Getting a Handle from..., er, on Prague

Monday, May 12, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

CHAPTER 21:  IN WHICH WE CZECH OUT SOME BOHEMIAN BLUESGRASS

Around the World, Day 21:  Ljubljana, Slovenia to Prague, Czech Republic.  Sadly we had to end our time in Slovenia much too soon.  Even our drive to Ljubljana's quiet little airport this morning offered up some beautiful scenery in the form of snow-capped foothills of the Slovenian Alps.

A bit of last minute Slovenian eye candy
A tantalizing farewell aerial view of fairytale villages began a pleasant flight with Adria Airways, the Slovenian carrier, on a small 50-passenger craft.  A scant 75 minutes later, we landed in Prague, where we had booked a ground transfer to our hotel.  Since we landed a bit early, we had time to pop into a small supermarket at the airport for a few necessities before moving on to the arrivals hall to hook up with our driver.  What we found was a melange of drivers, several rows deep, all holding up signs with the names of their fares.  While I waited off to the side of this confusion, Ken wandered through the mob until he found one bearing our name.  Guiding us to his car, Karl just couldn't resist asking, "Is your name really Prager?" (pronunced in the European manner, PRAH-ger)

As he delivered us to the Hunger Wall Residence (a historic reference we will illuminate later), we explained that Ken's ancestors had indeed once dwelled in this area, which prompted a tongue-in-cheek inquiry about why the name had not been changed to Vienner after the family's move to Austria.  At the hotel, we had a similar reception, with the manager on duty informing us that we were the first people named Prager to stay with them.

Feeling very much at home, we dropped our bags in the apartment and headed out to visit Prague Castle.  The corner grocery store sold us passes for the tram, which conveniently ran along the street outside.  Number 22 took us directly to the 18-acre castle property, which encloses a collection of attractions linked by courtyards.  Of course, each requires an admission fee, so when you purchase a ticket, your cost is based on how many of the places you want to see.  Since we arrived after 4 p.m., we opted for about half the sights.

Prague Castle complex (at top of photo)
Unexpectedly, the star of the castle show was St. Vitus Cathedral.  The largest church in the Czech Republic, the cathedral is the final resting place of many figures important in Czech history, including the revered "Good King" Wenceslas, whose kindness is widely remembered annually in the words of a popular Christmas carol.  According to the song, Wenceslas and a servant battled harsh winter weather to deliver alms to an impoverished family on St. Stephen's Day (December 26).  The cold was so bitter, the servant was ready to give up, but was able to continue by walking in Wenceslas's footsteps through the deep snow, enabling them to complete their mission. 

Spectacular chancel of St. Vitus Cathedral
Though two previous churches had occupied this site, the current Gothic version was begun in 1344.  To say work proceeded slowly would be a bit of an understatement.  For various reasons, construction delayed the completion of the cathedral until 1929.  Yes, the consecration service was celebrated almost 600 years after the cornerstone was laid.

Prague from castle hill
Set high on a hill above the city, the castle offered up spectacular views of Prague in all its architectural glory.  Today the city has a population just over a million.  In the late Middle Ages, Prague's position as Europe's crossroads spurred its growth into a magnificent city, outpacing London and Paris in the reign of Charles IV, namesake of the city's most famous bridge.

Charles Bridge
We left the castle on foot and did a bit of meandering through the city en route back to the hotel.  Along the way, we strolled across Charles Bridge, Europe's longest when it was built in the mid-14th century.  An engineering marvel in the 1300s, it remained the only way to cross Prague's Vltava River (except by boat) for 500 years.  Today, the bridge serves only pedestrians.  And the artists, musicians, and souvenir vendors who ply their trade there.

Matej Ptaszek and the Dobre Rano Blues Band was one of several musical groups performing on the bridge today.  The band plays American music of the Mississippi River, blending it with elements of bluegrass, to create what they term blues-grass.  Their sound definitely caught our ears.  Using a brass megaphone or the horn ripped from an old gramophone, Ptaszek has also crafted his own personalized singing technique, which has been described as "baroque country tenor."  Regular performers on the Charles Bridge, the Good Morning Blues Band has developed a following among blues lovers throughout Europe.  Here's a little taste of their unique style.


Matej Ptaszek from Road Junkies on Vimeo.

We'll remain in Prague until Friday and look forward to more exploration of this popular city. 

Daily Stats
  • Miles flown:  269
  • Miles walked:  3.1
  • Weather:  41° to 59°, sunny
  • Snow-capped mountains:  327
  • Pedestrians on Charles Bridge:  5,216
  • Tour groups at Prague Castle:  103
  • Performers on Charles Bridge:  26
  • Cobblestones in Prague:  25, 372, 987, 145, 820
  • Lovelocks on Prague bridges:  82,165
More Photos from Today
New Orangery at Prague Castle
Love locks on bridge
So many lovers, so many locks
Charles Bridge
Prague street snacks (spiral potato chips on a stick)
Vltava River