My first time to the Czech Republic consisted of a visit to the city of Prague (Praha). Of course this is a don’t miss city if you are visiting Czech Republic not only because it is the largest and the capital city, but also because its beautiful historic center, on the UNESCO World Heritage List, has bountiful examples of Gothic and Baroque architecture. I felt is if I were walking through a fairy tale as I looked at the many spires reaching toward the sky listened to the many bells of the city ringing. In fact, the bells chimed so frequently it seems as though my visit had its on score written for the occasion. This is one of those things a photograph cannot capture.
The Charles Bridge seems to be the most famous landmark of the city and for good reason. The bridge is the main pedestrian thoroughfare linking Old Town and Mela Strana. The views from the bridge to the city are charming with Prague Castle dominating the scene. The bridge itself is medieval with lots of statues lining the way. If you rub the statue of St. John of Nepomuk, it is said that you will return to the city someday or that good luck will come to you. You’ll see smooth, worn areas on this statue as a result of all the people who have passed by and touched it. The bridge is lively with buskers galore. I know, it’s touristy, but still worth it.
There is a plethora of things to see and do in Prague, but another must see includes a trip to the Jewish Quarter (Josefov), especially to the Old Jewish Cemetery there. The Jewish Museum has passes to all but one of the historic synagogues, so you should stop there for information. The Old Jewish Cemetery is a must see with its crooked tombstones and plots that are up to 12 people deep with the oldest dating back to 1439. You get a real feel for the sordid past endured by the Jews.
Of course, a good place to start exploring Prague is in Old Town Square where you’ll see the famous Astronomical Clock of Old Town Hall. Wander down any and all of the cobbled streets leading off the square for a wonderful self guided walking tour.
In my opinion, you can learn a lot about a country’s culture by the experience on the national rail system. On my train ride from Germany to the Czech Republic an armed man came around to check my passport. He looked intimidating with his stern face, uniform and gun. He checked my passport, say my last name at the time was Callahan, looked at me and said “oh, like Dirty Harry!” Certainly lightened the mood and gave me my first taste of the friendly Czech people. My next experience was at the home I stayed at on the outskirts of Prague. A fellow traveler along the way mentioned this lady Maria’s home as a place to stay. Although the house was on the last stop on the green line, it was worth the distance. Maria was eccentric to say the least. The people staying there were something else to behold. The more the merrier was the motto and nobody seemed to be concerned about the bugs in the place. A few English speakers were living there while they taught English in Prague. Another girl was running away from the Ukraine. There were a few Aussies setting up shop for indefinite periods of time. At night, the guitars and harmonicas and triangles were brought out and the unusual bunch sat around drinking and singing along to Tracy Chapman tunes; entertaining to say the least. Late nights involved using the metro system as well as a tram. I found that transportation was extremely easy in and around Prague, but trying to decipher what the announcement for the next stop was a bit challenging at first if you’re not a native speaker. Nightlife was plentiful and good cafes, restaurant, pubs, and discos were not hard to come by. Traditional food is delicious, though on the heavy side with lots of meat, potatoes, dumplings and soups or stews. Beer seems to be a popular accompaniment to the main meal. Absinthe is also worth a try as it is green and has the taste of anise. Once banned in most countries, it is certainly making a comeback. It was one of the drinks of choice of many famous authors, poets and painters.
IMAGES VIA: StrudelMonkey on Flickr and tanvach on Flickr.