Sunday, 11 January 2015

Must-sees in Prague – Charles Bridge

December 12-16

Part 1: Charles Bridge

As I’m sure you’re aware, Prague is a lovely place and a very popular tourist destination. Whether it is part of a central European cruise, the cheap stop after Germany on a great backpacking adventure or a romantic weekend, Prague is able to satisfy the full variety of traveller. Even the stag parties find something to do, though I can’t possibly think of what that may be…

A benefit of living somewhere close and known is that Hannah and I receive many more visitors than in previous places. Our final full weekend in Prague for the year was occupied by two different invading parties. My parents continued their tradition of visiting the random, remote outpost I am working in at the time, whilst Hannah’s cousin and part of her family also came to sample the delights of the Czech capital.

It was the first time in Prague for the vast majority of our visitors. This allowed us the opportunity to become tourists for the weekend and see the ‘must-visit’ attractions of the city, in addition to the hidden gems we’ve discovered over the last 16 months. If you ever consider visiting Prague (let’s face facts, why wouldn’t you?), you have my permission to use the following blog entries to guide you instead of forking out lots of money on a guidebook.

The most popular attraction is undoubtedly the Charles Bridge. Though I still can’t quite comprehend why it is so popular with tourists (it wasn’t even the first bridge to cross the Vltava), it possesses an impressive and quirky history.

Like most places in Prague, there is a Czech legend attached to the creation of this stone bridge. Apparently the King himself, Charles IV, placed the first stone at 5:31am on July 9th, 1357. If you fiddle with the order of the time (year, month, time) then it becomes a palindromic number: 135797531. I’m sure you know that palindromically-constructed bridges are renowned for being sturdy. Particularly if eggs are used as cement, which is a popular belief held about the Charles Bridge.

For all my cynicism, the bridge is still standing, even surviving floods and wars, and can withstand tens of thousands of feet pounding across it each and every day. As well as using the bridge to take romantic photos, listen to classical music ensembles and stare at overpriced earrings before not buying them, tourists will often gawp vacantly at the 30 statues of saints which line its low walls.

Many people go as far as touching a select few statues. The main recipient of grubby hands is the statue of St. John of Nepomuk. He was a priest in Prague under King Wenceslas IV, the son of Charles IV. You know, the one who place the first stone of this bridge. Still with me? Good. ANyway, the King was a very suspicious man and he wanted to know the content of the Queen's confessions to him. Nepomuk's honourable refusal to bow to royal pressure resulted in him being executed by being thrown into the Vltava River from the bridge. Ah, the good ol' days...

People rub a certain part of this statue - specifically, the falling priest at the bottom - to bring them luck. And possibly infection from all those other grubby hands, but I digress...

I may not have struck the most persuasive tone, but don’t be put off by what you have read. The Charles Bridge is chaotic, yet an integral part of any visit to Prague. Consider this: without it, moving between the castle and the main centre would have been very bothersome indeed. The next blog will tell you about the destination you reach if you head through the eastern gate of the bridge. Staré Město: Old Town.

Love you all


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