Monday 27 August
We haven”t yet seen the inside of the Old Town Hall, or St Clements church. We’d like to see the inside of St Salvatore in the daylight, and climb at least one of the Charles Bridge Towers.
It’s early so we make for the bridge. I walk over it, then up the Old Royal Road. We realise that St. Nicholas is only a few hundred metres away so we visit it again. This time I find that all the white marble statues and gold trimmings are oppressive. The friezes and statues looming overhead from the walls and ceiling of the long narrow nave now feel claustrophobic. The only respite is under the huge dome.
Walking/wheeling back down the road toward the bridge I notice a tour group coming out of a door. It’s the church’s bell tower. I’m tired from walking so I suggest that Peter climb the more than 200 steps and take photos of the view for me. Apparently the Czech secret police used the tower during the communist period to spy on the nearby embassies of the US, Germany and Yugoslavia!
I wait on the footpath outside. The sun has come out and it’s warmed up a little, so it’s quite pleasant.
When Peter returns he is excited about the view and what he has seen. I regret not climbing the tower so, with Peter’s encouragement, I knock off yet another tower! It’s really interesting to see the surveillance equipment used by the police, and to see the buildings they were spying on. To think, some elderly people have lived in Prague before the war when it was free, as it is now, through the war when Czech was occupied by the Germans, then afterwards when it was occupied by the Russians, then with a communist government, and through the velvet revolution when the communists were ousted. I begin to see why Czechs loved Havel and cried when he passed away.
From here I can look down over the gardens we visited. The houses are built side by side and it is amazing that the Vrtbovska exists amongst the many buildings. From here I can see that quite a few are villas. Amazing! I can also see Prague spread out for miles. It’s not so high that individual buildings disappear, but high enough to see over the tops of roofs. I’m glad Peter helped me climb up … And down again.
We find Kampa park beside the river and eat our picnic lunch. Although there are plenty of gardens in Prague, they can be difficult to access. It’s nice to sit by the river. The buildings on the other side are colourful and there is little uniformity in style or architecture. From a short distance I can see how picturesque Prague is. Inside the winding lanes its difficult to appreciate this.
Peter is going to climb the Charles Bridge tower on the Mala Strana side. As we cross the bridge I see amongst al the vendors a stall with earrings, glass blown in Prague. I have another souvenir!
I think that Prague is a difficult city to get to know. Many of its treasures are elusive, like seeing the picturesque in the rows of coloured apartments, or appreciating different views of the same rooftops and buildings, or noticing the lighting effects of different times of the day . Charles Bridge and the river are very different early in the morning, during the day and at night. The skyline changes dramatically against a grey sky compared to a blue sky. The view over the rooftops of Prague is very different when you look from different towers and from different heights.
Prague is like an old lady, much of her beauty lies in the past. But the gothic churches and brooding towers seem at times black and foreboding, and it is against this backdrop that one of Prague’s greatest talents lie – her musicians.
Four concerts in five days! Tonight we are at the Mirror Chapel in the Klementorium. It’s architecture is baroque and the marble and gold is opulent. There is an organ at each end. The organs are marble, the one at front is open, almost at floor level. The organ at the back is larger, up in a balcony that stretches from one side to the other. The balustrading is marble and dark polished wood with occasional gold balustrades. The floor is made of large marble mosaics, like the Escher patterns we saw in Italy. The patterns are reflected in the dark overhead oval mirrors that are set in four elaborate arches that form the vault.
The musical ensemble consists of two violins, a viola, cello … And organ! The music is amazing. I have never heard strings accompanied by an organ before, but it is awesome. Schubert’s Ave Maria, Dvorak, Vivaldi … It is all magnificent! What a way to spend our last evening here. I have found my Prague.