Rising early has its advantages, beating the heat is one, the more notable one here in Prague? Beating the crowds!
Where the streets, and indeed the Old Town Square had been a hive of activity when we’d retired the previous evening, they were now almost bereft of activity.
This was the perfect time to head across the river to Prague Castle (grabbing a quick slice of Apple Pie for breakfast) and see the sights before the crowds began to gather.
The key sight is supposed to be St. Vitus Cathedral, and as luck would have it (or lack of luck in our case), it was in fact Sunday, so mass is still held within its walls, it would not in fact be open to the public until noon.
So, we bought our tickets and decided to see the rest of the castle, before returning later to see the cathedral. It was frustrating, but that’s also one of the joys of travel. You really never know how it will all play out.
Our entry tickets did also allow us entry into a smaller church and a few other areas of the castle, so we opted to take them in first, before finding something else to occupy us until the cathedral was ready to receive visitors.
There were many signs about requesting visitors to purchase a special pass to allow photos to be taken in certain areas. Despite this, and many volunteers roaming the place, we did see many people flaunting this rule, so eventually flaunted it ourselves!
Already the crowds had arrived, so we departed for some peace and quiet in the wooded, hilly park, around Petřín hill. We quickly worked up a sweat climbing the steep paths, but at the same time it was refreshing when in the shade.
There was also a funicular we could have used (these things must have been all the rage in the 19th century), but as usual, we chose our feet.
We were trying to find our way to the hilltop to see Prague’s own version of the Eiffel Tower (when you factor in the hill, this tower is actually higher than its French counterpart), when we stumbled upon an observatory, Štefánik’s Observatory to be precise.
It was around 10.30am by this stage, and the observatory was not set to open until 11am (for those who do not already know, I fancy myself a bit of an amateur astronomer with my own telescope back home) so the timing was perfect to see both tower and the heavens.
As we began to ascend the tower (after buying a ticket of course), it was not long before we reached a viewing platform and I thought “That climb really wasn’t that hard…” I had in fact failed to notice there are 2 viewing levels, and we were at the much lower one.
By the time we reached the actual top of the tower, my breathing was considerably more laboured, but the views were certainly worth it!
Now back at the observatory, you may ask, what could one see in the sky during the day? Well, at certain times of the day (and year), the telescope here is trained on Venus, but of course even more obviously, there’s the Sun!
Of course looking at the Sun directly through a telescope is a sure way to blindness, so what one actually views, is an image of the sun projected onto a sheet of paper.
As the view is magnified, so too is the heat, so if we were to put our hand too close to the eyepiece, it could potentially burn!
Half an hour later, having retraced our steps, we were back at Prague Castle, ready to take in St Vitus cathedral.
Having been there earlier, we already had our tickets ready, but this did not put us at the front of the entrance queue, which was by now, already sizable (the tour groups were by now here in full force, bussed up from the city proper).
It was nevertheless worth the wait, as this was another impressive structure, albeit of a religious nature. It’s high ceilings and and beautiful stained glass caught the sunlight which in turn caught the dust in the air. It was beautiful.
There were crowds for sure, however our tickets enabled us to enter further into the nave where the crowds, although still busy, were not quite as thick.
It does amaze me how many people appear to be so pious and revere these institutions that absorb so much wealth, celebrate it in grand buildings, but don’t seem to distribute much of it back amongst the people.
Everywhere we looked, people would be praying to one saint or a martyr of sorts.
We seemed to be following a religious path throughout the afternoon, as before long we were to be found in the Jewish quarter.
The walled Jewish Cemetery sounded fascinating. Due to a lack of space, over time, the cemetery itself has been slowly built upwards, so that burials are now on top of old graves.
However the cost to visit all of the sites was a deterrent for us, so we instead opted to wander around for a bit (taking in the cemetery and synagogues from without) before heading off to seek the Franz Kafka memorial (which was quirky, if confusing).
As an early evening treat, we tried to find ourselves a spot on the tour of the Old Town Hall which also took in the catacombs beneath.
We unfortunately discovered discovered that we were 10 minutes too late for the last tour of the day! Fortunately for us, a very friendly and helpful old man raced on ahead to check that the group was not too far ahead, and arranged for us to be taken through to catch up, all after giving us a discount on the tickets (the guide also took us back at the tours end to see the few bits we missed, which included the inside of the Astronomical Clock)!
One of the most amazing things to learn when down beneath in the catacombs, was the fact that this was originally the street level, which has slowly been built above over time, supposedly with the assistance of silt from flooding of the river.
Incredibly, as we prepared to find ourselves some dinner, a foreign sight (at least on this European summer holiday) appeared. Rain!
It began to really teem down (it did cool down, but wasn’t freezing), and before long was even storming, the thunder and lightning making me question our decision to pull out our compact umbrella for the first and only time.
Still, the cool change encouraged our appetites, and before long we were seated in a restaurant basement (oddly, that’s where they had their non smoking section). A few more beers and a hearty serve of roasted pork with sauerkraut and bread dumplings certainly hit the spot, making me look forward to visiting during a European winter!
Another early rise saw us riding first the metro, then a local bus as we made our way out to the airport. We managed to dispense with our remaining Czech Crowns by grabbing breakfast from the nearby supermarket, before a short flight whisked us back to London as we prepared ourselves to make the long trek home.