Czech Republic: Prague, Volary and Trebon: 8th-12th July 2019   Leave a comment

Following our attendance at René and Dani’s wedding (see previous post) we left north-east Austria on the morning of the 8th and drove the short distance to the Czech border.

We had planned to visit the town of Brno but on consideration we decided that our time would be better spent getting to Prague so we could get some sightseeing in that day. We arrived in the early afternoon, found a pleasant hotel with ease and went for a short walk to explore the neighbourhood.

Our first stop was at this impressive church near to our accommodation.


We then strolled down to the Vltava river passing many of the bridges that cross it.


The houses along the river have beautiful frontages.


Later we walked past Wenceslas Square (named after the ‘good king’). Unfortunately it was rather crowded and there was building works going on. In the distance up the boulevard is the National Museum.


Although famed for its 14th century architecture Prague has a number of modern malls and modern sculptures including this ‘rotating head’ Horizontal ‘slices’ turn independently, only producing the image of an complete head briefly every five minutes or so.


The following morning we joined a guided tour around the old city and met people from all over the world from Canada to New Caledonia (the New Caledonian girls were amazed I knew where Noumea was let alone the fact that I’d been there twice).


Our tour took us through many alleyways and backstreets …


… passing beautifully decorated buildings.


The streets were crowded with tourists as Prague is one of the most visited capitals in Europe. In the background is the medieval shot tower.


Eventually we reached the Old Town Square …


… full of magnificent buildings and statues.


Nearby is the famous Astronomical Clock or Prague Orloj. From Wikipedia: The Orloj is mounted on the southern wall of Old Town Hall in the Old Town Square. The clock mechanism has three main components — the astronomical dial, representing the position of the Sun and Moon in the sky and displaying various astronomical details; statues of various Catholic saints stand on either side of the clock; “The Walk of the Apostles”, a clockwork hourly show of figures of the Apostles and other moving sculptures, notably a figure of a skeleton, representing Death, striking the time; and a calendar dial with medallions representing the months. 


The figures (these depicting two of the seven deadly sins) are enclosed by netting to prevent damage from pigeons.


From Wikipedia: In August 1968, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia to crush the liberalising reforms of Alexander Dubček’s government during what was known as the Prague Spring. Prague-born Palach decided to sacrifice himself in protest of the invasion and set himself on fire, in Wenceslas Square, on 16 January 1969. According to a letter he sent to several public figures, an entire clandestine resistance organisation had been established with the purpose of practising self-immolation until their demands were met; however, it seems that such a group never existed. The demands declared in the letter were the abolition of censorship and a halt to the distribution of Zprávy, the official newspaper of the Soviet occupying forces. In addition, the letter called for the Czech and the Slovak peoples to go on a general strike in support of these demands. An earlier draft of the letter that Palach wrote also called for the resignation of a number of pro-Soviet politicians, but that demand did not make it into the final version, which included the remark that “our demands are not extreme, on the contrary”. Palach died from his burns several days after his act, at the hospital. On his deathbed, he was visited by a female acquaintance from his college and by a student leader, to whom he had addressed one of the copies of his letter. It was reported that he had pleaded for others not to do what he had done but instead to continue the struggle by other means, although it has been doubted whether he really said that. According to Jaroslava Moserová, a burns specialist who was the first to provide care to Palach ‘It was not so much in opposition to the Soviet occupation, but the demoralisation which was setting in, that people were not only giving up, but giving in. And he wanted to stop that demoralisation. I think the people in the street, the multitude of people in the street, silent, with sad eyes, serious faces, which when you looked at those people you understood that everyone understands, that all the decent people were on the verge of making compromises’.


According to our guide Michael, Jan Palach was a colleague of his father who was also planning to burn himself to death in protest. However, he was persuaded that it would be better if he continued to fight communism from within. He became a party member and eventually was posted abroad and was able to smuggle much information and materials out of and back into Czechoslovakia. After the Velvet Revolution in 1989 he became a member of Václav Havel’s government.


This stirring tale ended our morning’s tour. We had enjoyed so much that we booked another for the afternoon, over the river to Prague’s castle and cathedral (seen on the left of this photo).


Prague castle dates from the 8th century but has been modified considerably over time (it was destroyed by fire in the 16th century) and now bears little resemblance to a traditional medieval castle. This apparently largely down to the efforts of that Hapsburg diva, Maria Theresa in the latter part of the 18th century.


We entered the castle through the gates. Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world, occupying an area of almost 70,000 square metres. The castle is among the most visited tourist attractions in Prague attracting over 1.8 million visitors annually. The castle was a seat of power for kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors, and presidents of Czechoslovakia and now serves as official office of the president of the Czech Republic. The Bohemian Crown Jewels are kept within a hidden room inside it.


The complex also contains St Vitus Cathedral …


… with its ornate facade …


… and spectacular Gothic interior …


… including many fine stain glass windows.


We were present for the changing of the guards at the gate.


Many of the narrow streets inside the complex host cute little shops.


Eventually we left the castle and walked down to the Charles Bridge, one of Prague’s most famous landmarks and named after Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. He gained more through diplomacy than others did by war, and through purchases, marriages, and inheritance he enlarged his dynastic power. Under Charles’s rule Prague became the political, economic, and cultural centre and eventually the capital of the Holy Roman Empire


From Wikipedia: Charles Bridge is a historic bridge that crosses the Vltava river in Prague, Czech Republic. Its construction started in 1357 under the auspices of King Charles IV, and finished in the beginning of the 15th century. The bridge replaced the old Judith Bridge built 1158–1172 that had been badly damaged by a flood in 1342. This new bridge was originally called Stone Bridge (Kamenný most) or Prague Bridge (Pražský most) but has been “Charles Bridge” since 1870.[2] As the only means of crossing the river Vltava (Moldau) until 1841, Charles Bridge was the most important connection between Prague Castle and the city’s Old Town and adjacent areas. This “solid-land” connection made Prague important as a trade route between Eastern and Western Europe. The bridge is 516 metres long and nearly 10 metres wide, following the example of the Stone Bridge in Regensburg, it was built as a bow bridge with 16 arches shielded by ice guards. The bridge is decorated by a continuous alley of 30 statues, most of them baroque-style, originally erected around 1700 but now all replaced by replicas.


After a full day and a half of sightseeing we decided to move south and headed for the little town of Volary. We found a pleasant hotel with this interesting fountain on the plaza.


Volary is surrounded by pretty little ‘alpine’ villages …


… the area is comprised of man-made meadows and forests. A wide range of central European bird,s including some much sought after owls and woodpeckers, but I hadn’t really planned for this part of the trip intending that we would head south only when Margaret had spent as much time as she wanted with family in Austria and sightseeing in Prague. As a result we didn’t see any species that can’t be easily seen in the UK (except perhaps Serin) although some like Fieldfare we don’t see in the breeding season but only as a winter visitor.


Slightly further to the east we visited Trebon, another pleasant town that is situated next to a series of natural lakes and fish ponds.


It took a while to find our hotel because the sat nav directed you to the far end of a pedestrian only square. Eventually we found you had to make a big detour and arrive from the other direction through this narrow arch …


… then there was the hotel straight in front of you …


… with the picturesque square just beyond.


We had one afternoon and much of the next day around the lakes. They clearly were a great place for birds but mid-July is not the optimum time, few birds are singing and many are in moult and keeping a low profile.


Lakes around Trebon gave us views of Collared Flycatcher, Black and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, Night Heron and Golden Oriole …


… whilst this tree lined avenue further west …


… passed a lake full of genuinely wild Greylag Geese (unlike to feral ones we get at home) and many ducks including a rare Feruginous Duck and we also saw several White-tailed Eagles. In view of the huge backlog of photos I had yet to edit from earlier trips, I deliberately didn’t aim to take many shots of birds on this trip.


We returned to Austria that evening and found a hotel on that was just 6km from the airport. Or so we thought. We mentioned this the next morning at breakfast only to be told that its 6km as the crow flies but a 30km drive up river before you get to a bridge that crosses the Danube and another 30 km back to the airport. Good job we had allowed plenty of time, guess we should have checked on the map but when its advertised as 6km away you sort of believe them. Here is the view of flat agricultural eastern Austria just after take off.


I’ll conclude my account of our week in Austria and the Czech Republic with another photo of Charles Bridge in Prague complete with a steel band and tourists.


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