Walking down small side street paved with cobble stones and steps on our way from the Prague Castle complex in the general direction of the river, I come across what looked like a corner shop with a marble effect frontage and some balustrades across the top. Not a great surprise really as there are numerous ones hidden in the main and back streets of the city. What was a surprise was the sign above the window, emblazoned in red, which read: “KGB MUZEUM” with the words separated by the Soviet Star. My interest was certainly peaked and, temporally forgetting my spouse who was investigating some shops on the street at the top of the last flight of steps, after saying there was no way she was going down there, I closed in on what would be a great chance to delve into a dark period of this city’s history. However, when I got up close my hopes began to flush away as the door was locked with a chair propped up against it, and half way down the glass was a small notice saying “Next tour at 15:00”. As it was only 13:30 now with a spouse waiting I surrendered to common sense, about turned and started my way back up the cobbles towards the steps and a chance to rescue the bank balance.
Half way towards the steps, when for some reason the road seems steeper than it was arriving, an elderly lady in a red coat passes me on an electrically assisted cycle shouting something that sounded like “look out woman driver, woman driver”. She reached the top of the road, some 20 yards away, looked at me for a few seconds and then turned and hurries back down the road. I could not help thinking if she had something to do with the window I had just peered through and if this was an echo of the past, or was it just someone trying out their new bike and got a little excited. Isn’t it funny how your thoughts can be moulded by events, sometimes skewing your perception and judgement in strange and peculiar ways.
Shaking off the encounter as just another experience of visiting a foreign country, I locate my shopper and we continue our browsing in the numerous and varied shops on the ancient cobbled streets, which certainly can play havoc if you have any joint or back issues. Soon we find an example of something I had heard was a favourite in Prague, puppets. There are shops selling puppets of every type, the National Marionette Theatre and a puppet museum. This shop the contents are marionettes and are numerous and varied, ranging from the small and nearly cuddly to the downright ugly and macabre, with a wide range of prices as well. As there are not really toys even the small ones are quite expensive meaning that we will have to look elsewhere for a holiday present for the grandchildren, not only to protect our wallets, but their peaceful dreams as well.
Heading back to city we are drawn inexorably towards the Charles Bridge, that historic crossing of the Vltava river that was started in 1357 under the auspices of King Charles IV and is on the ‘must see’ list of almost every tourist advice listing. This is now pedestrian only crossing and is home to numerous artists, caricaturists and trinket sellers vying for your cash as well as 30 mostly baroque statues and statuaries to peruse and study. The main tourist stopping point is about half way along the bridge the statue of St. John of Nepomuk. You are supposed to make a wish while touching the falling priest (easily identified by the shiny hue) on the plaque at the base of the statue which is supposed to bring good luck and ensure your return to Prague. However, I was reminded not to become confused by the shiny dog and woman (the Queen). It seems that not everybody knows the legend of St John and is therefore not sure what to touch and consequently the wrong part has become shiny leaving numerous people expecting something nice to happen, but doomed to be disappointed. Approaching the statue I locate the correct part and dutifully touch the priest and strain to find a worthwhile wish, though not sure if I find one in time. As my fingers rest on the metal I’m sure I felt a tingle in my fingers as I relinquished contact, whether that was a confirmation of the wish accepted, static electricity or subconscious wishful thinking I have no clue, I suppose only time will tell.
Continuing over the bridge with our tourist pictures safely stowed away, we head to Wenceslas Square for a final look around before our return home tomorrow. As it is a pleasant evening we decide to take the ‘pretty way’ back to the hotel away from the normal traffic and people and turn onto the Vodickova. Following our trusty tourist map we slowly walk up quiet streets, past a brewery advertising a walking tour, and numerous restaurants, including an Indian one, taking in sights not normally on the tourist trail. After about ½ Km and climbing a quite steep bank we reach an open green space with a wedding party crossing in front of us to a building on our right, which turns out to be the New Town Hall (Novoměstská radnice) and the place where their ceremony will be carried out. Although dating from the 14th century the Town Hall was completely reconstructed between 1975 and 1995. In front of the building in the middle of the grass is a monument to Vítězslav Hálek, the country’s first president of the post-communist era.
Continuing along the side of the park until we reach Jecna, the street leading to the I.P. Pavlova tram stop (a marker point on the way back to the hotel and not a meringue to be seen). In front of us is yet another imposing church, the Church of St. Ignatius with an ornate frontage and take yet more pictures. Turning up Jecna we again head up-hill towards our goal past shops, cafes, bars of various styles and a microbrewery with tiled walls and old cellar equipment in the window.
Another ½ km, or so, and we are close to the end of our trek and can see the trams lined up ahead at I.P. Pavlova. Scanning round I spot at the ground floor of an apartment building what should be a café, but as we get closer I notice that there is a stack of sand bags behind the glass door and the window is covered with paintings of soldiers in early battle dress ‘going over the top’. It is either a heavily themed bar or a WW1 museum and the museum wins. This would certainly be an interesting place to visit, but as we are now deep into the evening it is now closed so will have to wait for another time. In Britain the mention of WW1 brings to mind the bloody battles in the trenches of France and Belgium on the Western Front, but logically if there was a Western Front then there should be an Eastern one as well, and indeed that was. One where the original protagonists: Serbia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire (of which the modern day Czech Republic and Slovakia were apart) locked horns. Here the war was equally as bloody and confusing as in the West, with armies changing sides and prolific casualties on both sides, with Serbia suffering 1.2 million deaths and the Czechs alone 138,000.
As we now have no reason to tarry, and hunger is announcing itself, we press on to our hotel to pack our bags ready for the return home tomorrow and to reflect on a really interesting time. Prague is dripping with history, enthralling stories and centuries of architecture and well worth another visit. Time and wallet will tell.