Kari Mutu spends time in the capital city of the Czech Republic, walking around Prague’s old town which is an immersion into history, varied architecture, cultural attractions, beer and food…lots of food.
Established in the 9th century, Prague has become so popular that one residenttold us that she leaves the city during the summertime. I travelled in the spring whenthe weather was still chilly but the streetswere less crowded and therefore pleasant towalk around. Communication is not difficult because English is spoken by many locals, although you might struggle with the names of places. Each morning we strolled down the celebrated Wenceslas Square, named after an old king whose good deeds are immortalised in a famous Christmas carol. Here, many important events have taken place like the founding of Czechoslovakia and anti-communist protests.
Today this ancient city is a mix of old and new, where businesses and retail shops sit next to monasteries and palace gardens. At the bottom of a cobble-stoned street we found an outdoor market that has apparently been running for almost 800 years. There were stalls selling mouth-watering fruits, sweets, souvenirs and colourful figurines of the famous Infant Jesus of Prague. Just beyond the marketwas the St Gallen Church, and inside the quiet softly light sanctuary, I marvelled at the rich paintings, gilding, carved pews and sculptures.
Much of the city’s architecture is like works of art and at every turn there is something captivating to see: pink, blue and green facades, sculptures at street corners, fascinating sewer gratings, large doors with amazing details, decorative wrought iron grills, buildings with bas relief art and more. Yet Prague wasn’t always beautiful. Czechoslovakia rose from the ashes of the Austro-Hungarian empire at the end of World War I then split into two countries in 1993. Prague’s complicated story includes bombings during World War II and occupation by Germany and communist Russia. A wall around a construction site was covered with photographs of Prague between the 19th and 20th centuries.
Near the town square we stopped to view the Astronomical Clock, a 600-year old medieval timepiece that is the oldest operating clock in the world. Its two blueand-gold clock faces are decorated with Zodiac signs, carved figures and Roman numerals, and it looks like something out of a fairy tale. When the clock chimes at the top of every hour the animated statuettes come to life, much to the amazement of gathered onlookers.
We passed street performers in gold costumes and face paint. Somebody cruised slowly along in a long red vintage vehicle. Down a narrow street we were shocked to see a man dangling by his hand from a building. It is the renowned Man Hanging Out sculpture of the celebrated physiologist Sigmund Freud, created by Czech artist David Cerny.
Czech Republic is renowned for beerssuch as Budweiser, Pilsner Urquell and the non-alcoholic Birell, so a visit to the Prague Beer Museum was not to be missed. An unusual attraction was the Museum of Senses which had all kinds of optical illusions and intriguing displays.
Food is quite affordable here with a variety of cuisine available. We had Vietnamese lunch at the Banh-mi-Ba, a busy Vietnamese bistro where big portions of soup, noodles, shrimp and vegetables arrived at our table promptly. I was surprised to learn that Prague has a sizeable Vietnamese population, a legacy of the communist era when students came to study in the former Czechoslovakia.
Down a narrow street we discovered the Choco Café that specialises in flavoured hot chocolate made from real chocolate bars. Mine had fresh raspberries and whipped cream and was smooth, creamy and incredibly rich.
We had planned to take an evening river cruise but decided against it because there was rain in the forecast. Instead, we dined at the stylish Hergotova Cihelna Restaurant located along the banks of the Vltava River. Near the restaurant is another legendary David Cerny statue called Piss. It depicts to two mechanical brass men urinating into a water fountain! Under the imposing vaulted ceilings of the restaurant we enjoyed beautifully presented plates of baked goat cheese, beef tartare and venison accompanied by fine Czech wines. The service was wonderful too.
On another day we strolled across the beautiful historic Charles Bridge, the most well-known of the 18 bridges across the Vtlava River. From the middle you gaze at the broad blue river flanked by historic buildings, spires, church steeples and clock towers. In the distance was the setting sun and forest-covered hills.
That evening we happened upon the U Tri Ruzi Resturant off the main town square. Inside the busy, double-storey establishment, the wood panelled walls and booth seating give the ambience of an old tavern. The menu offered home-style dishes like ribs, beef goulash and pork knuckles with mashed potatoes and gravy. Ruzi also operates a popular micro-brewery and I found red ale beer more to my taste than the dark lager.
With some extra time I would have liked to visit the old Jewish Quarter and Prague Castle that looks over the city.