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New Europe

Day One Hundred and Thirteen: Prague to Karlovy Vary

The Charles Bridge 
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Early morning, and the Charles Bridge is as quiet as it'll be all day. The spires of St Nicholas church and the walls of Prague Castle dominate the distant skyline.
Michael Palin - New EuropeOn my last morning in Prague I walk down to the end of Charles Bridge, marvelling as I go at the flamboyance of detail wherever I look in Prague. A bench in a park is not just a bench, it's a work of art, its arms a pair of wrought-iron silver serpents entwined around the wood. Passing the grand late-nineteenth-century National Theatre, I glance up at the sky-blue roof with a pattern of stars painted on it and wonder at the enormous amount of sculptural activity that's going on up there. Gold chariots and angels seem poised to leap over the edge and no end of statues stand precariously along the balustrades. At any excuse the people of Prague stick eagles or sunbursts on their turrets and towers. Crouched lions can be tripped over almost anywhere and even the circular guards around the base of street trees are lavishly patterned.

The main railway station is an Art Nouveau masterpiece and it doesn't surprise me to read in my Time Out Guide that Prague boasts the world's only Cubist lamp post.

Charles Bridge, perhaps the best-known landmark in Prague, was originally quite severe. Built in the 1350s from blocks of stone, now blackened with age, it's sturdy and elegantly functional. What makes it so distinctive and memorable is Prague's restless tendency to embellish; 320 years after the bridge was built the first statue appeared (of St John Nepomuk) on its parapet. There are now nearly fifty of them, all religious, running the length of the parapet.

Descending from the sublime to the ridiculous, I walk down some steps at the end of the bridge and there, in the shadow of a tall and imperious Gothic tower, is a line of yellow pedalos.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day One Hundred and Thirteen: Prague to Karlovy Vary
  • Country/sea: Czech Republic
  • Place: Prague
  • Book page no: 263

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