What do you do if you do if you have a political dissent with someone? Throw them out of the window of course! Defenestration as it is formally known seems to be quite a popular practice in the Czech Republic, the earliest recorded case being from the 1400s. All this I wouldn’t have heard of if I had not gone for a free walking tour of Prague. So let me start at the beginning about how I spent 3 days in the magical city of Prague and the fairy tale town of Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic.
Prague had been my dream destination for quite a while. The charming little city in eastern Europe had caught my fancy having been featured in several Bollywood movies. The first two things you notice when you are in Prague are – first the Baroque architecture in what I will call absolutely yummy colours. The buildings are uniform and painted in various pastel shades of pink, pista green, butter yellow, grey, and blue. As my mother later commented, they look like exquisite iced cream cakes placed next to each other. These buildings are interspersed with Gothic churches and structures like the St. Vitus Cathedral and Tyn church. Imagine a whole town like this! That’s how awesome Prague looks. The second thing you can’t not notice in Prague are the narrow, long, winding alleys, where you will definitely lose your way all the time!
So, we reached Prague early one morning in May. We had chosen to go in May, as it would not be too cold- but as luck had it we were told by a café owner that every year during May it rains for 3 days in Prague, and yes, you guessed it right – those were the exact three days we were going to be in Prague!
My first day in Prague, I spent looking at the famous Czech garnets. Garnets happen to be my birthstone, and I thought I would indulge myself with a garnet from Prague. Once I reached the Old Town Square which was one of the main shopping areas as well, I found every second shop was a garnet shop. I had done some research before my trip, and I was happy that I found the shop I had planned to go to. After looking at many garnet shops, I can tell you that Granat Turnov in Dlouha street, right at the Old Town Square had a really good collection, and the garnets seemed genuine. I found some jewellery in the typical Czech design, which uses many tiny garnets instead of one big stone, since the garnets found in Czech Republic are naturally small in size. I had a relaxed first day, getting lost in the winding cobblestone alleys near the Old Town Square.
The second day in Prague held a packed itinerary. I had signed up to go for a free walking tour of Prague. So my friend had found one online – Sandemans walking tour of Prague. For such tours, there are no fees to be paid for the tour, but you will need to tip the guide at the end of the tour. The amount is left to your discretion. Going for this tour was the best decision, despite the heavy rain and hailstones that made the tour a little uncomfortable.
A few facts that I wouldn’t have known if I had not taken a guided tour:
- Prague has the highest per capita consumption of beer for the last 19 to 20 years. The Czech people on average drink 170 litres of beer per person every year, which means an average of half a litre per person every day!
- 85 percent of the people in Prague are aethists. There is a restaurant in Prague which has coasters depicting Jesus with beer in his outstretched arms and two sausages behind him, replacing the cross! We also passed by St. Michaels Church in Old Town Square, which according to our guide, had once been turned into a bar and strip club!
- The Jewish people in Prague were treated very badly in the olden days, and were given place to stay in the worst parts of the city – like the places that were most easily flooded. The Jewish cemetery is made up of many layers because they were not given enough land to bury all their dead people, so they had to make many layers – one on top of the other.
- And the most interesting thing was the act of “Defenestration”. If people had political disagreements and one part wanted to get rid of the other, they just pushed them out of the windows on the higher floors! There have been acts of defenestration in Prague since the 1400s, when 7 town officials were thrown from the Town Hall. This led to the Hussite War. Also in the 1600s, two imperial governors and their secretary were tossed out of the Prague castle window, which sparked the Thirty Years War.
- There is a famous sculptor in Prague called David Cerny, whose works can be seen in various locations in Prague. He is noted for his radical sculptures and notoriety, and has various shocking structures like two men peeing on the map of Czech Republic, The giant crawling babies which have barcodes on their face and the infamous Entropa which had stereotyped depictions of all the EU nations.
- The famous Astronomical clock at the Old Town Square in Prague is the second most over-rated touristic attraction in the world, next only to the Mona Lisa!
All these titbits about Prague, I would not have heard of, if I had not gone on the tour, and decided to listen to stories from a local guide. This adds to the richness of experiencing a place. Hence I would wholeheartedly recommend taking at least one guided tour in a city.
My third day in Prague was spent on a day trip to the nearby fairy-tale town of Karlovy Vary. Karlovy Vary too had the same colourful baroque architecture that I had come to love. It was a tiny town, whose central focus was thermal hot springs and a hot spring geyser. Everyone in the town had small porcelain cups with spouts in their hand and went around from one hot spring to the other drinking the waters, which were of varying temperatures. As the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, we soon bought our own porcelain cups and went around drinking the water from different hot springs. Karlovy Vary is also known for manufacturing exquisite Moser Glass, and popular Czech liqueur Becherovka.
This is a small introduction to the history and culture of Prague and Karlovy Vary. I will soon follow this article up with a more practical guide of how to reach Prague, what to eat in Prague, how much does it cost to spend a day in Prague and other ground realities.