I fell in love with Prague five years ago on my first trip to Europe. The moment I stepped on to the Charles Bridge, I felt home. I also contemplated moving there and supporting myself by singing opera on the famous bridge for money. I even wrote a set list. But while my chanson dreams might be on hold for the time being, I was overjoyed to find Prague’s charm and romance no less palpable on my second visit, and I have a feeling I will never stop returning to Prague.
Prague has an ancient history, and some of its oldest standing buildings date back to the 14th century, when King Charles IV, ruler of Bohemia and later the Holy Roman Empire (which included all of Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands, most of the Czech Republic and parts of Austria, Poland, Italy, and France) established the first university in Prague (King Charles University). It’s no big deal to walk around a neighborhood in downtown and see modern trams running next to gothic cathedrals and art-noveau buildings. This is the flavor of Bohemia!
Of course, there are also a few modern additions, including the infamous TV tower, notoriously hated by Czech people, which was built under communism. The building might be an eyesore, but it offers some of the best views of the city. We rode to the top of the tower and had a 360 degree view of all of Prague’s architectural wonders:
In Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí), one can find the famous astrological clock (which parades a collection of dancing marionettes every hour on the hour…think “world’s biggest coo-coo clock”), as well as several churches, a memorial to Jan Hus (Protestant reformer), and this hidden gem inside the old City Hall, the Skautsky Institut (Scout Institute, non-profit and community organization for youth. If you’re there, you should visit their café inside the building on the second floor. It reminded me of several funky coffee shops in Memphis, only a bit smaller.
No trip to Prague would be complete without a visit to the famous Prague castle, which is a huge compound that includes the Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral, beautiful Baroque-style gardens, and several ancient halls where kings of old were crowned and celebrated and some unpopular nobles were pushed out of windows. The castle stands on a hill top, and its spires are visible for miles. The area also offers some of the most picturesque views of the city, like the ones below. On the left is from this trip (our weather was less than ideal, but c’est la vie). On the right is from five years ago. There’s a bit more sunshine and fewer trees, but it’s still the same skyline!
When you visit the Castle, I highly recommend a guide and a comprehensive admissions ticket. I didn’t do this last time, but I am so glad I did on this trip. It is a bit pricey for Prague ($14 USD), but the ticket gets you inside of the Cathedral, the old hall, All Saints Church, and the Golden Lane, which is a small, cobblestone street with museums and displays about Prague in the High Medieval era. All in all, you get an a lot of insight into Prauge’s complex history. Bonus: It also includes a visit to the dungeon and a few dozen rusty torture instruments on display (Game of Thrones, anyone?).
The second visit was even better than the first. This was largely due to the gracious hospitality of our friend, host, and tour guide, whom I had met five years ago while studying in Israel. She took us to some truly remarkable places that were tucked away inside cobblestone lanes, including a hip vegetarian restaurant called Lehka Hlava (which means “Clear Head” and runs only on reservations) and a wonderful little wine bar dedicated to St. Agneska (Agnes), who founded a small monastery nearby in the 13th century, before Gothic spires had taken over Europe. We all decided that this place, called simply Agnes, serves the best hot wine in Prague. The key is to add raisins soaked in rum, and serve it with a spoon for fishing out these delicacies.
I heard from my friend that the owners of this wine bar are ready to retire. They want someone to take over and continue serving wine and snacks to locals for the next few decades. My friend is too busy, but who knows? Maybe I can work there when people get tired of hearing my rendition of Ave Maria on the Charles Bridge…
One can dream 🙂