The Golden City
Visiting Prague: First-Hand Experiences
Pinnable basically stops at where the Iron Curtain once was, with exceptions for the former GDR & the Czech capital Prague, because they’re still within comfortable reach of home without our having to travel by air. Language-wise, Czechia was somewhat out of our comfort zone — take a phrase such as ‘Strč prst skrz krk’ & you see what I mean — but in Prague, English will get you around as well. Built between the 11th & 18th centuries, Prague’s historical centre consists of the picturesque 13th-century Old Town (Staré Město) on the east bank of the Vltava river & Lesser Town (Malá Strana) on the opposite side, and the New Town (Nové Město), founded in 1378 by order of Charles IV (Karel čtvrtý), the first King of Bohemia to become Holy Roman Emperor. The New Town was built around the old one and, completely in line with Charles’ imperial goals & objectives, conceived as a New Jerusalem worthy of hosting the Second Coming.
Not to be missed are Prague Castle (Pražský hrad) with St Vitus Cathedral (Katedrála sv. Víta), and Strahov Monastery (Strahovský klášter), noted for its baroque Theological Hall & its neoclassical Philosophical Hall. Other baroque highlights in the Lesser Town below the castle are St Nicholas Church (Kostel sv. Mikuláše) and Vrtba Garden (Vrtbovská zahrada). Better skip the baroque library hall at the Clementinum in the Old Town if you don’t want to see how the National Library of the Czech Republic disgraces itself by letting visitors only have a peek through an open door for a few minutes at an extortionate price. Other significant sights on this side of the Charles Bridge (Karlův most) are the iconic Old Town Hall (Staroměstská radnice) with its medieval astronomical clock, the elegant neoclassical Estates Theatre (Stavovské divadlo), the Municipal House (Obecní dům), an ornate art nouveau building, the cubist House at the Black Madonna (Dům U Černé Matky Boží), and, alongside the Vltava river in the New Town, the postmodern Dancing House (Tančící dům).
Besides the medieval panel paintings at the Convent of St Agnes of Bohemia (Klášter sv. Anežky České) and Dürer’s Feast of the Rosary & Bronzino’s portrait of Eleonora of Toledo at the Schwarzenberg Palace (Schwarzenberský palác), the National Gallery has little to offer — which is not their fault; once Bohemia became part of the Habsburg Monarchy, the successive emperors concentrated their art collections in Vienna, and that’s where most of it still is. Other noteworthy museums are the Jewish Museum (Židovské muzeum) in the Jewish Quarter, the National Technical Museum (Národní technické muzeum), superb in all things scientific & technological, and the Museum of Communism (Muzeum komunismu), about life in communist-era Czechoslovakia. My youngest daughter wishes to add that all of the above may be good & true, but nothing in Prague beats the ice cream from Gelateria Crème de la Crème. When it comes to food, Prague is not an expensive city. We found the Lokál restaurants Dlouhááá, U Bílé kuželky & Hamburk, in the Old, Lesser & New Towns respectively, very nice to have dinner with Pilsner beer from Pilsen, but it’s advisable to come early or make a reservation in advance, especially when bringing a large party; and make sure to also try their dark beer, Kozel černý.
Public transport in your home town may be good; in Prague, it’s better. There are three metro lines; line A serves the Old Town at Staroměstská, and the Lesser Town at Malostranská; from lines B or C, change at Můstek or Muzeum first. The tramway comprises 25 lines, running at intervals of 8 minutes at peak hours or