The country now known as the Czech Republic has weathered many political storms over the centuries. From Bohemia to WWII to the communist era to the Prague Spring and the Velvet Revolution, this area has been the center of a tremendous amount of history.
We began our visit at the center of the old town, aptly named Old Town Square.
Surrounded by architecturally impressive buildings, the square is usually packed with tourists constantly looking up and around. The ubiquitous street performers added a note of “levity.”
Around the city, modern trams and historic buildings share the street scene…
The architecture is truly astounding, from classics…
to a more modern twist like the “Dancing House” by famous architect Frank Gehry, attempting to capture the gracefulness of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Interiors are also impressive, such as the moorish-influenced Spanish Synagogue.
While in the Jewish Quarter, a visit to the Old Jewish Cemetery is a must. Short of space to expand, new graves were added on top of the old ones, seven layers thick in some places. The headstones were just moved to the top, and remain crowded together in a thought-provoking jumble.
Art is big here, from the 14th century glass tile mosaic of The Last Judgement on the exterior wall of the St. Vitus Cathedral…
to more modern artists such as David Cerny. Here, his sculpture “Man Hanging Out” features Sigmund Freud dangling from a pole several stories above the street. Most tourists did not even realize it was there, and missed it completely as they walked down the street. But not us. Take a closer look: he has one hand nonchalantly in his pocket, as he grasps the bar with his other hand. A metaphor for our crazy lives, pretending outwardly that all is well even as we are barely hanging on?
Also by the same artist is this piece that that intrigued us. The figures move, and yes, those “fountains” are anatomically correct. The basin is in the shape of the borders of the Czech Republic. The artist is making a political statement about what he thinks the politicians are doing to his country. What is most amazing is that this is tolerated by the government, showing just how far the country has come in the short time since the oppressive days of the secret police under Soviet rule. Let freedom ring!
The Charles Bridge, begun in 1357, is another tourist highlight. As you would predict, the statues are of a much more traditional type than the preceding fountain! But get there early in the day…
Because the same spot a few hours later looks like this…
When the tourist throngs get to be too much, it is time to find a quiet sanctuary. The brewery at the Strahov Monastery was just the ticket..
Although the beer menu is in Czech, pictures and a few English words help even the least fluent among us to order a beer without any problem. Try the pilsner, which has been brewed in the Czech city of Pilsen since 1848. History you can taste. What could be better than that?
Another of our favorites was this intimate tapas and wine bar, Wine O’Clock, with only twelve seats. “Czech” them out when you are in town – – the owner, Viktoria, will take good care of you!
We went out for an early walk on our last morning in Prague. The air was chilly and fog was rising off the river as we crossed the Charles Bridge for one last time. It was an enchanting scene and a good one to end our visit and this post.
We left Prague with great memories of the people and their beautiful, historic, lively city. If you haven’t been there, Prague should definitely be on your short list of great European cities to visit.