Beautiful view of downtown Prague in Czech Republic

Prague knows how to shine and sparkle again

Prague/Czech Republic (2014). – I recently went to Prague and was like so many others taken by
the beauty of the capital of the Czech Republic. While walking along the cobbled alleys,
reaching hidden courtyards and stumbling across historic buildings, ancient chapels,
inviting cafes and traditional local bars, I realized what a blessing the “Velvet Revolution”
(“The Gentle Revolution” in 1989) for this beautiful European treasure really was.
Not only was "Czechoslovakia" freed from 41 years of Communism, but it also gave its capital
“Praha” the opportunity to shine and sparkle again, for the whole world to see.
The Prague of today is a very cool city indeed; especially the old historic part doesn’t need to
shy away from being compared to other European cities like Paris, Rome or Vienna.
But be warned: Prague, also known as the “City of Hundred Spires”,
is packed with people all day long, every day. Tourists from all over the world visit the city and
its sights 365 days a year. For a good reason!  
The Astronomical Clock - Tourist magnet in downtown
Prague is home to about 1.24 million people, including the suburbs the number increases to about 2 million. The city is divided into ten districts, starting with Praha 1, Praha 2 and so on. Of all the attractive neighborhoods within these districts “Stare Mesto” (Old Town), “Malá Strana” (Little Quarter or Lesser Town) and “Josefov” (Jewish Quarter) clearly stand out, also because most of the breathtaking tourist attractions are located right there. Old town shines the most in “Stare Mesto” since it was untouched during both World Wars and is one of the most charming and well-preserved old towns in Europe. The “Old Town Square” attracts the crowds like not many others, also thanks to the Astronomical Clock at the Old Town Hall. Hundreds of tourists constantly wait in front of this great attraction to watch the “Procession of the Twelve Apostles”, a clever made feature this truly fascinating and beautiful clock has to offer. In the upper part of the clock two windows open at every top of the hour to allow the spectators to see the twelve apostles walking by. It reminded me a bit of a huge version of a traditional black forest cuckoo’s clock.

I was lucky enough to have a room on the third floor in the very beautiful “U Prince” Hotel, located right at the square, across from the Astronomical Clock. I will never forget the view I had, looking down to the square and the Astronomical Clock. I saw the crowds waiting for the apostles in front of the clock, wedding parties being photographed in front of it and very talented street musicians entertaining the people. What a treat to watch the vibrating life of Old Town from a bird’s perspective.

”Charles Bridge” – Rubbing the saints for good luck
In very short distance to Old Town one of the main tourist magnets of Prague is located, the great “Charles Bridge”. The city’s oldest bridge, built in 1357 and named after its founder King Charles IV, crosses the river Vltava and connects Old Town with “Malá Strana” as well as the city’s castle in the Hradcany district with Old Town. Since 1965 only pedestrians may use the bridge to cross the Vltava which not only sounds great in general, it truly is. But be aware of the crowds and the many street vendors, artists and street musicians who make an actual crossing a time-consuming adventure. There definitely is a lot of life on this bridge. 30 stone statues are mounted to the balustrade of the Charles Bridge to decorate this great city sight. The statues, mainly saints, were erected around 1700, some of the most prominent Bohemian sculptors of the time took part in decorating the bridge. Today visitors of Prague only can see replicas of the stone statues, since 1965 the originals are housed and exhibited in the “Lapidarium Museum” in the Prague district “Holesovice”. The most famous statue of all is that of St. John of Nepomuk, tourists won’t pass it until they’ve rubbed his foot for good luck.

The Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world
From all over the city one can see the most attractive sight of Prague: the beautiful castle, in the Hradcany district and still the official residence and office of the President of the Czech Republic. From the ninth century on, the castle has been a seat of power for kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors, and presidents of Czechoslovakia. The “Guinness Book of Records” lists the “Prague Castle” as the largest ancient castle in the world. Within the Prague Castle is the biggest and most important church in the country located: the St. Vitus Cathedral. This beautiful Gothic Cathedral is owned by the Czech government and contains the tombs of many Bohemian kings and Holy Roman emperors.
Situated within the Prague Castle is also the well-known “Golden Lane”, a tiny alley consists of a total of 11 little but colorful houses. “Golden Lane” dates back to the 15th Century, today the historic houses should show the life of the artisans who once worked and lived in them. Originally “Golden Lane” was known as “Goldsmith’s Lane”, because of the many goldsmiths residing in the houses. Note: The entrance to “Golden Lane” is not for free and visitors can also not buy a ticket for a visit to this alley only. It’s necessary to buy a Prague Castle ticket which will include admission to other parts of the castle too. House number 22 is connected with the great writer and poet Franz Kafka. The Czech-Jewish writer supposedly used this house for approximately two years coming here to write in peace.

Old Jewish cemetery – 12 layers of graves
North of the Old Town Square and south of the Vltava River is the Jewish Quarter located, a district with many must-see attractions like the Jewish Museum, Jewish synagogues and the, of course, famous old Jewish cemetery. The cemetery was founded in the 15th century; some say even 1000 years earlier. Nobody really knows the numbers of gravestones and numbers of people buried there, because there are layers of tombs. The reason for that has to do with the Jewish Law, the “Halakhah”. According to the law, Jews must not destroy Jewish graves and are not allowed to remove the tombstone. When the cemetery in “Josefov” was filled and no new land could be bought to expand the cemetery, they just put extra layers of soil onto the existing graves and put the old tombstone next to the new one. The claim is that until today there are 12 layers of graves in this cemetery. Tour guides will tell you that it is estimated that there are approximately 12,000 tombstones visible and that there may be as many as 100,000 burials in all.

Czech Koruna – A blessing and a nightmare
Even though the Czech Republic joined the European Union in 2004, as of today the country still holds on to their own currency, the Czech Koruna (1 USD = 21 CZK/1 EURO = 27 CZK). Yes, one can pay with Euros or even US Dollars at times and of course, almost everywhere they take credit cards. Almost everywhere and generally speaking! I was surprised to find out that in heavy frequented tourist areas some stores refuse to take foreign money or credit cards. They insist you pay with Korunas! And if you don’t have any, you need to exchange money in one of the many exchange places all over town. Once in a while, you might be approached by a local, asking you if you would need to exchange money. With him, for sure you would get better rates. Yeah, right! I don’t say that easily but the locals aren’t really the friendliest people in Europe. Maybe they are just sick and tired of dealing with tourists on a daily basis; I understand it can be a bit stressful. It’s hard to find locals with a smile on their face or a basic friendly attitude. At least I didn’t find too many in Prague. But I wouldn’t give this too much weight, thinking about the French in Paris or the British in London. I guess I just expect too much at times.

The Czech Republic borders Germany to the west and north-west, Austria to the south, Slovakia to the south-east, Poland to the east and north-east. Reaching Prague by plane, train or car is fairly easy, sightseeing by car however not so much. Well, driving around within the city is not the problem, but parking is. Don’t even try! Trust me, wherever you will want to go, a pulsing mass of people already is on its way to the same destination you would like to go or is already there, waiting for you. Prague is considered a safe place. I never felt unsafe, not even for a moment. But watch out, as, in every major city, pickpockets are everywhere also in Prague.

God is great, beer is good and people are crazy
Last but not least: I know I don’t need to tell you this, because you might know it already. But I do it anyway: The Czech Republic is the home of beer. Their beer tradition goes back at least to the 12th century and for sure they know how to brew great beer. The country has the highest per-capita rate of beer consumption in the world! Lager is their favorite brew; the two most popular brands are “Pilsner Urquell” and “Budweiser”. I’m not a beer drinker but I loved the “Pilsner Urquell” and had several of them in a beer pub in Prague. Served ice-cold from the tap in a “frozen” glass. In addition to the big brands, there are a lot of regional Czech beers from microbreweries who produce a wide range of beers with great taste. Almost all of them you can try in one of the many beer pubs in Prague. Many times during my stay in Prague I thought about one of my favorite country songs “God is great, beer is good and people are crazy”, maybe just because the song title fits so well for Prague and not only because of the beer.


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