I understand now why everyone who has ever been to Prague loves it. Prague – the Golden City, the Mother of Cities, the Heart of Europe – is stunningly beautiful. More than six million visitors come to Prague every year making it the fifth most visited European city after London, Paris, Istanbul, and Rome. And just as the ancient Celts settled in Budapest and Vienna, they also settled in Prague during the Bronze Age, about 3,000 years ago.
Prague was once the capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia and over the years it was the main residence of several of the the Holy Roman Emperors.
The legacies of these kings remain.
There is Prague Castle, just on the other side of the Vitava River, which is the biggest castle in the world. It’s magical. On a freezing cold morning at the end of March our little tour group was there at the crack of dawn to watch the changing of the guard.
I have to say that it was impressive, but so was the apple strudel that I had at the little cafe just next to the castle. (It seems that Budapest, Vienna, and Prague all share the Hapsburg Monarchy and strudel. And as you already know I’m more inspired by the latter. I am slowly working my way through central Europe with the goal of becoming an apple strudel connoisseur.)
Then there’s Charles Bridge, Prague’s version of Florence’s Pointe Veccio. Its first brick was laid by its namesake Charles IV who reigned from 1346 until 1378. Today it’s a spectacular pedestrianized bridge alive with musicians, artists, and photographers. The bridge leads us back from the castle to the Old Town.
The Old Town is completely alive with market stalls, concert halls, galleries, cinemas, music clubs, and restaurants. The center square is anchored by the famous astronomical clock that acts as the city’s north star.
It’s all a bit overwhelming, but I try to cram in as much eating, drinking, watching, and shopping as is humanly possible. Prague is a city that simply must be visited again and again in order to do it justice.
But for this trip, here are a few of my favorite things…
There is a street so tiny, that a light is needed to allow pedestrians to carry on one human at a time.
For retail therapy, Prague is famous for its unique garnet jewelry. You have to be sure to get a certificate of authenticity. I loved everything about Granat. I bought beautiful garnet and amber pendants from sweet Czech girls who tried to teach me a few words in their language.
I saw Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake in the Hibernia Theatre with a new friend that I met here. (Of course Hibernia is the classical name for Ireland. In Latin it means “land of winter”.) The performance was gorgeous.
And finally Prague has something that is all its own and that cannot be duplicated – the chimney cake.
The pastry is made from a sweet, yeast dough that is spun and then wrapped around a baking spit after it’s rolled in sugar. It is roasted over charcoal while basted with melted butter. The sugar caramelizes and forms a shiny, crispy crust. Then the surface is topped with powdered cinnamon. It’s delicious just as it is, but you can also add fillings. The fillings are either ice cream, strawberries and cream, or sautéed apples with sugar and cinnamon.
For my first chimney cake, I naively ask, “Could I have half ice cream and half apples?” The man behind the charcoals can’t seem to fathom my request and simple says, “No.” I must have seemed crestfallen because he almost immediately changes his mind and happily says, “Okay, why not?” (I almost expect him to sing out, “Ask me! I won’t say no, how could I?”) Of all the desserts I have ever had this is my favorite.
I have loved finding out for myself why everyone loves Prague. Traveling to new places makes life so much fun. It offers anticipation, magical moments, and then wonderful memories.
Budapest, Vienna, and Prague were beautiful digressions, but next week I’ll be back to writing about my original love, Dublin.