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Prague, Czech Republic

We always wanted to see Prague as we heard a lot about it over the years but for various reasons, we did not get to go until this year when we were to go to a cruise to Iceland and Norway.  Since we were already in Europe, we made a little detour prior to going on the ship.  Everyone thought it was one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and we were not disappointed.  It probably helped when we had perfect weather the four days we were there and we picked a very centrally located hotel where we could walk everywhere.

  

Prague was rich in history.  Successively, it came under the reign of the Holy Roman Empire, the Hapsburg Monarchy and the Austrian Hungarian Empire.  It became the capital of the newly created Czechoslovakia after World War I but fell under the control of the Soviet Union after World War II until the early nineties when Czechoslovakia was split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.  Prague remains to be the capital of the Czech Republic.  The architecture of the city bears witness to all these different influences. We did not see skyscrapers but every building was different and well preserved.  The extensive historic centre of Prague has been included since 1992 into the UNESCO list of heritage sites and we think it is an example that countries with history should follow.

  

The city was really vibrant in July.  Half of the 4 million tourists must have all descended upon it while we were there.  There were lots to see, many people but no crowds.  We looked into markets and especially loved one of the street festivals where they were celebrating July 14th.  Stalls lined up on both sides in the middle of the street and people sampled nothing but wine and cheese and sausages.  The atmosphere was festive.  People drank, had fun and just sat or sprawled themselves on the sidewalk to relax.

  

From our hotel, the Jewish Quarter was practically next door and it took us only a few minutes to walk to the Old Town Square which was right in the heart of everything.  Tours started from it and side walk cafes, cathedrals and shops encircled it.  The main attraction was the astronomical clock which chimed every hour on the hour.  The twelve apostles would conduct a parade and the cock sitting near the top would flap his wings to the delight of the people gathered under it. 

  

Bridges in Prague are a must see, the most notable one being Charles Bridge.  It is closed to vehicular traffic so it is perfect for a leisurely stroll.  Statues stood on guard on both sides of the bridge.  They are now only replicas but they are beautiful nonetheless.  It is recommended that people should not miss the night scene when the city and the Prague Castle which sits on the hill facing the bridge are all lit up and we can enjoy another aspect of the city with water glimmering under the bridge.

   

There are different modes of transportation to see Prague. We joined a sixteen Euros two hour City tour on the bus with headphones giving us a choice of different languages. For the rest of the time, we chose to walk, but people could join a big variety of other guided excursions, or board a bus where we could hop on and off at designated sights, or rent a flashy car that came with a chauffeur.  Another popular mode was the Segway.  It was a two-wheeled, self-balancing and battery powered electric vehicle that was especially favoured by the younger crowd.

   

Sampling local cuisine always sits on top of our to-do list anywhere we go. Among the popular Czech dishes are the goulash, roast pork and sausages which all go well with their Number One beer, Pilsner Urquell.  We tried a few of the restaurants that served Czech food and found we especially liked Lokal where the locals went.   It had a nice ambience with friendly atmosphere reasonable prices. The address is Dlouha 33, Prague, Czech Republic (Praha 1).

  

Prague left us with a very pleasant and positive impression.  There wasn’t the slightest hint of austerity that you might expect to find in a formerly communist city.  Brand name stores and expensive cars are in the mix with the beautiful grand old buildings which still exude grace and elegance.  No wonder Prague is now the sixth most visited city in Europe.   

   -- By Dominic Chan

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