Cities / Towns Visited: 29
Countries Visited: 11
Steps Taken Today: 21,253
Steps Taken Around the World: 1,179,130
We awoke, once more, from the bright morning light piercing the curtains, but despite sharing the room with six other people (four of whom were a group), they had all been remarkably quiet. We have thus far had great luck with not having rowdy roommates, with any disturbances to the quiet being from other dorms. After another hostel breakfast we stepped out into the sun, and headed on our way. Our destination for the day was Prague Castle; the massive fortification up on the hill, overlooking the city, and distinguishable by the famous spires of its hulking gothic cathedral.
After a rather tiresome walk up the hill, past the giant metronome that now stands where a statue of Stalin once resided during the Cold War period, we arrived and joined the long queue for the security check (we’re talking thorough bag checks and security wanding). The previous day had bought more reports of a school shooting in the USA, and yet we had an American couple behind us with the lady’s Czech parents who were talking about how they would never give up their guns and marvelling at being in a country where people don’t carry them. Although they were making light of the tragedy it is important to note that her parents, in no quiet terms, sternly reminded them that it’s not a joke, and that they are thankful to not have to worry if anyone walking beside them is within arms reach of a deadly weapon.
As we passed through security, ducked under the castle gate, and made our way through the large first courtyard to purchase tickets, we were saddened to discover that we would not be able to visit the interior of the Cathedral as it was closed for, what I can assume by the tones of the music streaming from within, a funeral. Undeterred, we simply took a few photos of the exterior and continued on, entering a smaller chapel just across the second courtyard. Although it was rather minimalistic on the interior, and was almost wall to wall tourists (mostly tour groups who completely clogged the entire thoroughfare), it still had a cool, calm peace about it, with its beige brick walls hung with only a few fine paintings, and it’s meek plain wooden ceiling.
Next we moved on to an old section of the palace, which contains rooms set out with old or original furnishings. It helped set the scene of what life for the upper class in Prague was really like back then. I guess in my head I had often associated the Czech Republic more with eastern Europe, and I guess in turn with it being a less rich country, however the rooms here were just as finely furnished as many others we had seen thus far in the palaces and castles of western Europe. The most impressive room being the first, in which it was not furnished but the walls were all hand painted with murals of biblical scenes, along with hand painted architecture which gave the illusion of towering pillars and a large alcove, when in fact it was simply a flat wall. The skill and detail in the dimensions were incredible.
From here we headed to Golden Lane, a tiny street along the inner wall of the castle compound which is home to a series of tiny houses all abutting one another. They were used by many of the people who lived and worked in the castle, along with others who lived there after the monarchy was dethroned, and many of them are still furnished with the trappings of the people that lived there over the centuries; including a guard, a potter, a seamstress, a psychic, and an investigative journalist. Above the houses there is a long wooden enclosed rampart which houses a large collection of medieval armour and weapons (and a few early guns), along with a few old torture devices. The displays were beautiful but the space was very cramped, and it was shoulder to shoulder in the tiny stairwells, with stray hips and elbows tossing everyone around like rag dolls; I was glad to be released back in the street to say the least.
Next up was the old prison tower, with its further sets of torture paraphernalia, along with a sinister looking ubliette in the centre and the restraints in which they would fasten the prisoner being lowered into the dark doorless hole. I truly hope only the most despicable criminals were placed down there, although I imagine a number of unfortunate and undeserving souls probably suffered the cruel fate of being locked in the damp and dark, with no sanitary way to relieve oneself and having their meagre rations simply thrown down to them amongst the filth.
After exiting, we made a quick stop at the little shop by the entrance to golden lane in which a man hand etches glass with intricate and delicate designs, on everything from plates and glasses to jewellery and trinkets; we ourselves bought a small blue glass globe with the map etched onto its surface. We did chortle at the flaws of hand etching something so small, when you realise that Tasmania has somehow migrated to east of of the country instead of south; but then that’s what makes it so endearing.
Of course our last stop was inside the main part of the castle, with its beautiful vaulted ceilings spanning high above its massive great hall; it’s stunning views down over the red brick rooftops of its dominion; and the section used for the day to day administration of the realm with its meeting room for the king and his town councillors, chests for the town documents (many of which were lost in a fire at the castle a number of centuries ago), and it’s ceilings covered in the family crests of those rich and important enough to justify placing their mark on the place.
Having seen all we could of the interior, we thought it only apt to explore the royal gardens flanking the other side of the deep valley which falls away from the foot of the fortifications. Wandering among the trees and past the grand summer palace and other ornate smaller buildings that serviced the royal desires, it was a peaceful way to decompress after having spent to much time forced into the personal space of strangers.
At last we had exhausted the opening hours of the attraction and thus trundled out the front gate and began our meander down the hill in search of food. Although, because we are on holiday, and because we can, we naturally stopped to purchase yet another chimney cake cone with ice cream. We really need a responsible adult to save us from ourselves. Having successfully devoured dessert it was only natural that we then have dinner. Finding a a table in the basement of a local pub, we settled in for some traditional food; starting with a share plate of Prague ham, and following it with goulash, and a traditional dish called Svíčková (which is a steak with a sweet creamy sauce made with carrots, parsley root, and celeriac).
Full, and with the warm buzz of a couple of ciders, we sauntered back to the hostel and tucked ourselves in to bed. As I thought about my day, I was pleased to realise that the trip so far has hugely altered my thoughts and ideas of many of the countries we’ve visited. I have learnt so much, and have fallen in love with countries I was unsure about. Although we’ve had a few hiccups along the way, and not everyone is going to be polite all the time, the majority of the people we have interacted with have been amazing. What we are shown through the media would have us believing that there is little hope for humanity, that all the good is gone from the world, and the sad truth is, if we never go out and see it for ourselves, if we never question what they tell us and discover that there is an entire side they aren’t showing, then we will become just as dark and intolerant as the picture they paint. The world’s not as bad as all that, I promise you; it’s okay, I checked.