“Click-click-click.” I shall never forget the melodic sound of horse hooves on the cobblestone streets of Prague, Czech Republic. Today, with great pleasure, I shall present to you one of the most magnificent cities on earth. Of all the European cities I have visited, Prague has bewitched me.
Now that I have given you extremely low expectations for this post, I shall proceed.
We began our time in Prague with a tour that allowed us to experience the history of the city and its architecture. Czech Republic was land-locked during the war, so the city retains much of its original layout, including winding cobblestone streets and edifices, unlike other cities which had the means to change over time and gradually modernize.
I pondered what my answer would be if someone were to ask me to describe Prague in one word. Eccentric would be my choice. Eccentric in the best way possible. It collects an interesting amalgamation of styles and cultures while maintaining a certain old world charm and magical quality. It felt like we were walking through a fairytale.
In Old Town Square resides Prague’s exquisite astronomical clock. I felt ecstatic to see the turning mechanisms of the oldest operating astronomical clock in the world (built in 1410).
An astronomical clock is a clock with special mechanisms and dials to display astronomical information, such as the relative positions of the sun, moon, zodiacal constellations, and sometimes major planets.
Looking at a clock made Mom and I realize that it was nearing lunchtime. ‘Twas time to partake in a trdelník, a traditional Slovak rolled pastry with a chocolate center.
Watching the pastry being prepared is nearly as enjoyable as eating it. Locals make the delectable treat by wrapping the pastry dough around a metal stick, roasting it over an open flame, and coating it with cinnamon, sugar, and chocolate.
Riding our sugar high, we walked across Charles Bridge, built in 1357 to connect the city’s Old Town with Prague Castle. For nearly 400 years, Charles Bridge was the only means of crossing the river Vltava; hence, it established Prague as a critical trade route between Eastern and Western Europe.
Charles Bridge is unique in the fact that it is protected by three bridge towers and decorated with a continuous line of 30 Biblical statues, most in Baroque style.
We stepped off the bridge just as the rain began to come down. After snapping the following photograph of the tower, I realized that the photo was an even better depiction of how to stand out in a crowd.
We wandered through the steep, narrow streets to the gates of Prague Castle, which holds the Guinness World Record for being the largest castle complex in the world. Dating from the 9th century, it is the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic.
The castle was the seat of power for kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors, and presidents of Czechoslovakia. It is mind boggling to think how many powerful rulers from centuries apart ruled from inside those walls.
The crown jewel of Prague Castle is St. Vitus Cathedral. Founded on 21 November 1344, the gothic cathedral rose to new heights thanks to the patronage of Charles IV, King of Bohemia and future Holy Roman Emperor, who intended the new cathedral to be a coronation church, family crypt, and treasury for the most precious relics of the kingdom.
The Cathedral possessed unique stained glass windows. When I gazed upon them, I immediately noticed that the artist used an entirely different technique than his contemporaries. If you look closely, the lines appear wavy rather than straight. It lends an almost post-impressionist feel to the stained glass. Unprecedented for its time!
After experiencing the majesty of Prague Castle, we walked back across Charles Bridge with the intent to retire for the evening. On our way, we passed Wenceslas Square, one of the main city squares and the site of many historical events including demonstrations, celebrations, and other public gatherings. Mom was delighted to see a car rally going on. She took a plethora of photos for my father whilst I twiddled my thumbs and mentally planned out the next day.
On day two, we visited the The Museum of Communism, a museum dedicated to presenting an account of the post-World War II Communist regime that dominated Czechoslovakia with Prague as its headquarters. The Museum of Communism provided a fascinating and immersive look at life behind the Iron Curtain.
As depicted above, Stalin’s Monument (sometimes derisively nicknamed “the queue for meat”) was a massive granite statue built to honor Joseph Stalin in 1955 during communist occupation. It was the world’s largest representation of Stalin, but it can only be seen in photographs today. Why? Prague’s infuriated citizens blew it up with 800 kg of explosives. Stalin’s Monument is a literal depiction of the fall of communism.
Delving more into Prague’s history, we visited the Jewish ghetto built around a collection of synagogues. The most famous, the Old-New Jewish Synagogue, is one of the oldest synagogues in Europe. When it was built, they named it the “New Synagogue,” but after multiple centuries, they felt that the title no longer fit because the synagogue wasn’t exactly new anymore, so they renamed it the “Old-New Synagogue.”
Despite its beauty, the Jewish neighborhood had a rather somber feel to it. German occupation during World War II caused the death of 77,297 Czechoslovak Jews, whose names are inscribed on walls of the Pinkas Synagogue. In order to fully understand Prague, one must understand both majesty and tragedy.
One cannot walk 1,000 feet in Prague without coming across Bohemian glassware. Bohemian crystal has a centuries long history of being internationally recognized for its craftsmanship and beauty. Hand-cut, engraved, blown, and painted glassware is among the best known Czech exports. We saw innumerable glass studios as we walked through the streets.
Lovely and ornate. Mom and I both picked up a small piece of Bohemian crystal. After feeling like we were being robbed on a daily basis in Scandinavia, Prague’s significantly lower prices merited investing in a piece of Czech tradition.
We spent our final afternoon in Prague climbing to the top of Old Town Hall, one of the oldest buildings in Prague and one of the richest in history. Previously the political heart of the city, Old Town Hall miraculously survived allied bombings, Nazi German occupation, uprisings, and enemy destruction.
To wrap up our time in Prague, we dined on traditional Bohemian goulash soup.
Scrumptious and flavorful. I enjoyed it so much that I looked up recipes so I could recreate it at home.
Overall, we had a stupendous time in Prague. Mom and I agreed that it was our favorite city thus far.
Prague possesses an ethereal quality that is inexplicable, yet unforgettable.