Here is a much belated blog post. (My excuse: the computer I use for posting photos was broken, but has now been fixed by Dad's magic knowhow). Enlarge the photos - they're much clearer when enlarged than they appear to be here. First, a map of beautiful Prague, showing the Karluv Most (or Charles Bridge) at the center of it all -- built in the 14th century to replace an even older bridge, dating from around 1170, that was destroyed in a flood -- that crosses the Vltava River running from the Bohemian Forest in the south, through Cesky Krumlov (more later!) and Cesky Budejovice (home of the Czech version of Dad's favorite Budweiser -- more later about that, too) and eventually north through the heart of Prague. On the left of the map (the west side of the city) is the Mala Strana, or Lesser Town, where we stayed. You can also see the immense Prague Castle, in the upper left corner of the map, and further down, bordering the green park that almost reaches the river, the Ujezd neighborhood where Misa and Olivia live. On the right side of the river is the famous, ancient Old Town with its astronomical clock (more later!), the train station where Laura and Jason arrived from Budapest, and the New Town in the south, with Wenceslas Square (the long rectangle slanting to the right) where Soviet tanks rolled in in the 1960s, protestors burned themselves to death, and much later in happier days in the 1990s, the Velvet Revolution took place when Prague's citizens filled the square night after night in a silent protest, led by Vaclav Havel and other Czech patriots, that finally shamed the Soviets into leaving the little nation in its present freedom.
Here's the Karluv Most seen from the next bridge to the south (the one on the map that crosses an island) with a balloon ascending over the spires. We (me, Rob, Liz and Ana, Kate, Ned and Julia, Pete, Misa and Ollie, who wasn't feeling well at all) walked south along the west side of the river one evening to hear a concert on the island. (This was after dinner at an outdoor café that Misa took us to, where I had a "burger" made of wild boar and venison. Luke, you'd be jealous! It was amazing.) The music itself was played by a band of English middle-school students and was fun, but nothing special -- but the evening was lovely, strolling through the narrow, mostly car-free cobblestoned streets along the river to the park on the island for the music in the warm summer air, then snacks and drinks at a waterside bistro, and then a stroll back again along the river, admiring the boats scattered over the water and the spectacle of it all.
I like the way the green balloon on the left reflects the green dome on the right.
.On the way to the concert, we crossed the "Devil's Stream," a long-ago manmade millrace off the Vltava that makes another island out of the little section of the city that it cut off, with a waterwheel still turning on one of the old mills. The leaping creature who guards the wheel is a Vodnik, or water sprite.
After the concert, we walked back along the opposite, more elegant side of the river, admiring the amazingly elaborate Art Nouveau building facades glowing in the evening light. The building on the far left of the block with the burnt-orange façade and the domed roof, just to the right of the building with the corner tower, houses a fancy restaurant that I was told about by our neighbor Vic here on Plymouth Reservoir, who'd been there only a week or two before on a Viking River Cruise. Such a small world. I didn't go -- it's the kind of place you'd need to devote a whole evening to, not to mention a whole paycheck -- but I did admire its elegance from afar.
Music, and musicians, are absolutely everywhere in Prague. This guy was waiting for I don't know what with his instruments, outside that fancy doorway with its mosaic of a phoenix rising from the flames -- but most of the musicians we saw were joyfully playing their hearts out on the bridges and street corners, including several groups playing beautiful classical music on strings and ACCORDIONS. Remarkable how well the combination worked and how wonderful it sounded. (Accordions, Budweiser - do you think Dad's Bohemian heritage is showing?) More on music later.
Here's a modern resident of an elegant old place.
And now, back to the bridge. Here's a view of the Karluv Most from inside the apartment where I stayed with Liz, Rob and Ana on the first couple of nights. The bridge was so close that you could have a normal-voice-level conversation with somebody on it from inside the third-floor apartment -- I did with Rob, one early morning when I had gone out without the key and needed somebody to let me in. You'll notice there are no screens on the windows. There don't seem to be any biting bugs, or not enough to worry about, and there's no air conditioning in most of the ancient, thick-walled, cool stone buildings either. Like the man in the window above, everybody just throws open their casement windows to the river breezes and the conversations floating up from the busy lanes crowded with bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, gelato sellers (mmm! more later!) and people having fun.
How's this for a view from the kitchen window? You can see some of the giant statues of saints and martyrs that border the Karluv Most.
And here's one of the statues, being meticulously restored - we watched the restorers working away on several of the statues, using toothbrush-sized tools to work carefully away at some tiny area for a few moments, then pausing to study the result, then delicately working away some more.
To see the bridge unobscured by people, you have to get up early. This shot was taken at around 7 a.m. Once the sun is fully up, so are the tourists, and the bridge and surrounding streets are so thronged that it can be hard to walk, let alone take in the views. Prague's main industry, at least in summer, is tourism. It must be tough for year-round residents - the crowds are astounding, though also cheery as they're made up of happy people marveling over the beautiful sights, spending money in Prague's businesses, buying good things to eat, renting paddle boats on the river, taking photos, getting pictures taken of themselves in their wedding dresses (apparently this is a Thing, especially for Asian tourists - we saw lovely little brides posing everyplace) and generally enjoying themselves. The apartment where I stayed is just barely beyond the right-hand margin of this photo. You can see the Lesser Town Bridge Tower at the end of the bridge, with the smaller Judith's Tower beside it, the only remnant of the older bridge that fell down in the 13th century. You can't see the stone steps that twist down at both sides of the bridge into the lanes and footpaths and alleys of Mala Strana (Lesser Town), the ancient neighborhood of restaurants, hotels and shops below Prague Castle -- but you can see a little bit of the castle, or more precisely the spires of St. Vitus Cathedral, above the rooftops just to the right of the tower, located within the castle walls. More on the castle later.
Here's a view from the east side of the river, with the Mala Strana across the water, more of the bridge's statues visible and a swan or two.
I really loved Prague, in case you can't tell. I'll post more pictures of our travels -- and especially family pictures -- over the next few days.