Part 1 – off the beaten track
With a free day in Prague to do whatever we liked, today we decided to visit a few things that are a bit off the beaten track for most first-time tour guides, and get to know some of the more quirky things around Prague, as well as a few of the more tragic stories from Prague’s long history.
One of the most famous statues in all of Prague is located in Wenceslas Square – a statue by Josef Václav Myslbek of King Wenceslas riding his horse in to battle, however that wasn’t the statue that we were looking for this morning. Tucked away instead in an indistinct passageway around the corner from the original is this magnificent piss-take by David Černý, the same sculptor who gave us yesterday’s ‘Piss’ statue, called ‘King Wenceslas Riding a Dead Horse’.
Having negotiated our way through the labyrinth of passageways to find it, we then made our way back out and further along Vodičkova, another of Prague’s famous historic shopping streets, past more magnificent looking architecture, towards the Vltava River.
Our destination was a fairly plain looking church, the Church of Ss. Cyril and Methodius – not because of any grand cathedrals or stunning artworks, but because 80 years ago, at the height of World War II, it played host to one of the more tragic events of the war. Operation Antropoid was a covert operation carried out in 1942 by Czechoslovak army paratroopers, specially trained by the British Special Operations Executive with the approval of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, “The Butcher of Prague” and one of the most senior and despised figures of the Nazi regime.
Despite the initial attempt on Heydrich’s life only resulting in his being wounded, he ended up developing an infection from his wounds and died a week later. In the meantime the paratroopers hid within the crypt of this church for 21 days, before being betrayed by a Nazi collaborator. The church was besieged by Waffen-SS troops, who fired teargas canisters through a tiny window that opened onto the street and brought in the Czechoslovak firefighters to flood the crypt with their hoses. Several of the paratroopers were killed inside the prayer loft after a two-hour gun battle, while the remainder committed suicide once they had exhausted their supplies of ammunition. The bishop of the church was later arrested, tortured and shot.
Today there is an access door to the crypt via a downstairs entrance in the wall. I didn’t realise it at the time that I took my photograph, but the bronze plaque on the wall outside (pictured above) actually sits above the window to the street and the walls below it are still riddled with bullet holes, as shown in this image. You can walk through the crypt and read the story of Operation Anthropoid and the terrible reprisals it brought from the Nazis there.
A short distance away from the church, along the edge of the river, is one of the quirkier buildings of Prague. Known colloquially as ‘The Dancing House’, or ‘Fred and Ginger’, as it resembles a pair of dancers.
Two floors of this building have now been converted into a luxury hotel, and with its location on the banks of the river it would probably make a great place to stay.
From here we crossed the river and made our way along the western bank, past the lock that allows ships to navigate around the weirs across the river.
We strolled back along the river in glorious sunshine, stopping briefly to look at the John Lennon Wall, a symbol of peace featuring local street art, inspired by Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’.
Just around the corner from the Lennon Wall is the cafe that we discovered yesterday, Cukrkávalimonáda (Cake and Lemonade), where we stopped for a coffee and a delicious slice of cherry strudel.
The rest of the morning was spent walking through the Jewish quarter and marveling at the magnificent architecture that makes this city so beautiful. We passed many magnificent buildings and more quirky statues as we slowly meandered our way back to the hotel, having fallen in love with this wonderful place. We’d definitely love to return to Prague one day.
Emerging once again at the Old Town Square right on midday, we were amazed by just how many people were gathered at the Astronomical Clock. If you are interested in visiting Prague, I’d certainly recommend October, as the weather has been glorious and the crowds manageable – but I don’t think I’d really like to see it in the peak of summer.
Part two – a royal dinner
Not a lot remains to say about our last day in Prague, but we did finish it off nicely with an after-dark tour around the publicly accessible areas of the Prague Castle complex, followed by dinner at Lobkowicz Palace, a privately owned residence that functions during the day as a museum.
The meal was quite nice, if a little uninspiring – a starter of ham with fresh horseradish cream, followed by a tasty sliced duck breast with cabbage, washed down by some pretty ordinary wines. The highlight was a delicious chocolate fondant with a raspberry coulis – crispy on the outside and decadently gooey on the inside. The meal was accompanied by a couple of local musicians who obviously knew where their bread was buttered – leading the group in a singalong of such Czech classics as ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’.
Following the meal we ventured briefly out onto the balcony for some evening shots of the view across Prague, before making our way in the dark down the steep cobblestone steps to join our bus. Tomorrow we’ll be boarding another bus, this time heading for Budapest, and our 15 night cruise on the Scenic Jasper.