Thursday, March 10, 2011

Not So Communist Anymore!

Who knew Communism wouldn't work?
Prague Castle in the distance
Prague, or Praha if you are in Europe, is the Czech Republic's capital and largest city with history dating back to 885.  It really is amazing what the freedom of the past 20 years has done for Prague and the Czech Republic in general.  Whether you go in Summer or Winter, Prague is a very lively and fun city to visit.  No other place in Europe has become so popular so quickly.  The people are friendly and fun, the nightlife is great with many bars and restaurants to choose from.  There is a great sense of energy and pride radiating within Prague.

History buffs take note - Prague survived the bombing raids of the past World Wars so all of the architecture has been well preserved.  Prague almost has a fake feel to it, like a giant Disney World, because everything you see is so beautiful and unbelievable.  Aside from the cars, Prague has a very historic atmosphere with its cobblestone streets and sidewalks, and large historic squares where people gather for food and drink.

Prague is a very easy city to navigate by foot and I recommend seeing it this way to get a better feel and to experience its energy.  There are also other alternatives to get around such as driving, which isn't too overwhelming compared to other European cities.  Taxis are also readily available, and public transportation includes an underground subway and the worlds largest network of above ground trams.  There is a major airport and train station not too terribly far from the city center.

Although part of the European Union, Prague is not on the Euro so costs are very cheap compared to other major European cities.  As of today $1 will get you approximately 17.60 Czech Koruna's (Kč), but everyone just calls them Crowns.  To put that into better perspective let's talk beer.  A half liter beer in Prague will cost you anywhere from 25-50 Crowns, or $1.40 - 2.80.  In Munich that same half liter will run you about $5.00 - 7.00.  Both Prague and Munich claim to be Europe's beer capital.

Now, what to see?  Let's go with half of a Dave Letterman...

Top 5 Things To See In Prague:

5. Although well advertised, kind of hard to find is Prague's Museum of Communism.  It's a great collection of anything communist and documents communism's rise and fall in the Czech Republic.  It's a sobering experience that left me with goosebumps and a thankful feeling that I never had to live any of it myself.

4. The Prague Jewish Quarter dates back to the 10th and 11th Century.  Having been slowly demolished over the years there are still several well preserved pieces of history to see such as the Old Jewish Cemetery from the 15th - 18th century and the Old New Synagogue which is a Gothic synagogue from the 13th century.

3. Just as the name implies, the Old Town Square is old, dating to the 11th century and it is the most popular square in Prague.  You will find the Tyn Church here with its late gothic style which dates back to the 14th century, the baroque St. Nicholas Church completed in 1735, and the Prague Astronomical Clock dating to 1410 is mounted on the south wall of the Old Town City Hall which dates back to 1338.

2. The Charles Bridge.  Construction started in 1357 under King Charles IV and the cleverly named Charles Bridge was completed in the early 15th century.  It's an impressive structure to look at from afar and even more impressive to walk across.  There are no cars allowed, only foot traffic, and it is always packed with tourists.  You can get some great pictures very early in the morning or late at night.  The least amount of people I ever saw on the bridge was during a snow storm last November.

1. Prague Castle.  Too much to write about in a short paragraph, just know that you can literally spend days here exploring all that is offered within the castle walls which date back to the 9th century.  Definite must-sees include the Lobkowicz Palace and Museum, the Castle Square, St. Vitus Cathedral, the Old Royal Palace, Basilica of St. George, and the Golden Lane.  Great photo opportunities of Prague are available thanks to the Castles high vantage point.  One tip - you can hike up the stairs in front or take a tram to the side entrance to avoid the climb and make your life easier.

I hope you get a chance to visit Prague, I think it will be one of your favorite cities.


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