The Charles Bridge, Prague City Center and Karlstejn Castle

As I left Munich on an Express Bus to Prague the sky opened up and it started to pour rain. I sure was glad to be on the bus and not waiting outside in the rain. It took about 5 hours to get to Prague so during that time I wrote postcards, read, and slept. I finally made it to Prague around 3pm and to the Hotel Andel around 4pm after I bought a metro pass and figured out how to get around. The Hotel Andel was a nice surprise! There wasn’t good wi fi, but I had my own room cleaned daily with a mini bar, a radio in the bathroom, and changing color lights! I put down all of my things and took the metro back into the city center. I got off by the old Powder Gate. Right outside of the metro there was a small marketplace where I bought some honey almond wine and some strawberry lime lemonade. I continued downtown on Celetna Street which led me into the main town square. I got lucky because the Bohemia Jazz Fest was in town the night of the 11th and 12th. In the square there was a huge stage set up and a variety of concession stands surrounded the stage. I watched for a few minutes and then made my way to the Astronomical Clock. I decided to go to the top of the tower and got up there a few minutes before 7pm. At 7pm, the trumpet player blasted the square with the tune he plays every hour, then I got a picture with him once he had finished playing. The square below was crowded and everyone was looking up toward the tower so it was pretty neat to be up there right on the hour. When I got down from the tower, I walked down to the St. Charles Bridge, one of the main images of Prague, and strolled across watching the hundreds of people and checking out the vendors selling art, jewelry, and caricatures.

I was getting hungry by this point, so I made my way back towards the metro but first I stopped in at Billa, a grocery store. I stocked up on some fruit, snacks, and sandwich material before heading to my hotel. I got back to my hotel around 9pm and ate some leftover pasta from Sabrina’s, then made plans for my next few days in Prague.

The first of my plans started the next morning. I had breakfast at the hotel then walked to AVE travel agency. AVE is a member of this program called Cycle Cities. The Blue Bike Tour that I did in Zagreb was also a member of this organization and they gave me a voucher for 20 percent off of my next tour or rental. I decided to rent a bike, GPS, and repair kit from Prague and ride to Karlstejn because I had read that the ride was beautiful and also I wanted to see the castle! I left from Prague around 11am and was really thankful for my GPS. Before I left, the guy at AVE had prepared me as though I was about to do the tour de France. He detailed every turn along the route, and where the hard hills are, etc. the GPS really helped me to navigate the many turns I had to make to get out along the Vlasta River and then when I had to head away from the river. The whole time that I was in Prague, the weather was off and on – raining and cold to warm and sunny. When I started my bike ride, it looked like it was going to be the perfect day. About 2 hours in, the clouds moved over head and dumped a huge amount of rain right on the area I was cycling through. I could see the rain moving towards me from a couple minutes out, but because I was on a bike path, there was no where to seek shelter. I tried to get underneath some trees but the wind was blowing the rain so much that it didn’t really help. Once I was totally soaked, I just got back on my bike and rode through the rain for another 15 minutes or so.

I finally made it to Karlstejn around 2pm, so all in all it took about 3 hours to get there. I stopped along the way a couple of times to feed some horses some carrots I had packed for lunch and to take pictures of the bike path and the river. It was a really beautiful path and I would have enjoyed it so much more if I hadn’t had to worry about the weather. As soon as I arrived in town, I headed to the pension that has a partnership with AVE and drank a beer (the Czech Republic has some of the best beer in the world!) Then I rode the bike to the start of the 1.5 kilometer uphill hike to the castle. I hoofed it up there in time for the 3:15 tour of the castle in English. The castle was built as a place to store the crown jewels. That is why it was so heavily defended; especially the Grand Tower. The basic tour was only an hour long so we went through the royal residence area and a small part of the tower. In the 1800s the castle was fully restored; our guide told us that this restoration was received 2 different ways. One way was very negative because the castle is not able to be included on the UNESCO World Heritage List due to the extensive restoration. Others think that the restoration was positive because if it had not been done then the castle would currently be a ruin. As it is, the Castle looks very nice and very imposing from the outside which is what I image it must have been during the 1400s. The interior has a few different authentic items remaining such as furniture chests and religious paintings. Other things, like the beds and doors are just 200 years old or so.

The castle was attacked twice, both attacks failed, although one lasted for 7 months! That’s a long time to go without fresh food! I found the well tower to be one of the most fascinating parts of the tower because the well is about 80 meters deep! The people of the castle used to be able to pump up 70 litres of water at a time, which took them about 10 minutes to do. It’s definitely one of the largest and most impressive wells I have ever seen.

The town of Karlstejn is founded around tourism. All of the shops sell Bohemian crystal and other souvenirs. I was temped to buy some of the gorgeous crystal because the prices were a lot cheaper than in Prague, but I didn’t want to carry it around in my bag for the next 2 weeks so I didn’t. Before I rode my bike back to the pension, I got a traditional Bohemian dessert made out of honey, flower, sugar, almonds, and cinnamon. I ate it with a beer back at the pension and used their wifi. I left around 6pm which was good timing because the rain came back about 10 minutes to 6 with force. The train back to the city only took about 45 minutes. I made a sandwich for dinner then I showered and got ready to go on a ghost tour of the old town.

I met up with the guide outside of the tourism office and he showed our group around the historical areas of Prague, highlighting the ghost stories and legends surrounding the old buildings. One building was particularly interesting; called the building of the golden bears. The camera pulls out the gold color from the bears, which look the same color as everything else to the naked eye. Allegedly, this is due to the alchemists applying chemicals to the bears. Rumor also had is that this building used to be in the area of the Prague black market, back away from the old town square. Behind the door which the golden bears are over is supposedly the entrance to Prague’s catacombs where many who ventured did not return. Evidently, people trading in the old town square could hear screams of people lost in the catacombs asking for help, but not all of them were rescued. Some starved to death down there in the huge labyrinth. The Knights Templar also used to be active in downtown Prague. But the legend has it that a king owed the knights money but wasn’t able to pay it, so instead he decided to arrest and kill many of the knights. That’s why this area is supposedly haunted. I got a good number of “orbs” aka light spots on my camera. The area still has several shops and restaurants named after the Templars existence there.

The best part of the tour was the last 40 minutes when our guide took us down below the town hall (under the astronomical clock). Once there, our group of 12 received only 3 (flashlight) lanterns. I got to hold one of them as we went down into the cellars where they used to hold prisoners prior to their executions – if they lived long enough to see their execution date. Our guide had plenty of ghost stories to tell us about apparitions who frequent this basement because they either died or were tortured there. Thankfully we all made it out alive and I headed back to my bright lights and safety of my hotel room, far away from the ghosts and wandering spirits!

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