Prague Walking Tours

Skyline Prague Jewish Quarter

The weather in Prague has been perfect for roaming outdoors, so each day I take a new walking excursion – either on my own or with one of many guided groups available. Generally, I avoid tours because of the vast amount of information provided so quickly and the dizzying speed of the 3+ hour walks. I prefer doing my research, walking at a leisurely pace, and stopping to linger at interesting cafés and galleries along the way.

Holešovice Building

The positive side of group tours is meeting fun new people and getting a local perspective. Most guides are young, and their narrative and comments are always interesting and educational. Often, they share the experiences of their parents and grandparents who participated directly in many major Czech historical events.

Prague National Gallery

Out-Of-The Way Parks and Gardens

Off the beaten path walks in Prague are the best! A few days ago, I explored a series of less-frequented parks and gardens, following a path high along the left-bank of the Vltava River. Except for a few sets of steep stairways, the five-mile walk wasn’t difficult. The views were incredible!

Skyline Spires

It began at Strossmayerovo Square in Holešovice, ascended to Letná Park, Hanavský Pavilion, and continued along the river to Prague Castle. I’m saving Petřín Park and Kinský Garden for another day, and previously visited both several years ago. I’m beginning to get photo weary – but took a few decent shots. It was an overcast day.

Detail Astronomical Clock

The neo-Gothic Church of St. Anthony of Padua at Strossmayerovo Square is the central hub of Holešovice, and it’s spectacular! Letná Park stretches from Holešovice all the way to the Castle area. The park’s well-maintained landscaping and flowerbeds are incredibly green and lush!

St. Nicholas Church Old Town Square

I passed the red Metronome which replaced a statue of Joseph Stalin that was dynamited and removed in 1962. “The seven-ton metronome, installed in 1991, is a symbol of Prague’s new era”. Today the area near the metronome has become a skateboarders’ paradise.

Jiří-Srnec Black Theatre Founder

Hanavský Pavilion seemed a good place for a leisurely lunch. It’s a cast iron structure with Art Nouveau detail and panoramic views of the city! The Pavilion was originally a “product showcase” for ironworks owned by Prince William Hanavský for the Prague Jubilee Exhibition.

View from Hiking Trail

Next I walked by Kramář Villa, the Czech prime minister’s residence, and not open to the public, and then Chotkovy Gardens with a monument to Czech author Julius Zeyer.

Church of St. Anthony of Padua

Group Tour – Prague’s Old Town and New Town

Chotkovy Gardens

The fast-paced group tour concentrated on Prague’s heavily-touristed Old and New Town areas and quickly covered major historical sites. There were about 25 people in the group and one young guide. I have walked this route before and resigned myself to the fact I could not remember the details provided. We were moving fast so taking photos was challenging. Some of the sites visited included:

Prague Estates Theatre

Hiking Trail Steps to the Metronome

During the tour, our guide reminded us about the volatile political history of the Czech people. Although I have a better understanding of what the Czechs endured now, it’s a vast subject requiring research to comprehend.

Church of Our Lady before Týn

I purchased a ticket for a performance of the original Black Light Theatre on Thursday night. Jiří Srnec, “Czech playwright, set designer, composer, manager and founder of the world-famous Black Theater,” directs the production.

View from Above

Since many performances begin in June, I couldn’t get a ticket for the renovated Prague Estates Theatre. The renowned theatre has a variety of performances from drama to opera. They are performing Mozart’s Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro.

Synagogue Josefov

Prague Jazz Boat

Prague at Dusk

A Prague Jazz Boat Cruise sounded like a touristy evening, but I decided to book it anyway to experience the city by night from the Vltava River. In addition to the scenery and music, the three-hour cruise included a great meal.

Jazz Boat Kotva

I shared a table with an Israeli couple, Gurami and Shira, who were visiting Prague to celebrate their twelfth wedding anniversary, and a young Swiss flight attendant, Stewart, in Prague for the first time. They were fun and good company and we enjoyed talking and sharing travel experiences.

Jazz Trio

The trio – saxophone, drums, and bass – played several sets and were very good. The British sax player provided a hilarious narrative and made everyone laugh with his dry humor. It was incredibly beautiful seeing Prague from the Vltava at night – a shining jewel!

This is my last week in Prague. I’ll be leaving May 29th for a several weeks in Rome and have pre-booked a few activities, including a day-long group bike tour around major sites. Not being much of a cyclist, it will be interesting to see how I hold up. The bikes are full-suspension electronic so guess that’s cheating a bit ;o) but I can use a boost!

The Prague Vivaldi Master’s Orchestra Jan Palach Square

Rudolfinum

Thursday evening I attended a concert at the Rudolfinum’s Suk Hall. The Rudolfinum is in Jan Palach Square along the banks of the Vltava River. Since it opened in 1885, the beautiful neo Renaissance building has been associated with Prague music and art. It’s named after Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia.

Rudolfinum Angel

Prague Vivaldi Master’s Orchestra consists of 7 violins, 2 cellos, and a bass. There were two guest soloists – mezzo soprano Stanislava Jirků and violinist Vlastimil Kobrle. The group performed for about 1.5 hours, no breaks:

  • Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (Spring and Summer)
  • Aria from Mozart’s Figaro
  • Ave Maria Franz Schubert
  • Smetana’s The Moldau – which I NEVER get tired of hearing
  • Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 (Allegro)
  • Bizet’s Carmen Habanera
  • Ravel’s Bolero
  • Bach Air on the G-String

Stanislava Jirků is a rising operatic star with a strong, beautiful voice. Vlastimil Kobrle’s violin solos were flawless. He’s clearly a master. I enjoy Prague evenings listening to short concerts in small, intimate venues. Prague has wonderful music choices with live performances held throughout the city in magnificent churches and halls. Concerts are easy to book and prices are reasonable.

Suk Hall Rudolfinum

Jan Palach Square is named in honor of Jan Palach, “a student who committed suicide by self-immolation in political protest. He killed himself on January 16, 1969, after the Soviet Union invaded his native Czechoslovakia to crush the reforms of Alexander Dubcek’s government during the Prague Spring.”

In October 2015 two structures – The House of the Mother of the Suicide and The House of the Suicide – were erected at the edge of Palach Square to commemorate his life. They form a part of the public space at the southern part of the Alšovo Embankment in Prague.

Charles Bridge Tower Prague

Charles Bridge Tower – also called Old Town Bridge Tower – isn’t on the radar of most Prague tourists, but it’s a worthwhile experience, and views from the top are phenomenal! I climbed the tower yesterday and only saw a handful of other people along the way. Without question, I can see why people didn’t like being “sent to the dreaded tower”!!!

The climb is through a dim, dungeon-like stone passageway that seems endless as you climb to the top. On the way, there are several stopping points with views, art, and statues. For these places, there is an entry fee of 100 Czech korunas (about $4). The narrow tower corridor is mildly claustrophobic. Depending on how fast you climb, tt can be a mini cardio workout. For the last few days the weather has been warm (80s), so I broke a sweat on the way up the tower.

“The Old Town Bridge Tower is one of the most beautiful Gothic gateways in the world. The tower, along with Charles Bridge, was built in the mid-14th century by Emperor Charles IV. Petr Parléř, a German architect, builder, stonemason, carver, and sculptor designed the tower. The Tower is the gate to Old Town and a symbolic victory arch Czech kings passed on their coronation processions.”

Lower View

At the first stop on the way to the top you can see the Seven Mascarones – seven stone faces looking down from the Bridge Tower. In architecture, “a mascaron ornament is a face, usually human, sometimes frightening whose function was originally to frighten away evil spirits so that they would not enter the building. The concept was later adapted to become a purely decorative element”.

View Halfway Up

Some ponder the reason for the mascaron faces in the Tower – a whim of the builder or serious symbols with deeper meaning?

View from the Top

The entrance at the very top has an interesting but creepy statue. I paused to examine it and found it dark and a bit scary. It didn’t give good vibes except to make me want to hurry down the tower and get outside! The description reads:

“This strange statue probably shows a tower warden. Having been made as late as the first half of the 15th century, it’s the tower’s most peculiar statue. The pedestal is the Roman column capital but turned upside down! The figure gives no dignified impression, rather contrariwise. We can see an old man, apparently drunk, dressed in a strange cloak, Gothic shoes, with a knife and key tucked in his waist. He lifts his cloak with his left hand, perhaps to relieve himself or to make an impolite gesture to all the beauty and audience below him? And what was the creature on his back putting into his head? Was it a demon-intriguer, an imp, or a monkey, the symbol of debauchery? What was the meaning of this figure? What if it is secretly mocking all the great symbols around or those (you) who have so arduously climbed to the top of the tower?”

 

Prague Alternative Walking Tour

Sculpting Alternative Area Central Prague

Yesterday I learned about Alternative Prague during a four-hour walking tour through several neighborhoods in the city! It was a small friendly group of 7 – three Americans, two Israelis, and two Australians. Our excellent guide Eliska, from Prague Alternative Tours, enlightened us on many aspects of Czech Alternative Culture and life in Prague.

Sculpting Cross Club

Eliska discussed the art, music, and theater scenes, Prague gentrification, and the vast impact of the 1968 Soviet Invasion on the Czech people and almost every aspect of their lives. She encouraged us to learn some Czech words – a difficult language, but I’m resolved to try harder and learn a few key phrases.

Clock and Spires Along the Alternative Walk Route

1968 Soviet Invasion

“The Soviet invasion successfully stopped Alexander Dubček and the Prague Spring liberalisation reforms and strengthened the authoritarian wing within the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ). During this era, the foreign policy of the Soviet Union was known as the Brezhnev Doctrine.”

Lennon Wall

Even today, the painful effects of the brutal Soviet invasion are still reflected in Czech culture. Some aspects of which (including religion) many Czechs do not discuss openly.

Warehouse Café Wall

Graffiti

Having lived in San Francisco for many years, I’ve seen quality street art, but parts of Prague have interesting graffiti, and the city is beginning to accept and appreciate this developing form of urban art. The Lennon Wall has “John Lennon-inspired graffiti and fragments of lyrics from Beatles songs”.

Anyone can paint a message or drawing on the Lennon Wall which is near Charles Bridge in an area where the government allows graffiti, even though it’s not officially “legal”. Graffiti is prohibited on historical buildings, businesses, and private residences. The punishment for graffiti writing on these structures is a fine the first time and prison for subsequent offenses.

Fence Around Community Garden Central Prague

Galleries, Markets, Cafés, and Theaters

We toured alternative galleries, pubs, flea markets, and cafés that are part of the youth scene in Prague and learned about alternative festivals, theaters, and live music venues – more than I will ever have time to visit during this trip! I took mental notes and am planning to visit a few theaters and galleries where “older people” might blend ;o) with the crowd… What motivates today’s youth is interesting.

Another place of interest is Dox Gallery. “The gallery’s mission is creating a space for research, presentation, and debate on important social issues, where visual arts, literature, performing arts, and other disciplines encourage a critical view of the so-called reality of today’s world.”

Theater Marquee

The Jatka78 Theater also sounds interesting as does the Prague Shakespeare Company, Blood Love, and Rhetoric Theater, and the Beroun pottery market – many things to see!!!

Sign Modern Soviet Developed Shopping Building

MeetFactory

I plan to visit MeetFactory, “a non-profit international center for contemporary art founded by controversial Czech artist David Černý”. Floods in 2002 forced MeetFactory to move from the Holešovice district to an industrial building in Prague’s Smíchov quarters. MeetFactory is described as a “unique space squeezed between a motorway and an active railroad”.

Ztohoven Activist Collective

Eliska told us about Ztohoven, an active resistance group described as a “Czech guerrilla artist collective known for its artistically motivated pranks”. To protest controversial Czech President Miloš Zeman, labeled a populist, “Ztohoven breached security at Prague Castle in 2014 and replaced a flag containing the Presidential Seal with a pair of men’s red underwear”.

The Ztohoven activists “chose red boxers because it’s the color of the Chinese flag, referring to Zeman’s visit to China and his praise of Chinese leaders”. Ztohoven is well-known for its social commentary and crypto anarchy, most famously for hacking a Czech state broadcaster in 2007 to show a fake nuclear explosion. The purpose of the hacking was to illustrate how it’s unwise to place blind trust in media information.

Alternative Tour Group and Guide Eliska at Cross Club

Cross Club

We ended our tour at the Cross Club, named for “housing a crossroads of cultures and styles and genres in the centre of Holešovice”. Respected Cross Club has been a part of the Prague cultural scene for years. “Its fascinating futuristic design, with many unusual artefacts, has given the club a unique identity.”

Photos from the tour are attached. Více později…

Museum Kampa Prague

Museum Kampa

My first visit to Museum Kampa was in 2013, shortly after a major Vltava River flood. At that time, the museum was “drying out” and undergoing renovations.

Yesterday’s return visit was to view exhibits by artists Adolf Born, Tomas Rajlich, and Radoslav Kratina. I had heard of Born but not the other artists. Although Rajlich is impressive and Katina thought-provoking, Adolf Born’s ink drawings, pastels, and watercolors blew me away! The exhibition includes a small studio playing his humorous and entertaining animated films in Czech, which I watched twice!

Adolf Born Illustration

Born won a Grand Prix award in 1974. Galleries throughout the world exhibit his art. The multi-talented Born works mostly in color lithography but illustrated hundreds of books, and was an animator, cartoonist, and costume and set designer.

Adolf Born

Born’s exhibition – A Unique World – focuses on a “cross-section” of his art:

  • Color lithographs from Born’s 1960s experimentation with expression, composition, and “raw playfulness”
  • Pastels and watercolors documenting his imagination and “courageous work with color”
  • Indian ink drawings of his travels “capturing his specific Born-like humor”
  • Original book illustrations
  • Witty award-winning animated films

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“Art is one more step towards creating one’s own magical world. An unrepeatable world filled with secrecy, extracts of dreams, maybe a bit of hidden terror…” Adolf Born

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Adolf Born

Tomas Rajlich

“Consistent conceptual purity” is said to be a key element of Czech-Dutch artist Tomas Rajlich’s paintings.  He’s described as “an important representative of the European conceptual avant-garde” – had to look that up… Since the late 1960s and 1970s, Rajlich’s work developed with the “context of minimalist, geometric, and extreme abstract tendencies”. You need to have a live viewing of his creations to appreciate them.

Prague and Vltava River Vista from Museum Kampa

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“Rajlich’s work shows that even highly strenuous aesthetic work contains its inner dramatic character and painterly mesmerizing properties.”

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Radoslav Kratina

Radoslav Kratina’s exhibit is called Constants and Variables.  In 1963, he began creating monotypes by printing various “found items” like matchboxes, tattered pieces of cardboard, razor blades, and plaster dropped on a board”. At turning points in his career, he began creating wooden and then metal “variable relief” sculptures.

Prague and Vltava River Vista from Museum Kampa

The basis of Kratina’s art is a “geometric construction which allows for creation of an infinite number of variations. The choices depend on the recipient and are essentially a question of chance. Kratina wants his art to persuade the viewer to play.”

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“Kratina wants his art to persuade the viewer to play.”

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Adolf Born

In addition to its inside artist exhibits, the museum created an incredible outdoor glass display reflecting light from the sky, city, and river. It’s difficult capturing its effect in photos, but the display is about the reflected surroundings and Prague’s indescribable natural beauty!

Prague Basilica of St. George Concert

St. George Basilica

Yesterday I went to a concert at St. George Basilica, “one of Prague’s most significant Romanesque monuments and the city’s second oldest church”. Two white stone steeples dominate the structure, the wider tower is called Adam, the narrower Eve. The Basilica is part of the Prague Castle Complex on St. George’s Square.

St. Vitus Cathedral

The interior contains the tomb of the Přemyslids, the royal dynasty which reigned in Bohemia, Moravia, and parts of Hungary, Austria, and Poland. It also has a museum, gallery, statues from the National Gallery, and a concert hall. The Basilica is somewhat overshadowed by its massive neighbor St. Vitus Cathedral, the largest and most important church in the Czech Republic.

St. Vitus

It was a stormy Sunday but warm and cozy inside the small candlelight concert hall. Members of the Prague Royal Orchestra played works by Dvořák, Smetana, Schubert, Bizet, Mozart, Vivaldi, and others. The small orchestra of 6 musicians, a talented violin soloist plus a soprano, performed for an audience of about 100.

Fountain St. George Square

Appropriately, they opened the concert with excerpts from a favorite, Czech composer Smetana’s patriotic symphonic poem The Moldau. The outstanding performance was enhanced by excellent acoustics inside the Basilica.

Přemyslids Royal Coat of Arms

Spires St. George Basilica

The concert was uniquely a Prague experience – beautiful music performed in a medieval basilica with dramatic history, soaring ceilings, and striking Romanesque architecture.