Prague the Great!
Article and photography by Michael Morcos
This would be my third time in the Czech Republic in three different decades, and it would prove to be the best visit yet. I would start and end my week of discovery in Prague and for the first time venture out to visit the wonderful countryside and smaller Czech cities. In this first of two articles, we will focus on this proud and handsome city.
Backpacking in the eighties, I would just stay in Prague, which had a very different feel and vibe, and there was not much to speak about. It was the era of socialism, the city looked grey even when the sun shined, with not much emphasis placed on tourism and there did not seem to have a pulse. The citizens where not nearly as open and outgoing as today, so much so that I cut my visit short.
I would return in 2007, this time with my family and in stark contrast, Prague was magically transformed and alive. This being my teenage children’s first time to Europe, they absolutely loved the experience. We hit the main attractions and historical sites and we all had a memorable trip.
Third time is the charm! I would explore the best of this worldly city has to offer as well as the out of the way and less visited districts.
First impressions mean a lot, and from the airport, we would were whisked through this bustling metropolis into an amazing part of the city and to the doors of the beautiful Le Palais Art Hotel Prague.
There are so many details about this 5-star, magnificent mansion. The staff were at our beck and call, and I was most impressed with the wait staff who remembered our favourite nightcap drinks every night. The rooms were immaculate and crisp from the very attentive and top-notch housekeeping team. Although it was a long walk to the central part of Prague, there is close access to public transportation and the surrounding neighbourhood was filled with interesting shops and restaurants.
Our first outing would be a walking visit to the charming and opulent Vinohrady district.
In the past, this area had vineyards, but has transformed into an upscale district with Art Deco homes and beautiful parks. There are so many positives and attractive options that it has become a hub for young professionals. We enjoyed the abundance of coffee shops and the Jirak farmers’ markets.
Tower Park Prague
This is an unmistakable Prague landmark, as it is the tallest structure in the city. The city’s architecture and uniqueness is on full display from the observation deck. Though we did not stay in the OneRoom Hotel in the tower, we did enjoy a wonderful meal from way up in their high-end restaurant. Truly an unforgettable memory from Prague.
The Art District
Prague has become a significant location for art and culture, and the city has created a myriad of spaces for connoisseurs. The DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, for example, is a repurposed factory building that finds itself in one of Prague’s trendiest districts. As a tourist, we could only enjoy a fraction of the DOX’s offerings – a fine exhibition of current international and Czech art. There are also many forums to discuss current topics, public events, film screenings, and interactive workshops. A true home of ideas.
The National Gallery is also housed in a repurposed facility. Built in 1928 and originally intended for the organisation of trade fairs, the Trade Fair Palace was the biggest building of its kind in the world back then. We toured their unique collection of Czech and foreign arts.
Petrin Hill is the hot spot for local families and visitors as it contains popular tourist attractions and is covered with a beautiful natural setting.
The most eye-catching is the Petřín lookout tower, a 210-foot tall steel-framework tower built in 1891 that slightly resembles Paris’ Eiffel Tower. What a treat to see another great view of the city and nearby parks.
The Štefánik’s Observatory is an astronomical observatory founded 1928 and named after a famous Slovak astronomer named Milan Rastislav Štefánik. In modern days, the observatory specializes bringing astronomy and related natural sciences to the public. We had a great tour and I learned many new things.
After a wonderful tour of the other parts of the Czech Republic we would finish off in Prague by visiting the ever popular and most frequented Prague attractions: Our stay would be at a wonderful boutique Hotel Klárov, which was perfectly located within walking distance to the best of Prague. The staff was cheerful and attentive and my suite was clean, comfortable and nicely decorated.
At the Charles Bridge, a seven century old historic bridge that crosses the Vltava river there are 30 baroque statues on it that blends well with the gothic styling of the bridge. It is like a walk through history with the movers and shakers of the area’s past. It is impressive.
Prague Castle is one of the largest castles in the world. It was a treat to wander around its courtyards, museums and gardens. You could see bits and pieces of the overwhelming beauty of this seat of Czech kings and presidents for a thousand years. To top it off, there is the immense St. Vitus Cathedral, one of the most beautiful in all of Europe – and that is saying something as I have visited many!
One of my favorite spaces in the entire city is in the main town square, the Astronomical mechanical Clock or Orloj, dates back to 1410. Somewhere around 1490, the calendar dial was added and the clock facade was decorated with gothic sculptures.
Having been fortunate enough to be in Prague two previous times, seeing a modern day renaissance on this visit I could only conclude that this amazing city has come onto its own! Bringing all its past painful struggles, historic treasures, embracing an open market economy and a member of the European Union, Prague is now set for a bright and prosperous future.