Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Old Building, Old Libraries: Day 2 in Prague

I had some serious formatting issues - thanks a ton, Blogger - while making this post. This is version 2.0, and I think/hope they're fixed now, but if you see more text or pictures bunched together in a way that makes no sense, please let me know!
Picture credit to Tristan.

I talked extensively about visiting Prague castle in my last post on Prague (yes, I’m aware that was several weeks ago). Our second day in Prague was dedicated mostly to exploring the old town. This post, unlike the aforementioned Prague one and my most recent post (on Switzerland), will be heavy on pictures and light on text, in case that’s how you prefer it!

We started off by the astronomical clock (when in Prague…). Though we hadn’t planned it, we happened to arrive at the Old Town Square, the location of the clock, shortly before the full hour and were thus able to see the clockwork spectacle.

Obviously, we watched it over the heads of a crowd of other tourists, but it was fun to see nonetheless. I’m not sure I’d recommend planning your entire old town visit around seeing the spectacle, but if you happen to be nearby at the full hour it’s a worthwhile couple of minutes.

The square itself is gorgeous as well, if (of course) packed with tourists. (We obviously didn’t contribute to the tourist crowd at all. OBVIOUSLY.)

Across the square from the astronomical clock is the Church of Our Lady upon Tyne. If you’ve been following my posts on our Europe adventures, you’ll have figured out that we like visiting old churches, so of course we promptly headed in. It’s a beautiful church (that word is going to be massively overused by the time I reach the end of this post; I apologize in advance!) and quite peaceful. It’s worth popping in even just to get a bit of a break from the crowds in the square.

From the church we started making our way down the side streets. Twisting, winding, cobbled streets lead everywhere, and getting (somewhat) lost in them is a lot of fun.

This is one of my favourite shots from our time in Prague.
There’s something beautiful and different around every corner.

The detail on many of the buildings is remarkable.

I enjoyed the contrast of the beauty of the building with its rundown state, of the crucifix with the graffiti...

It's not all old buildings either, for all that I an admire those endlessly. We also saw modern (modern as in recent, not as in type) art...

...and some really cool street art.

Tristan travels for food more than I do. He decided that he really, really wanted knödel while in Prague, so we searched for a restaurant serving that. We ended up a restaurant in the old town, so obviously catering to tourists, but no matter. Tristan got his knödel and beef roast and enjoyed the tremendously. I wasn’t too taken with the vegetarian options, so I ordered vegetable and potato side dishes (I would do this a bunch during the trip, especially when Tristan wanted to go to a meat- or seafood-focused restaurant. It doesn’t bother me, as long as I don’t have to do it every time I eat out, and I was craving vegetables at this point).
Credit to Tristan for the food pictures. He may be the better blogger of the two of us...#oops.
I’ve previously mentioned on this blog that I’m a huge bookworm. Couple that to my oft-mentioned love of old buildings and you can probably guess that old libraries are pretty well my favourite thing.

This time I was the one who had seen a picture of a place and really wanted to go see it. The place in question? The library at Strahov monastery.
Thanks to Tristan for this and all pictures in and of the monastery.
The monastery is a bit off from the tourist hot spots, located as it is in Hradcany and some way from the castle, and quite a peaceful place. We found out upon our arrival that a tour into the beautiful library rooms I wanted to see would have had to have been booked in advance. Slightly disappointing, but we could still visit the rest of the library and at least look into the rooms in question. (There are other sections of the monastery you can tour as well; we just really wanted to see the library).

Disappointment turned out to be completely unnecessary, as the (self-guided) tour of the library was highly interesting. The monastery is in possession of an extensive curiosities cabinet, with items ranging from sea creature skeletons (and a complete narwhal horn!!!), to insects, to ancient Egyptian artifacts.

The monastery was traditionally a center for learning, hence the extensive library and collection. As well, the person in charge of the monastery (abbot? Bishop?) was at times a powerful and important figure, and other important people who came to visit would bring unusual and expensive items as gifts.

As one display pointed out, the Czech Republic is landlocked and far from any oceans, and so the sea creatures in particular would have been fascinating for people at the time and would have looked like dinosaur skeletons or even mythical creatures look to us now.

However, the highlight of the tour was this.

The library rooms are stunning gorgeous, and seeing them was a treat even after a day and a half in this already-beautiful city. I think my breath caught when I first looked into the second room and saw its ceiling.

We then made our way back to the old town and down to the river, a defining feature of this city.

Our main goal was to find the dancing house, also called Fred and Ginger. We found it - further from the Old Town Square than we'd anticipated, but as our plan had been to wander and look around anyways this was no problem.

I think it’s fairly clear why people call the building – designed by Frank Gehry and Croatian-Czech architect Vlado Milunić and built in the 90s - the dancing house:

I’m not sure I love it, but it’s definitely interesting, a trait I tend to like in architecture.

Before we left the city, there was one thing we (okay, I) really wanted to do: check out Prague’s (in)famous nightlife. So, that evening, we went back to the Old Town. We didn’t have much luck (admittedly, not being big bar-goers was probably a factor, so we had no idea what to look for, and not necessarily a good idea of what we wanted either), so I can’t recommend anything. However, walking through the old town at night was an interesting and somewhat surreal experience: everything dark and closed, but lit up, quiet, but lots of people walking around. to Tristan for both of these night pictures as well.
That was it for our time in Prague. Four nights, two short days, enough to get only a brief taste of this city and leave me wanting more. My one and only regret (other than not spending more time, but that was already planned) is not hitting up a traditional Czech pub – they’re either in short supply in the tourist areas, or we completely missed them. Next time, I suppose!

We stayed at Hotel Florenc, a budget hotel recommended by the tourist info. They’re located just outside the old town, in easy walking distance (although you have to walk through the possibly sketchy corridor by the highway - Wilsonova, I believe it's called). More importantly, they’re located on two metro lines, so reaching both the tourist spots and the main train station is quick and easy; if you’re arriving in Prague by bus, they have the advantage of being located by the bus station as well. Rooms were simple and with a few questionable stains on the walls, but otherwise no complaints, and the included breakfast was quite good. A few restaurants and bars – in several price ranges – as well a reasonably-sized supermarket are close by.

We purchased a 3-day tourist public transit pass upon arriving, right at the tourist info by the train station. It's not a ton of money and was definitely worth it for how easily it let us take public transit whenever and wherever we wanted.

If you’re eligible, I highly recommend having an ISIC (International Student Identity Card) with you in Prague. Most places gave student discounts, often of 50%, so it’s quite worthwhile.

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