A Travellerspoint blog

Great cities of Central Europe: Prague part II

Including Kutná Hora

Tuesday morning we started the day at Vyšehrad, an old fort on the banks of the Vltava south of the New Town. There was a great playground with a mini zipline and 360° views of Prague, as far as Prague Castle.

Next was another short road trip, this time eastward to the historical town of Kutná Hora. The town is best known for the majestic Church of St. Barbara and the creepy Sedlec Ossuary. The church contains a mixture of Gothic and Baroque elements and wasn't completed for more than 500 years after construction originally began. The three sloping pyramidal roofs fenced in by multiple spires give the church a unique and ominous appearance. From the plaza in front of the church we could see the rest of the town and the surrounding valley for miles.

The kids fell asleep once we left the church so Mei Ling went into the Sedlec Ossuary on her own. I'm not a big fan of internal decor created out of human bones anyway. More extensive background and photos of the ossuary can be found here.

It was Ian's third birthday, so our top priority on our return to Prague was to find a memorable place to celebrate. I decided Malá Strana was likely our best bet given the high concentration of tourist attractions and restaurants. On our arrival in the neighborhood, my decision was rewarded with that rarest of Prague black swans, a green parking spot. In Prague the parking is divided into blue, orange, and green zones. Most of the parking is blue, which means it is for residents and can get you booted without a permit. The general feeling seems to be "Don't risk it". Orange is two-hour metered parking from 8 am to 6 pm. There was a fair amount of this in the New Town where we lived which meant we didn't have to get to our car until 10 am as long as I fed the meter the previous evening. I'd never even seen a green spot until this moment, let alone a free one. Green meant a full six hours without having to return to the meter. It was already after five so an orange would have sufficed just as well, but I considered the unexpected appearance of a green spot to be a good omen.

We let the kids shake off a little energy clambering up and down the sloping sides of the World War II monument while we enjoyed the sight of a dignified stand of weeping willows in front of a line of resplendent townhouses. South of the Mánes Bridge, we were able to walk right to the edge of the Vltava where ducks and swans awaited handouts from tourists. Just a little further upstream was the Charles Bridge.

In front of the Kafka Museum a little further south we encountered the most shocking David Černý sculpture of all, two metal figures with swiveling hips and waggling penises standing in and urinating into a shallow pool in the shape of the Czech Republic. Many people seem to think the sculpture's name is "Piss", but it's actually "Proudy". Apparently if a message is texted to a number written on a sculpture, the men will write the message with their streams. It's easy to focus on the sheer audacity and offensiveness of the sculpture, but the figures are quite evocative completely independent of their activity. I didn't even notice until I looked at my photos afterward how the corrugation in the metal surfaces blurs the men's features and outlines creating a sense that they are either materializing from or vaporizing into the ether. Regardless of one's interpretation of Černý's meaning, there's a lot more going on here than shock value. Černý himself has been resistant to explaining or justifying his work, having previously stated “I just enjoy pissing people off." I like that. His sculptures challenge pedestrians to move beyond their gut reactions and examine their own assumptions about culture and politics. More about David Černý can be found here and here. You would never see a sculpture like this on the streets of any American city, and probably not in western Europe either. The Černý sculptures are a great example of what makes Prague unique.

With our last Prague landmark out of the way, we devoted our full attention to finding a restaurant for Ian's birthday. I found a hotel restaurant that was highly rated for food a short distance away and when we arrived it was clearly a great choice. We were seated outside with a pleasant view of the square and I arranged for Ian to get a cake and candle with Happy Birthday sung to him in Czech. Dinner was good and the birthday surprise went off well, except that they didn't give me a heads up before coming out so by the time I got the video started the Czech birthday song was halfway over.

One unavoidable consequence of our Saturday evening arrival in Prague was that we missed the Naplavka market on the bank of the Vltava on Saturday morning, which is apparently the best farmer's market in Prague. Our consolation prize was the Jirak farmer's market in the upscale Vinohrady district, which runs from Wednesday through Saturday. After having lunch at the market and buying some fruit for the day's drive, we took a short walk in the area to admire the beautiful Baroque architecture. I realized that despite the difficulty of meeting my high expectations, Prague had actually exceeded them. I had been amazed by the majesty of the Old Town and the Vltava, the beauty of the residential neighborhoods, and the great spirit of the residents. I concluded that Prague was now my second favorite city in Europe, ahead of Barcelona. I'm sure nothing will ever displace London from the top of that list. It was time to bid farewell to Prague but we were excited about our next destination, Český Krumlov. Here's some more about Prague farmers markets and the Vinohrady area.

Posted by zzlangerhans 11:46 Archived in Czech Republic

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