Sunday, 23 April 2017

Prague Moments #5 - Klementinum Tour

I first moved to Prague in mid-October 2014 to start a new contract as a member of a small team of IT quality management specialists. I was the third member of the recently formed team and the first Brit, but a few weeks later I was joined by a second compatriot. Alec is a Glaswegian and we hit it off from the very start and went on to have a number of adventures in Prague over the course of the next two years.

Our first (and last) cultural experience together was a trip to the Klementinum, for a night tour of the building followed by a classical concert*.

Situated in Mariánské náměstí, the Klementinum is a huge complex founded by the Jesuits in 1556. Initially, the inhabitant lived in the old Dominican monastery on the site, but expanded this over the next 270 years and the site is now spread over more than two hectares, making it one of the most largest building complexes in Europe.

In 1622 part of the site that started off as a Jesuit college was promoted to university status, and this merged with the Charles University in 1654. In 1930, the last part of the university moved out of the complex, and it was taken over by the National Library.

The main features of the complex today are the Astronomical Tower, the Mirror Chapel and the Baroque library.

I'd ordered tickets on-line for the event, and these were delivered to my phone well before the night of the tour. Our first challenge was finding the right entrance to the building, which we finally managed, only to find that on arrival at the ticket office I couldn't get a signal on the phone and couldn't retrieve the tickets. After some prolonged discussions, we eventually managed to prove that we had indeed got valid tickets and we were who we claimed to be, we were eventually allowed on the tour.

We started in the Mirror Chapel, where Mozart used to play the organ, and where the concert was due to take place an hour or so later. Next was the Baroque library which was looking rather depleted as 90% of the books had been transported to Germany for extensive restoration. Like the other classic library in Prague, at the Strahov Monastery, you're only allowed to look in through the doorway and photography is completely out of the question (our charming guide told us that she had to run a quick errand and that she wouldn't know if we took any photos as long as we didn't use flash!).

Baroque Library in the Klementinum
The highlight of the tour was the highly gymnastic (and health and safety free) trip up the astronomical tower, stopping on the way to marvel at some of the earliest astronomical instruments still in existence (and some of which are still being used). These were the hallowed grounds where astronomers like Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, or Thadeus Hájek may once have worked.

The night time vista of Prague viewed from the top of the 68 metre tall tower is magnificent, and we were fortunate enough to have timed it such that the Christmas markets and lights were fully ablaze. This is undoubtedly one of the best viewpoints in Prague. Sadly, my photos don't do it justice.

Reluctantly we left the tower and Alec and I returned to the Mirror Chapel for the concert. Not only had our tickets been validated, we'd been upgraded to VIP status and had front row seats. Listening to Baroque music, in the same place where some of the composers had performed the very same music over 200 years previously was quite a profound experience. The musicians clearly enjoyed themselves, especially as one of them stood up for the final round of applause a few bars too early - oh those pesky false endings!

Organ in the Mirror Chapel
A great night out, one of many we shared as the 'bromance' blossomed over the next few months and years. Thanks buddy!

* Classical concerts are two a penny in Prague, and the churches and assembly halls clamber over each other to try and get your attendance and your money! The musicians are extremely competent, but they perform the same pieces night after night (sometimes rushing from one venue to another) and get paid a pittance so don't expect an evening of virtuoso performances for a few quid! I'd suggest you choose music that you're familiar with (extracts from the Four Seasons are usually on the 'menu') and find a venue which grabs your imagination. The Klementinum experience we did was fantastic and highly recommended, but there is currently a legal dispute going on which means that the tours can't be guaranteed.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Prague Moments #4 - Vojanův dvůr

With over 5400 local restaurants and bars mentioned in Trip Advisor, Prague is not short of places to eat and drink. The world doesn't need another set of restaurant reviews and I'm certainly not in the mood to become a food and drink critic. So, rather than start another theme in this blog dedicated to matters epicurean, I've decided to write about my favourite places under the mantle of my Prague Moments.

Vojanův dvůr is located on the West Bank of the Vlatava on U Lužického semináře. Cross the river via Mánesův Most, turn left and cross over the road and you can't miss the huge iron gates which lead into the courtyard.

The place has undergone a huge transformation since I first went there. My very first visit was with some Scottish friends who were in Prague for a friendly football match with the Czechs; it was during the winter and I remember us being the only people in the bar - outside the bar to be precise - and  even the hardy Scots were wrapped up in yellow blankets.

Some months later, in the middle of spring, I found myself back in the courtyard on a glorious spring Saturday morning. I sat at the same table as before (but with no need for a blanket) and had a few beers while people watching. I got talking to one of the waitresses and ended up staying a bit longer than I'd intended. I returned the following day, and ended up waiting a while for somewhere to sit, but  my patience paid off and I spent another happy afternoon there.

It didn't take long for Vojanův dvůr to become my favourite watering hole - much to the amusement of the staff. This is basically a tourist pub, and it's certainly not the cheapest place in the city - but compared to the UK it's still a bargain! This is my 'Cheers' pub, where everybody knows my name. I've spent many happy hours there and whenever I walk in I know I feel welcome.

For most of 2016, the courtyard housed a temporary kitchen. Even with this constraint, Tomáš the chef and his team were able to knock out first rate food at reasonable prices. The main building was cloaked by fencing and scaffolding, but these finally came down later in the year, and the new kitchen, bar and inside restaurant were open to all. With the new facilities, the menu has got more diverse, catering for both traditional Czech and international cuisine.

The Pilsner Urquell is as good as any you'll get in the city, and I enjoy sitting at the bar chatting with the staff, and continue to be amazed at how some people behave in public, usually without realising it!

Vojanův dvůr continues to be one of my first (and most regular) ports of call when I'm in town. Pop in one day if you're in the neighbourhood, and tell them Ally sent you! Maybe I'll be there myself and I'll be happy to buy you a beer (offer not valid for stag and hen parties or groups of more than two!).

Monday, 10 April 2017

Prague - My City of Romance

If you've read any of my previous posts in this blog you'll already be aware of my special connection to Prague, and my passion for being in the city. My most recent visit has completely sealed that bond and has catapulted Prague to the top of my list of the most romantic cities in the world.

In an article in the independent newspaper last year, Prague came in at number ten of the top twenty five most romantic cities in the world (Paris came in top, but that was hardly a revelation!). It has also featured in a similar poll and in a similar position this year and in 2014, Prague was third in the list of most romantic cities in Europe.

If you've visited Prague, you'll understand why people fall in love with the city. If you're lucky you may even have fallen in love with someone while you've been there. Even in the depths of winter, I've seen couples having wedding photographs taken on the Charles Bridge. A former colleague from Romania got married in her embassy in the city (best of both worlds - get married on your home soil in a different country!).

On my second trip to the city, some twelve years ago, I have a feeling that something sparked between me and another former colleague, although I can't be entirely sure - I was a bit less worldly than I am now!

We started seeing each other some years later after that, and have now been together for over ten years. Mel has been to stay with me on a number of occasions while I've lived in Prague, and she shares my love of the place. And on her birthday this year, as the climax to a great weekend shared with some old university friends of mine, we sealed the deal and got engaged (much to my surprise!).

Just after the big event - outside the first hotel we stayed in
Prague is truly My City of Romance! And Mel has a beautiful Bohemian white gold and diamond ring on her finger to prove it!

Friday, 7 April 2017

Hidden Prague #2 - Kafka's Head

I wasn't entirely sure whether this should be a 'Hidden Prague' post, or merely a 'Prague Landmark'. In the end, I decided on the former because when my neighbour from the UK came to stay with me last month, he spent two hours fruitlessly searching for it to no avail. Eventually I managed to point him in the right direction, and he went home a happy bunny, having seen everything on his list. When I first discovered it, it was only because I'd come out of the shopping mall the wrong way in my early days - and it had only been recently been unveiled, is it wasn't in any of the tourist guides.

Kafka's Head is another David Černý sculpture but on a massive scale. It stands 10.2 metres tall and is made up of 42 independent rotating tiers, held together by a kilometre of cable, driven by a motor and series of relay motors, and weighing in at 39 tonnes.

The whole assembly was erected in late 2014 above Národní třída metro station at the back of the Quadrio shopping mall and business centre (or here on Google maps).

Have a look at the video...(which seems not to show up in Safari. If you can't see the embedded video, trying clicking here)


For more technical information on the sculpture have a look at this page.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Hidden Prague #1 - Vojanovy Sady

As spring finally arrives in Prague, I thought I'd share some of my favourite places in the city that are hidden in plain sight.

First up is Vojanovy Sady, a lovely little walled park in Mala Strana. You can find it on the map here, but it's easy enough to locate. Cross over the river using Manesuv Most, take the first turning on the left and cross the street. Walk past the big iron gates for the Restaurant Vojanuv Dvur, and the entrance to the gardens is about one hundred metres further on.

The 2.5 hectare garden dates back to 1248. It's now part of the Ministry of Finance estate and was opened to the public in 1954 after some years of decay and neglect.

Given the proximity of the Charles Bridge and the main street leading up to the castle, these gardens are a little sea of tranquility and the loudest noise you'll hear will be that of the peacocks squawking as they strut around the park looking for snacks.

There are a few little oddities hidden away as you can see in the photos. Unfortunately I never managed to take a picture of the lady in the lake - I assume it's a lady because only her legs usually stick out of the pond - and the last couple of times I've been in, she's been missing.

So, if you're looking for a little place of (relative) solitude - take your lunch with you and settle down for a brief while. You'll not be disappointed!

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Prague Moments #3 - Masopust (Carnival)

Masopust is the Czech word for Carnival and dates back to the 13th Century where it was linked to the worship of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. These days, the Carnival is more associated with masked costume parades and more modern cultural activities, but it's one of my favourite times of the year in Prague, and it's happening right now!

For me, the highlight is the parade starting above the castle. Everyone meets up at the Black Ox pub (U Černého Vola) in Loretánské Namesti, and enjoys an hour or two of drinking and music before the parade begins to wend its way down towards the castle and into Mala Strana.

With the Carnival king and queen leading the way (alongside a mounted police escort), closely followed by a throng of revellers in a huge array of different costumes, the parade slowly heads through Hradčanské Namesti, down Nerudova and across Malostranské Namesti towards the Charles Bridge and then into Na Kampé for the real party to start.

Some of the costumes are incredible while others are a bit more makeshift, and many represent the pagan origins of the festival; devils and evil spirits decked in chains walk side by side with pirates and animals (and even someone a bit more sinister!)

The atmosphere is tremendous, and it is impossible not to become immersed in the proceedings. Alcohol clearly plays its part and there are usually plenty of folk more than happy to share their grog with the crowd. A drop of apricot brandy does wonders to hold off the February chill!

Last year, the day was made even more interesting with two demonstrations taking place at the same time and in the same part of town - one pro-immigration and one anti-immigration. To our great amusement, the police redirected both groups away from the parade and settled them into a smaller square until we'd gone past. Fortunately, neither group wanted to resort to fisticuffs that day!

Similar parades and activities take place in Žižkov and Vyšehrad as well as other parts of the city, but for me, this is one of the ultimate Prague Moments - and sadly this year I'm going to miss it as I'm not back in town until two days after the event.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Prague Landmarks #7 - Nový Svět (New World)

Despite being in all the lists of 'secret' places to go in Prague, Nový Svět (New World), is still, surprisingly, relatively quiet. Hidden at the back of the castle, in the Hradčany district, Nový Svět itself is a single street in a warren of largely car free, cobbled lanes which when viewed from a vantage point look like a miniature village.

Novy Svet and surrounding district

A number of commentators liken the area to how they imagine Terry Pratchett's Ankh Morph from the Diskworld novels might look. I prefer to think of it more as a scene from the Shires in Tolkein's Hobbit and Lord of the Rings books.

Dating back to the 14th century the cottages used to house castle workers, a little like the better known Golden Lane within the castle complex.

Most of the original cottages were destroyed by a huge fire in the 18th century, but they were rebuilt and later became popular with artists and writers. They are now pretty much all privately owned. I stayed in one of the cottages which has now been converted to flats but retains most of its old world charm.

One famous resident of Golden Lane was the author Franz Kafka. Nový Svět had its own celebrity resident, namely the Danish mathematician and astronomer Tycho Brahe who lived in the house called "At the Golden Griffin" in 1600.

Compared to my normal accommodation down the road from the Charles Bridge it was wonderfully quiet. Even the little cafe opposite my apartment was only open between 11:00 am and 19:00 in the evening (and it's closed on Monday) which meant I never got a chance to try it out. Neither did I get to try the little restaurant at the lower entrance to the street since it was being renovated at the time I was there.

At the other end of the street there is a little hotel, U Raka, which is the only fully log timbered house left in Prague today, originally dating back to 1739 (or earlier).

A wet and dark winter night in Nový Svět

If you fancy getting away from it all, for even just an hour or so, it's well worth diverting away from the main sites around the castle, and stepping back a little further in time.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Prague Landmarks #6 - The Astronomical Clock

My initial intention with this series of Prague landmarks was not to pick the most obvious places, but to focus on some of the less well known and less obvious ones. It's fairly safe to say that the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square is probably the most well known and obvious sites in the city, but I've decided to include it now...because it's just about to disappear. That is to say, it is just about to undergo a huge year long maintenance programme and for the time being is going to replaced by a video representation.

The clock is one of the most iconic images associated with Prague - and justifiably (in my opinion at least). The impact it makes the first time you see it lasts a lifetime, and even having walked past it hundreds of times, I still find it impossible not to sneak a peek when I'm nearby.

There is so much history about the clock it would be impossible to do it justice in such a short post. Trying to explain the science behind such a phenomenal piece of engineering would be even more difficult. Instead I'll focus on the basics and point you towards one of the books or pamphlets available on sale inside the clock tower. 

It has now been determined that the original clock dates back to 1410 by Mikuláš of Kadaň, but it has been modified and added to many times over the centuries. The clock shows four types of time:

  • Old Czech (Italian) time displayed by the Gothic symbols on the outer rings
  • German (Local) time marked in golden Roman numerals along the edge of the astrolabe
  • Planetary time shown by the 12 blue Arabic numerals
  • Sidereal time designated by the star on the zodiac ring
Additionally the clock displays the position of the sun and moon and other celestial events such as solstices.

The calendar dial which is situated underneath the clock was painted by the Czech painter Josef Mánes (1820-1871), although the original was badly damaged by exposure to the weather, the current copy was unveiled in 1882 .

St John the Evangelist (left) and St Thomas (right)

The statues of the apostles which appear from the windows above the clock appear to date back to 1793. The originals were destroyed by fire in 194 and replaced with the current set between 1946 and 1948. They appear so briefly that the best way to see them is to take the trip into the clock tower and find them in their little cubby hole where you can really appreciate their eerie beauty.

There are too many details all around the clock to describe them all but it wouldn't be right not to single out the orchestrator of the chiming ceremonies - the wooden sculpture of Death.

Death (the skeleton) and Delight

Every hours, when he rings his bell, and the hourglass turns it launches the apostles forty second journey outside into the elements, before the windows close and the rooster crows and flaps its wings (generally to the sound of applause from the gathered throng down below).

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Prague Landmarks #5 - The Hanging Man

I've mentioned in other posts in this blog that when you're in Prague, you really need to look all around you to be able to really appreciate the city, especially some of its quirkier features. And all around includes looking upwards in places where you'd least think about looking upwards!

One of these places is the intersection of Husova and Skořepka in Stare Mesto. As you approach the intersection it's easy to keep your eyes focused in front of you as a number of small backstreets converge, and there are a couple of interesting little shops and restaurants which can easily distract you. But if you pause for a moment and look skywards you'll see the somewhat disturbing sight of a man hanging from a beam above the street.

Man Hanging Out (Husova, Prague 1)

The 'Man Hanging Out' (to give it its the correct name) is another of David Cernvy's weird and whacky pieces - you may remember his name as the designer of the babies on the TV Tower. This one is a 7ft tall bronze coloured fibreglass sculpture depicting Sigmund Freud. It was created in 1996 and has been exhibited in London, Berlin, Rotterdam, Chicago, and Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The renowned psychoanalyst was born in Frieburg, now part of the Czech Republic, and suffered from a number of phobias, including the fear of his own death (who doesn't?!). This depiction has Freud hanging by his had and debating whether or not to let go - a constant struggle between life and death.

It is just a sculpture, but is often mistaken as a suicide attempt and has resulted in more than one call to the fire and police services!

Most people are too busy to even notice it's there!

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Prague Moments #2 - Náplavka

This morning marked the start of the Farmer's Market 2017 season on Náplavka. My Saturday morning in Prague followed a fairly consistent routine, starting with a 2 mile jog, then sorting out my laundry and doing a general tidy up of the Pent-Palace, before heading off to Náplavka along the embankment.

Náplavka and Smíchov from the railway bridge
There is always a buzz around the market and it's location is fantastic, right down by the river, in the shadow of Vyserhrad and the railway bridge across the Vltava. If you want the freshest vegetables and meat, this is the best place to go in my opinion, and stuff is generally much better value than you can get in the supermarkets. Don't expect to pay much lower prices, but the produce is of higher quality and tends to have a longer shelf life. Look out for the fish stall if you like seafood - I've never been disappointed with their wares. Best of all are the seasonal fruits and vegetables - especially around the middle of May, when the city goes mad for asparagus.

The eggs from the market are bigger and browner than any you'll get in the supermarket and it's a great place to get herbs, specialist flavoured oils, cheeses and lovely sticky cakes.

It isn't just about produce to take home for the kitchen. There are plenty of stalls selling hot and cold snacks and drinks, and it doesn't feel at all strange having a beer at ten in the morning after a productive morning shopping.

Náplavka also hosts other events, including a beer festival, and even when there's nothing on, there are a number of riverside bars and barge bars where you can enjoy the summer sun, chill out and watch the world pass by. And it's equally a fine place for an evening stroll!


Quite often there are additional events, particularly food festivals, taking place on the opposite bank of the river at Smíchov. As you walk over the railway bridge you can feel the excitement as the sounds and smells of the food stalls start to crowd your senses.

Memorable moments last year were the chilli festival, the burger festival and the Cider festival. These are multi-cultural affairs, with stands from all over the world including places like Peru, Indonesia and various African nations...

...I'm starting to drool at the thought!

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Prague Moments #1 - Sunrise from The Charles Bridge

It looks like my Prague landmarks photos and posts are being well received but I don't want to restrict myself to interesting places and their histories. I have a number of photographs that have a lot of personal significance and their own stories behind them that I'd also like to share.

The Charles Bridge (Karlovy Most) is one of the most visited places in Prague (maybe in Europe or even the world). Its popularity seems to increase every year, and even in the less popular months, there are very few occasions when one can be alone. Bizarrely, one of those occasions is at the crack of dawn, as the sun rises over the city of a hundred spires. It's bizarre because it would appear to be on most people's bucket list when they visit Prague, but when faced with the idea of getting up at four  in the morning, few people actually make it out of their beds.

This is just an idea of what they're missing!

I'll be the first to admit that getting up at three in the morning isn't my idea of fun, but when I decided to do this on my first extended stay in the city, I was in my final week and time was rapidly running out.

On April 29th 2015, official sunrise was 04:43, but the action was taking place from about 03:21 onwards. It took me about 30 minutes to walk down to the river from my apartment on Francouzska in Prague 2, barely seeing a soul in the half light. By the time I got to the embankment by Slovansky Island the sky was a bluish violet mix. The river was calm and it was mostly quiet apart from the clicking of the pedestrian crossing timers.

The bridge was almost empty apart from a couple of other like minded photographers, a Japanese wedding promotion shoot (the model had gone blue with the cold), and a few pigeons and seagulls. I had come armed with my Nikon DSLR, Nikon Coolpix and my iPhone 6. One problem with spontaneous decisions, is that you don't generally do the sort of checks that you do when you make a planned decision - and in this case I'd completely forgotten to check the battery levels in the cameras. The DSLR failed after about ten shots, the Coolpix lasted for another five or so, which meant I was completely reliant on the iPhone 6 camera (which was fully charged). And boy, did it prove its worth.

By about 07:30 it was all over. Over the course of three hours the city underwent it daily transition from night to day and the peace and quiet transformed into the hustle and bustle of the morning commute. It turned out to be a glorious day. Forty eight hours later I was on a plane back to the UK nursing some serious misgivings about leaving.

How can you think about going to Prague and not seeing the sun rise over the Charles Bridge? Just remember to take spare batteries for your camera(s)!

Monday, 30 January 2017

Prague Landmarks #4 - The Metronome

If you are standing on the eastern bank (right had side) of the Vltava looking across the river and you manage to pry your eyes away from the view of the castle and cast them further to the right you should catch sight of the bright red Prague Metronome, high above the city on the edge of the Letná plateau.

The Prague Metronome was built in 1991 and is a fully functional 75ft tall metronome, designed by Vratislav Novák. It was erected as a permanent symbolic reminder of the Czech struggles under communism. Before its construction, the site was home to the largest statue of Stalin in the world,  a 17,000-ton statue of the Soviet dictator.

The original statue was blown up in 1962 on the orders of Nikita Krushchev and the remnants are reported to be buried in the pedestal under the metronome.

The story behind the building of Stalin's monument is as bizarre as any of the amazing tales from Prague's past. A Czech TV film (Monstrum) was being made about it and in May 2016 for a couple of days, Stalin once again cast his (much smaller) shadow over the city. It was a little disconcerting going for my morning run, crossing Chechuv Most, looking up expecting to see the metronome and instead seeing what appeared to be the return of communism!

The stairway up to the metronome from the bridge is fairly steep, and not to be under-estimated in winter when it gets quite icy. There are a few less arduous pathways which go up to Letná park, but whichever route you take, you get amazing views of the river.

Behind the metronome, the area has been adopted as a popular meeting place for younger people, and there are usually a number of skateboarders honing their skills amongst the dog walkers, runners and other less athletic folk! In the heat of the summer, there are a number of great little places to grab a beer in the park and cool down a little.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Prague Landmarks #3 - Vítkov Hill

My third landmark lies about half a mile (as the crow flies) from the TV Tower and is often missed by visitors to the city, especially by those on short stays. I didn't become aware of the site until I'd lived in Prague for over three months, and then it was only because I'd been flicking through a book of photographs comparing old and new Prague*.

I'm talking about Vítkov Hill, which lies between Karlin and Žižkov in Prague 3, and is the site of the National Monument and the third largest bronze equestrian statue in the world, the 9m high, 9.6m long, and 16.5 ton sculpture of Jan Žižka. The monument was built between 1928 and 1938 to honour the Czechoslovak Legion.

Jan Žižka led the Hussite forces against the Holy Roman Emperor, Sigismund, at the battle of Vítkov Hill during the Hussite Wars. The battle took place in July 1420 and was a decisive Hussite victory.

The statue was commissioned in 1931 and created by Bohumil Kafka and took over 10 years to complete, but Kafka himself died in 1941, before it was finally erected and unveiled on 14 July 1950 to make the anniversary of the battle.

The Czech tomb of the unknown soldier is located underneath the statue.

During the communist years, the monument was used to promote the regime, and in 1954-1962 it was used as the mausoleum of the communist leader Klement Gottwald.

The views over Prague from the top of the hill are magnificent, and are well worth the climb. On my first visit, I'd started on a beautiful summer day and was recovering from the exertion when I noticed a huge storm cloud looming over Hradčanská and travelling towards me. Despite my best efforts, I failed to outrun it and was still a good five minutes away from my flat when it hit. Since then, I've rarely gone out on a without packing a cagoule in my backpack!

* Prague Then and Now by Jenni Meili Lay

Monday, 9 January 2017

Prague Landmarks #2 - The Hunger Wall

I've chosen The Hunger Wall (Hladová zeď) as the second of my Prague landmarks. Built in 1360-2 on the orders of King Charles IV, the wall snakes up Petřin Hill behind Ujzeď, then on towards Strahov, and is clearly visible from the opposite side of the Vlatava to the left of the Funicular Railway.

The Hunger Wall gets its name from the idea that it was built in order to provide work for the locals during a serious famine in 1361. While the construction of the wall certainly did afford work during the famine, its real purpose was strategic and it provided protection for the castle and Mala Strana against attacks from the west and the south. Originally the wall was 4-6 metres high, about 2 metres wide and equipped with battlements and bastions. The final bastion (it is assumed there were 8 originally) became the site for the Stefanik Observatory. About 1200 metres of the original wall still remains.

You can walk up Petřin Hill along the side of the wall. It's quite a steep climb but it gives you an idea of how arduous building it would have been! There are easier ways of getting to see it up close - most notably by taking the funicular and then walking across to the wall from the top station.

It's not a good trip out if the weather is bad, but on a fresh winter or spring day it's quite exhilarating and the views across the city are great, even if the origins of the wall are only myths (like so many of the stories about Prague). Apparently the phrase Hladová zeď is now used to describe useless public works...but at least this one has character, unlike our equivalent PFI infrastructure projects in the UK!

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Prague Landmarks #1 - The "Baby" Tower (Žižkov Television Tower)

Over the last two years I've taken about 2,500 photos in and around the city. So I'm going to showcase some of them in my future posts. Each post will focus on a particular landmark or specific photo and I'll write a few accompanying notes about the history, significance and other (hopefully) useful snippets of information. The landmarks won't be in any order - I'm just plucking out photos from my library at random.

My first landmark is the Žižkov Television Tower (Žižkovský vysílač) lovingly referred to as the Baby Tower by my girlfriend (more on that in a moment).

The tower is located in the Žižkov district of the city, which is pretty much due east of the Old Town Square. It was built between 1985 and 1992, stands 709ft (216m) tall, and was designed by architect Václav Aulický and the structural engineer Jiří Kozák. 

The primary functions of the tower are for TV transmission, meteorology, and, most recently, a data centre, but there are sections which are open to the public and afford amazing views of the city both during the day and at night. 

There are a number of fibre glass sculptures of babies crawling up and down around the lower and mid sections of the tower (hence the 'baby tower'). These were designed by the 'alternative' Czech sculptor David Černý and initially mounted in 2000 as a temporary erection but returned permanently in 2001. (David Černý will crop up numerous times in future posts!)

There is also a restaurant and a snack bar (but a bit pricey!). At night the tower is usually illuminated by stunning red, white and blue lights, mimicking the colours of the Czech flag. 

The tower is the tallest building in the Czech Republic, but also used to have the dubious reputation of being the second ugliest building in the world (it now appears to have been relegated to fourth ugliest - the ugliest being the Verizon building in New York or the Ryugyong hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea depending on which list you read).

Personally, I love the building, and it's never far out of view wherever you are in the city. 

If you like this post, please comment on other landmarks you might want me to write about...after all, this is Prague and there are more than a few! 

And there's a pretty good chance I've been there and have some photos!