Cosmopolitan Prague is a proud peacock. There are those who want to dub her a replica. You will hear the term “Paris of the East” brandished about. Don’t listen to this talk. Prague is the real thing – no xerox copy.
I visited Prague in June. It was sunny and quite hot, perfect weather for shorts and sandals. But this was just the beginning of the luck that would unveil itself – like the majestic peacock with his brilliant sapphire blue and emerald green plumage in the courtyard of the Waldstein Palace. I discovered the city before the crowds of tourists descended for summer vacation.
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Paris of the East
Prague is proud, palatial, and profound. I won’t lie. When you are in Prague, you will be reminded of Paris. Parizska Street is lined with high-end shops selling shoes, purses, and clothes. The architecture recalls George-Eugene Haussmann who completely redesigned and rebuilt Paris in the 1850s.
But believe me, you won’t find pork sausages being roasted on Parisian avenues and boulevards. Nor will you buy large tankards of beer. This is distinctly a Prague phenomenon—watching tourists and locals juggling a sausage sandwich in one hand while drinking a foamy glass of Czech pilsen.
Evening Ghost Tour
This was the scene that unfolded on a warm Saturday evening as my Uber driver dropped me off at Wenceslas Square. I had booked the Evening Ghost Tour of Old Town Prague.
My guide was an expat who hailed from America but had chosen to relocate to cosmopolitan Prague with his partner. He fell in love with the city.
We started our tour surrounded by milling tourists who wandered around the square. Prague can feel like an ADD city as there are so many random distractions—musicians, dancers, crying children. (I don’t remember seeing many dogs. Strange.) Plus over 8 million tourists visit annually. It is the fourth more visited European city after London, Paris, and Rome.
Our guide David who was dressed in a black coat and top hat explained that Prague has a dark side. People in comas had been buried alive. And ghosts still wander the streets seeking vengeance for crimes against humanity. Couple this information with spooky side alleys and you will feel uneasy.
But I think I felt the most scared in the Jewish Quarter when we visited its cemetery. It was pitch black. The narrow street was dimly lit. Our guide told us of the spirits of small children who died during an epidemic and now roam restlessly in the cemetery. I swear I felt these children were hiding behind the stone walls, watching us. I wasted no time calling my Uber after my tour ended. I was spooked.
The next day I rose early for a four-hour private tour with my guide Eva. This allowed me to customize what I wanted to see based on my interests in history, architecture, and art. We focused on the Right Bank on Sunday and the Left Bank on Monday.
Eva was extraordinary. Since she is a Czech native, she was able to share so much information about growing up during the communist regime as well as life after the Velvet Revolution. (Before 1989, former Czechoslovakia was ruled by the Communist Party.)
Prague is situated in the northwest corner of the Czech Republic on the Vltava River. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia. Several Holy Roman Emperors resided in Prague including Charles IV. (There is even a bridge named after him.) Its historic center is listed on UNESCO as a World Heritage site.
Kingdom of Bohemia
Eva delved into Prague’s proud past as we wandered down its medieval cobblestone streets. She steered me through a warren of alleys in Stare Mesto (Old Town-circa 1242) and Nov Mesto (New Town founded in 1348). We also walked through Josefov (Jewish Quarter) and Wenceslas Square although the Astronomical Clock was being renovated. We discussed the city’s different architectural periods—Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Classicist. Prague is one of Europe’s best-preserved cities because Hitler didn’t lay waste to it.
I also enjoyed the city’s modern architecture, especially the Dancing House (nicknamed Fred & Ginger). I honestly don’t understand how this building keeps standing. It is the Czech’s version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The building was erected in the 1930s.
“Like Rogers and Astaire when dancing, it is elegant, surprising, crisp, enticing. Its rhythms and wit do honor to the splendid setting by the Vltava River.”Washington Post
Architect Frank Gehry designed the “new Baroque” building in cooperation with architect Vlado Milunic on a vacant riverfront plot. It takes 99 panels to support the dancing shape.
Lettering at the bottom of the “skirt” advertises Offices for rent, plus the phone number. Ahh cosmopolitan Prague!
Authors have waxed lyrical about this romantic city. Richard Wagner opined:
“The ancient splendor and beauty of Prague, a city beyond compare, left an impression on my imagination that will never fade.”Richard Wagner
But I think Franz Kafka captured the stranglehold that this Czech city holds on your heart—“Prague never lets you go . . . this dear little mother has sharp claws.”
Frank Kafka Museum
Kafka’s connection to Prague is memorialized at the Franz Kafka Museum. It features many first edition Kafka books. You can also view his diaries, drawings, and correspondence.
And you don’t want to miss artist David Cerny’s controversial and irreverent bronze sculpture (“Piss”) outside the museum. You can watch two men write literary quotes with their pee stream in the fountain (which is shaped like the Czech border.)
“They contain an electronic device enabling them to turn their hips and lift their penises in such a way that the stream of water writes letters on the surface. The GSM unit inside receives SMS messages, sent to the number written nearby.”Prague.eu
John Lennon Walk
The last stop on our walking tour was the John Lennon Wall.
“The wall, located in a secluded square across from the French Embassy, received its first decoration following John Lennon’s 1980 assassination when an unnamed artist painted an image of the singer-songwriter along with Beatles lyrics,” reported Smithsonian Magazine.
This is a must-see attraction in cosmopolitan Prague, if only for a selfie.
The wall is graffiti on steroids—covered with political statements and snatches of Lennon’s songs written for the Beatles.
I ended my first-day tour in cosmopolitan Prague with a 45-minute boat trip. The city reminded me so much of Geneva, Switzerland. Leaving our dock we traveled down a skinny canal known as the Venice of Prague (although you won’t see any Venetian gondolas.) Then we headed in the open waters, past the Prague Castle, the Theatre, and under the Charles Bridge.
If I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine the royal route walked by Czech kings in a procession to their coronation in the St. Vitus Cathedral at the Prague Castle.