Wednesday : Funicular Railway, a Prague Restaurant with a Train Service, Nicholas Winton and a Nepalese Finish

Back for our last day in the city centre of Prague, it’s fair to say that Line A of the Metro has some quite colourful decoration.

Richard and I were spending the first part of the morning going to the Prague Castle complex, work on which started in the ninth century making it perhaps the oldest castle in the world that is still in use. Its location towering over the city has made it difficult to attack, although it has been taken on a few occasions and is also where Adolf Hitler spent a night when he was delighted at securing the Czech lands for Germany. We weren’t going to look around all of the buildings as that would have taken much of the day and I’ve visited before, and Richard was thinking about coming back on a future visit. There’s free admission to the complex itself and to the entrance of the Cathedral, but entry into other buildings is chargeable as part of a joint ticket.

There are excellent views over the city, with the Vltava River visible on the left hand side of the photo. There’s a security process to get into the complex, although it was a bit lackadaisical, unless the police officer just thought that we looked like trustworthy people. Richard, who carried an empty bag around for most of the week, didn’t even have to reveal the zero contents of what he was carrying.

The side of St. Vitus Cathedral and there’s been a religious building on this site since around 930, although the current structure is from 1344. As an aside, I’d recommend any visitor to get here as early as possible, this is the most popular tourist attractions in the country.

There’s been quite a complex history recently about who owns the Cathedral site, with a 1954 law giving the entire Prague Castle complex to the people of Czechoslovakia. The city and church argued for quite a long time about this, but in 2010, it was decided that endless court action didn’t really help anyone. It seems effectively that the state still owns the site of the cathedral, but the local Chapter owns everything in it. It’s all a bit theoretical, I can’t imagine that the state will decide to flog off the building for flats.

Visitors are permitted to go this far into the building and that seems a fair compromise, as it allows everyone to see its beauty. Inside the cathedral is St. Wenceslaus Chapel, which isn’t open for visitors, and off of that is where the Czech crown jewels are kept. These date  back to the fourteenth century and they’re only put on public display around once per decade.

The ‘Creation of the World’ window rosette.

Just outside the Castle Complex is this statue to Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the first President of Czechoslovakia. He died in 1937, at least fortunately not seeing the takeover of his country by the Nazis, starting with the 1938 Munich Agreement.

The Petřín Lookout Tower which I climbed a few years ago, and at some point I must work out where these photos are in my ever-growing collection of random albums. It was constructed in 1891 and was loosely based on the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Then it was time to take the funicular railway down the hill, also opened in 1891 as the entire complex was constructed for the General Land Centennial Exhibition. A landslide in 1965 saw this little railway go out of action for twenty years, but it’s now once again part of the city’s public transport network.

A look down the hill.

And in one of the carriages.

I wonder what it’s like driving up and down the same hill all day, I suppose it’s a relatively easy driving job, although perhaps the lack of variety is a little tiresome after a few years.

Just about every tram in Prague had the Ukrainian flag flying on the front, one of many signs of what the people of the city think about the situation in the war-torn country.

On 17 November 1989, the communist authorities ordered the riot police in to attack students who were holding a peaceful protest. It was ultimately the end of the communist regime as the Government led by Miloš Jakeš tried desperately to hang on, but the numbers of protesters continued to rise until on 20 November 1989 there were 500,000 people on the streets. The Velvet Revolution had perhaps been inevitable since the Berlin Wall had fallen on 9 November 1989 and Prague was finally free.

A little shopping street with a number of Chinese restaurants in the area.

Recommended by my friend Tony from the wonderful Hop & Vine in Hull, this is the venue that we had to see, Výtopna Railway Restaurant. The set-up here is really quite intriguing, with every table having a little railway track to it which is how the food and drink is served, and how the empty plates are collected back again.

I did take some videos that I’ll upload in a few days, but in short, this is how the track joins the table.

I opted for the little beer train of beers that were produced on-site. They weren’t the best beers that I’ve had, but I liked the range of styles and they were entirely drinkable. I had to be careful not to faff about with photos for very long as otherwise the train would disappear off with our food and drink on it. In terms of facts and figures, there are 900 metres of tracks, 14 trains and 5 drawbridges, the planning of this must have taken some considerable time.

Richard decided to order a drink with a rasher of bacon in it. I obviously didn’t say anything.

The food was fine and tasted of a good quality, although the burger was perhaps a little overcooked. I was too excited about the whole railway concept to mind too much. What I did like was the clear enthusiasm from a couple of local youngsters who were carefully rushing about the restaurant watching the trains go by. There was a comfortable atmosphere in the restaurant and the sense of fun from the trains stretched to adults and not just the children. This is very much a recommended experience, but an advance reservation is strongly recommended, it apparently often fills up.

Richard spotted a local market and wanted to have a look around. He was sold a wallet and numerous spices, so I think he had a lovely time.

Here’s the selection of various spices and the like.

This is a photo of people taking photos of the astronomical clock, and it was nearly always this busy when we walked by. If anyone wants to feel popular, just stand underneath the clock and it’ll feel like everyone is photographing you. I didn’t try this I’d better add.

The inside of St. Nicholas Church in the Old Town, which rather gave the impression of a theatre inside and since 1920 it has been the home of the Hussite Church in the country.

The outside of the church, which was constructed between 1732 and 1737 on the site of a previous Gothic church which had been built in the thirteenth century.

The ‘Reader in an Armchair’ sculpture, designed by the local sculptor Jaroslav Róna.

The Head of Franz Kafka, an eleven metre high sculpture of the author who was born in the city in 1883. The sculpture was designed by David Černý and it has 42 rotating panels. There is apparently a show at the beginning of every hour when the panels rotate, but we had just missed that and it seemed a bit much to wait for 50 minutes.

I consider Nicholas Winton as one of the greatest men of the twentieth century, so when I saw that there was a statue of him at Prague railway station (Praha hlavní nádraží), I felt the need to divert there. His work was keep quiet for over forty years, until his bravery was noted on That’s Life in the 1980s.

And the representation of the man himself, who lived to be 106. This statue, designed by Flor Kent, was unveiled on 1 September 2009 to mark the 70th anniversary of the Kindertransport. Winton couldn’t be awarded the accolade of Righteous Among the Nations as he had Jewish heritage, but his humanitarian contribution was one of the most remarkable of any individual. He never really agreed with that sort of assessment, he was such an understated man who believed he was just one person amongst many, but very few managed to achieve what he did.

At this point, I can’t help commenting on the complete tragedy that is happening in Ukraine, noted with the flag placed on the statue.

Just a few metres away from the statue is this sign, directing those refugees into a large room at the railway station. I wasn’t going to photograph human suffering, but it was evident there, a large number of Ukrainians fleeing for their lives and just trying to find a little safety. To see, just briefly, so many women and children was heart-breaking and I can’t begin to imagine the sadness that Nicholas Winton would have felt at these scenes. For this to be happening at Prague railway station today seems entirely remarkable, after all of the museums that I’ve visited and seeing similar scenes in photos and videos, something that I thought was firmly in the past of Europe.

Continuing on this theme just briefly, the welcome from the people of Prague was evident, and even though the numbers are proving to be tough, everything I saw during my time in the city showed how much the residents there were desperately doing their best for the brave people of Ukraine.

A double-decker train, I did wonder whether my friend’s son Dylan is still intrigued by these. I mean, I am….

A short walk from the railway station is this statue of Winston Churchill in a square which is named after him.

The Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord, a memorable design with a large clock in the centre of the tower, built in 1932. We went to visit when the church was advertised as being open, but it was shut. Given that there was a large street-food market nearby with plenty of visitors, it seemed an odd decision and there are literally hundreds of reviews stretching back years questioning why they’ve closed this church. I feel the need to comment that the Catholic Church in this city isn’t burdening itself with offering a friendly welcome to either visitors or locals. I’m not entirely surprised that the Czech Republic is the least religious country in the world by several measures, although I accept that’s due to the country’s political and social history. The EU’s Eurobarometer survey of ten years ago put the Czech Republic bottom of the bloc’s countries in terms of the number of the population who believed in God, at just 16% (it’s 79% in Poland).

I’m sure it’s lovely inside.

Richard was very keen to return to Beergeek, so I was content to let him do that. It was again a delightful experience.

Our evening meal was at the Indian/Nepalese restaurant, Everest, where I was delighted to see they had a mango lassi on their drinks list. Whether rightly or wrongly, I am deeply sceptical of any Indian restaurant which doesn’t offer this.

I went for the Chicken Palak curry, rice and a peshwari naan. The curry was certainly vibrant in colour from the spinach and had a depth of flavour from the spices, with the chicken being tender and moist. The naan was unusual, and there’s a review that they’re serving it uncooked, which I can understand as it is that texture, although I thought it was cooked. It was though quite thick, it’s not a style of cooking these that I’ve seen before, but it tasted fine and so I can’t much complain about that. Richard mentioned his pork lumps were a bit large to have taken on the taste of the curry sauce, but I was distracted ordering another mango lassi as it was suitably decadent. The service here was excellent, with the staff speaking perfect English, being attentive and dealing with the bill efficiently. I’d happily return here and I note that they have lunch-time deals available.

Just time then to get some evening photos of the city, although I’m a little disappointed at the lack of clarity of mine, I suspect my lens wasn’t sufficiently clean. Richard has a later iteration of my phone and it deals with night-time photos better than mine.

A blurry Wenceslas Square, my phone really wasn’t coping very well with the lights, it’s usually much better than that.

The Powder Tower, one of the thirteen original gates that protected the city, separating the Old Town from the New Town. Its current name is from when gunpowder was stored here in the seventeenth century, it was previously known as the New Tower.

With that, back to the hotel once more on the city’s ever reliable Metro system. But the thought for the day for me was Nicholas Winton and the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe at the railway station.