One of the truly wonderful perks of living in Europe is being able to zip off to one fabulous ancient city or another in a moment’s notice. Within the time it used to take me to commute from my office downtown to home, I can now be in Vienna, Barcelona, Rome, Florence, Brussels, London, Prague… the list is practically endless.
Over the last five days, we took a jaunt over to Prague to celebrate my parents-in-law’s 40th wedding anniversary. I had never been to the Czech Republic before. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Was it going to be like Vienna, given its 400 years under the Habsburg Empire, or something like post-communist Poland since the demise of its own communist government in the early 1990s. What ever I may have expected, I was in for a treat.
Arriving on Friday morning, we spent four packed days absorbing everything we possibly could in Prague’s five main quarters:
Old Town is where you will find the lively Old Town Square which is the perfect enclave of Baroque architecture, a functioning astronomic clock dating to the 15th century from the top of which you have a picture-perfect panorama of the entire city, the magnificent Tyn Church and the Kinsky Palace. (For those of you up on British cultural history – this was the family home of Lady Randolph Churchill’s – Winston’s mom – great love.);
- New Town, just to the south of Old Town is home of the museum of turn-of-the-century publicity artist Mucha (much loved in Paris) and the National Theatre;
- Little Quarter just over the famous statued Charles bridge is where you will find a charming canal tracing its way from the river where you can enjoy a wonderful lunch at one of the terraced restaurants, and visit the exquisite Church of Saint Nicolas;
- Prague Castle is home to the Golden Lane of picturesque cottages the size of enlarged doll houses and St. Vitus Cathedral, as well as the Jewish Quarter where the oldest synagogue in Europe still stands.
Prague was a favorite haunt of Mozart, and in his spirit classical concerts are ubiquitous. On practically every corner you have a person handing out fliers for performances at the many churches and concert halls. My father-in-law is a fan of really good music so we had the pleasure of enjoying two such shows. One surrounded by the gorgeous frescoes of Saint Nicolas Church and the other in the mirrored chapel in Clementinium hall. Entertainment is everywhere. You certainly get the impression after only a few moments in the city that Prague knows how to show their tourists a good time.
Even though the Czech Republic is part of Europe (the EU) it is not in the Euro zone. The exchange rate from Euros to the Cz is about 22 Cz to the Euro, that being about 1000 Cz for 50€. A typical dinner for four is about 1500 Cz (about 80€ or 100 dollars) and the fancy dinner we took my husband’s parents to for their anniversary evening was about double that. Compared to eating out in Paris, this is a real bargain, almost a third the price we’d pay at home. This makes Prague a very attractive vacation spot for Europeans.
Many more photos:
Horse drawn carriage rides like those around Central Park are abundant in the Old Town Square. But the real treat is a company offering tours of the city in 1929 Model A convertible Fords. We arranged for one to pick us up at the hotel and whirl us around the city on our last evening in Prague. It was wonderful way to cap off the four-day weekend.
Like any highly touristic metropolitan city, you can find extremely friendly locals and services, as well as those who would rather be anywhere else. Most local people in the touristic areas speak English well, some even spoke French to us. On the whole, we encountered helpful and charming people almost everywhere we went. Our tour guide in the Model Ford was exceptional.
Prague is a romantic city as fresh and yet as understood as a budding blossom in springtime. It’s Goulash for lunch overlooking the Charles Bridge with gondolas passing by on the canal below. It’s candle-lit dinners on a terrace in Old Town Square with the notes of a one man orchestra playing Pachelbel in the near distance. It’s exquisite Baroque architecture with pastel blue, pink and yellow buildings, elaborate frescoes. Prague is tiny titled streets, opulent gilded churches with a nice cold amber beer to wash it all down.
Travel Note: We used the Eye Witness Travel Guide and it was truly fantastic. Highly recommended.