I had heard scattered mentions of Prague and how gorgeous this medieval city was, and almost as you do when reading a book, I drew up Prague in my mind. As the plane circled, I studied it from above and thought that it looked much smaller than I had pictured. We flew over a little neighborhood on the outskirts of the city – it must be Prague’s version of the suburbs, I thought. We debarked the plane and merged into the surprisingly immaculate terminal, which was reassuring since it was a former Soviet bloc country and not as widely discussed and part of common knowledge as major cities throughout Western Europe are – we didn’t know what to expect, and with every debarkation, whether it be from a plane, train, or something else, comes new nervousness and fears and doubts, no matter where you are.
We had hired a private transport to our place since it was so cheap, relative to where we had just been in Switzerland and Milan. We could finally afford a little luxury, and peace of mind that we weren’t the ones responsible for navigating to this place. Except my mind went into overly-cautious territory and I started imagining things since the driver resembled every bad guy from a James Bond or Mission Impossible film – where was he taking us? Is this the right way? What if he just drops us off somewhere different and we have no idea and it’s a set up and we get robbed? So much for peace of mind.
Well, all of this worrying was in vain because, as we quickly learned, Prague was amazingly wonderful and we had nothing to worry about. Yes, it was a little less “polished” than London or Paris, but that was part of the charm. Yes, we were staying well outside of the main tourist area where there was graffiti and empty garbage-strewn lots, and store fronts with oddly-clothed mannequins. But it was alright because we settled into our little routine for Prague. We walked down the street each morning to the bus stop, bought a bus ticket from the Tabak, hopped on the bus, and got a peek into the daily lives of the Czech people who live in this magnificent, rising city.
I quickly found myself enamored and drawn to the Old Town. It seemed as if every time we ventured out, there was something new to see. I suspect that even if one knew every turn and corner of the old streets, it would still be like new with the changing of the seasons. I said many times that we should come back during Christmas at least once, when the magic of magical places is magnified. If I have reserved the term “magical” for one place on our entire trip, Prague takes the title. Okay, and maybe Paris at night. Rough around the edges but still beautiful and mysterious, imposing while still reserved.
We learned the 1,200 year old history of Prague, but mostly of the long history of oppression – first by Nazi Germany, and then no sooner than four days after the Nazis had been expelled did the Red Army march into Prague, which continued the oppression under Soviet rule that would last until the 1980s, until the peaceful protest and collapse of Communism now known as the Velvet Revolution. And we learned the sad story of the Jewish Quarter, a neighborhood that was and is no longer inhabited by barely any Jews, like many neighborhoods in many European cities.
We spent our time wandering the winding cobblestone streets of Old Town, eager to leave no hidden attraction undiscovered. We strolled the famous Charles Bridge, enjoying the street performers, the vendors, and the views. We ate very well (for cheap) and drank many pints of Pilsner Urquell. We spent two whole days at the Prague Castle, exploring the seat of past Kings of Bohemia, Roman Emperors, and now the President of the Czech Republic.
Even though we were there for a short time, Prague almost started to feel like home and we didn’t want to leave. I am still convinced there is more to see, eat, and explore in Prague and the Czech Republic. This dynamic and multi-faceted city leaves nothing to be desired – except more cold beer!