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Thursday, May 24, 2012

ALONG THE RIVER VITAVA

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ALONG THE VITAVA RIVER – A Photo Essay on journey to Praha

 The Berlin Central train station or Berlin Hauftbahnof. Looks more like an international airport than a railway terminus. There are several tiers of platforms both above and below the main concourse, everything is shiny and spotlessly clean, large shafts send in streams of sunlight, and there’s the smell of coffee in the air. From here, the express train to Prague. The coupes are cosy and comfortable, and we had only one co- passenger—an immaculately dressed elderly person who seemed to have emerged out of the sketches found in nineteenth century novels like Charles Dickens’s ‘The Pickwick Papers’. He sat quietly like a statue throughout the journey (perhaps because he did not speak English, and we did not speak German) and got off at Dresden, a picturesque border town in Germany famous for farmers’ carnivals, like the melas at Pushkar in Rajasthan and Santiniketan in West Bengal. After Dresden, the journey took on dream-like qualities, as we glided through the charming Czech countryside. To pay respect to the wonderful and idyllic scenes that passed by framed by our large windows, I picked up a couple of well-known Czech beers and a couple of hamburgers from the restaurant car. We were all alone in the coupe, with our burgers and beer, as the river Vitava began flowing next to the tracks, flanked by rolling meadows stretching away as far as the eye could see, and at places dotted with cute countryside cottages, or a distant church. On either side of the river the banks presented a rich and varied landscape, rendered more beautiful by the changing shadows which passed swiftly across it, as the thin and half formed clouds skimmed away the light of the afternoon sun. The Vitava, reflecting the clear blue of the sky and the soothing beauty of Czech countryside, glistened and sparkled and flowed noiselessly on. It ran in a winding course all the way up to Prague. Romantic, tiny stations ran past. It was still full daylight when the train approached Prague. The view changed completely—houses jostled with imposing palaces and castles, with red tiled roofs like fairy-tale illustrations. When we got off, we felt the thrill of stepping into this romantic and beautiful city, where over the years, Bohemian Kings, masterful composers, invading Nazis, Soviet tanks, and Velvet Revolutionaries have all left their footprints on cobblestone. We were booked at Hotel Top Garni which was approachable by metro on C or Red Line. We bought the tickets, and boarded the metro towards Haje station, got off at Chodov station. The  No. 115 bus to Archive. Just opposite Archive stood our hotel. It was all smooth and easy going, thanks to Anita, a close friend and professor at Calcutta University who is a frequent visitor to Prague for research purposes and calls it her second home. She loves the city so much that it is on her insistence that we made the trip. By the time we checked in, the light had started to fade. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing and enjoying the wide view of Prague from our hotel balcony, watching the lights come on. After a huge breakfast next morning, we went back to the Chodov metro station. Following Anita’s advise, we kept to the Green or Line A, disembarking at Malostranska. It had begun to drizzle outside, and the wet cobblestones glistened under the traffic lights. We strolled along the Vitava bank, crossed a bridge to the other bank, and took a tram. On our way we saw one of Prague’s famous opera houses and the Kafka museum at the other end. The tram journey was wonderfully refreshing as it clambered up to the hilltop where the castle is situated. Prague wore the appearance of a hill station with the sweet fragrance of the moist earth and a cool breeze wafting through the windows of the tram car. The fourteenth century Prague Castle has a majestic facade, almost undamaged by World War II. Starting from the Castle Garden,to the St. Vitus Cathedral inside, it was all exceptionally beautiful. We were also fortunate to see the change of guard event. The guards stood like statues at the gate. A group of fun loving elderly ladies were trying to distract their attention by singing and cracking jokes but the guards continued to stand perfectly still, not even batting their eyelids, if that’s possible. On our way back we got down at a market square near Charles Bridge at Lesser Town. It was cloudy again and there were light drizzles. On the other side of the street where we got down we were greeted by a romantic scene of an amorous couple engaged in kissing each other under their umbrella—like a timeless scene from an old Hollywood classic. Lunch was peach chicken and Pilsner Urquell beer—perhaps the most delicious meal we had on this Europe journey. After lunch we walked towards the famous Charles Bridge, the oldest of the eight bridges over Vitava River. An esoteric but important aside—Prague is full of public loos, with the legend WC boldly and prominently displayed—a fantastic bonus for travelers, perhaps keeping in mind that the Czechs love beer. As we entered through the huge gate at the Lesser Town side and passed the massive walls of Charles Bridge sentry point we were awed by the might and strength of the structure built some seven hundred years ago by Charles IV , the Holy Roman Emperor and the King of Bohemia. Both sides of the bridge are lined with statues, including that of Charles IV, under whose rule the city of Prague had flourished. On Charles Bridge I spent some time relaxing and leaning over the balustrades contemplating nature and observing the magical city of bridges, cathedrals, church domes, and old architectural complexes mirrored in the surface of the River. It was all so wonderful! Dusk set in as we came to the Old Town end of Charles Bridge. Traditional bugles resounded from the tower at Lesser Town, as it used to be during King Charles’ time, bringing alive the history of Prague. We took a tram ride along Vitava to go to Wenceslas Square, the commercial hub and the modern entertainment center of Prague. During our stay we also saw the National Museum, Charles Museum, Torture Museum, the Old Fort with a panoramic view of the city, and all eight bridges after a short walk from Vysehrad Station, Concert Halls and Opera Houses. Overall Praha and Vitava was a wonderful experience save a momentary nightmare experienced while going down the steep, hurtling escalator many meters deep and running at breakneck speed at Florence metro station. Even today it gives me a shiver when I think of it. If you have vertigo, avoid that escalator!



Berlin Train Station

Inside Berlin Train station

Inside Berlin station

Shops inside Berlin station

Inside Berlin station


A Platform in Berlin station

Inside view of the train to Prague

Along River Vitava

Along River Vitava

Along River Vitava

Along River Vitava

Dresden station

A view of Czech countryside

Along River Vitava

Along River Vitava

Along River Vitava


A wayside station

Along River Vitava


Along River Vitava

A view of Czech countryside


A view of Czech countryside


A view of Czech countryside


Along River Vitava

Along River Vitava


Prague

Prague


A view of  River Vitava and Charles Bridge from another Bridge

A view of  River Vitava and Charles Bridge from another Bridge

Prague Castle

St.Vitus Cathedral

Prague Castle

A panoramic view of Prague from the castle

Prague

Entrance to Charles Bridge from Lesser Town end

With sentry in original 14th century uniform at the entrance of Charles Bridge



A Toy Shop with a traditional witch toy displayed outside the entrance door




A view of a creek from the balustrade of Charles Bridge


Kafka Museum on Vitava River

Charles Bridge

A view of River Vitava and another bridge from Charles Bridge


Prague

Prague on River Vitava

Change of Guard at Prague Castle

Prague

Garden in Prague Castle

Prague

A Czech delicacy and Czech Beer

Charles Bridge Gate


Charles Bridge with statue of King Charles

A Horse drawn carriage in Prague

A Band playing on Charles Bridge

Charles Museum at the back
Outside Praha main station








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