This entry is rather belated, but it would be a crime not to mention Prague, the last stop of my two-week trip to Europe last summer. After hassle and bustle of Russia, Prague was a perfect, “fairy tale” destination… visually-appealing, easy-going, and just overall relaxing.
Arriving late afternoon (Day 1) without much research/planning, I ventured out for a walk before dinner. Since I was staying in Mala Strana, I followed the human “traffic” to Charles Bridge which was easily recognizable by two towers on either side of the river and about 30 statues throughout its length. The view of the city from Mala Strana’s side was beyond compare. It was impossible to put down the camera even for a second. The “skyline” was studded with towers, spires, crosses, statues, roofs of all shapes and colors. The explosion of different styles (Baroque, Art Nouveau, Medieval, etc.) had marked every building. There was nothing plain in sight; it was an architecture lover’s (and thus, my) paradise. And even though, it was obvious that the city was full of tourists, it was also clean, safe *and* void of many cars, which was tremendously stress-free (can’t say the same of New York!). My night became even more complete when I had dinner at a small outdoor pub (recommended by my hotel) with an awesome fallow deer and wild boar pate and rosemary wild perch.
On Day 2, thanks to a friend’s recommendation, I headed to Old Town for a “free” 3-hour tour that resulted in tons of photographs. The guide was very good and he covered some major Prague attractions and also told us about the history of the nation. Some of the highlights included the Astronomical Clock, the oldest working clock in the world (with a rather silly hourly show); the Estates Theater where young Mozart first performed in Prague and got a 30-minute standing ovation; Kafka on a headless man statue; the Old Jewish cemetery in Jewish Quarter where people were buried in rows up to 12 levels deep for lack of space, and a lot more. After the tour and a quick gyro (which they priced here by grams), I walked south along Vltava River to Frank Gehry’s Dancing House admiring a lot of Art Nouveau buildings on the way. Then crossed Jiraskuv Bridge back into Mala Strana and walked up north to near Kampa Island where I sat at a cafe with a nice view of Charges Bridge at sunset, watching boats go by.
On Day 3, I took a tram (well, 2 trams) to A. Mucha Museum (pronounced “muha”, which ironically means “fly” in Russian). Museum was small, but there was a good representation of Mucha’s work. The intricate details of his designs (posters, furniture, jewelry, etc.) reminded me of Klimt, whom I always found very original. After the museum, I took metro a few stops to vicinity of Prague Castle. This way I saved some time *and* tried Prague’s public transportation which seemed fairy easy. A ticket for 90 min was around $1.50 and could be used from metro to bus to trams and the kicker was… it was based on the honor system, so unless you got caught (I did get checked 1 out of 3 times), you could ride free.
After getting slightly sidetracked by Valdstejnska Palace/Garden where the Senate resided, I made it up the long steps to Prague Castle, missed the changing of the guards, continued to St. Vitus, a typical Gothic cathedral, the main attraction here, but with one distinction: one of the stained glass panels was done by A. Mucha (going to museums could be so educational!). Then I’ve walked past most churches, palaces, gardens that comprised the vast Prague Castle complex, continuing west past a pretty gaudy Loreta palace and getting caught in the rain at Strahov Monastery. Thankfully, the rain passed fast and by sheer luck I found myself at a restaurant perched on top of the hill a little lower than the Observation Tower (replica of the Eiffel Tower) but with an awesome view of the castle and the city below it. And if things couldn’t get any better… a rainbow suddenly appeared. So I stayed to enjoy the view and a giant bowl of hearty goulash (finally!) resting on a dumpling (aka bread pudding)… thus rounding off a perfect few days in Prague.