After a second glass of the excellent beer we wandered over to take up a good position to see the famous astronomical clock that stands in the centre of the square strike one. It really was very impressive to look at but not nearly so good that it justified the city authorities blinding its creator after it was completed just so that he couldn’t make another one elsewhere.
Anyway, bang on time, the mechanism creaked into action and the little statues started to do a little jig, I especially liked the skeletal figure of death that to be absolutely certain of the time diligently inspected an hourglass and then rang a tiny bell to get proceedings started. First came the promised highlight of the event when a small window opened and the twelve Apostles passed by in procession each one in turn gazing out over the square. They had to be quick though because this wasn’t so much a procession as a hundred-metre dash and they sprinted past as though the landlord at the rugby club had just called last orders at the bar. Then a cock crowed and the clock chimed out the hour and that was it. I thought the whole horological experience was over rather too quickly.
Next door was the old town hall and we purchased tickets to go to the top of the tower and queued for a few minutes in a very slow moving line but after passing through a narrow entrance door realised that these people were waiting for the lift and it was much quicker to use the steps. At the top there was a fine view of Prague, the clouds were turning from a gloomy grey to a chalky white and the sky was brightening and we started to convince each other that the sun would be out soon.
It was to Wenceslas Square next and we walked out of the old town and through a commercial district until we reached it. Immediately it was a huge disappointment. I had been expecting something similar to St Marks Square in Venice but it was lined with shops and familiar fast food restaurants and it felt a little just a little unsophisticated and disappointing. It was big too, much bigger than I had imagined. I was expecting it to be like the Grande Place in Brussels, the Plaza Mayor in Madrid or the Piazza Navona in Rome with an attractive open space and stylish pavement cafés but it wasn’t even pedestrianised and it was full of impatient cars and speeding trams that made the visit rather an ordeal.
We didn’t like it very much and it didn’t help that by now it was starting to rain, which made the whole place even more of a let down. We walked to the end of the square to see the statue, which has become the iconic image of the city, but we thought that even this was poor and needed a good scrub. We dawdled about for a bit just in case we were missing the point of this place but sadly on a gloomy overcast day I don’t think we were so we left St Wenceslas behind without a second look and walked back towards the old town.
It was drizzling now and we were beginning to regret the decision not to bring the umbrellas so we quickened our pace and took shelter in the Powder Tower, bought tickets and ascended the steps to the top. I like going to the tops of towers and although it was a good tower the view from the top was the same as from the Town Hall Tower so it didn’t exactly take my breath away if I am absolutely honest about it.
The rain blew over but the sky remained dull so we returned to old town square to find somewhere for lunch. To be fair the sun was doing it’s best to come out but couldn’t quite make that final breakthrough. Nevertheless we were determined to sit outside and eat so choose a restaurant just behind the square and ordered Staropramen and pizza. The restaurant was in a respectable part of the old town but just across the road was a group of vagrants doing nothing in particular except look untidy and, presumably to take away the mind-blowing boredom of their humdrum existence, profusely swigging cheap alcohol.
As we waited for the pizza it turned much cooler and eventually we surrendered to the falling temperature and retreated inside but as we did so noticed that the restaurant was providing blankets for those hardy souls who stayed out of doors.
We hadn’t seen this before and thought that this was a nice touch and then later saw it again several times at other locations around the city. It turns out that this is quite common across central Europe and we have seen it several times subsequently in Slovakia, Austria and Slovenia. There were no courtesy blankets for the vagrants though who had to make do by pulling their ragged coats tighter around themselves for some extra warmth.