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Out and About, Travel

Discovering the magic of Prague, part 2 – Old Town Square

In my last post, I wrote about the advantages of discovering a new city without a map. However, there’s an obvious downside to it: most of the time, you don’t know whether you’re headed in the right direction, until you actually reach your destination!

(Read the previous post of the Prague series, about Wenceslas Square)

Prague - Old Town Square

Old Town Square: Restaurant marquees and colourful facades

When we set out for our first walk in the centre of Prague, my partner and I decided to reach Old Town Square from Wenceslas Square. As it often happens to map-less tourists, we took a longer route than we should have: the detour allowed us to explore Republic Square and its surroundings, before another wild guess directed us back to the Old Town. By then, it was seven in the evening: while we were expecting a lively city centre to unfold at every corner, all we saw was an array of closed shops and empty streets. We couldn’t help but wonder: is this really it?

Of course, it wasn’t – and I should have known better. All the Eastern European towns and cities I visited shut down after six or seven in the evening. Those without a touristic hub can leave you stranded, wondering where all the people have disappeared, and how they fill their evenings after their earlier-than-early dinners. Fortunately, this is not the case of Prague: the empty alleys we were treading were really just a few steps away from Old Town Square, with its busy souvenir shops, restaurant marquees, and food stalls selling typical fares.

Prague - Old Town Square - Trdelnik

The making of Trdelnik, a traditional Czech sweet pastry

Prague - Absintherie

You can’t talk about Prague without mentioning absinth…or can you?

Prague’s magic struck me again when we arrived at the Powder Gate, which marks the entrance to the Old Town. Looking at the church of Our Lady before Tyn, with its two towers outlined against the dark, foggy sky, I felt like in a fairytale: one where the hero wanders around for days, and finally reaches the enchanted castle after dusk, heading for a well-deserved night of rest after his many vicissitudes around the world.

PraguePrague - Old Town Square by night

Old Town Square by night – The church of Our Lady Before Tyn and the Jan Hus Memorial

We stopped by in Old Town Square many times during the following days, and realised that its charm is not just a nighttime illusion. The Square is stunning by daylight, with the two towers of Our Lady before Tyn outlined against the blue spring sky – and it’s equally beautiful when the sky is grey. Not something you’ll hear me say very often!

Prague - Old Town Square

Different light and weather, but same charm!

While exploring Old Town Square, we ran across many of the characters that usually gather where tourists are. Even so, the contrast with other European capitals couldn’t be more evident: as I had already noted in Wenceslas Square, I noticed an unusual composure in Old Town Square’s crowds, which had nothing to do with the joyous chaos of Barcelona’s Rambla, or the loud masses of London’s Leicester Square. We weren’t approached by any pushy restaurant owners looking for business, or street pedlars selling overpriced event tickets and plastic toys. Instead, we encountered a diverse crowd of street performers, engaging with passers-by in a playful way.

Prague Street Performer

A living statue performing near the Astronomic Clock

Old Town Square - Street Performer

Giant soap bubbles on a sunny afternoon

Prague - Old Town Square Street Performer

A juggler…playing with fire!

The surroundings are as charming as Old Town Square itself. The iconic Charles Bridge is a short walk away heading West, leading to Malá Strana (“The Lesser Town”), perched on the steep, tiny streets that lead to Prague Castle.

Charles Bridge Statue

A view from Charles Bridge

Prague - Charles Bridge

A band performing on Charles Bridge

Prague’s Jewish Quarter, Josefov, flanks the North side of Old Town Square. At first, I was somewhat surprised by its rows of austere, elegant buildings: they didn’t seem to match anything I had read about the tragic history of Prague’s Old Ghetto. I couldn’t picture any wrongdoing or oppression happening in the posh-looking streets around the Spanish and Old New Synagogues; not where the luxurious shop fronts of Parizska and the neat cafes of Dlouha currently stand. I thought of this as further proof of Prague’s ability to conceal all evidence: something we had already noticed with regards to the Communist era and the Prague Spring, of which we saw little but a few leaflets pointing us towards the Museum of Communism (located above a McDonald’s. Oh, the irony!).

Prague - Monument to Franz Kafka

Outside the Spanish Synagogue: a monument to Franz Kafka

Prague - The Jewish Quarter

Architecture in the Jewish Quarter

I had spoken too soon, and Prague surprised me once again. As we walked down the passage of Kozi, the refined facades and wide streets gradually gave way to shabbier buildings and unkempt, narrow alleys. On the walls, murals from today, and remnants of signs from a long-gone past.

Praha - The Jewish Quarter

Old murals in U Milosrdných…

Prague - The Jewish Quarter

…and new art in Anežská

Much more than the surrounding streets, this setting reminded me of the familiar sights of Rome and Venice’s Old Ghettos, and inspired me very similar sensations. The feeling that history goes beyond a few words printed on a textbook, or a travel guide’s glossy page; the consciousness that it has really happened; and finally, what every traveller longs for: the fascination of seeing for yourself.

Prague - The Jewish Cemetery

Fragments of history: the Old Jewish Cemetery

(Coming up: Part 3 – Malá Strana)

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Discussion

5 thoughts on “Discovering the magic of Prague, part 2 – Old Town Square

  1. The church of Our Lady Before Tyn certainly does look like something out of a fairytale – just beautiful! And, the giant soap bubble? Pretty impressive.

    Posted by ThisBakerGirlBlogs | May 12, 2013, 5:56 PM
    • Impressive indeed 🙂 I could have spent half an hour just watching that guy make giant soap bubbles…can’t begin to tell you how much time I spent, as a child, trying to make them myself (and failing)!

      Posted by Iris B. | May 12, 2013, 7:41 PM

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Discovering the Magic of Prague, Part 3: Malá Strana | Whatever Gets You Through The Day - May 29, 2013

  2. Pingback: Whatever Gets You Through 2013: Highlights From Last Year | Whatever Gets You Through The Day - December 31, 2013

  3. Pingback: A sweet tooth’s guide to Prague | Whatever Gets You Through The Day - September 6, 2014

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