My local experts Jitka Simkova, owner of Prague Walks.com, together with her colleague Karel had given me a great introduction to Old Town Prague. The day was getting late now and the air was definitely getting cooler.
View of the Old Town Bridge Tower from the Charles Bridge
We had turned around in the middle of the Charles Bridge and started walking eastwards again. As Karel had another appointment he said goodbye, and Jitka and I continued our walk through the narrow streets of Prague. We strolled through the cobble-stoned Karlova Street (also referred to as Charles Street) that was teeming with people. I marveled at the many bars, restaurants and souvenir shops.
Many of the shops sell marionettes, a typical Czech souvenir. Jitka added that years ago one would have mostly seen imported Russian matroshka dolls, but nowadays Czech crafts and the tradition of marionette-making have returned. The Don Giovanni Marionette Theatre is also located on this street.
Marionettes – a traditional art form in Prague
Karlova Street is also part of the Coronation Route, or the Royal Route, that Czech Kings took for their coronation proceedings. The route started at the medieval Powder Tower, passed through historic Celetna Street, across Old Town Square and then Karlova Street to the Charles Bridge from where the royal procession went through Lesser Town on the other side of the Vltava River, finally all the way up to Prague Castle.
On a side street we stopped at the House of the Golden Snake which Jitka explained was the first coffee house in Prague in the 17th century. As we were walking through the streets I commented that I had been reading that Prague is now the sixth most popular urban tourist destination in Europe, after London, Paris, Rome, Madrid and Barcelona. This was not at all surprising to me because Prague’s extensive historic architecture, the many sights and the great entertainment opportunities make it a world class tourist destination.
View of the eastern bank of the Vlatava River
Steps away I looked up and saw a sculpture of Siegmund Freud hanging in the air, about five or six stories up. Neither one of us had an explanation for this surprising sculpture.
Siegmund Freud, suspended in the air
As we were walking through the old streets of Prague Jitka also pointed out the Police Headquarters which is a building that many people have very dark memories of. Even Vaclav Havel, the first democratic president of the Czech Republic, was incarcerated here. My expert guide mentioned that the country has seen a lot of change in the last 20 years, morphing from a Communist one-party state under Soviet influence to a free-market oriented Western democracy. Most of the changes have been good, but some people in the Czech Republic have had problems adjusting to the new changing times.
Stone sculptures on the facade of the Police Headquarters
Jitka also explained that beer making and beer drinking are great Czech traditions. The most well-known Czech beers are Pilsner Urquell and Budweiser (the original Budweiser, not the American brand brewed by Anheuser-Busch). In keeping with this theme, our destination tonight was a typical Czech beer hall called “U Medvidku”, which means “By the Bears”.
U Medvidku, an authentic Czech beer hall