The Golden City
By Linda McClain, CTA
Looking to visit a European destination, but still undecided? How about the historic capital of the Czech Republic where history has been recorded since the sixth century? Having survived centuries with its renaissance and baroque buildings still intact, Prague is considered one of the best preserved capital cities of Europe. In addition, you can expect to find fabulous flower gardens, art museums, classical music and endless opportunities for cultural fulfillment.
Weather conditions are similar to the Albany region, with four seasons, equally divided, and is a great year-round vacation destination. Summers are not too hot. Fall foliage paints vibrant colors among the city’s historic landscape. Although winters are cold, as they are here, ice and snow transform Prague into a panoramic winter wonderland. With so many castles and museums to discover, you can take advantage of less crowds, making it easier to get around.
Czech Airlines offers non-stop service from JFK to Prague. Connecting service from Albany is available on United Airlines and Delta.
Distance from Ruzyne Airport to the city is approximately 12 miles and takes about 40 minutes. Shuttle service is the most affordable choice for transportation to the city. If you decide to take a cab, it is best to negotiate a price before you use their services. Taxis are known for over-charging.
Driving a car is not advisable in the city. Not only are car rentals expensive, it can be difficult to find parking spots in town. Consider bus and tram travel, which are quite reliable. However, be aware of petty thieves, who often operate in groups, quick at taking your possessions. Avoid wearing flashy jewelry or putting out clues that you are a tourist.
River cruising is a popular travel option for visits to Prague. Eastern European river cruise itineraries often pair Prague with the popular destinations of Vienna, Austria and Budapest, Hungary.
Czech it out
Things to do and see:
Magnificent Prague Castle (Hradcany Castle)—First established in the 9th century, it is the seat of the President of the Republic, as well as the historical and political center of the city and state. Observe changing of the guards every day at noon. Admire some great views of the city and the river Vltava from here.
St. Vitus Cathedral—Construction began in 1344 and took nearly six centuries to reach completion. It is decorated with frescoes and semiprecious stones. Underground this gothic cathedral is a tomb with the remains of Czech kings.
Belvedere, the Royal Summer Palace of Queen Anne—This Renaissance home was built in the early 1500s. The garden’s focal point is the Singing Fountain, where drops of water have been designed to transform to music. Just behind it is the Romanesque St. George Basilica, founded in 920 AD.
From Prague Castle, you can follow down the steep hill on Neruda Street into Lesser Town, a very interesting area of Prague.
Charles Bridge—Built in gothic style by Charles IV in 1357. Until the 19th century, this was Prague’s only bridge. As you walk across, you’ll encounter many baroque statues which flank both sides of the bridge. The first statue erected was in 1683. It was of St. John Nepomuk, Czech martyr and saint. He took the queen’s confession secrets to his execution in 1393, rather than to disclose any information to the king. It is said that if you rub the figure of this saint, you will have good fortune. His remains lie in St. Vitus Cathedral.
Old Town Square—Includes Town Hall, founded in 1338. Its’ charming Tower Clock displays a procession of the 12 apostles, every hour. At one time, this clock was considered the envy of all of Europe. It’s in the perfect vicinity to stop at a local sidewalk café.
The Estates’ Theatre—On October 29, 1787, the premiere of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni was held here. Mozart lived in Prague for a time, in Bertramka, which is now a museum. Many of his concerts were first performed in Prague.
Wenceslas Square—Main shopping area of Prague.
Jewish Quarter—Prague’s old Jewish settlement. Combined, they form one of the best preserved Jewish sights in Europe.
Jewish Cemetery—Considered the most remarkable in Europe.
Pinkas Synagogue—Established in 1475 (Memorial of Victims of Nazism).
Jewish Town Hall—Mid 16th century.
High Synagogue—Mid 16th century (features textiles of this time period).
Maisel Synagogue—History of Jews in Bohemia and Moravia.
Klaus Synagogue—1680 (Jewish Traditions and Customs).
Old & New Synagogue—Early Gothic building from 13th century.
Former Ceremonial Hall—Children’s drawings from the concentration camp in Terezin.
Old Jewish Cemetery—Tomb of Rabbi Low.
In good taste
You can expect Czech food to be both tasty and filling. Traditional dishes are prepared with rich butter sauces and cream. The national dish is sauerkraut and dumplings with roast pork.
Czechoslovakia is the birthplace of lager beer. There are a variety of affordable and tasty beers available. Wine lover? Try a glass of a great South Moravian red. Slivovice (plum brandy) is another popular regional beverage.
Where else can I go?
Karlovy Vary—Indulge in therapeutic and mineral spa services in this popular spa town that attracted affluent visitors in the 18th and 19th centuries. Located less than two hours from Prague, it makes a worthwhile add-on destination.
Kutna Hora—One of 11 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Czech Republic. In the 13th century, this old mining town turned profits from silver mines to the richest and most powerful city in the country.
The Chapel of All Saints—Located in the town of Sedlec, this is a unique attraction. When soil from Jerusalem was spread over the grounds of a cemetery, it was considered to be a most sacred place to be buried. A local woodcarver was commissioned to use old bones, which had been buried for centuries, and build a chapel with them. Even chandeliers and chalices have been created with the old bones! The chapel was built in the year 1400.
Cathedral of Barbara—Located in Kutna Hora, it was built in 1380 and is considered as one of the most valuable Gothic Bohemian churches in existence.
Are you thinking of visiting other countries that border the Czech Republic? You can purchase a European East Rail Pass, giving you unlimited train travel to Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, for five days or more.
Famous films made in Czech Republic
“Amadeus”—About the life of Mozart
“Oliver Twist”—Based on the famous novel by Dickens
“Tristan and Isolde”—One of the greatest love stories of all times
“Mission Impossible”—Starring Tom Cruise
“Casino Royale”—A James Bond Film shot mostly at Karlov Vary
“The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”—The premiere was shown here and Sean Connery was in attendance.
For more information visit Czechtourism.com. l
Linda McClain, CTA, is owner of Capital Region based Linda McClain Travel Services “From The Islands To The Highlands, No Dream Is Too Far From Here!” For more information call 372.7657 or visit www.lindamcclaintravel.com.