Czech Republic’s capital combines Old World charms with surreal New World novelty that blows the mind of a tourist
By SIKEMI IFEDERU
If you ask me to describe Prague in few words, a few years ago, this is what I would say: A magical city with long history and culture and stuffed with lots of hidden gems. This much anyone can distil from holiday blogs and brochures, that the Czech capital is a city of medieval architectures, cobbled lanes, ornate cathedrals and courtyards. It is notably one of the few cities in Europe that preserved its antiquity through the World Wars, ergo, its attraction to true tourists.
I seized the opportunity to visit this jewel of Central Europe in November 2016 on the occasion of my friend’s birthday. Just the weekend was all the time I had got to spend there. Our plane touched down late in the night and Prague remained under wraps till the next day. I woke up the next morning to a quiet neighbourhood, so quiet I could not really get a feel of the city. But slowly, the city seeped into my senses until I became intensely aware of the architectures which were mostly of Baroque and Renaissance styles.
I spent my first day exploring food in the city, starting with Tredelnik, Czech Republic’s famous street food. Served warm, Tredelnik is pastry dough on a wooden stick that is roasted with flame and dusted with sugar or cinnamon. Best to have during a cold day. The weather was chilly so this helped keep me warm. Watching Tredelnik being prepared is one of the fascinating sights in Prague. You can find this everywhere. There was always a stand selling them hot. It was delicious.
Later, my friend and I went to dinner to celebrate her birthday. We chose a new restaurant. I decided to be adventurous as usual with my choice of food. I ordered a duck meal. It was a disaster. Nonetheless, I was compensated with an amazing night at the Shisha palace where we ended the night.
I had one full day left to explore the heart of Prague. The best way to explore Prague is through walking. My friend was good at this so we did not need the help of a tour guide. We took the tram to the Old Town. Trams in Prague are very effective, cute and cheap.
We arrived the Old Town, got off the tram and walked through narrow cobblestone lanes. Prague’s Old town remained untouched since the 10th century, meaning, you are actually experiencing life in the 10th century.
To explore the old town, choose a path and follow it till it gets you to a landmark.
We started off with Charles Bridge––an historic bridge that stretches across the Vltava River, 515 meters long, and decorated by a continuous alley of 30 baroque statues erected since 1700.
A swarm of souvenirs sellers swirled around. From the bridge, you get a view of the Prague Castle and you can take in the breathtaking view of boats sailing across the river. The best time to visit Charles Bridge is early morning or at night when it’s not crowded. You can take a river cruise to admire the beautiful city at night when the lights are on.
Our next stop was the 9th-century Prague Castle. This magnificent ornate castle is the home of the President of Czech Republic. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and a major symbol of the Czech people, it is one of the largest castle complexes in the world, consisting of St. Vitus Cathedral, St. Georges Basilica and the Old Royal Palace that sprawl into a melange of Gothic, Baroque and Romanesque architectures. St. Vitus Cathedral is mind-blowing. You see it first when you look upward at the castle.
We strolled through the Old Town Square, bought a few souvenirs and street food. The Old Town Square, Prague’s popular tourist haunt, used to be a marketplace––this has not changed much. It remains the heartbeat of the city. There, you’d find some of the city’s major attractions.
After exploring the stalls, we visited the Prague Orloj––that is the Prague Astronomical Clock. Rooted at the very centre of the city, this medieval astronomical clock which adorned the Old City Town Hall, the oldest of its kind in the world, is a great wonder to tourists.
The Orloj tells the position of the sun, and of the moon in the heavens, and of festivals of the Christian calendar.
If you wait long enough, you’d witness the clock’s spectacular drama. Every hour, the twelve apostles paraded at a doorway above the clock face. This is called “The Walk of the Apostles”. Also four carved figures––two on either side of the clock face––spring to life on the strike of the hour. The quartet represented the four pestilence of Middle Age Europe––Vanity, a figure gazing into a looking glass; Greed holds a money bag; Death, a skeleton that nods and rings a little bell, and Lust, dressed and turbaned wields a lute. Every hour, the skeleton rings the bell, and the figures shake their heads to signify their reluctance to begin their motion.
On the other side of the square lies the Twin Towers of Tyn Cathedral. Hey, this sight transports you to the fairytale world. The Tyn Church is a beautiful cathedral, a most wondrous sight. It is Walt Disney-like––Oops, people say the Twin Towers of Tyn inspired the Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle!
Look hard at Prague’s sphires and towers and you begin to see traces of the cinematic Translyvania Castle. Even if you are not much of a movie buff, you shouldn’t miss a guess for a movie shot in Prague. Naturally, Van Helsing should come to your mind.
We had a good time exploring the Old Town Square.
Czech beer is something you should try in Prague. It is so cheap, it is cheaper than salt.
After my two-day visit, I could sum up Prague better, with brevity: An exciting Old World in our New World. The Czech capital is one of the best-kept secrets of Europe. The biggest of the secret: You can visit Prague on a shoestring budget.