Having got a taste of how busy Prague can be yesterday, our main aim for today was to make an early start and see some of the sights before the organised walking tours got going. We set our alarms for 7am and after a lovely breakfast of sausages in the hotel, we were off on our way to the old town before 08.30. We really wanted to try and get to Karlův most in particular before the tour groups arrived, but our first challenge was trying to locate it. The hotel where we are staying is just slightly off most maps of central Prague, which makes navigating slightly more difficult. We walked in what we thought was approximately the right direction, but ended up stuck in a park from where we could see the centre of Prague, but not get to it. We did have a beautiful view, though.
We succeeded in making our way downhill in the end and got our first glimpse of Charles Bridge in the morning sunshine.
To our relief, everywhere looked a lot less crowded than yesterday.
We were able to stroll along and take a look at some of the impressive statues lining the bridge.
Some of them were very elaborate.
It is definitely a beautiful bridge and it's easy to understand why it's become such a major tourist attraction.
Seeing how wide the river is it's not hard to imagine how Prague has had problems with flooding in the past though.
As we got towards the gate into the old town we could see that things were starting to get a little busier.
It was still nowhere near as busy as yesterday though, and we were able to pause and enjoy the view back towards the castle district.
We spent some time wandering around the narrow streets of the old town.
We soon found ourselves in the main square, with views of the town hall and Týn church.
We were able to get a better look at the famous astrological clock today.
As the old town started to get busier, we decided to head up into Nové Město (new town), which is actually somewhat of a misleading name as this particular quarter of Prague was founded in 1348. Some of the architecture here is quite modern...
but there are still plenty of buildings which look pretty old.
The Lonely Planet book had a guided walk in which started outside the Czech National Museum, so we headed in that direction first. The museum itself is a very grand building, but the sun was in the wrong direction for us to get a very good photo of it.
The Museum is at the top of Wenceslas Square, perhaps the most famous square in Prague. It is named after St Wenceslas, who was the patron saint of Bohemia and, of course, features a large statue of St Wenceslas on a horse.
Referring to it as a square is actually a bit confusing, because in shape it is more of a long sloping boulevard.
The instructions in the book pointed out some of the most ornate building lining the square, including the pretty Hotel Europa.
This building might not look very exciting, but it was from one of these balconies that the end of Czech communism was announced during the Velvet Revolution of 1989. Bizarrely, it's now a Marks and Spencers.
The book then led us into a shopping arcade, which seemed like a strange decision, but it was with the intention of showing us this rather odd sculpture of Wenceslas apparently sitting on an upside-down (dead?) horse.
Coming out of the shopping mall, we found ourselves in the gardens of a Franciscan church, the church of Our Lady of the Snows. It's an unusual name and a rather unusual church as it appears to be exceptionally tall.
The final point of interest on our walk was supposed to be a Cubist lamppost. Cubism isn't our strong point, but we think it might have been this.
Everyone who visits Prague knows that it has a castle, but not everyone knows that it actually has two. Our plan for the rest of the morning was to visit the suburb of Vyšehrad, home to the site of a historical fortress. It didn't look like it would be a long walk on the map, but it turned out to be rather more challenging than we expected, involving first of all a long climb uphill and secondly a hike across an enormous road bridge. The views from the bridge of Prague from the bridge were impressive though.
At the end of the bridge was Prague's conference centre, and we knew that we had to take a right turn here to head towards Vyšehrad. We were strolling through the grounds of the conference centre when something caught my eye: a stone monument featuring a big green star. Surely it couldn't be... surely we had already had the seemingly obligatory random Esperanto sighting of this holiday... but what other sort of monument would have a green star? We decided it merited further investigation.
It turned out to be a monument to commemorate the World Esperanto Congress, which had taken place in Prague in 1996.
As well as celebrating the centenary of Esperanto and 85th anniversary of the Prague Esperanto Club in 1987.
Tim is starting to feel persecuted by Esperanto memorials
Moving on, we walked through some pleasant greenery into the Vyšehrad castle complex.
There were several imposing gates to pass through.
The largest building within the fortress walls is the basilica of St Peter and Paul.
It has some beautiful gothic towers.
We relaxed for a while in the park outside, where there are some statues of slightly scary looking figures from Czech history...
...before climbing up to the viewpoints along the fortress walls.
There were some amazing views of the river Vltava...
... in addition to the views back towards Prague.
We were feeling pretty hungry by this point and came across a little restaurant in a shady part of the castle grounds. The menu wasn't very extensive (there were basically three options!) but we had some nice chicken in paprika with bread, followed by some rather delicious desserts.
A quick check of the pedometer indicated that we'd already walked eight miles by this point, so we decided to experiment with taking the metro back in the direction of our hotel. Prague has a really quick and efficient metro system, which is quite simple to use because there are only three different lines. The main complication comes from buying tickets, because you have to have coins to put into the ticket machines and most of our transactions so far have only involved notes. We just about managed to scrape enough small change together for two tickets, and within half an hour we were back at the hotel to cool down and relax for a few hours.
We decided that it would be nice to head out again around 5pm, when most of the guided tours would probably be over and some of the tourists would be heading back to their hotels to eat. Our goal this time was to see the main Prague castle, and our guidebook had another interesting walking tour which we could follow.
We started with the Summer Palace, a beautiful building at the far end of the Royal Gardens.
We enjoyed a stroll through the formal gardens...
...getting tantalising glimpses of St Vitus Cathedral through the trees.
We walked past what may be the world's most ornate orangery...
...before finding a break in the trees where we could enjoy a proper view of the cathedral.
Crossing over a bridge and through a large gate guarded by Czech soldiers, we made our way into the castle's Second Courtyard.
The tops of the cathedral towers were just peaking over the roofs of the palace buildings.
Passing through a small alleyway, we had our closest view of the cathedral yet.
It really is an enormous cathedral, and as we viewed it from different angles it reminded us a little of the cathedral in Salamanca because of its size.
The cathedral is in the castle's Third Courtyard, which is also very pretty in its own right.
We particularly liked this little pink church.
There was a bit more of the castle to explore, but it's built on rather a hill and we didn't want to risk walking too far down it only to have to turn around and come back up. We decided to make our way back onto our walking route.
The walking route took us out of the castle complex and into Hradčany Square.
This was the bit of Prague which we recognised from our visit in 2009.
This part of Prague is filled with so many palaces and impressive buildings that it's almost overwhelming.
Our route took us down some tiny winding streets...
... past some more grand buildings...
..and pretty churches...
...before arriving at the Strahov Monastery.
From here the path led to the final destination of the walk: the Petřín Lookout Tower.
In some ways the path was more exciting than the destination as we had some beautiful views back towards the castle and cathedral...
...as well as down towards the centre of Prague.
It was rather a steep climb to the Petřín Lookout Tower itself, which was built in 1891 and looks remarkably similar to the Eiffel Tower.
We were far too tired to climb it today, but we sat and had a drink there before beginning to retrace our steps back towards the hotel. The light was starting to fade but we still had some great views of the castle.
We've had a wonderful day in Prague, and still feel like we've only scratched the surface of everything there is to see here.
The final count on the pedometer shows over 16 miles for today though, so it would have been difficult to fit a lot more in.
Luckily we have an entire day in Prague again tomorrow before we have to fly home