“The ancient splendour and beauty of Prague, a city beyond compare, left an impression on my imagination that will never fade” – Richard Wagner
The sky through the bedroom window was blue this morning and when we woke I anxiously checked the windows back and front to be sure of the weather. There was a fine azure sky and the day looked hopeful. Apparently the reason for the unsettled weather had been a hurricane over the Atlantic that was pushing poor weather further east but the TV forecaster on CNN assured us that this had now passed to the west of Ireland and we could expect a fine day and that was good enough for us.
Joining us for breakfast this morning were the German drinkers that we had seen in the bar last night. One of them had clearly woken with a severe hangover, which served him right, and he was trying to cure it with the ‘drink copious amounts of orange juice cure’. He drank so much the waitress had to refill the two-litre jug at least three times. She must have thought that there was a hole in the bottom. I was almost tempted to call for an intravenous drip to save him the trouble of keep getting up from the table to refill his glass. I could have told him that from my extensive experience that this is a cure that simply doesn’t work and I would have recommended two glasses of the champagne instead.
Today we went to Prague Castle, which, according to Guinness World Records, is the largest ancient castle in the world and stands proudly at the top of a very steep hill. It was already getting warm and the walk was pleasant. We decided not to go in straight away and we walked instead to discover the Hradčany area that had a regal air full as it was of old royal palaces and government buildings.
At the top we stopped and admired the view over the city and hurried past a beggar with no toes just in case he was a leper. He didn’t have a little bell however and on reflection I guessed that it was more likely that he had just enjoyed a spell in a Gulag in Siberia and lost them all to frostbite. This was quite likely because one of the principal features of Stalinist Communism was the vigilant exposure of the alleged enemies of the state and the political purges in Czechoslovakia from 1950 until Stalin’s death were on a larger scale than in any other Eastern European country. Thousands of accused individuals were coerced into admitting to crimes they hadn’t committed for which they were sentenced to years of slave labour or if they were lucky very quickly executed.
This was a nice part of the city and more than made up for the disappointment of Wenceslas Square. There were many fine buildings and many others were undergoing restoration. Amongst them was the Ćernĩn Palace, which is the Foreign Office building and where the Foreign Minister Tomáš Masaryk fell from a top floor window and died in 1948. He was the only non-communist in a new communist Government and the guidebook said that it might have been an accident. Somehow I doubt that!
We peeked inside the Loreto museum but it was about to close for lunch and we convinced ourselves that it probably wouldn’t be that exciting anyway so we moved on and hoped that we hadn’t missed anything spectacular.
It was nearly twelve o’clock and there was a sizeable crowd gathering outside of the castle gates which suggested to us that something worth seeing was shortly about to take place. The guidebook confirmed that it was the changing of the guard ceremony so we took up a position and waited with everyone else for the event of the day. Right on time the soldiers appeared marching smartly from the barracks down the street towards the castle entrance and there was a ceremony of passing over the republican colours that symbolised the temporary exchange of responsibility. Everyone was waiting for the end of the ceremony so Kim sensibly suggested that we move on before there was a mad rush and we slipped into the castle through a side gate.