Featured City: Prague, City of Bridges, Past into the Future

bridges of prague

bridges of prague

PRAGUE sits on a prime piece of Vitava River real estate that was occupied by Celtic tribes, then Germanic, before Slavic ones came in during the great migrations that followed the post-Roman era in Europe.  Merchants would settle here just to trade, and by the ninth century were in place the beginnings of Prague Castle, then bridges, then cathedrals.  Germans had their neighborhoods, as did Jews, but this was not without tensions, especially when the Industrial Revolution increased wealth and defined social classes.  When Hitler entered Czechoslovakia in 1939 (and the West did nothing), Prague’s fate was sealed, for a while at least.  At war’s end, Prague was the capital of a Soviet-occupied tank-filled Czechoslovakia that not even “Prague Spring” could change.  Today it is the main tourist destination in the Czech Republic, it being one of the first cities behind the former “Iron Curtain” that Western tourists, mostly young, flocked to and started ad hoc colonies for the purposes of low-budget partying.

The city is friendly and the architecture is stunning.  The entire historic center is a UNESCO world heritage site, and there are some 2000 recognized monuments.  Some of the highlights are Charles Bridge, the castle of Hradčany (Prague Castle), Old Town, Wenceslas Square, the Jewish Quarter, the Church of St. George, St. Vitus’ Cathedral, the Týn Church on Staroměstské (“Old Town”) Square, Powder Tower, Bethlehem Chapel, St. Agnes Convent, the Old-New Synagogue, the Old Jewish Cemetery, Valdštejn and Clam-Gallas palaces, St. Nicholas Church, the Antonín Dvořák Museum, the Golz-Kinský Palace, the Bedřich Smetana Museum, the Belvedere Palace, the National Museum, the National Theatre… and of course Lennon Wall, testament to Prague’s long flirtation with Lennonism even in the darkest days of Stalinism (that’s John Lennon, leader of the Beatles, not to be confused with V.I. Lenin, leader of the Russian Bolsheviks and Stalin’s predecessor).  There are thirty hostels listed in the section for Prague in our book “Backpackers & Flashpackers: 500 Hostels in 100 Cities in Eastern Europe,” all with complete specs and contact info.  Hostel Lipa is one of our partners there, complete with jacuzzi and microbrewery, and beds starting at only $18.  Check ’em out…

I was in Prague for the first time in 2004, straight from London on the Eurolines bus, passing through Frankfurt in the middle of the night, right through the middle of the city, one of the few cities in Europe that I knew at the time. Midnight is not a bad time to see it, not much traffic at that time.  We got into the Prague early in the morning, and the bars were full.  How do you spell B-O-H-E-M-I-A?  Now you know…