A Travellerspoint blog

Czech Republic

Prancing About in Prague

20-24 August 2919

Phil had been wanting to see something of eastern Europe for a long time but it didn’t look particularly likely until we received an invitation from a Czech family we had hosted through Servas last year. Vladimir, Irena and Stepan has visited NZ, and Tui Tce, last spring and had suggested we come. So, instead of flying direct from England to Lisbon, we planned a small detour!

We received a marvellous welcome and have spent a great 4 days here in the ancient Czech capital and we got to meet Stepan's two brothers, and most significantly their flat-haired retriever, whose name won't come to mind. In typical retreiver fashion, the only thing on his mind was food. Phil had some sourdough brewing on the bench until said dog went for it, ruining sourdugh and smashing bowl!! Huge gratutude, especially to Vladimir and Irena for their support.


Once again, the photos really tell the story of a wonderful and ancient city that, possibly uniquely in Europe, remained largely unscathed physically by WW2. It really was spectacular; the only downside was the avalanche of tourists; you can understand why the citizens of Prague are a best ambivalent about the whole thing. But, in spite of that, the place is beautifully clean – there is huge pride in this place!


The Czech Republic consists of two provinces, Bohemia and Moravia. Something of a magical feel. Not only do some of the churches look like something straight out of Disneyland, many of the store displays conjure up fairy tales – witches and goblins and other fantasy characters. Pinocchio originates here 


We were very impressed with the public transport, especially the busy and comprehensive network of trams, on which we became quite the experts by the end! Underlined what a shae it was that Wellington got rid of ours in the 60s. And with a bit of time to kill on the last day after dropping bags early at the airport, Prague became the latest Metro/tube to be mastered by the McCarthys. And our local station was dedicted to Charlie Chaplin!!


The churches were something else! Although at various stages, Czechs have been Protestant in significant numbers, virtually all the churches in Prague were Catholic. And many just unbelievable. Take this one – St Nicholas – apparently designed and built in ‘flamboyant’ style to persuade errant reformers of the glories they were missing! Digby – some ideas here for the Tawa Anglican refurb??


To be honest they were dreadful places – totally overblown and, I would say almost impossible to worship in. We’re neither Protestant nor Evangelical, so have no problems with the odd judiciously placed statue, stained glass, ornate altars or even the odd bit of silver or gold. But these were so totally OTT as to be utter travesties. I doubt they persuaded too may reformers back! And the truth is Protestantism was ruthlessly supressed and sparked the 30 years war. Here’s a few more.


On the subject of the reformation, we learned a few things. Apparently the Reformation proper got underway in Prague about 100 years before Luther! The lead guy – eventually burned at the stake in a wonderful example of religious and spiritual concern for the man’s immortal soul – was a fellow named Jan Huss.

Like Luther, he had this totally unreasonable objection to the notion that making donations to the church could secure one an early exit from Purgatory. He probably had other silly ideas: That Christianity should be a simple affair. The notion seem to be that because Jesus preached peace and simplicity, a kingdom not of this world to which all had access, that Christians should seek to emulate him. Total nonsense of course and medieval Catholic objections to all this unnecessary change sparked, from Prague, the 30 years’ war that decimated 14th century Europe. We can’t have people thinking they can just follow Jesus, can we! The forced convetsions that followed the Catholic victory prbably explains the absence of historical Protestant buildings! But there was this: This is a restored version of the Bethlehem Chapel, which was kind-of Huss’s HQ. Just the odd wall painting; apart from that it could be a cinema!


The whole affair also introduced a new word: In English ‘defenestration’; throwing people out of windows. Apparently it happened twice, where Protestant opponents of Catholic rulers resorted to storming their offices and throwing them out of windows!!! In the second example, in/from Prague Castle. Amazingly all three survived and were given for the devotion and loyalty (and apparently brutality) the lands of the nobleman who had defenestrated! This is the window, apparently, along with some other photos from inside (incl medieval torture instruments) and the views from, Prague Castle. Mary Clare was particularly impressed by Empress Marie Therese of Austria, who was the first woman to rule the Austro-Hungarian empire. She had and breastfeed 16 children, had a bed in the throne room and introduced many progressive reforms, including universal access to education. Her youngest daughter was Marie Antionette, cur from rather different cloth apparently!




Other titbits of Czech history.

There have been people in the area in permanent settlements since 4000 BCT but it seems to have been Celtic tribes who arrived circa 50 BC who mark the beginning of Prague’s history. The founding of the city proper is told through the myth of Libuse (there’s supposed to be an accent over the ‘s’), daughter of early ruler, Krok who in the middle of the first Millennium had a vision on the banks of the Vtlava river, seeing a great city arising in the future. Here’s the photo of the event:


The whole Czech.Prague affair really got going though, with King Karel (Charles) IV who seems to be regarded as the founder of the Czech nation, and a pretty decent sort of guy. One of his predecessors was a guy named Vaclav. Apparently in English, this is good old King Wenceslas who last looked out on the feast of Stephen. I can’t for the life of me figure out how Wenceslas is an English word, and why we didn’t simply sing about Good King Vaclav, but there you go! Apparently a much later Hapsburg ruler, maybe Marie Theresa again. had a daughter who ended up married to the King of England and she popularised the story of this rather obscure medieval king in her new homeland.

Then at some point, the Czechs got involved with the Austro-Hungarian Empire which lasted quite a few centuries and even briefly saw the capital, Prague, take over from Vienna as the centre of the whole thing. Vienna took it back though. It fell apart though, in 1918 because these guys were on the wrong side in WW1. That led to the establishment of Czechoslovakia, a federal union of Czech and Slovak states, which went fine until the leaders of Britain and France (Chamberlain and Daladier) decided to appease Hitler by letting him have the German-speaking bit (the Sudetenland) to achieve ‘peace in our time’. Neither seemed to care a fig what the Czechs thought about it, it resulted in the Czechs losing all their border security and of course, it all didn’t work out that well.

Though this article seems to suggest that Chamberlain bought Britain 12 crucial months, which may have been material to the outcome of WW2???

So the Nazis took over the lot, without the permission of anyone, least of all the Czechs, and the usual nastiness occurred, including the slaughter of the entire Jewish population. Then came the Russians, who liberated the city a couple of days after the Czechs had done it themselves, and 40-odd years of secret police, Trabbies, red stars, grey buildings and all that. About half-way through, a beloved leader Alexander Dubcek attempted some reformed communism but the Russians were having none of that and in 1968 sent in the tanks (apparent Polish and Ukrainian, who thought they were doing a bit of benevolent peacekeeping).

Then a writer/professor, also much beloved, named Vaclav (or Wenceslas if you’re English) Haval took advantage of the crumbling Berlin wall to tell the Russians to piss off, which they duly did. The one slightly sad bit of an otherwise triumphant freedom tale is that the Slovaks asked nicely if they could please have a country on their own. Everyone by that stage had had quite enough of fighting over that sort of thing so the Czechs said OK and we now have separate Czech and Slovak republics. Wenceslas, the new one, was apparently rather sad about it and as President, refused to go to the divorce proceedings.

The food was great. Lots of sausage, and slow cooked meats with dumplings. "Pork Knee" aka knuckle is quite a big thing. And street venders all over Prage sell Trdelník, or Trdlo: "This hollow, spiral-shaped cake , grilled over an open flame then dusted with vanilla sugar and almonds (or cinnamon sugar and walnuts), is found in abundance everywhere tourists congregate. It’s got a yeasty aroma like brioche and a gritty sugar shell, and is delicious all on its own, despite the fact that a lot of stands cram it full of ice cream."


Prage is famous for its beer - especially pilsener. Good stuff; more robust and flavourful than most lagers. And there's usually a 'dark' option - similar to a porter. Cheap as - generally NZD$3 for a half litre! Main two breweries taken over by multinationals but, like in NZ, the response has been a proliferation of micro (craft) breweries. Perhaps a narrower range but there may some IPAs and sours floating around. Phil took an opportunity, whilst fortuitously footloose and fancy-free, to visit a Beer Museum, which was discovered, while Mary Clare was elsewhere, just after having a beer in a pub resplendent in quirky Tintin-like cartoons :). Excellent, all the better for a 4-beer tasting at the end. To sum up Czech beer - balance and flavour!


Last day - we needed to move on from out hosts so found a cheap and cheerful place not too far away. Awoke, found a wonderful coffee at "Boomerang" - yes there are Oz connections. Hands down the best coffee since leaving. We got our bags to airport storage (the uber to get there was a fraction of the cost of the bags storage for 5 hours!) then back into town on metro and bus for a last walk around - the interestig "dancing building" and a vsit to Wenceslas Square. Then on a flight to Lisbon to pick up our carlease for the next five weeks.


Posted by philandmc 02:43 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)

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