Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Prague : The Crown Jewel of Central Europe

The capital of the Czech Republic, Prague is also the cultural, social and economic hub of the entirety of Central Europe.

prague charles bridge

Following our stay in Krakow we thought it only natural to head west and visit the city I had been most anticipating since I began planning this trip. Not knowing a lot about Prague nor the Czech Republic we dived in head first and booked a weeklong stay in the heart of the capital.

Hindered by a few diversions and delays in our flights we arrived in Prague at nightfall. As we headed towards the city I could feel the heat licking my face as I turned my window up and our cabbie advised us we were in the midst of a heavy summer season. Evermore grateful for our pre-cooled hotel room I gazed out of our full length windows to the gushing Vltava River below with excitement swirling in my mind for what lay ahead over the next week.

Well rested and stomachs empty we made it our first mission the next day to sample the local cuisine. Sliding into a semi-crowded restaurant with English menus around the corner of our hotel I asked for the most "Czech" thing on the menu. Our waitress obliged and suggested the svíčková na smetaně. A plate brimming with gravy, bread dumplings, sirloin steak and cranberry appeared in front of me. Impressed with the way the flavours and textures complemented each other I knew I'd be enjoying this dish at least one more time in the following week.

svíčková na smetaně czech cuisine

Stomachs full and bouncing with energy we decided to take a stroll over Charles Bridge, one of the most outstanding features of the city. With baroque statues lining the turf of cobble stones beneath our feet we took our time strolling the 515 metre expanse. Sliding in and out of the crowds we spotted ensembles of musicians and seated artists ready to paint the passing patrons. Although still relatively early in the day we found it already brimming with tourists and made a resolution to cross it again later in the evening for a better photo op.

prague charles bridge vltava river

Winding in and out of narrow avenues and alleys we aimlessly but mindfully meandered past charming buildings, museums, and cafes with sweet smells wafting out of their entrances. Somehow, but not exactly meaning to, we stumbled into Staromák, or the Old Town Square. Like an old fairytale straight out of a postcard we took in the sights and sounds of possibly one of the most exquisite old town centres of Europe. Each building was illuminated with bright colours and splashed with meticulous illustrations and engravings. Most fascinating was the Astronomical Clock which we were told was the oldest clock in the world still operating.

prague old town facade

Craving cultural enrichment, we were flushed for choice when contemplating a museum to visit. There were at least 15 in our immediate vicinity but spotting the familiar names of Dali, Warhol and Mucha in the Central Gallery we decided we needed a reprieve from the sweltering heat and humidity outside.

prague museum gerhard richter

Deciding to take a leisurely walk by the riverside and a little further out of the Old Town Square we found ourselves in a marginally more "modernist" part of the city where more modern buildings dominated the boulevard. Hugging the intersection between the city centre and the outer boundaries we spotted the Dancing House in the distance. Controversial at its time of construction in 1992 because of its contrast to the surrounding baroque and gothic architecture, it is now a cultural symbol of Prague. Starkly contrasted to the buildings we had seen earlier in the day I found it a refreshing contrast between tradition and the creep of modern time.

prague dancing house fred and ginger

Around the corner of our hotel in Malá Strana we walked past the enormous St Nicholas Baroque church with a small crowd of people congregated outside. After paying a small entrance fee I walked into the church and wandered down its grandiose hall admiring the imposing effigies and adornments of the interior.

prague church st nicholas

Staring up at the tallest section of the church, I was in awe of the fresco inside the dome that stood 70 metres above my head.

prague church st nicholas dome

We decided to spend one day exploring the Malá Strana district of Prague, which is on the opposite side of the river of the Old Town. Home to the Royal Complex, this district housed the bourgeois which is evident by its magnificent architecture as you wander its narrow streets and wide squares.

prague mala strana malostranské náměstí square

Without needing a map I climbed the streets of the district until I reached the Castle Complex of the city. Housing not only the Royal Palace, the fortification has a Basilica, Golden Lane and St Vitus Cathedral. I bought my ticket to enter the complex and made my way first to the Cathedral to admire the stained glass windows. After waiting half an hour to enter the Cathedral I weaved my way through the swarms of tourists to get a central view of one of the windows that caught my eye. The stained glass took my breath away as I stood in front of each window for a few minutes engrossed by its beauty and intricacy.

st vitus cathedral prague stained glass window

After spending a few hours exploring the grounds of the complex I took a rest in the gardens outside and admired the vista that surrounded the hill below me. Completely and utterly impressed by everything I had experienced in this city in the past few days I made a promise to myself that I would be revisiting this remarkable city many more times in the future.

prague panorama

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