Debby Nicklas, executive director of the French Hospital Medical Center Foundation, recently visited Prague with her family. Her son Jeff, a third-year anthropology major at Cal Poly studying in Prague this spring, not only acted as their tour guide but also contributed to this story.
Prague (known as “Praha” by the locals) is the enchanted capital city of the Czech Republic. With its interesting history, cosmopolitan feel and romantic charm, we now know why it is considered the “historical pearl of Europe.”
Much of the city’s charm is walking through the cobblestone streets in Old Town and reveling in the mixture of architectural styles. Rows of colorful buildings were built at different times in history — each with its own unique story.
We traveled to Prague in early April — a time when the city comes alive with street markets selling a variety of souvenirs, crystal glassworks (Czech Republic is known for its Bohemian crystal) and traditional food. You can’t miss eating a “trdelnik” (tastes like a sweet cinnamon pastry) in the town square.
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Although you can walk to many historic sites if you stay downtown, the city is extremely easy to get around with the underground Metro or aboveground Tram system.
Our first night in Prague, my son Jeff took us to an authentic Czech neighborhood restaurant called Restaurace U Broncu. Not sure what to order on the menu, I chose beef stroganoff and it was the best I ever had. It is important to note that beer is cheaper than bottled water, so we enjoyed many a Czech beer. The most famous beers are Pilsner Urquell and Gambrinus.
The only downside was getting used to smoking in restaurants (we forgot how lucky we are in San Luis Obispo).
Places to see
Over the next few days, we visited several historical sites.
The first and most impressive was the Prague Castle — considered the largest castle complex in the world. We traveled the winding road by tram to the top of the hill where the castle overlooks the city. The iconic castle is a fortress with walls protecting it from a history of wars and revolutions. Originally home to Czech kings, today it is the official office for the president of the Czech Republic. Inside the castle, we toured the beautiful Saint Vitus Cathedral.
Other sites not to be missed include the Charles Bridge, Old Town Square and the Astronomical Clock, the Petrin View Tower and the historical Jewish Quarter, which included the Old-New Synagogue, the oldest working synagogue in Europe, and the vast Old Jewish Cemetery. Most of these places were within walking distance of our apartment. And guided walking tours are available for the entire area.
Typical of a European city, Czechs enjoy the experience of dining out.
We were impressed with every restaurant; each offered a unique ambience and excellent food, both in quality and presentation. Plus, with the current exchange rate, every meal was reasonably priced.
Among the highlights: the historical Café Louvre for breakfast — a popular place for both the locals and tourists — and the well-known Pivovarsky Klub where we ordered goulash (gulas), an important, local dish.
For dinner, we dined at several Czech restaurants in the city but also enjoyed Indian, Italian and vegetarian. The latter was called Lehka Hlava, which means Clear Head. You have to try the Eurodog, a fried cheese sandwich called “smazeny syr,” or kebobs (similar to a gyro but better) offered by the many street vendors that blanket the city.
Prague is centrally located in Eastern Europe for easy travel to other cities such as Berlin, Krakow, Budapest, Vienna, Kiev, Bucharest and Belgrade. If you’re interested in a quick tour, you can visit most of these on long weekends.
During our weeklong visit, we were only able to take a day trip to Kutna Hora that was an hour train ride from Prague, but it was certainly awe-inspiring. This medieval silver-mining town is famous for Saint Barbara’s Church (one of the most spectacular Gothic cathedrals in Europe) and the Ossuary “bone church” that’s filled with human bones displayed in bizarre sculptures. An authentic Czech pub tucked away in an alley off a narrow cobblestone street — Dacicky Pivnice — was worth taking the time to find.