Prague Towers – Old Town Bridge Tower

We were beginning to understand that there were a lot of towers in Prague.

Having been up the Old Town Hall Tower, we were on our way to the Petřín Observation Tower.  However, as we passed underneath a fortification guarding the famous Charles Bridge I spotted an innocent looking door out of the corner of my eye.  It was inconspicuous, yet there was something about it.

Old Town Bridge Tower EntranceAfter walking a few paces beyond it I stopped and turned around to have a proper look.  Only then did I notice the information board standing just beside it.

“Oh look!” I said.  “Another tower!”

My wife and daughter gave a collective groan.

This was the Old Town Bridge Tower, built in the second half of the 14th Century.  Construction started in the late 1360’s and took some 20 years to complete.  The tower was concieved as a triumphal arch, through which the Bohemian Kings of the time could pass during their coronation processions to St Vitus’ Cathedral at Prague Castle.  However, its primary use turned out to be one of fortification.

Old Town Bridge TowerThe tower saw its fair share of action.  In 1611 it was attacked and damaged by an army led by the Bishop of Passau in a small but popular uprising which was one of the precursors to the Thirty Years’ War.  In 1648, towards the end of that war, it was attacked once again, this time by a Swedish army.  The town held out and repelled the attack, although the tower sustained damage.  Its last significant action was during the revolution of 1848 when rebels built a barricade in the tower’s entrance, but this was bombed by an Austrian army on the opposite bank of the Vltava.  Major reconstruction was required between 1874 and 1878.

The tower stands 47 metres (154 feet) above street level and its balcony is reached by 138 stone steps.  It provides great views across Charles Bridge.  And look!  There are two more towers in the distance:  the Petřín Observation Tower at 10 o’clock and St Vitus’ Cathedral at 1 o’clock (Prague, you see, really does have a lot of towers).

Charles Bridge from Old Town Bridge TowerWe didn’t spend long at the Old Town Bridge Tower and headed across the Charles Bridge itself.  As we got to the other end we passed under a smaller, but similar structure.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a doorway.  It was inconspicuous and I do not know what it was that made me stop to look at it.

Underneath the Lesser Town Bridge Tower“Oh look!” I said.  “It’s another…”

But I never got to finish my sentence.  The look from my wife and daughter cut me dead midflow.  I swallowed, smiled, and walked on.  The world beyond the Lesser Town Bridge Tower was beckoning.  The tower itself would have to wait until our next trip to the city.

Lesser Town Bridge Tower

Points in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Old Town Bridge Tower:     N 50° 05.169 E 014° 24.813
  • Petřín Observation Tower:  N 50° 05.009 E 014° 23.713
  • St Vitus’ Cathedral Tower:  N 50° 05.437 E 014° 24.010
  • Lesser Town Bridge Tower:  N 50° 05.238 E 014° 24.408

Trip Statistics:

Prague Towers – Old Town Hall Tower

The Žižkov Tower is the only tower in Prague that is a member of the World Federation of Great Towers, but there are plenty more towers to explore in Prague if you are that way inclined.

One of Prague’s top tourist attractions is the Old Town Hall Tower with its Astronomical Clock.

Old Town Hall TowerThe Astronomical Clock is intricately detailed and springs into life once an hour on the hour.

Astronomical ClockDuring the preceding minutes tourists crowd in front of it, pressing into each other and waiting expectantly with their cameras at the ready.

Astronomical ClockOn the hour a bell chimes and two windows open.  The twelve apostles appear in a procession, each turning in their window to face the crowd.  At the end of the procession a golden cock, sat above the two processional windows, crows.  And that is that.  The tourists quickly disperse again, only to reappear one hour later for the next chime.

Astronomical ClockThe tower itself can be accessed either by lift or by a gentle pedestrian walkway which winds itself round the perimeter.  Information boards line the walkway.

Lift Shaft and Walkway in Old Town Hall TowerThe tower is 70m (230 feet) high.  Views are afforded by an open-sided balcony at the top.  There are no cages or nets around this vantage point – good!  Whilst I appreciate that such things are designed to prevent people from falling or throwing themselves over the edge, they also perform very well in the role of restricting views, making tourists feel as if they can’t be trusted, and preventing a decent photograph from being taken.

Deb and Catherine at Old Town Hall TowerThe views from up here were far more rewarding than those from the Žižkov Tower.  The Old Town Hall Tower is situated right in the middle of Prague, meaning many of the views were of places which were already familiar to us.  And Prague really is a beautiful city.

View from Old Town Hall TowerIn the distance we could see Prague Castle and St Vitus’ Cathedral.

St Vitus Cathedral from Old Town Hall TowerThere was the Žižkov Tower from yesterday, with its faceless ant-like babies still swarming over it.

Žižkov Tower from Old Town Hall TowerAnd over to the west, across the Vltava River and perched on top of a hill, we could see the Petřín Observation Tower, our next destination.

Petřín Lookout Tower from Old Town Hall TowerWe preferred the Old Town Hall Tower to the Žižkov Tower.  It was more conveniently located.  It was more informative.  The views were more inspiring.  And I couldn’t help noting that we didn’t have to wade through a sea of dog poo to get there.  Now it was time to see how the Petřín Tower compared.

Points in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Old Town Hall Tower and Astronomical Clock:     N 50° 05.223 E 014° 25.240

Trip Statistics:

Prague Towers – The Žižkov Tower

Although walking the coast of Britain is our main aim, we also have a little side mission.  This is to visit as many of the towers that make up the World Federation of Great Towers as possible.  It’s not so much because we have a thing for towers.  It’s just that most of them are located all over the world and in places we have never been to before.  It was partly to claim our fifth tower that we went to Prague in December 2014.  The Žižkov Tower (aka the Prague Television Tower) sits to the east of the city centre.  From many angles it dominates the skyline.

Žižkov TowerConstruction began in 1985; it took six years to complete and the Žižkov Tower was finally opened in 1992.  Although it was designed and started in Communist-era Czechoslovakia, it was finished after the fall of the regime.  Still, it is said that the citizens of Prague generally disliked it, in the same way that many citizens of Communist-era countries disliked other megalithic, dominant structures that would sometimes slice into their skyline as a symbol of Communist might.  However, in the case of the Žižkov Tower there was added criticism, for the construction was said to have destroyed parts of a particularly old Jewish Cemetery next door (something denied by the authorities, who claimed the affected parts were moved prior to construction).  The cemetery was founded in 1680; what remains of it still sits right next to the tower.

View to Jewish Cemetery from Žižkov TowerOn the outside of the tower, and at least as famous as the tower itself, are giant faceless babies.

Žižkov TowerThese babies are a design by artist David Černý, and were temporarily fixed to the tower in 2000 when Prague was a European City of Culture.  They proved to be so popular that the following year they were put up again, this time permanently.  There are ten of them, crawling up and down.  Are they supposed to bring a childlike, innocent, softening effect to a building many still consider to be an eyesore? No, I think not, for if you look closely you will see that their faces have been bashed in.  These faceless, oversized infants crawl on the heels of their hands, their fingers spider-like and looking as if they are ready to pounce on anyone foolish enough to get too close.  They resemble ants guarding their nest.  Some consider them to be as monstrous as the tower they swarm over.  They would go well in an episode of Dr Who.

Žižkov TowerAlthough the tower stands at 216 metres (709 feet), the viewing platform itself is considerably lower, at 93 metres (305 feet).  It consists of three rooms.  One has a series of plastic glass chairs hung from the ceiling.  They act as a sort of cocoon to anyone sitting in them and some sort of noise is broadcast into them from a speaker.  You can only hear it when sitting in the chairs and even then it was too quiet for me to really understand what it was.  It sounded like whispering.  Perhaps it was the babies trying to entice me towards the clutches of their poised fingers.

Viewing Room at Žižkov TowerAnd as for the other two rooms?  One had a few bean bags strewn around the walls.  I can’t even remember what was in the other.  It wasn’t the most welcoming of places.  No matter – I was less interested in the furniture than the views, which were far-reaching.

View from Žižkov TowerI feel as if I have been a bit harsh on the Žižkov Tower, and I haven’t even mentioned the copious dollops of dog poo that littered the majority of the pavements (and, eventually, one of my boots) as we walked up to it from our hotel in the city centre.  Oh dear!  But although the Žižkov Tower is somewhat disappointing internally, I actually quite like both the tower and the babies from the outside.  It is a bit out of the way, but still worth a visit.  Just watch out for all that dog poo as you make your way over to it!

Žižkov Tower

Points in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Žižkov Tower:     N 50° 04.860 E 014° 27.0701

Trip Statistics:

Yuk in York

In early November 2014 I had to go to York on business.  It is a beautiful city and so I decided to take the rest of the family.  After my meeting, in the late afternoon and as the light started to fade, we went for a wander round a section of the city walls.

York City WallsThere was nobody around.  It was just us and the gargoyles.

York WallsDusk fell and we went back to our hotel.  I can’t say we had the best night, not least because there was a feint smell of drains which pervaded our sleep.  It permeated our nostrils and crept to our core, causing us to toss and turn in our troubled slumber.  The hotel we had booked was a member of an international chain.  As such, we expected a certain level of general cleanliness.  We didn’t expect (or much appreciate for that matter) this smell, nor whatever it was we found dangling from the underside of the taps the next morning.

YukI have no idea what it was, but you will probably make a few unappetising guesses that match the guesses we made.  I took some loo roll and carefully pulled the dangly monstrosity from its roost.  I took it down to the front desk and presented the grizzly mess to the concierge.

YukDue note was taken, profuse apologies given, and an immediate discount to our room offered.  This was all appreciated, and I also appreciate that from time to time these things happen.

Still.

I would have preferred not to have found it in the first place.

Yuk.

Points in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Gargoyles on York’s City Walls:    N 53° 57.7689W 001° 04.713

Trip Statistics:

  • Date of Visit: 2 November 2014

The Coastal Path Goes Hardback!

When I started this blog I never thought my photos would be of particular interest to others, so I am always delighted to be contacted by those who want to use them.

In early 2014 I received an email from a historian called Daniel Kirmatzis.  He was co-authoring a book about Emanuel School in Battersea and the contribution of its staff and pupils to the two World Wars.  He had come across my blog and wanted to know if he could use one of my photos as an illustration.  I was very happy to say yes and after several months, in late 2014, a copy of Emanuel School at War, by Daniel Kirmatzis and Tony Jones, arrived on my doorstep.

Emanuel School at WarA hardback of 627 pages, the amount of research and work which has gone into this book is impressive indeed.  It is very personal at times, with many chapters dedicated to men and women as individuals.  Some of these are biographies; some are personal accounts and experiences; and still others are interviews.  As several members of the same families attended the same school, some chapters detail the different experiences and fates of each of these siblings.  Emanuel School at War focuses on the experiences of one school in two wars, but so many of its pupils and staff were involved in so many theatres that its coverage is also very extensive.

And as for my photo?  Here it is.

Emanuel at WarIt shows a plaque at Beachy Head, commemorating three French men who crossed the English Channel in canoes so as to reach England and continue their fight against the Nazis.  Upon arrival in England, after meeting Winston Churchill, they were received as guests by Emanuel School where they stayed for some weeks.

It just goes to show that a photo doesn’t always have to be tremendously beautiful, or an accomplished composition.  Sometimes, it just needs to show the right thing at the right time in order to spark someone’s interest.  And this is a good thing, because my photos tend to fall into this category!

Emanuel at War can be bought on Amazon, costing £30.00 plus postage.

The Coastal Path in Scotland – Leaving Islay

As we flew back to Glasgow our aircraft punched through a blanket of low-lying cloud-cover.  We left an underbelly of grey dreariness and rose into a stunningly bright sky of crisp, clear colour.  The cloud was low this morning, and as we reached the mainland we flew over an isolated group of hills.  Their peaks had sliced through the cloud and their definition stood in contrast to the muffled whiteness all around them.

Flying back to GlasgowI wondered where we were and what peaks we were looking at.  Had our plane looped south over the hills of Arran?  Or had we gone north, over the Cowal Peninsula and Arrochar Alps?  I had no idea.  One thing I did know, however, were that these hilltops were probably only 2,500 to 3,000 feet high.  Despite the early hour, there might be walkers or climbers standing on those ridges, lucky enough to take in the velvety view all around.  What an incredible sight to see.

Many years ago, in March 1989, I was lucky enough to get above the clouds during a trip to the Lake District.  I still have a couple of photos.

I was walking up Scafell Pike with some friends.  Snow was still on the ground, but the sun was out and it was warm enough to walk in t-shirts.  We had tramped up during a morning in which the cloud had threatened to burn off, but didn’t.  We watched it fall in a veil, slowly and silently down the mountain’s valleys.

Scafell Pike March 1989We entered the cloud base at about 2,000 feet.  As we reached the boulder field which lies just before the summit we exited the cloud and were greeted with a view that felt almost Himalayan to my way of thinking – I had never seen anything like it before.  The cloud was not all encompassing, so we could see down valleys to distant towns and villages, but if you looked off in one particular direction these breaks in the cloud disappeared.  All you could see were nearby peaks poking their heads out to join us, acknowledging their height and ours.  The snow blended into the surrounding landscape which stretched away before us; it felt as if we were walking on the clouds themselves.

Scafell Pike March 1989I hope to experience that again some time.

Flying back from Islay that day reminded me of it.  I hope someone was up on those ridges to see that view.

Points in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Taking off from Islay:  N 55° 41.000 W 006° 15.500
  • Landing at Glasgow:  N 55° 52.300 W 004° 26.000
  • Scafell Pike:     N 54° 27.265 W 003° 12.688

Trip Statistics:

  • Date of Flight: 11 September 2014

The Coastal Path in Scotland – Bowmore Coastline

During our final day on Islay we went for a short walk along the coast.  We headed out from Bowmore (pronounced Bowmore, with the emphasis on the more) towards Gartbreck, in a southwesterly direction.  The tide was in, giving us only a thin strip of sand to walk on for the most part, and sometimes not even that.  This was a quiet stretch of coast; we saw nobody.

Looking Back Across Loch Indaal Twoards BowmoreAs one point we found a jellyfish, washed up by the tide.  We had no idea what it was at the time, but after a little research back home I think it was a Lion’s Mane jellyfish, Cyanea capillata.  They are common in the North Atlantic and Irish Sea and so to find one here would make sense.

Lion's Mane JellyfishThe Lion’s Mane is the largest known species of jellyfish there is.  The one we came across was a small one, but suffice to say that in 1870 a specimen was found washed up in Massachusetts Bay with a bell 2.5 metres (just over 8 feet) in diameter and tentacles 37 metres long (that’s 121 feet).  Its tentacular spread was a massive 75 metres (246 feet).

Although the main claim of the Lion’s Mane is its large size, I found the beauty to be in the detail.

Lion's Mane Jellyfish As the day drew to a close we walked back to Bowmore and found some dinner as the harvest moon rose again.

Bowmore

Points in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Bowmore:     N 55° 45.425 W 006° 17.300

Trip Statistics:

  • Date of Visit: 10 September 2014
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