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A Diamond in the Rough!

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Prague is an unknown city to most Americans even though we’ve read about it in history books or vaguely remember Czechoslovakia’s attempted bloody breakaway from Communism in the late 60s. For most, Prague is better known for its Czech crystal and world-renowned marionettes. After your visit, we think you’ll say it’s a picture postcard at every turn and a delight for all seasons.

Prague is steeped in colorful history and marvelous architecture. Known as the “City of Spires,” it has transformed itself into one of the most vibrant, beautiful ancient cities in all Europe replete with all the modern amenities; one you’ll find captivating and very affordable. If you enjoy exploring cities on foot, mingling with the locals, you’ll also discover that Prague is one of the best walking cities ever.

Prague is about 1,000-years old with a similar historical past to Budapest [Hungary]. As with Budapest, the ever-friendly Habsburgs rode rough shod over Prague from the early 16th-century until they were literally and figuratively thrown out of the chancellary window in 1848.

After WWI, Czechoslovakia emerged from the Austro-Hungarian Empire to ultimately become a socialist republic in 1960. Like Hungary, 1968 found the Czech’s embroiled in a failed “freedom fight” with the Soviet Union. Along with other Eastern European countries under Soviet rule, the Czechs were freed during what is now called the “Velvet Revolution” of 1989. At that point, Czechoslovakia separated into the Czech and Slovak Republics. Today, the Czech Republic embraces parliamentarian principals and has been an active member of the EU since 2004.

A two or three night stay in this tourist-friendly city is a definite “bucket list” destination for any river cruise that begins or ends in Passau or Nuremberg. Three days allows you to see it all at a leisurely pace and still have plenty of time to shop [Ladies, you won’t believe the bargains!].

Premier rates Prague as a 9 on our “WOW!” factor scale of 10, and here’s why:

Prague is easy to see and navigate through because the Vitava River [pronounced Vitavma] divides the four main sightseeing areas of the city: Castle District on the left, the Old Town, Jewish Quarter and New Town on the right. Prague’s second most popular tourist attraction, the 14th century stone pedestrian-only Charles Bridge [Karlovy Most] connects the two sides of the city. There’s a very efficient 3-line metro augmented by a very good system of trams. You can buy a 3-day unlimited pass for under $20pp, so you can avoid the taxis [which we feel are less inviting than those of New York City].

The best place to begin your walking tour is on the “right bank” first visiting New Town, continuing on to the Old Town and finishing in the Jewish Quarter. Nove Mesto [New Town] is a beautifully expansive part of Prague. Strolling through its Wenceslas Square, a remarkable boulevard, you may momentarily feel as though you’ve been transported to Paris’ Champs-Elysée. It’s breathtaking, a fun place to grab a bench, maybe a picnic and watch the world go by. It’s also similar to Paris in the quality of the shops found along the Square and nearby.

You’ll also enjoy a short visit to the nearby National Museum and the fascinating Hotel Europa. While we don’t normally encourage hotel visits, this is really, really different and a must see. The Europa is one of the most ornate, architecturally interesting buildings in Europe. If you happen to be there around noon, have lunch in their restaurant... it’s like traveling back in time to a much different world, and well worth the few extra Korunas.

Prague COMPASSPOINT™ Guide Hint: While wines are very affordable, we found them quite average on the quality scale, so go for the table wines. It would be better to sample and enjoy one of the hundreds of exceptional Czech beers, possibly some of the very best in the world.

As you continue your exploration, take a walk around the nearby Much Museum located in Kaunicky Palace for extraordinary examples of stunning Baroque architecture. The art is good in the museum, but the architecture outside is better. From there it’s only a short walk up Na Prikope Street to the top of the Powder Gate Stairs for one of the best locations to take a photograph the Old Town [Stare Mesto] area. It’s a short walk and a bit of a climb, but well worth the effort and the memories!

While in Old Town, continue your walk west on pedestrian-only Celetna [also known as the Habsburg Coronation route], probably the oldest street in Prague. Nearby at address No. 34, you’ll find a fascinating “cubist” building known as the “House of the Black Mother of God,” another great photo-op. If you look up the street you’ll see the Old Town Square, a remarkably well-preserved medieval marketplace that is still functioning. Take a small break and have a cup of coffee and pastry at one of the local cafes on the square and enjoy the moment.   


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