Lively and quiet vibes in the Czech capital…
Prague. Praha. Mother of all cities. Eye-candy heaven. Home to ultra-magnificent monuments. Steeped in rich, unbroken history. Prettier than Paris. Quintessentially medieval, quintessentially European. So then…touristy and crowded? Or calm and serene? No need to pick, because Praha has twin vibes. Find both. Love both. Wherever you are in the charming Czech capital.
Staré Mesto: Hub for all times
Mingle merrily: The nerve centre of the old town of Prague has been pulling crowds since medieval times. Who are you to disagree with the magnetism of the great Astronomical clock (read more here), the time-blackened charm of the Tyn Church and the baroque beauty of the St Nicholas Cathedral? Or the row of pastel houses shoulder-to-shoulder in camaraderie since medieval times. The generously proportioned medieval square unaffectedly accommodates the swell of crowds, no matter what the volume. Perk up in the warm buzz.
…or seek solitude: Sacrifice snooze time, make a 6 am start and pamper yourself with early morning glory. Cobbled roads glisten with the glow of street lamps, art nouveau facades of mansions cast long shadows, cafe chairs rest upturned under folded canopies and dark outlines of the centuries-old heritage structures loom mysteriously. The padding of your footsteps, the rhythm of your heartbeat and the roving of your curious eyes are only things breaking the stillness.
Charles Bridge: Iconic and irresistible
Mingle merrily: Jostling crowds is part of the Charles Bridge experience, so join the gang! Admire the handiwork of street artists as you stride 500 meters of the most beautiful bridge in the world. Study the expressions of the 30 ominously dark statues poised on the balustrades over the 16 arches. Question the secret ingredient (ground eggshells) behind the infallibility of the Bohemian sandstone making up the 15th-century masterpiece that has survived vagaries of nature and World War II. Gloat and gawk.
…or seek solitude: Ascend the 138 steps of the Old Tower Bridge, one of most impressive Gothic creations of Europe. Views to kill for await on the breezy viewing gallery of the modest-sized roof. Feel this image burn into your memory: the Charles Bridge stretched between two parts of the city…the eternal river flowing beneath, and the incessant stream of human traffic drifting above. Come full circle for a 360 degree perspective of the red-roofed medieval metropolis. City of 100 Spires, indeed! Hungry for more drama? Return for a sunrise stroll.
Prague Castle: Enduring appeal
Mingle merrily: Choosing to stay centric in the largest castle complex in the world is a no brainer, considering a 1000-year history of Czech rule. 120 steps up Hradcany Hill? Where’d they go so fast? Flashback to the era of clip-clopping horse-carriages while exploring 70,000 square metres of courtyards, palaces and churches. Jawdrop at the mammoth St Vitus Cathedral. Taste tranquility on vantage points and reflect on the refined atmosphere of the extensive gardens.
…or seek solitude: Diverge from the queues in Mala Strana, the pretty neighbourhood spread at the foot of the Castle Hill. Wander along the rows of noble mansions, which used to be homes to the city’s administrative officials. Stop to sample desserts at sloping streets or sip a soup at a hole-in-the-wall cafe frequented by locals. Find peace in canals of Little Venice and merge into the colors of John Lennon Wall. Put on a thinking cap in Kampa Museum or contemplate the quirkiness of the Cerny sculptures outside as you chew on a artisanal gingerbread.
Vltava banks: Relentless river
Mingle merrily: Get your lazy-fix by indulging in an hour-long boat cruise along the Vltava river that divides the Czech capital into two equally stunning halves. Gape at the panorama unfolding on the banks. Play guessing games with the names of the elaborate buildings lining both sides. Glide under some of the 18 graceful arched bridges, including the Charles Bridge. Watch the castle from a new angles. And watch Prague light up slowly. Intoxicating!
.…or seek solitude: Slow your pace and quieten your mind with a refreshing stroll along the river banks. Spoil yourself with the openness. Linger. Stand and stare. Touch the tree trunks. Pan the scene. Zoom in on details that catch your eye. Give in to the whims and fancies of your camera. The grill with the castle as a backdrop. The redhead against the autumn forested canvas. Loosen up.
Jewish town: Ghetto
Mingle merrily: Book a walking tour in this fascinating neighbourhood, which was home to a Jewish community of about 18,000 in the 10th century. The Parisian effect of the 19th-century screams out to be noticed in every street. Its a medley of gracious buildings in soft colors, high-end shopping, fine dining and stylish antique stores. Concentrate on the main draws…Synagogues, the birthplace of Franz Kafka and the Old Cemetery, where over 100,000 lie buried under piles of lopsided tombstones.
…or seek solitude: Melt into the oblivion of the back streets and take the same sights from unusual angles. Peek into old Jewish bakeries and taste traditional biscuits. Locate subtle Moorish influences in building architecture. Chase the shadows that lengthen as the evening approaches and witness the change hues.
Wenceslas: Symbolic and sacred
Mingle merrily: If its hustle-bustle you seek, rest assured in Wenceslas Square…you will always be in the comfort of thick swarms. Czech history has been made here repeatedly over the ages. Humble horse market to celebration ground for creation of new Czechoslovak Republic to the peaceful Velvet Revolution of 1989…this has always been a preferred place for congregation. Art Nouveau meets baroque meets dull communist-era architecture in this ever-crowded shopping area. Spot arty buildings and tick-off retail therapy.
…or seek solitude: Luckily, in Prague, peace is never more than a stone’s throw away. Slip into one of the many side streets for a quiet moment or embrace solace as you enter an arcaded shopping passage (see post here). Hide away in a sheltered courtyard or discover a slice or paradise in a secluded park behind the buzzing main street. Surprises await at every few feet…museums, theatres, galleries, you name it. Contrasting worlds…so close, seeming so far!
Vinohrady: Timelessly today
Mingle merrily: One of Prague’s most trendy residential neighbourhoods is a potpourri of hip stores, atmospheric cafes and chic galleries. And the star attraction awaits at Náměstí Míru, Vinohrady’s most important square. The Neo-Gothic St. Ludmila Church deserves all the attention it gets, don’t miss it. Admire the rich ornamental facade of the church and trace the star shape of the park around. Get literary with fellow fans at the inverted J of the Poetry Jukebox or be inspired by the statue of a girl setting a bird free.
…or seek solitude: Trust your instinct and pick a direction to investigate. Drift along, savouring the relaxed character of the dignified residences. Go gastronomical…be a slave to your tastebuds. Break for a delicious snack at a Greek bistro. Gaze from the windows of a coffee shop. Please your stomach with a refined Italian meal. Pick up odds-and-ends for your home. Go green and russet in one of the many parks. Lose count of how many times you said, “look at that”. See. Love. Repeat.
Letna Hill: Sunset boulevard
Mingle merrily: Letna Hill. Steps up again, some 250-odd. Unquestionably worth it. For the seven-tonne, 75-foot tall Metronome installed in 1991 as a symbol of the new era, replacing a Stalin statue? No. For the skateboarding heaven that it? No, no. For the dozens of skaters’ sneakers dangling from a long wire stretching across the park? No, no, no. Its the views! Those aerial-kind-of views…of the Old Town, the river and Charles Bridge. Enjoy company of fellow revellers and the casual vibe.
…or seek solitude: Moments of calm aplenty in Letna Park…traverse the grassy hillocks, rest under the mature trees and tramp along the plane tree-lined avenues, till you’re all green in the eyes. And for the climax…trudge along the narrow path to Hanavský Pavilion, a Baroque-wannabe restaurant facing the riverside. Camera ahoy! Brace for the pride and joy of your Prague album. Its magic time…
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