I know some travelers get really excited about “Changing of the Guard” ceremonies, but I never thought I’d be one of them.
When we were in London we studiously avoided the famous guard change at Buckingham Palace (given the stories I’d heard, I was afraid I might punch someone in that ridiculously aggressive crowd), and yesterday we happened upon one in Budapest that was remarkably underwhelming.
The whole “pomp and circumstance” thing flies way over my head, and in general I find the high-stepping and sword-waving choreography sort of silly.
But Prague’s Changing of the Guard? Totally changed my mind.
There’s a short Changing of the Guard at the front gates of Prague Castle every hour, but the ceremony’s a little more engaging at noon.
Guards pour out of the palace doors and line up, then others march in through the front gates and face the soldiers going off duty.
The rather intense bloke in charge (you can tell he’s in charge because he’s waving a sword around) admonishes everyone to stand up straight and test their muskets and parade about fancifully… or at least that’s what I assume was said, since I don’t speak Czech.
But the best part? This was all done to the accompaniment of a brass orchestra.
Seriously, there were trumpets! And drums! Playing from the second-floor windows! It was all wonderfully festive.
While these men obviously take their job very seriously, they’re not nearly as stoic as the British guards. They shift a little, their eyes wander, and I even saw one scratching his nose.
I known — Scratching. His. Nose. The horror of it!
The normal guards stationed on duty around Prague Castle were similarly relaxed; while they didn’t leave their spots, they wouldn’t be nearly as much fun to taunt as their British brethren because they aren’t completely immobile.
In fact, their eyes were wandering all over the place, presumably entertaining themselves by watching the tourists wandering by.
Or perhaps, y’know, actually guarding.
Not to hate on British soldiers or anything, but how is “keeping your eyes forward at all times” an effective guard technique?
Most of the danger I know isn’t going to announce itself by helpfully entering your line of sight first, so perhaps a little more engagement with the surroundings might do a better job of protecting the queen?
Just sayin’. If anyone has an in with the British military, pass along my number – I’d be happy to freelance as a security consultant.
ANYHOW. Back to the Prague soldiers.
After traipsing about the courtyard in various formations and fiercely brandishing their guns, the exchange was completed.
The guards being relieved marched out the iron gates and away down the cobblestone streets, while those newly arrived on duty high-stepped their way through the palace doors.
We’d only been told about the event a few minutes before, so perhaps its impromptu (to us) nature and our lack of expectations played a part in this, but I found the ceremony unexpectedly wonderful. The crowds were thin, the brass orchestra set a cheerful tone, and the whole maze of steps about the courtyard was fascinating.
Those snazzy uniforms didn’t hurt, either.
I’m now a convert, and if you’re in Prague I’d highly recommend taking the time to see this.