Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Prague Moments #9 - Apple Museum

I often say that Prague is a city of contrasts, and none more so than the juxtaposition of the hi-tech Apple Museum with the medieval buildings in the backstreets of the old town. Situated at the intersection of Karlova and Husova in the Old Town, the Apple Museum is the largest private collection of Apple products.

Apple Computers timeline 1976-2012
There are 472 exhibits, housed across 767 square metre of exhibition space, and covers Apple products and memorabilia going back as far as 1976. Among the products represented in the museum are an Apple Lisa, Apple II, numerous iMacs, PowerBooks and iBooks as well as more modern incarnations of iPhones, iPods, iPads and MacBooks. The Macintosh family is especially well covered.

PowerMacs 1994 - 2006
Macintosh computers 1984 - 1991

In addition, in a celebration of all things Steve Jobs related, there are NeXT cubes and Pixar paraphernalia from Jobs' time away from Apple.

There are bucket loads of other Apple accessories, including printers, cameras, networking devices and i/o devices.

Some people may argue that the museum exhibits don't reflect the latest and shiniest kit to originate from Cupertino, but this was an intentional decision because the museum curators wanted to focus on products created during Jobs' lifetime, so there is no representation of items after 2012.

Tickets cost €9 for adults (a little under £8 at today's rates) and all profits go to charity.

As an Apple user myself for the last ten years, and someone with a real interest in the history of IT, I found it a fascinating way to spend a (very) wet afternoon. Although quite a lot of the exhibits also appear to exist in my spare bedroom, they aren't anywhere nearly as well presented as they are in the museum, which could almost have been designed by Apple itself.

Please note - photography is not allowed in the museum (oops!)

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Prague Moments #8 - Lucerna Music Bar

It shouldn't come as any great surprise that there is an abundant music, art, and theatre scene in Prague. After all, we often associate the term "Bohemian" with a kind of artistic lifestyle, conjuring up images of impoverished painters, composers and writers hidden away in their garrets, living on cheap wine and opium!

Manfred Mann's Earth Band
What may surprise you is the diversity of live music available to people in Prague and particularly the prevalence of popular bands and singers from the UK, US and Australia who now regularly include Prague on their tours.

Over the course of the last three years, I've seen some great acts in some interesting venues. But my favourite to date is still the Lucerna* Music Bar. The original venue, the Palace Lucerna was built at the beginning of the 20th century. By 1909 the club was being used as a theatre and later as a cabaret. After 1948 the whole Lucerna palace was nationalised. During the Communist era, the club was used as a nightclub without any real focus, but 20 years ago, on October 25th, 1995 the Lucerna Music Bar opened for the first time.

Located on Vodičkova, just off Václavské náměstí (Wenceslas Square),  the Lucerna Palace comprises shops, galleries, the Lucerna Theatre and the downstairs Music Bar, which has a capacity of 800, mainly standing. Wherever you stand on the main floor, you are never far from the wide stage and this allows an exceptional intimacy with the performers.

Like other venues in Prague, tickets prices are generally lower than you'd pay in the UK in a similar venue, and even more surprising, drinks are not much more than you'd pay in a bar in the same vicinity. A half litre of Pilsner Urquell (in an obligatory plastic glass) will cost about 50CZK or £1.50 and you'll pay about double that for a cocktail.

Newton Faulkner

Last time I was there, was to see Amy MacDonald, supported by Newton Faulkner (I couldn't even get tickets for her gig in Nottingham but here I was less than ten metres from the front of the stage!). In the past I've seen Hooverphonic, Band of Horses and Manfred Mann's Earth Band.

While I'm naming dropping, I've also enjoyed seeing Blackmores Night, Marina and the Diamonds, and the Australian band The Paper Kites, but in different venues around the city.

If you do find a act you want to see you'll be sure of a great night, but make certain you get there on time. The tickets will always tell you what time the show begins and venue websites will tell you when each act is due on the stage. Unlike in the UK, acts in Prague start with military precision. This is because local by-laws prevent most concerts from continuing after 22:30 in the evening (sadly this doesn't apply to drunks singing in the street!).

Amy MacDonald
Later this year Sparks (remember them?) and Anathema are due to perform at Lucerna and I'm hoping to be around to see them as well.

* Lucerna is the Czech word for lantern.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Prague Moments #7 - Navalis (May 15th)

On May 15th the people of Prague celebrate Navalis, in honour of Saint John of Nepomuk (1345-1393). This is a tradition that dates back some 300 years to the his beatification in 1715. 

St John on the Charles Bridge
St John of Nepomuk is the patron saint of bridges, communication, good reputation and of all people of the water. I've mentioned him previously and you cannot walk far in Prague without seeing a statue, engraving or some other representation of him. He is instantly recognisable by his five star halo, which represent the stars that hovered over the river Vltava in which he was drowned on the orders of King Wenceslas IV. The legend has it that the king was convinced that his queen had taken a lover and demanded that St John, as the queen's confessor, reveal her secrets. When he refused to break the seal of confession, the king ordered him to be thrown into the Vltava from the Charles Bridge, hence gaining his martyrdom. 

The first account of this was some sixty years after his death and further chronicles go on to embellish the legend. The more likely historical truth is that St John refused to confirm the king's choice of a new abbott as part of a papal power struggle between the pope in Rome and a rival Avignon papacy supported by the Wenceslas, who was himself embattled with his own nobles.  But why let history get in the way of a good yarn? The first story is much more romantic!

The Navalis celebrations are heavy duty even by Prague standards. There's a procession, a holy mass at St Vitus Cathedral, another religious service St Francis of Assisi by the Charles Bridge, a regatta, skydiving and a riverside concert, rounded off by Baroque fireworks on the Vltava. All in the space of about five hours!

Last year, the procession from the castle to the statue of St John on the Charles Bridge was the real highlight of the evening for me. It was an incredibly moving and spiritual experience. Prague dignitaries, churchmen, children,  representatives of numerous local groups, and other pilgrims, along with horses and riders, follow a statue of the saint and hold a brief service on the bridge. 

Make way for the Hat
As the sun set, the sky turned an amazing yellowy-brown and I felt goosebumps on the back of my neck. The only disappointing aspect of the experience was the attitude of some of the tourists on the bridge, who seemed extremely put out that they were being impeded by the procession.

Incredible skies after the procession
We listened to some of the concert which was performed from a floating stage by the riverbank with lots of people watching from little boats on the river. The Charles Bridge also was illuminated with little white stars representing the stars on the saint's halo.

Concert on the Vltava and the stars illuminating the bridge
Unfortunately the place we'd chosen to watch the fireworks failed to take into account that Baroque fireworks don't go very high into the sky (at least not that night) and we didn't see a thing, but by that time it was getting pretty chilly.

If you're in Prague on the 15th May this year, I highly recommend you get along to at least some of the events in the programme. It all kicks off at 16:00 (local time) in Hradčany Square but you can find the detailed information on the official website here. And if last year is anything to go by, wrap up well!

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Prague in Print - Some of My Favourite Books; Part 1 - Factual

There is no shortage of guidebooks about Prague; a quick search on Amazon (UK) lists 1579 in the book department (including Kindle versions). Most of them cover the same old familiar sights and places and provide little more than a cursory introduction to the city, its people and its customs. Some of them are superb, and my personal favourite is the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Prague (last updated in October 2016).

But if you want to find out a bit more about Prague you have to dig a bit deeper. There are some excellent books available, covering: history, architecture, hidden or secret Prague, cuisine and culture. There's a fair bit of fiction as well, from both traditional Czech writers and more modern authors who have used the city as a backdrop to their novels and stories.

This post covers just a few of my favourites in each category. If it proves popular, I may expand it in the future.

Culture and customs

If you're going to be moving to Prague, there are three must-read books in my opinion.

The first is Czech Republic (Culture Shock!) by Tim Nollen. It's a bit short of 300 pages, but I personally think it should be mandatory reading for ALL travellers to the Czech Republic.

The next two are books by Rachael Weiss, an Australian with Czech parents, who came to Prague to find herself and her roots...twice. "Me, Myself and Prague" and its sequel, "The Thing About Prague..." are witty, easy to read books which give you a great idea of what to expect when you start to live here, although to be fair, life has got a bit easier (most of the time!).

Travellers' Tales

Some of the best insights into the city, both past and present, factual and fictional, can be found in books like "Prague: A Traveler's Literary Companion", edited by Paul Wilson, "Travelers' Tales Prague and the Czech Republic: True Stories", edited by David Farley,  and "Time's Magpie: A Walk in Prague" by Myla Goldberg, who lived in Prague for three years, but this is more a collection of essays and fits nicely with the other books mentioned in this section.

Coffee Table Books

There are a few 'coffee table' books in my library. Big hardbacks with lots of glossy photos. Im particularly fond of Prague: Architecture, History, Art by Stephen Brook, The Prague Book: Highlights Of A Fascinating City (Monaco Books), and Prague: Past and Present by Claudia Sugliano. My favourite in this category is probably Prague Then and Now by Jenni Meili Lau. Whilst all the photos are black and white, each double page spread contains a recent shot contrasted with a photo from a bygone age, and it's fascinating to see how the city has changed over the years (and since the book was published in 2007, how it has continued to change).

That should be enough to keep you going for a few days! In a future post, I'll share a few fictional books I've collected.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Prague Moments #6 - Břevnov Monastery May Day Beer Festival

The May Day bank holiday in Prague marks the date for the first Beer Festival in the city - První Pivní Máj (literally First Beer May). It is currently held at the Břevnov Monastery in Prague 6 and last year I arranged to meet there with my Polish friends, Slawomir and Renata.

It was a lovely spring day and rather than take the tram, I decided to walk from my flat on Smetanovo nábřeží, across the Charles Bridge, up to the castle and onto Pohořelec, before heading down Bělohorská and finally arriving at the monastery grounds for the opening at around 10:30. It was a two and three-quarter mile walk but not uneventful. On the steep climb up Nerudova towards the castle, there was quite a commotion caused by a young and very pretty lady quite happily striding along the street without a care in the world and without a stitch of clothing (sorry, no photos, you'll have to take my word for it!). Most of the noise seemed to be from the tut-tuts of the older, disapproving shopkeepers and the wives and girlfriends of the male tourists busy taking photos and getting in the way of the 'official' photographer.

I also found this rather eerie place near Diskařská which I decided must be where old trams go to die.

By the time Slavo and Renata arrived about half an hour later, the party was in full swing. I've been to a lot of beer festivals over the years, and some in strange places like a covered over swimming pool and an old converted railway roundhouse, but a monastery was a first, and it was also the first truly outdoor festival I'd been to.
Beer Festival in the shadow of Brevnov Monastery
The festival is fairly small in terms of the number of breweries, usually about 20 microbreweries, but with each of them having three or four different beers, there's no shortage of different tipples catering for most tastes. Along with the beers, there are a few Moriavian wines, ciders and a selection of typcial Czech sauages and other nibbly bits to choose from.

Having spent a good few hours sampling the delights and trying very hard not to get roped into the drinking contests (one of which involved drinking a litre of beer through a very long straw) we made our way back into town before winding down with a few cocktails at the bar underneath my flat.

Beer festivals are a Czech family affair!
The first of many beer festivals had been a great day out. Perfect weather, wonderful Czech hospitality, and truly wonderful friends. You'll hear more about them I'm sure!

Friday, 28 April 2017

Hidden Prague #3 - Franciscan Gardens

Continuing with the theme of hidden Prague, there are few substantial places more hidden in plain sight than the Franciscan Garden (Františkánská zahrada) which sits betweenWenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí) and Jungmannovo náměstí, in the shadow of the Church of the Virgin Mary of the Snow.
Franciscan Gardens and Church of the Virgin Mary of the Snow
It was originally a much larger medieval garden of the Carmelite Monastery established around 1348 at the time of the main development of the New Town (Nové Město). After 1604 it became the property of the Franciscans Order. The garden was opened to the public when the Franciscans were expelled by the communists in 1950.

Between 1989 and 1992, the garden was reconstructed by the architects Josef Kuča and Ivana Tichá, and new sculptures were added by Stanislav Hanzík and Josef Klimeš. The monastery and gardens were returned to the Franciscans as part of the restitution of property following the Velvet Revolution.

What strikes you on entering the garden is the peace and quiet compared to the hustle and bustle of one of the busiest parts of the city. In the spring and summer especially there is a blaze of colour, subtle smells of blossom, herbs and spices, and the gentle buzzing of bees. It's a great place to rest your feet, have a bite of lunch and sit and ponder or meditate for a moment or two before setting off on the next part of your adventure and hitting the busy streets once again.

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!