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Monday, 01 January 2018

Playing in Prague

Written by Eric D. Goodman
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Part Three of The Bearable Lightness of Being in Czech Republic


Crossing Charles Bridge


Connecting Old Town with the Little Quarter is perhaps one of the world’s most famous pedestrian bridges: Charles Bridge. It is one of the most recognizable landmarks of Prague—its most recognizable monument—and it has a Bohemian vibe as we step out of Old Town’s Knights of the Cross Square, pass the Old Town Bridge Tower, and walk onto the stone bridge for the first time.


As you walk over the Vltava River which crosses through Prague’s middle (and was the reason a settlement became a city here in the first place) it’s hard to believe that this stone bridge has been here since the mid-1300s. It feels as sturdy as it looks, constructed of massive sandstone that was supposedly strengthened by adding eggs to the mortar. Charles IV commissioned it in 1357. Until 1741, it was the only bridge crossing the Vltava. Now there are several bridges, but this one—pedestrians only—is by far the most famous one, the one folks come from around the world to cross.


The bridge is nearly 2,000 feet long. Along the way, we admire more than the towers before us and behind us; we are greeted by monuments every few steps, on each side, of saints and holy figures, Mary and Jesus. About a quarter of the way across is the 17th Century Crucifixion, a wooden crucifix and gilded Christ. The sun has barely risen in the morning sky, and the scenery of sky and river and trees and sunlight are beautiful from the bridge. But the thing to see here: the more than 30 of them, each rendered artfully. It’s like an outdoor museum over water.


Also here are street musicians and venders. Artists paint the bridge towers and sketch the monuments. There is an accordion player, a guitarist, a keyboard player. But perhaps the most talented of these is the man who plays classical music on wine flutes, wetting his finger and running them along the edges.


About halfway across the bridge, a group of people hover around a metal relief; I crowd in to see what it is. Person after person takes a turn at touching the man being thrown over a bridge—so many, in fact, that it stands out a polished gold in the center of a blackened relief from the 1683. This is St. John Nepomuk, the vicar-general of the Archdiocese of Prague, who was tortured, bound, and thrown over the Charles Bridge in 1393. For centuries since this relief was installed in 1683, visitors touch his figure for good luck. Nataliya and I touch it, and continue across the bridge.


A riverboat cruises beneath the bridge and the children on board yell up at us: “Ahoy!” We wave back as the bridge passes beneath us.


On the other side, we pass through the Little Quarter bridge tower and tower entrance. Now, we are in Little Quarter.



Cruising Along the Vltava


That riverboat passing beneath us as we crossed the bridge has given us an idea. A nice way to relax while getting a unique view of Prague’s center is by taking a river cruise. That’s how we decide to start our next day. We’re in the Little Quarter, and the riverboat will take us up and down the river before returning us to this bank.


The view reminds me a bit of the canals of Amsterdam; giant houses wall the banks of the river, like gates to the city, a secular fortress. We cross under the Charles Bridge; the statues lining the two sides of the pedestrian bridge have their backs to us now, but they are still visible from down here.


We go down river first, and see such sights as the Na Slovanech Monastery from the 1300s, and the more recent neo-gothic steeples of the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. More modern still is a quirky bit of new architecture, the Ginger and Fred building. From certain points of view, it really looks like Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire are dancing. On our way up river, we cross beneath the Charles Bridge and head north, where we catch a glimpse of the huge National Theater with its elaborately decorated roof. And the intricate cast iron staircase of the Hanavsky Pavillion, part of the Jubilee Exhibition of 1891. And one of the city’s largest buildings, the Clementinum, a former Jesuit College.


The cruise is nice, but short lived.


We should have come later and done the dinner cruise,” Nataliya suggests. We’re too full from our large breakfast right now.


Next time,” I agree, committing us to another visit to Prague in the future.



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Last modified on Monday, 01 January 2018

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