Prague – Where Romance Begins
Prague is one of those cities you’ll often find on many must- visit lists. Before I got there, I was curious if it would live up to all the hype it generates. Any anxieties though were banished after just my first morning in the Old Town. Prague is by far the prettiest city I’ve seen in the world! If I could, I would have this officially declared!
Ok, I might be getting a little carried away here, but you can’t blame me. Prague’s Old Town is a maze of rustic Bohemian palaces, cathedrals and bridges that seem almost unchanged from medieval times. The ‘picture- perfectness’ of the area could make you wonder if it’s all just a movie set, but the sheer charm and character that this place exudes is almost unmatched in my experience. You absolutely can’t miss out on this city if you find yourself in Central Europe.
We went in the last week of December. It was the first leg of our Central/Eastern European holiday. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as cold as we had expected with day temperatures in the 10-12 degrees (Celsius) range, which made for pleasant excursions through the cobblestone streets of the Old Town. To be honest, though Prague is known to be a summer destination, I feel the winter just adds to the charisma of the place! If an old world experience coupled with wintry charm is what you crave, then you are well advised to plan a trip to Prague in December.
We stayed at the Motel One, which was a short walk from the Old Town Square and overall very comfortable. This is probably the main tip for anyone planning a trip to Prague– stay as close to the Old Town as possible. It saved us the hassle of getting a tram/metro, as everything was walk able.
The Old Town Square is like a fairy land that makes you feel like you’ve been transported to the 15th-16th century. To add to this, a December trip means that you get to experience vibrant Christmas markets right in the middle of the square, with live folk music adding to the aura of the place. The Christmas market itself may not be as big as the ones in certain parts of Germany or France, but have all the essential ingredients to make them interesting– sumptuous food, intriguing local craft and vivid décor. There was also a big bright Christmas tree adorning the center of the square!
Our trip had its share of gastronomical highlights, but my favorite by far was a meal at the U Prince hotel. We had made reservations for a Christmas lunch at the roof top restaurant that offers a mesmerizing view of the Old Town. This place claims to be one of the top 15 best rooftop restaurants in the world and frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if that was true.
It offers great views of the Astronomical Clock, Old Town Square and the surrounding cathedrals. The food is also appetizing with a mixture of Central European and international cuisine on offer. A standard meal for two will set you back by about 60 Euros. However, if you’re on a budget and feel a meal here might burn a hole in your traveler pocket, I’d recommend going for coffee or drinks at least. Totally worth it for the experience!
Among other must dos in the Old Town is the Absintherie bar. Czech absinthe is supposed to be one of the best in the world and they have specialized absinthe bars that serve nothing but the spirit. You can choose to drink it neat or choose from the imaginative list of delicious cocktails. The staff is extremely knowledgeable and will take keen interest in answering any questions you may have. We tried what was recommended as the most potent of all– the King of Spirits and the burning sensation almost killed me. It is so strong that I felt like just the smell could make you tipsy. Needless to say, that was the first and last shot for me. I definitely preferred the cocktails to straight shots, the absinthe colada being on top of the list.
Of course no article about Prague is complete without a mention of the Charles Bridge. It is a stone foot bridge adorned with statues of various saints and warriors, spanning across the Vltava River. Like Prague in general, the Charles Bridge is so talked about that you tend to wonder if it is just a tourist trap.
But like Prague, the bridge and its surrounding areas absolutely deserve every iota of their reputation. The postcard views of the Vltava River, palaces and medieval towers from the bridge will make you never want to leave. Though the bridge itself is not more than 300 meters long, it could take you hours to cross because of all the photo ops! We probably would have walked back and forth on this bridge 20 times in our three- day trip.
The bridge is en route while walking from the Old Town Square to the Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral. Once you cross the river, the streets turn wider and are littered with an eclectic mix of bars, cafes and restaurants. Our first evening, we found a cozy spot in an outdoor café near the St.Francis Church indulged in the perfect cheese platter with some mulled wine. Cafe and bar hopping soon became our evening ritual, just sitting and watching the views while the world goes by – my favorite part of a vacation!
The castle itself is huge and one could devote an entire day or more to it. The two big crowd-pullers here are the palace and the St. Vitus Cathedral. An interesting fact about the palace is that the President of the Czech Republic still lives there, making Prague Castle one of the oldest continuously inhabited seats of power in the world, dating back to medieval times. St. Vitus Cathedral is one of the most intricately carved structures in Prague and is adorned with dozens of ornate frescoes.
The line to go in to the cathedral can be really long, so make sure you arrive early in the morning or reserve plenty of time for your visit. Also, make sure you stay until dusk. The best memory of the trip for me has to be watching the sun set over Prague while perched on top of the fort wall. This was the perfect way to end our trip, watching the beautiful city revel in various shades of gold and orange, before the twinkling lights slowly take over. I have vowed to myself that I will go back someday to relive my love affair with this city and would recommend it to anyone who wants to experience a real magic kingdom!
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