muzeum where I alight and walk down Wenceslas Square and wish that I was hungry so that I could nibble on the suckling pig on the spit, slowly roasted over an open fire. In stead I head for the Senate and the beautiful garden all of which is open to the public. The fountains, statues, ponds and eerie looking grey matter oozing out of the walls of the Secret Garden brings forth yet another gasp of amazement at this stunning city.