Our 2009 Holiday in the Czech Republic

We flew Wednesday evening on Swiss Air via Zurich (don't you love night flights) and then to Prague where we rented a car and drove to Karlstejn.

Karlstejn Train Station Thursday, 27 August

Our hotel in Karlstejn

The best way to adjust to jet lag is have some of the local beer. And the Czechs know how to brew

The second best way to get over jet lag is eat your way out of it.

I'm not sure there is enough food on Dorian's plate. She had the pork medallions in potato pancakes She wimped out after half.

This is called Elephant Ear. A very large Schnitzel with potato croquettes. I finished mine!

Always room for a pancake covered in ice cream, chocolate and fruit.

Friday, 28 August we rose early and made our way to the Hrad Karlstejn (castle) where we had a private tour in English. Cars are not allowed up the hill so we hired this wagon to take us up.

The castle rising above the village as we got closer.

Hrad Karlstejn was the fortress of Charles IV when he was King of the Holy Roman Empire in the 14th Century. It is a wonderful medieval castle.

The old tower gate.

Hrad Karlstejn is a series of towers in a castle in case the outer walls were breached (as in the Hussite Wars (their civil wars)). Here is the Marian Tower and the Great Tower.

Here I am in front of the clock tower.

The castle, as it should, towers over the whole countryside to see the enemy coming.

Dinner Friday night at Restaurant Pod Draci Skalou at the foot of the castle. Quick, get out the phrase guide, the menu is only in Czech.

Here is what we chose:

Dorian had wild boar with cranberry and red wine sauce.

I had to try another famous beer, Urquell, brewed in the same place since 1842 near Plzen.

My meal was venison topped with white asparagus and cheese.

Can't have a full meal without dessert. Warm fresh raspberries with ice cream

Day 3 and we are off to Cesky Krumlov a wonderful little city far to the South of Prague near the Austrian border made up of Renaissance and Baroque buildings and a magnificent castle.

This is our hotel across from the castle on the River Vltava (The Moldau)

Dorian on the terrace outside our room. We have a great view of the castle.

Our room in the Hotel Dvorak.

A closer shot of the tower. Tomorrow we climb it!!!!!

More of the Castle.

Krumlov is a shopper's paradise and after we got here we immediately hit the tourist shops. Here is Dorian outside a stuffed bear store. Bears are big here.

Lots of jewelry shops too. Dorian bought these earings. Can you guess the stones? Hint, they are extra terrestrial.

Now there is something you don't see everyday.

Even the manholes are classy here.

A shop that sold medieval armour. Dorian wouldn't let me buy a set. What a killjoy.

Tonight we decided to eat vegetarian. Here is Dorian having a red lentil soup at a nice cafe along the River Vltava.

Here is the local beer, and it's unpasteurized and all natural. Bernard. Very Very Very good.

Dorian had CousCous

I had the roasted mushrooms.

Tonight's dessert was blueberry dumplings with yoghurt. In the cup is warmed mead. Boy is that stuff potent!!!!

Sunday 30 August and time to climb around the Cesky Krumlov Castle.

Dorian at the entrance to the castle.

In the first courtyard one of Dorian's favorites, a sundial.

As we approached the round tower to climb to the top you can see the trompe l'oeil in great detail.

On top of the tower there are spectacular views over the city of Cesky Krumlov across the Moldau. The tall church steeple is the 14th century Church of St. Vitus.

Here we are looking down on the church of St. Jost, with its wonderful tower.

If you look southwest you can see all the way to Austria. Those are the Austrian Alps in the distance.

The tower dungeon. Still some housekeeping to do I see.

Here we are on one of the high interlocking walkways overlooking the city. Unfortunately pictures are not allowed inside the castles (or maybe fortunate for our readers).

Near the rear of the castle we found a second sundial.

At the rear of the castle are the royal gardens. From here you can look back and see the whole castle in one specatacular view.

Here I am at the rear gate.

For our last night in Cesky Krumlov we had reservations for what most call the best restaurant there. Krcma v Satlavske.

The restaurant is in a medieval setting with the food cooked on wood in the middle of the room.

Our food cooking.

If you think it is hot in there, you'd be right. I don't know how they stand it under there.

Budweiser was founded in the Czech Republic. The only thing it has in common with the American interloper is the name. This stuff tastes like REAL beer.

Our appetizers were soup in bread. Dorian had garlic soup and I had the onion soup.

Dorian's mixed grill of turkey, pork and steak.

My steak. Umm Umm Good.

As we head for bed, the view of the lit tower from our patio.

Monday 31 August and we reach Prague.

The first thing you see is the huge castle (what else) on the hill across the Moldau River. What a sight!

One of most famous buildings is the clock tower in the old town square. Here is Dorian at the base showing the calendar that rotates.

Here is the astronomical clock mechanism dating back to 1410 with animated figures. It was made by the famous clockmaker Mikuláš of Kadan who was blinded by the town mayor upon completion so he could never recreate it elsewhere (ewwwww). Tough people these Medieval rulers.

To the right of the mechanism is a skeleton representing death. He is next to the dreaded turk (a constant enemy of the Holy Roman Empire).

To the left of the mechanism is the Vain Noble and to the right the Greedy Jew holding his bad of money.

At the top of each hour, the vain noble looks at himself in the mirror, the skeleton pulls the string and the doors open showing the 12 apostles crossing. I took a short video of it (sorry I didn't have a tripod) and uploaded it to You Tube.

Next to the clock tower is the Old Town Hall. Above the window is the Old Town Coat of Arms and the inscription "Prague, Head of the Kingdom".

Also dominating the old town square is the Church of Our Lady before Tyn with its large gothic towers and gold statue of the Madonna on the facade.

The other dominating building is the Church of St. Nicolas which used to be a monastery in the 1600s.

Our hotel is right near the old Jewish Quarter. We found one of the closest restaurants was a Kosher restaurant and after eating mostly "traife" for the first part of the trip we stopped there.

I had herring in a sour cream sauce to start the meal.

Dorian had a stuffed cabbage.

I had lamb infused with garlic and potato dumplings while Dorian had the duck.

Tuesday Morning Dorian started her conference held in this building at Charles University.

Across from Charles University is the Rudolfinum, home of the Czech Filharmonia. They were having a Dvorak concert series (what else).

The top of the Rudolfinum is lined with statues of famous Bohemian figures.

Even the light posts are ornate at the Rudolfinum.

Just to the South of the Rudolfinum is the second largest group of buildings known as the Clementinum. Dating back to the 11th Century and built mostly by Jesuits in the 16th Century, this is where they housed their famous library. The neighborhood is mostly Baroque and the large domed Church in the above picture is the Chapel to St. Clement. It was in this complex of buildings where Kepler discovered the laws of planetary motion.

Near the school and across from the Clementinum is the famous Charles Bridge leading to Prague Castle. This is the tower at the old town side of the bridge.

On the bridge is this statue. In 1696, the Prague authorities accused a local Jewish leader, one Elias Backoffen, of blasphemy. As his punishment he was ordered to raise the funds for purchasing of gold-plated Hebrew letters, placed around the head of the statue, spelling out "Holy, Holy, Holy, the Lord of Hosts," the Kedusha from the Hebrew prayer and originating in the vision from the Book of Isaiah. The inscription was a symbolic humiliation and degradation of Prague Jews, forcing them to pay for a set of golden letters referring to God and hung around the neck of the statue of Christ.

The Vltava River. One funny story (not to Dorian). It seems we crossed the Vltava (Moldau) 20 times on our trip down to and up from Cesky Krumlov. I had downloaded Smetana's Ma Vlast (My Country) to my IPhone. It includes as its second Symphonic Poem, the Vltava. So, naturally every time we went over the river, I had to play the piece. Incidently, the theme is:

If it looks familiar to you Jewish musicians, there is a reason. It was the basis of Hatikva, the national anthem of Israel.

Another view of the Vltava off the bridge. The golden topped building in the center is the National Theater.

The picture above is the Old New Synagogue. Built around 1270, it is the oldest synagogue in Europe, and one of the earliest Gothic buildings in Prague. Because it is still in use, pictures inside were forbidden. The tour was very moving. It was conducted by one of the last 800 children who survived Terezinstadt. She showed us the seat marked with an Aleph or number 1, used by the Maharal, Rabbi Loew, who it is said fashioned a "golem" out of clay in the Vltava. This creature saved the Jewish ghetto from Rudolf II. Rabbi Loew also practiced the Kabbalah.

The synagogue's real name is in Hebrew: The Al-Tnay Synagogue. Al tnay means in Hebrew "on condition". The tradition says that the synagogue was built with stones from the King Solomon's Temple ruins in Jerusalem and that when the time will come and the Temple will be rebuilt, this synagogue will be dismantled and its stones will rebuild the Temple; this is "the condition".

The door of the synagogue.

Jews had first settled in Prague in the 10th century, near the Prague castle which is just across the Vltava river from Josefov. At the time of the First Crusade in 1096, the first recorded pogrom took place in Prague when Jews were systematically killed by the Crusaders. This violence may have been what prompted the Jews to move to the present Josefov quarter of Prague, near the Old Town, in the 12th century. In the 13th century, the Pope decreed that the Jews should be segregated from the Christians and a wall was built around the Jewish quarter.

In 1850, the former Jewish quarter in Prague was incorporated into the city and was named Josefstadt (Joseph's city) in honor of Emperor Joseph II of the Austrian Empire which ruled over what is now the Czech Republic in the 18th century. Joseph II was an enlightened monarch who gave the Jews in Prague their civil rights in 1781 when he issued the Toleration Edict. This edict rescinded the old law that required the Jews to wear distinctive caps or the yellow Star of David on their clothing, a law which had been in effect since the 11th century.

The edict also allowed the Jews to attend public schools with the Christians for the first time and to engage in occupations that had previously been forbidden. With permission from the authorities, the Jews could now live outside the walled ghetto, the area which is now called by the Czech name Josefov. The gates in the ghetto wall were removed by order of the Toleration Edict and the curfew was rescinded.

In 1893, the city decided to completely demolish the whole Josefstadt quarter, leaving only 6 synagogues, the old Jewish cemetery, the Ceremonial Hall and the Old Jewish Town Hall, which are collectively known today as the Jewish Museum.

On top of the old Jewish Town Hall is a clock tower. Notice the Hebrew letters. The clock moves backwards as well.

The oldest grave in the Jewish Cemetary. Avigdor Kara, who died in 1439. Kara was one of the few survivors of a pogrom at Easter time in 1389 when approximately 3,000 Jews, almost the entire Jewish population in Prague, were killed by the Christians living in the city.

A view of the crowded cemetary. Over 150,000 people are buried here in 12 layers as this was the only space allowed for Jewish burial for hundreds of years.

The tombstone with the single pineapple on top is that of the most famous inhabitant, Rabbi Loew.

Ceremonial Hall which houses a museum and history of the cemetary.

In the midst of all this history and classical gothic and medieval buildings is the 70s Intercontintental hotel. Oh, did I mention this is where we are staying?

Dinner on Tuesday. We went around the corner to an Italian cafe. Nice change of pace and another new Czech beer discovered.

Dorian had a pasta with salmon sauce.

I had pasta with zucchini and tomatoes.

Wednesday and Thursday I spent most of the days touring Prague while Dorian attended her conference.

On Wednesday night Dorian had a conference dinner and I had the pleasure of meeting two of my ham radio friends at a local restaurant. Lots of good beer, food and ham radio stories. What could be better? On the left is Petr, OK1RP, then me and on the right Petr, OK1CZ.

On the Castle side of the Charles Bridge are two towers. The one on the left is the earlier tower from 1158 called the Judith Bridge Tower (Judith bridge burned down and Charles Bridge replaced it). The tower on the right was built in the 1600s and is called the Little Quarter Bridge Tower (because it leads into the Little Quarter :-) )

As you enter the Little Quarter you come upon a building once owned by Jan Fux who was an ostrich merchant. Typical of the 16th Century, he painted ostriches on his house. 400 years later they still adorn his house, now a hotel.

Dinner Thursday night. I had the duck this time (along with the required Pilsner).

Dorian's dinner of Schnitzel and potato pancakes.

Dorian finally finished her conference early Friday and we spent the rest of the day at the Prague Castle.

Royal Guards at the outer gates of the Castle.

The entrance to the second courtyard of the Castle.

There is a terrace from the royal palace overlooking the old city. Here is a good view of the Charles Bridge.

Here is another shot from the terrace, this time looking down on Charles University (site of Dorian's conference) with the Rudolfinum as well.

The terrace also gave us a good view of the spires on top of the Church of St. Nicholas a magnificent High Baroque church built starting in 1703.

The most visited and prominent structure of the Castle is the St. Vitus' Cathedral. The original Rotunda was built in the 10th Century by St. Wenseslas. The Basilica in the 11th Century and the Cathedral itself around those in the 14th Century. Additions continued well into the 20th Century. This is the front of the Cathedral.

Another view of the Cathedral towering over the Castle.

The rear view of the Cathedral

Wonderful gargoyles surround the Cathedral.

Known as the Golden Portal, this used to be the main entrance to Cathedral. It is nearest the Royal Palace.

The impressive view as you enter the Cathedral looking towards the Chancel. Notice the webbed gothic tracery along the ceiling.

The Royal Mausoleum of Ferdinand I who died 1564.

The Royal Crypt was closed. What can be technical about a crypt?

The solid silver tomb of St. John Nepomuk. In 1396 he was tortured and thrown into the river Vltava from Charles Bridge at the behest of King Wenceslaus IV over a territorial dispute.

The massive organ.

This very impressive stained glass window was actually done by the 20th century Czech artist Alfons Mucha.

Just behind the Cathedral is the St. Georges Convent founded in 973 as the first convent in Bohemia. It was rebuilt many times, the last time in 1782.

At the rear of the Castle is the famous Daliborka Tower. It got its name after the legendary Knight Dalibor of Kozojedy, who was imprisoned there at the end of the 15 th century. His crime? He adopted rebellious liege people of the Knight Adam Ploskovsky of Drahonice. While in prison, Dalibor asked for a violin to while away the time, and during his long stay in the tower he learned to play it. Rumours about the beautiful sad melodies he played soon spread among Prague citizens. They used to gather under the tower to listen and they even brought him food. After a long time spent in the prison, Dalibor was executed above the Old Castle Staircase at the Prague Castle. The tragic opera “Dalibor“ composed by Smetana in the 19 th century was his story as well as a Czech saying “The distress taught Dalibor to play“.

Just outside the main Castle is the Sternberg Palace. The Sternberg's also owned the palace in Cesky Krumlov (look familiar?).

Our last dinner in Prague was at a Belgian Restaurant known for mussels flown in daily. Here is Dorian attacking her giant pot of Mussels.

My dinner was beef bourguignon. I don't do mussels.

As night fell Friday night we walked to the Vltava River to view the Castle all lit up on a gorgeous night. On the left you see the Little Quarter Tower, then the Church of St. Nicholas, the little quarter and of course the Castle with St. Vitus' Cathedral.

Good bye Prague.

And thank you for coming along with us.

Don and Dorian

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Last updated 8 September 2009