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Prague: Never A Drag

Posted on December 18, 2019 | No Comments on Prague: Never A Drag

Prague, or Praha to locals, is a city one can easily fall in love with. Here for a symposium on combination antihypertensive therapy, our group of cardiologists readily made this conclusion after staying in this European capital for less than 72 hours. Evidently, Prague still managed to create an impact that would surely last for a long time.

Widely considered as one of the most beautiful world capitals with an exquisitely preserved historical center, this Czech Republic city which lies in the heart of Europe easily lures any tourist—first-timer or regular visitor—to its bosom of artistic, political and cultural richness. Noteworthy as a cultural and historical landmark, the Czech Republic has many monuments as well as entire towns which have been included by UNESCO in its World Heritage List.

The best way to appreciate Prague is via a walking tour—at a pace that is unhurried and relaxed. In doing otherwise, one will surely miss out on the city’s rewarding sights. By rubbing elbows with the locals, exchanging a word or two and interacting in every little way with the city vendors, storeowners, bar habitués, shoppers and fellow tourists, one savors Prague at its everyday best. Our group did exactly just that—we relished the charms of Prague by feeling it, learning it, and reliving its great past.

Exploring Prague
To make the most out of a brief sojourn in Prague, one must make sure to visit the five major parts of the city. These are Hradcany, Lesser Town, Old Town, Josefov and New Town.

Hradcany is the castle district atop a hill on the left bank of the Vltava River.This is the most familiar panorama that graces everything from Prague—postcards, coffee table books, tour brochures, souvenirs, etc. The district includes the magnificent St. Vitus Cathedral dominating the castle skyline. Lesser Town, the lower region at the foot of Hradcany along the Vltava River, teems with shops and prominently displays the St. Nicholas Church as well as other architecturally important structures.

The Old Town on the right bank of the river is one of the largest and most beautiful in Europe, where one finds Charles Bridge and the Old Town Hall. Josefov is the old Jewish quarters that lie to the north of the Old Town, while the New Town (called such in the 14th century when it was initially built), is located south of the Old Town.

Charles Bridge (called the Stone Bridge or Kamenr most during the first several centuries) is a stone
Gothic bridge that connects the Old Town and Mala Strana, Commissioned by Czech King Charles IV in the 14th century, the 520 meter long bridge essentially connects the Lesser Town with the Old Town. It has served as a sidewalk marketplace, a battlefield, even an execution site. Quite a sight to behold, this impressive piece of medieval engineering that is arched between the two Gothic towers is a must-see for every tourist. The historical significance, the romantic allure and the magnificence of this bridge is matched by only a few in Europe.

Unlike its other predecessor bridge, Charles Bridge has survived many floods, including that of August 2002, when Prague was devastated by the worst floods in 500 years. On each end of the bridge is a tower—the Staromèstska vel on the Old Town end and the Malostranska vel on the Mala Strana end. Both towers provide a picturesque view of Prague from atop.

There are a total of 30 Baroque statues that grace both sides of the bridge. These statues were initially placed in the 17″ century and what occupy the bridge pedestals nowadays are mere replicas since the original masterpieces are on display at the Lapidarium Museum. One of the most popular statues is the first statue installed along the bridge—that of St. John of Nepomuk, a Czech martyr who was executed by being thrown into the Vltava River from the bridge. What have ensured continued popularity of the statue are the shimmering and extremely well-polished figures maintained by constant rubbing of numerous visitors over the centuries. It is widely believed that touching the statue brings good luck, as well as ensures a return to the city of Prague.

A stroll along Charles Bridge is a fascinating experience and an absolute surrender to the many artistic and cultural wonders of the city. The bridge teems with Czech artists displaying their paintings, woodcrafts, ceramics, glassware and metalware. There are numerous musicians (they even have CD compilations of their songs for anyone to buy), street vendors, puppeteers, performers, art lovers and even trained pets. Because the bridge is closed to vehicular traffic, the place can be crowded (tourist bulletins always remind visitors against pickpockets).

Of castles and cathedrals
From Charles Bridge, one gets a spectacular view of the Prague Castle atop the hill, blanketed by the deep blue sky, and layered below by the waters of the Vltava River and its numerous cruise ships. The Prague Castle situated in Hradcany is cited in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest continuous castle complex in the world. It is also listed as a UNESCO cultural and natural heritage site. The complex consists of palaces and churches that vary from Romanesque to Gothic to Neo-classical, charming courtyards, a prison tower, shops and cafes, etc. The Changing of the Guards at the main entrance takes place every hour.

Prague Castle houses the crown jewels, remains of Czech kings, Christian relics, art treasures, and priceless historical documents. From the 10th century, the Prague Castle has remained the seat of the Head of State, the princes, later the Kings, as well as the highest representative of the church, the Prague bishop.

One can spend the whole afternoon in the castle grounds and enjoy many monuments—Vitus Cathedral (the main entrance), Old Royal Palace (Vladislav Hall), St. George Basilica, Prague Castle Gallery, Royal Summer Palace, Imperial Stables, Spanish Hall, Rudolph’s Gallery from the Broad Corridor, and the Gardens of the Prague Castle.

St. Vitus Cathedral is the religious center of the whole republic. It houses the Chapel of the main Czech patron saint Wenceslas. The remains of many prominent Czech spiritual leaders are laid to rest here—including St. Johan of Nepomuk. The Neo-Gothic part of the cathedral consists of the main altar and the narrow side aisles which are lined with chapels. Stained glass windows surround these chapels. On sunny afternoons, like when we visited the cathedral, the multi-hued reflection of these windows imparts an ephemeral allure to the cathedral’s vast interior.

Towards the eastern end of the castle grounds is a cylindrical tower, the Daliborca Tower, which used to be a prison house and was named after its first prisoner Dalibor of Kozojedy. Just before one heads for the exit via a long downsloping walkway, one is provided with a panoramic landscape of the city. Here, one sees ‘the city of spires’ in full splendor.

In Lesser Town, one of the interesting places is the Church of Our Lady of Victory which houses the famous Infant Jesus of Prague. The history of the Infant Jesus started in the 17th century when the statue was brought into the Czech Republic from a monastery in Bohemia and eventually was given to the Carmelites in Prague. Measuring 47 cm high, the statue of the Holy Child has remained in Prague and its veneration has drawn many devotees worldwide since it is widely believed that many graces and favors have been received by many who petitioned before the Infant Jesus.

Charmed by the Old Town
On our second day, after a sumptuous lunch at Bellevue restaurant (itself a majestic architectural piece), we walked to Old Town, traipsing through narrow cobblestoned streets, which teemed with shops, cafes and food stalls. The Old Town is the oldest and most important square in historic Prague. Its main attraction is the Old Town Hall with its tower, oriel chapel and the Astronomical Clock, the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn, Tyn School, House at the Stone Bell, GolzKinsky Palace, Church of St. Nicholas, House at the Minute, Jan Hus monument.
Apart from the many museums, markets, shops, restaurants and pubs located around the area, the best part is yet to come at the heart of the Old Town—the Old Town Square. This square is the showcase of the city of Prague, considered the most magnificent in central Europe. Situated at the periphery of the square are colorful houses of Romanesque or Gothic architecture. One of the visually striking buildings is the Old Town Hall, famous for its Astronomical Clock (Orloj). Every hour a crowd of spectators crane their necks to watch a mechanical performance by 12 Apostoles through a small window that opens when the clock sounds off its alarm.

Those few minutes of animatronic performance were but a fitting send-off present when we left the city the following day. Certainly, a few days of breezing through the major sights of the city, notwithstanding the zero degrees Celsius that hit us on our second day and the seemingly jaded perspectives of some in the group who have toured nearly every major European city, allowed the group a privileged sneak at the grandeur and romanticism of the awesome capital called Prague.

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