View from Prague Castle South tower

Towers, Bridges and Castles, oh Prague!

The writer of the line “lions, tigers and bears, oh my!” was brilliant. That frame has become a part of everyday life, which is amazing.

Right, back on topic. I am a girl who is in love with New York City. Every moment on the streets of New York exhilarates me. Simply crossing the street thrills me. I am also fascinated with history, something the States is a little short on. Recently, I spent some time in Prague. A friend is from the area and when he offered to show me around I couldn’t resist. Flights and a hostel were found, booked and I was ready.

The sidewalks of Prague

Prague is not a city that I had dreamt about visiting or knew much about. It isn’t really a European city that everyone rants about and dubs a must-see (unlike Paris and London). Some people will visit, come back to everyday life, say the city was beautiful and leave it there. I must agree with them. I’ll just excuse their short response, assume they were awed and say that it should definitely be visited.

Prague is a rather small city with a fantastically welcoming and genuine air. The chaos that I love in New York, the noise and bustle and overstuffed schedules, doesn’t exist in Prague. People are welcoming and willing to provide assistance. The food is delicious, different and meat focused. Vegetarians, if you want to sample Czech food you will meet with some difficulties. And the beer–a drink I usually avoid–is actually flavored and full. The sidewalks are usually made of little square bricks, instead of concrete or tar, that have fun designs and are remarkably comfortable to walk upon.

The public transport system is easily navigated. They have trams, buses and the metro which all use the same ticket. And their ticketing system? It is based on how long you will be using the system. One trip? That will cost you 18 Kč. Going to be traveling around for an hour or so? There’s another ticket for 26 Kč. Or want a pass for the entire day? Well, there’s a 24 hour ticket that will cost you 100 Kč. There are so many choices that don’t limit where you can go within the city, just how long the city lasts for. To validate the ticket you stamp it and let the countdown begin. Unlike in New York City, Boston or London there are no turnstiles. You don’t swipe a ticket every trip but simply walk on whatever you want as long as your ticket is valid. It is brilliant! Mind you, it seems easy to cheat the system but they aren’t stupid. Since it is so easy to get onto the transportation without validating your ticket, they have personnel randomly checking to make sure everyone has a valid ticket. And if you don’t? Best be ready to pay a rather hefty fine.

And the amount of history in the city is amazing. The Czech republic may not have been in existence for long but Prague is full of history. The old quarter has celebrated over 1200 birthdays and the lesser quarter, also known as the new quarter, has had 500 or so. That is not to say that there are no new buildings but the majority of them are old, three to four stories tall and full of character. No skyscrapers for them! The thing I loved most is that you could walk down a street and be hard-pressed to find two buildings that matched. Unlike Paris, where a street would be made of tan buildings with blue-grey rooftops, wrought-iron balconies with, appropriately named, French doors to access them. But Prague has yellow, black, green, white, brown and grey buildings in different styles with all sorts of details.

View from Prague Castle South tower

Charles bridge is beautiful. It is a tourist destination so there are stalls to lure in shoppers and musicians who play simply delightful music. My friends and I definitely stood around just listening to the music and basking in a golden ray of sunshine. And Prague Castle? Or Pražský hrad,  as the Czechs call it, is still used today. It is beautiful and more so because it is not just an empty castle. It still serves as shelter for the leader of the country–a President now–and hosts state functions. The views from the astronomical clock tower in Old Town Square are breathtaking. As is the view from the mini Eiffel tower, called Petrin. And from the national monument. I could just keep going…

Unlike many other European cities, Prague wasn’t destroyed by bombs during World War II which is why its buildings are varied and in tact. But this also means that buildings were silent witnesses to horrible crimes from the war and still stand. Occasionally, you’ll pick out some Communist buildings which don’t quite fit in but represent a moment in history for Prague that should not be ignored. Overall, the city is filled with buildings that have tales; some tales have, of course, been forgotten and some subtly represented through memorials. Such as the crypt where the group who assassinated Hitler’s righthand man were hiding and later executed in. The exhibit is educational and intense. The church above is still used today but marks from the gunfight are left which also serves as a subtle reminder of the past.

It is, without a doubt, one of my favorite cities. There’s history and character. It’s a city with a remarkable recovery history, even if only looking at the 1900s. The culture is vibrant and fun. Prague doesn’t let its past haunt its future and I am now a firm believer that everyone should visit it once. I might just end up living there — it is that beautiful. Though the very limited options for Chinese food might become upsetting.

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