The Road Ahead : April May 2008
STORY & PHOTOS JOHN ROWELL The Czech Republic's capital has so many highlights that it's difficult to know where to begin. We choose to work from the top: Prague Castle, the government seat of power high on Hradcany Hill overlooking the city. Hradcany's impressive gates feature battling titans on either side, dwarfing the immaculately uniformed guards who stoically endure countless photographs taken alongside them by enraptured tourists. St Vitus, the Republic's largest cathedral, rears in gothic splendour at the hear t of the enclosure. Sardonic gargoyles acting as gutter spouting are in total contrast to the glorious car vings and stained glass of its interior. With the most expensive admission ticket, you can see the remains of past greats like St John of Nepomuk and Karel IV, the great builder of Prague. Fur ther on in Golden Lane, the tiny street where goldsmiths once plied their trade and famous for being writer Franz Kafka's address, the crowds are queuing up for admission. Living up to its name, you now have to pay to enter. We work our way down the steep slope of medieval Neruda Street, named after one of the countr y's most famous poets who lived at No. 47, the baroque House of Two Suns. Other engaging buildings include No. 41, with its dancing lion, and No. 12 with three violins. Back on level ground, the Wallenstein Palace's 17th Centur y garden has an avenue of sculptures with mythic characters frozen in bronze. A great loggia used for public per formances dominates the area. It is wor th the energy to walk back to Mala Strana to cross the great Vltava River by the iconic Karel Most-Charles Bridge, with its gentle cur ve and imposing gold-topped statues nodding their benedictions. One is the statue of St John of Nepomuk, confessor to the Queen of Bohemia. Her husband, the not-so-good King Wenceslaus, had poor Nepomuk thrown into the Vltava for refusing to reveal the secrets of the confessional. On the eastern side of the river Narodni Divadlo, the State Theatre, stands in baroque splendour next to the glass-clad Nova Scena, home to the famous Laterna Magika, a surreal illusion theatre concept. Not far away Obneci Dum, the Municipal House, almost over whelms with its glittering mosaics, fine wrought iron trims, allegorical figures and stucco emblazons which all compete for attention in this Ar t Nouveau treasure. It has a prominent place in Czech peoples' hear ts, as it was here that Czechoslovak independence was declared in 1918. The lavish masterpiece is the result of input from dozens of Czech ar tistic glitterati, including sculptor Josef Myselbek and the much-loved Ar t Nouveau ar tist Alfons Mucha. Mucha is an ar tist of such popularity that you will come across his decorative work all over the city especially at the Mucha Museum, which gives an over view of his life and work and, through the Mucha Foundation, ensures that he continues to be extremely marketable. Just along the street in the Old Town Square, crowds mill around, taking in a panorama embracing a statue of Czech hero Jan Hus and the delicate spires of the gothic Church of Our Lady Before Tyn. The young Franz Kafka lived nearby in a house covered with sgraffito murals, but the big draw for visitors is the famous Astronomical Clock, the Orloj, mounted high on the Old Town Hall tower. A combined clock, astrolabe, lunar and zodiac calendar, the Orloj dates back to 1410. Almost 600 years on, it keeps hundreds of sightseers mesmerised when on the hour the figure of Death inver ts his hourglass and rings a bell, causing the Apostles to parade solemnly and St Peter's accusing cock to crow. One standout is Tancici Dum -- the Dancing Building -- up past the State Theatre. Its designers, architects Frank Gehr y and Vlado Milunic, originally called it the 'Astaire and Rogers Building', but some wit simplified it to the 'Dancing Building' and the name has stuck. In construction, it is two narrow buildings welded together, one rather square and masculine, the other a fluid, skir ted, narrow-waisted glass form essentially feminine. Like an amorous couple entwined on the dance floor, it probably enrages its staid Ar t Nouveau neighbouring blocks. From its terrace, the outlook extends both ways along the sparkling Vltava River and includes the National Theatre, Charles Bridge and Hradcany Castle, right where we began. DESIGN YOUR HOLIDAY Combine your trip to Prague with visits to other fascinating European cities or a river cruise on the Danube and Rhine. Call one of RACQ's expert travel consultants on 1300 888 449 to book a memorable holiday. APR/MAY 08 35 PREVIOUS PAGE: Prague's iconic Hradcany. BELOW, FROM LEFT: Famous Dancing Building and astronomical clock.
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