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Prague

Upon the downfall of the Soviet Union the iron curtain went up and let in a flood of foreign tourists eager to see one of the most beautiful jewels of Europe situated right in the heart of Czech Republic. Thus, Prague the city of hundred spires became a real Mecca for hard-to-surprise western tourists. They quickly get bewitched by its charms: authentic unharmed architecture of Baroque, Romanesque or Gothic design, art, culture and high-quality food.  But they come in droves and this is the negative side. Prague in peak season is packed with tourists. This results in crowds everywhere and often unfriendly service. And while this does detract from its romantic atmosphere, Prague remains a must see.

There is so much to see in Prague that you should plan at least a week. Stay there to visit all the sights and form a full picture of the city’s personality without feeling rushed.

Sightseeing:
 
To see an excellent video about Prague (requires QuickTime Player) Click Here

Start with the Old Town Square. There you’ll find the Astronomical Clock of the Old Town Square created in the 15th century that, once per hour until 10pm, offers a show of 12 Apostles appearing one by one in the clock windows and 4 statues representing greed, vanity, paganism and death which nod their heads at the crowds of the curious tourists below.

Charles Bridge (built in 14th c.), is 520 meter long with 30 statues and sculpture groups is one of the center points of the old town. At the end there is a high Romanesque Tower which is open to tourists and offers a nice panoramic view of Prague. But be warned, reaching the top of the tower requires preliminary physical training and good breathing technique. The bridge is always full of tourists wandering around taking lots of pictures, looking at souvenirs, listening to street musicians, having their portraits drawn, admiring the view. To enjoy the bridge at its best go in the early part of the day or even better, late in the evening, when the lights show the bridge and its surroundings at their romantic best and the herds of tourists have diminished to wandering lovers and a few determined entertainers.

Prague Castle was established in the 9th century and is a must for those who are interested in history and architecture.   You can see changing of the guard, countless museums, Kafka’s house and other tourist attractions. It was however, during our visit, completely packed with tourists, so do time your visit with care. To see a video of St Vitus Cathedral in Prague Castle Click Here

In the Jewish Quarter you’ll have a chance to get an insight into Jewish culture and history. You can buy a ticket which allows you to see 5 Synagogues (unfortunately one of them was closed during our visit because of the renovation necessary after the 2002 flood), museum and the Old Jewish Cemetery for about fifteen euro. Unless you are an expert on the Jewish history of Prague, it is advisable to take a guided tour to understand the significance of what you are seeing. To increase the probability that your guide is Jewish and an insider in the culture take a tour offered by the Jewish Museum itself. The tour runs every 1-2 hours and costs only a few euros (in addition to the ticket described above) and lasts 2-3 hours.  The ticket office and starting point for the tour are located in the Maisel Synagogue. Click Here

As you will notice the pivotal hubs of the Prague city characterized by intensive touristic flows are Charles’ Bridge and the Old Town Hall Square (Staromestske Namesti). You’ll learn to maneuver between the wandering individuals and guided tourist groups, your eyes will get used to continuous flashes from cameras and your ears will accustom themselves to the cries of admiration in all the possible languages of the world. But if you grow tired of crowds, just  go off the main streets and escape into the smaller alleys and avenues in the Lesser Town or Jewish Quarter, for example. Or go to Kampa Island garden where you can enjoy a bit of privacy and wonderful atmosphere.  On Kampa island, you can go to C’est la Via café located next to the River and very close to the canal locks. You can enjoy a cappuccino as you watch the boats enter into a lock to continue their voyage up the river.

We would strongly recommend reading some legends about Prague and its past. There are mysterious stories about almost every major historic monument and tourist attraction.  One, for example, says that a thief was once trying to steal jewelry from Virgin Maria’s crown at the church of St. James. The statue of Maria caught the thief by the arm and didn’t let him go until people came and discovered him. The grasp was so strong that the only way to release the man was to cut his arm off. The arm was mummified and hung up in the church. You can still actually see the mummified arm. As you enter the church look right and way up under the ceiling you’ll see something that at first sight looks like a rope but at a closer examination proves to be a real hand. Come before 12 noon, the closing time, and leave the hope to take pictures behind the church doors as the security is very strict. But who knows perhaps you’ll be as lucky as we were! (see picture on the right)

Another interesting place, associated with legends is Prague Loreto. It’s a close copy of the Loreto House – The Santa Casa – in Italy (information about the story of Santa Casa can be found on-line or read in the Prague Loreto Booklet). It was built at the beginning of the 17th century and dedicated to the cult of Virgin Mary. The strange legend connected with the Loreto House is  that once upon a time there lived a girl who was a true Christian but was to get married to a non-believer (a marriage arranged by her father).  Her grief knew no bounds and she prayed all night long to God to save her from this terrible destiny. God heard her prayers and to save the poor thing he made a bushy beard grow on her face. The beard, as it might have been expected, was not at all appreciated by the husband-to-be so he refused to marry the girl. Her father, at the sight of such a wonder, came to realize the deepness of his daughter’s belief and…. Crucified her!! So at the church in one of the chapels you’ll find a statue of a man/woman with a beard in a dress on a cross.

Funicular:

For a change of pace (and less than 1 Euro) you can take the funicular to the top of the hill behind Prague up to the hunger wall. While the wall itself is not so interesting, the funicular takes you through a beautiful park up to peaceful area with a flower garden where you can have a refreshing nap (as we did), an observatory (mostly interesting if you have come on a clear evening), a TV tower that you can climb for a spectacular view of the city below and a labyrinth of mirrors much like the fun house in an amusement park. The TV tower and the mirror labyrinth are remnants of an industrial exhibition held in Prague in 1891. They were built as entertainment for the exhibition and were supposed to be removed aftere the exhibition was finished but somehow it never happenned. The tower was built as a 1:10 scale model of the Eiffel tower. After you have explored everything, you can get off  the Funicular at the half way point and enjoy a drink at a delightful café under the trees.

Prague by boat:

There are many companies offering boat tours of Prague. They come at different times of the day and in different variations: with/without lunch, drinks, ice-cream, jazz, discotheques on board, captain dressed in sailors clothes, etc. Accordingly the prices differ as well. We took an hour long tour without anything included and enjoyed it, despite the fact that the guide was just a recording saying nothing but the names of the building we were sailing by in 7 languages.


Restaurants:

In the course of our week stay we never ate badly though the service was often less than satisfactory. One can expect the too frequent rude behavior that is unfortunately common in touristy cities. But there is a great choice of restaurant to satisfy anyone’s taste and fit any budget. Czech cuisine is a must!  You should definitely try deep fried mushrooms followed by smoked pork or duck with white or red sauerkraut and potato or lard (actually bacon) dumplings as a side dish. And wash it down with a Czech beer.

U Fleku Pub: There are a few restaurants in Prague that have their own breweries. The most well known, “U Flaku”, has an interior and atmosphere which is very reminiscent of a German Bier Garten. It definitely is a great place to get the feel of the local food culture. The choice of dishes is limited to a couple of salads and a few main dishes but the quality of the food is excellent and the dark beer and Beherovka (the traditional Czech liquor) which are produced there are wonderful. U Fleku Pub, Restaurant & Brewery Kremencova 11 Prague 1, 110 00, situated near Wenceslas Square. To see the website Click Here

Malostranska Pivnice: Similar to U Flaku but without the home brewed beer. The only beer on tap is the very popular Pilzner Urquel. It is a cozy, nice and inexpensive place with an open courtyard area in the Lesser Town and a wide choice of traditional Check dishes. Fried mushrooms are incredibly delicious and are especially recommended! You may not find it on the menu, so be sure to ask for it. On one of our visits we both enjoyed a half liter mug of beer and shared an order of fried mushrooms with fried potatoes and tartar sauce for under 5 euros. The place is situated in Cihelná street (Malá Strana), between Charles Bridge and Malostranska square. Click Here
 
U Kostela: The tables outside give you a wonderful chance to enjoy a nice view of the Lesser Town Square (Malostranske Namesti) with the St. Nicholas Church. In the evening, live piano music is played inside where you can enjoy the surroundings of the 17th century house. It has a very big choice of international and home style Czech Cuisine. Situated in Malostranske Namesti 22, Praha 1. To see the website Click Here
 
Lavka (Club&Restaurant): It has a magnificent view of the Castle and Charles Bridge. We recommend going here for dinner when all the lights are on and Prague looks especially charming and irresistibly romantic. The view from the terrace at the back is more impressive than from the tables in the front. The food is nice, the service is excellent. Note that some places, such as Lavka, serve traditional Czech dishes only for lunch and not for dinner. Novotneho Lavka 1, Old Town, Prague 1. To see the website Click Here

Terrific Ice-Cream in Prague: Just around the corner from the Charles Bridge and on the way to Lavka club and restaurant, you will find delicious Italian gelato. From the Charles Bridge, walk in the direction of the old town hall and before crossing the street, turn right. Walk through the arcade and pass the various tourist shops. In front of the Capri Italian restaurant you will find the display case filled with heavy, creamy gelato exploding with flavor.

Entertainment:

There is a great variety of options for spending your evenings in Prague. We highly recommend a show at a black light theater. Our guide told us that IMAGE Theater was the original and best black theater offering performances, pantomime and modern dance. Because of the black light, the performers seem to float in air and sometimes magically appear and disappear. The performance that we saw “The Best of Image” was great: it was captivating, exciting, and very entertaining. Expect to be drawn into the actual play by pantomime actors and to have a really good laugh. An unforgettable experience! Tickets should be purchased well in advance of the show. Arrive early to get a good seat. To see the Image Theater website Click Here

If you like Jazz, we can recommend Jazz Club U Stare Pani in Michalska Str. 9, Praha 1. But come not later than 9 p.m. as the place doesn’t reserve and is quite popular so you might not get a seat.

Accommodations:

We wrote to Helen helena@abaka.com from ABAKA Hotel Database to see the Abaka website Click Here. After she received our email telling her exactly what we were looking for (number of stars, price, location, etc), Helen forwarded it to several hotels that she knew might be interested in making an offer. Within a few hours, several very attractive offers were sent to us directly from the hotels. From the variety of offers we selected the Bishops House, a four star hotel about 10 seconds walk from the Charles Bridge. The hotel was perfect: the service was excellent, the room was large, charming and very comfortable, and of course, the location couldn’t have been better.  And the price was exactly what we were hoping to pay. To see the Bishop's House Website Click Here

Transfer to Hotel:

If you are coming by plane or train into Prague, unless you are traveling on a business account,  we advise you NOT to simply climb into a taxi and give your hotel address. Prices will be extremely high and you will not be in a strong negotiation position. You have at least two good options, however. At the airport you can take a minivan run by Cedaz. You will find a Cedaz ticket booth near the main exit of the arrival hall (or call them at 220114296). There you can buy a ticket for about twelve euros good for 1 to 4 people. The van will take you directly to your hotel. Of course the van can hold 10-12 people, so you might be in for a small tour of the city before getting to your destination, but this is Prague, so who cares? The other option is that many hotels will arrange to have a taxi pick you up or drop you off at the airport or train station at a very good price. Currently the price is about twenty euro to or from the airport or ten euro to or from the train station. This is certainly the best price you will find for your transfer and probably half of the price that you will pay if you take neither of the options above.