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The Fairytale City: Prague

This vibrant Eastern European capital of the Czech Republic makes a wonderful destination for a three or four day stopover on a longer European tour. Prague is called the fairytale city because the center was spared extensive bombing during WWII. The architecture, therefore, is both old and stunning. Gothic facades are mixed in with Art Nouveau. If one were to do nothing but walk around out of doors admiring the views and buildings, your visit to Prague would still be enchanting.

City Feel

Compared with London, Paris, or Rome, Prague is tiny. Although the city provides efficient tram service, it is completely unnecessary as your legs will serve you just as well. For orientation purposes, there is a river running north-south through the city center. The famous Charles Bridge (Karluv most) spans the River Vltava, and is alive with people year-round. Hotels, B&Bs, and hostels are found on both banks, however they are more prevalent on the eastern side.

It is important to remember that the Czech Republic only emerged from behind the iron curtain in 1989. In 14 short years the country has been dramatically changed from communist to free-market capitalism. This is evident in the many retail establishments lining the tourist areas, the abundance of buskers, and the scores of bars and cafes that are seemingly to be found on every city block.

Prague is a fun, energetic, young-feeling city. A visit here is more about atmosphere, beauty, wonderful people, and just being, than it is about seeing A-rated tourist sites.

What to Eat and Drink

  • Delicious pastries and coffees in world-class coffee houses such as Cafe Imperial (free donuts), inside the Obecni dum (stunning decor), inside the Rudolfinim (stunning spot #2), or Cafe Hotel Europa.
  • Amazingly smooth and tasty beer - the three local types in descending order of deliciousness are: Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen, and Budvar.
  • Dumplings and pork - the standard local food which will vary by sauces and flavor added.

What to See and Do

The Western Bank of the River

Set aside a whole morning or afternoon for the Hradcany (Prague Castle). The walk up to the castle will remind you of the walk up the Stations of the Cross in Cortona (well, almost). Inside the complex you will visit St. Vitus Cathedral, the Old Royal Palace, Basilica Jiri (St. George), and the Golden Lane (a small row of brightly colored small houses in which the author Kafka once resided).

On the same side of the river, walk yet further up to Strahovsky Klaster (an old monastery). The Strahov Library, with its 9th century books and somewhat later frescoes, is exquisite to behold. Also inside this complex is the Muzeum Miniature. This very unusual collection houses carvings on seeds, human hair, and microscopic insects. In fact, a microscope is set up at every station so that you can adequately view the "art." This is an unusual experience.

You can continue upwards to a miniature replica of the Eiffel Tower. However, it is probably better to see the real thing in Paris and head down the hill and instead.

Walk down towards Mala Strana (Little Quarter). This tiny, peaceful, picturesque area is a whole 600 square meters. It is squeezed between the castle and the river and looks much as it did in the 18th century. It is a very chic area (all of the embassies are here), one in which you will undoubtedly stop and have a coffee or beer. Visit the church of St. Nicholas and then travel back to your accommodation, walking along the river and through the lovely and serene Kampa Park. At the end of the road you will find the stairs leading up to the Charles Bridge.

The Eastern Bank of the River

There is a little more ground to cover here. Explore Stare Mesto (Old Town). View the Astronomical Clock and watch it strike on the hour. Climb upstairs to see its machinations and learn the ironic story of the clock's creator. Step into the Tyn Church and glimpse the gilded interior. Stand about the center of the square and notice all of the tourists, hawkers, shops selling crystal, posters announcing classical music concerts or theatrical productions.

Walk north to Josefov, the Jewish Quarter. One ticket allows you to tour the few synagogues and an old, sad, crowded cemetery. The synagogues house a bountiful supply of Jewish artifacts depicting rituals, home life, and religious rites. It is said that Hitler wished this area to be a museum "of the extinct race" and so preserved abundant quantities of materials. On the walls of the somber Pinkas Synagogue, are painted the names of all of the Prague citizens that perished in the Nazi concentration camps. Upstairs is an exhibit of paintings done by children at Terezin (Theresienstadt). It is mind-numbing.

Nearby is the Rudolfinum. This striking old parliamentary building is now used for concerts and balls. Have a coffee and enjoy the scenery.

Head south stopping off at the Klementinum. Here you will find a baroque library hall with gorgeous chamber and frescoed ceilings. You can climb the 172 stairs to the Astronomical Tower from which Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler are said to have observed the skies.

Walk into Nove Mesto (New Town). Here you will find the Tesco to satisfy all of your shopping needs. Pass through Wenceslas Square, former site of many communist revolts and present site of the more seedy side of town. Head into the Mucha Museum to learn about this famous Czech who painted during the height of the turn of the century Art Nouveau movement. Here you learn about the Slav Epic, and the passion Mucha attempted to put onto canvas. Walk out and above a nearby McDonalds to the Museum of Communism to view the propaganda spread by the former communist government. Learn what children behind the iron curtain were taught, how their health suffered, how food was controlled, and how the state was the only valued enterprise. This museum is a real eye-opener and a valuable experience for those without extensive knowledge of communism in real-life.

Finish up with a reserved tour of the Obecni dum (Municipal House). This stunning building is home to cultural events, exhibitions, and receptions. It is from this second floor balcony that the Czech Republic was announced as an independent country. The lighting and decoration are superb. There is a room totally done by Mucha, along with other salons and four beautiful places to eat or drink.

Other Notes

Prague is very inexpensive compared to Western Europe. Prague has the cleanest public bathrooms I have ever encountered anywhere.

Resources

Czech Republic Vacation Rental Reviews

Czech Republic Hotel Reviews

www.prague-airport-shuttle.com:Wonderful company run by an American ex-pat and his Czech wife; reliable, reasonably priced, and English speaking

www.czechtourism.com: Czech Republic Tourism

www.visitprague.cz: Prague information

www.praguepoint.cz: Prague information

www.prague-museums.com: Prague Museums, Galleries and Attractions

www.pis.cz: Prague Information Service, tourist information

www.chamberconcert.cz: Chamber concerts inside Prague Castle

www.strahovmonastery.cz: Strahovsky Klaster (Strahovsky Monastery)

www.hrad.cz: Hradcany (Prague Castle)

www.muzeumminiatur.cz: Muzeum Miniatur

www.mucha.cz: Mucha Museum (October 2004, website not working)

www.obecni-dum.cz: Obecni dum (the Municipal House)

Photos

www.slowphotos.com/photo/showgallery.php?cat=3081: Sarah's photos of Prague


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