Friday, December 09, 2011

Small is beautiful

Sitting at my desk on a cold, damp day, with pictures of the dreadful storm which struck Scotland yesterday still vivid in my mind, it’s already hard to remember that this year in Europe we enjoyed one of the warmest autumns on record. This meant that for the second year running I was fortunate enough to have glorious weather for most of my stay in Prague. Even the mere memory makes me feel warmer. So to distract myself from the winter weather outside my window, I would like to take you with me on a walk around my favourite part of Prague.

Mala Strana, or the Little Quarter, lies across the Vltava River from the centre of the city. Most visitors come to it across the historic Charles Bridge from the city centre. However I discovered that it can also be approached through the large and lovely Letenske Park and this second route rapidly became my favourite.

It takes you through the park, with its wonderful views over the centre of Prague and past the Belvedere, the beautiful Renaissance Summer Palace, into the Royal Garden and towards to Prague Castle. Walking in the shade of magnificent specimen trees, with views of the castle dominated by the towers of Saint Vitus’ cathedral, was something I never tired of. 

Prague Castle, still the seat of government and one of the largest complexes of royal buildings in Europe deserves a post of its own, by someone more knowledgeable than I about its history. Having explored the castle last year, this autumn I preferred to walk through or round the castle and down one or other of the long flights of steps which lead from the castle heights to the Little Quarter below.

It’s also possible to walk down the steep and beautiful Nerudova Street, famed for the historic emblems on its house-fronts, which were used to identify individual buildings before the introduction of numbering in 1770. 

Once at the bottom of the hill the Little Quarter just begs to be wandered around, almost at random. Its mixture of streets and squares of mostly C18th buildings, interspersed with glorious Gothic and Baroque churches and towers, is made to be explored on foot and alone, so that you can linger at will.

One of the many things I love about Prague, in Mala Strana and elsewhere, are the little side streets, alleys almost, which tempt you to leave your planned route and explore. On one such side street I found a reminder of the fact that for nearly 400 years Bohemia and its capital Prague were part of the Hapsburg Empire and the official language of government and education was German, not Czech.

Today Mala Strana, with its fine town houses and mansions, is a favoured location for embassies and other institutions. It is haunted by tourists, who are bowled over by its history and beauty, but also keeps its quiet places, where you can feel a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the main streets. It is a quarter with personality and deep charm – living proof, if any were needed, that size bears little relation to importance and worth.  Mala Strana - small is indeed beautiful.


  1. No wonder you enjoy being in Prague!
    Those photographs were superb....

  2. It's high on my list of places to go "one day" looks wonderful, smashing photographs.


  3. Lovely pictures Perpetua. They brought back some happy memories.
    I love the street with Kafka's house in it, can't remember the name of it, but the houses are beautiful.
    I also had some good close-ups of the astronomical clock in Wenceslas Square, but destroyed it in one of my de-cluttering phases.
    Thanks for the reminders.

  4. Gosh, you three were on the ball!
    Glad you all liked the photos.

    Fly, I took so many because round every corner is something else worth photographing. A truly amazing place.

    SP, you would love it. I was lucky enough to be invited to go and work there briefly, just to provide cover, so lots of time for sightseeing. If you get a chance to go one day, grab it!

    Ray, glad to have reawakened some happy memories. Kafka lived in several places in Prague. Do you mean Golden Lane, up in the castle complex? Very picturesque, but so full of tourists I couldn't get a decent photo. Shame about your photo of the clock. Mine aren't as good as I would have liked.

  5. Yes I did mean the Golden Lane house, quite tiny, as I remember, but all the houses were different from one another and all lovely.
    There were a lot of tourists around but I got a few lucky pictures, and then in a fit of "they're just taking up space - no-one will ever look at them again - I destroyed them.
    Ah well.!

  6. When we lived in Munich we had a coach trip to Prague for a very long weekend. It's high on my list of favourite places. Any place that has a banner across the street proclaiming 'Mozart Open' has to be amazing! But one thing I did not enjoy was climbing up those stairs to the castle -- somehow I got talked into it but a girl much younger than I! It's just such a beautiful and interesting city and I hope to get back there one day and then again!! Your photos have brought so much back to me -- I really must look up the ones I took...

  7. Wonderfull "dope" in these stormy days! I was in prag anno....( I have no memory for numbers) with my daughters.10 jears ago? The town changed, I can see it on your photos. Sehr gepflegt! Budapest, Prag und Wien, there are the Cities for dreaming! When are you going to Budapest? No church request? I will be glad to join you! A.

  8. What a lovely tour of Prague! Thank you :-) It brings back excellent memories. Several years ago I was lucky enough to be treated by Niall to a surprise birthday weekend there. It was fab and the weather was glorious.

  9. Hi Broad. Another Prague fan, I see. It's hard to imagine someone not loving Prague after spending a long weekend there. You're a better woman than I if you climbed the steps to the castle. I walked up Nerudova St but chickened out at the sight of the steps and went up by tram. I've only ever come down the steps. I do hope you manage to make that return trip.

  10. Guten Morgen, A! Yes, I thought some pictures of blue sky and sunshine would be fun in this weather. The Czechs have done a lot of work on renovating the city and I can imagine it looks different from when you were there even 10 years ago. I haven't been to either Vienna or Budapest, but don't think I will get any church requests, unfortunately.

  11. Good morning, Antoinette and thank you. Glad to have helped you remember your birthday weekend. I'm sure Prague must get plenty of bad weather but like you, I was very lucky both times. If you want to see any more photos, have a look at my September / October posts. I run the risk of being a Prague bore..... :-)

  12. Hello Perpetua:
    It is, we find, almost incredible that after all these years of Prague just being 'down the road' from us here in Budapest we have yet to visit. However, we have very much enjoyed touring the city with you and have made some notes for our future visit which surely in 2012 will take place.

    As is so often the case, it is amazing that tourists tend to keep together on a single well worn path and once you step aside from it you can almost have a place to yourself. The warmth of those days which your photographs capture are certainly warming our hearts on this chilly Sunday.

  13. Hello Jane and Lance. You do realise, don't you? that being so close means you have no real excuse for not visiting Prague. 2012 sound just right :-) I can promise you won't be disappointed.

    Like you I am often amazed by the herd mentality of tourists, even those not being shepherded around by tour guides. It was so easy to get away from the crowds, and as my photos show, I did this often.

  14. Dear Perpetua,
    Thank you for this introduction to Prague. I've never really studied any history that helped me learn about this lovely and clearly treasured city.

    I've used the word "Prague" only when speaking of the small statue of the child Jesus that was in every Catholic Church when I was growing up. The statue was called the "Infant of Prague." It was only about two feet high and showed a young child with rosy cheeks and one hand uplifted, holding the earth's orb.

    At the convent I entered there was a statue of the "Infant of Prague" right outside the choir chapel. One of the nuns sewed ornate "vestments" for the statue that were changed as the liturgical calendar changed. So long ago.

    Now, with your photographs and text, I find myself wanting to visit Prague. Thank you.


  15. Good morning, Dee. I'm glad you enjoyed the tour. Prague truly is a city to visit and treasure, with so much to see and enjoy.

    During my first visit last year I went to the Carmelite church in Mala Strana and saw the original statue of the Holy Infant of Prague. I also visited the small museum next to the church which traces its history and displays some of the elaborate garments that have been made for it over the centuries. The statue is obviously much visited and revered.

  16. Like you Perpetua, Mala Strana is my favourite part of Prague for all of the reasons you cite here & as your photos illustrate. And even when I walk along a street which I've traversed many times before, I still quite regularly spot new features on buildings that I've missed previously.

    One small correction to Ray Barnes in her earlier comment. The astronomical clock is in Staroměstské náměstí / Old Town Square, not Václavské náměstí / Wenceslas Square.

  17. It is wonderful, isn't it, Ricky? I never seemed to tire of going back there and as you say there is always more to be discovered. I wandered round all the side streets with such pleasure, often almost, or even completely, on my own.

    Of course the clock is in Old Town Square. I should have spotted that myself!

  18. Thank you for a wonderful tour, especially enjoyable as the places weren't crowded. What a beautiful city to "locum" in - so spiritually uplifting.

  19. Hi Mickle. Very glad you enjoyed your tour, It's such a pleasure to share something of what I find so special about Prague. As you noticed, I try hard to take photos without crowds in them where I can, so that the architecture and atmosphere can speak for themselves. I was very fortunate to be invited to "locum" there twice.

  20. Gute Besserung!In Hamburg schwirren die Viren ebenfalls umher und ganze Abteilungen liegen flach! Mir geht es gut, wer weiß wie lange. Zu Weihnachten ist hoffentlich alles vorbei, liebe Perpetua.

  21. Sehr vielen Dank! Ich fühle mich jezt viel besser, nur ich kann noch nicht richig schlafen, was müde macht. Hoffentlich wird alles bald ganz weg sein. Bleibe gesund!


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