Gogi Bajaj and Deepak Bajaj fell in love with the red and white city of Prague on their maiden visit to the Central European nation.
Magnificent, beautiful and exotic: These three words best encapsulate Prague, the historical pearl of Europe and one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The city is a textbook of architectural styles with its wealth of monuments and one that’s filled with music, romance and nostalgia. The capital of Czech Republic, Prague, to us, was like an open air museum where every other building has a legend attached to it.
Both of us had long been planning to undertake a trip to Europe but somehow it never materialised. And then, we had a reason to visit this central European nation as our daughter and son-in-law who had business interests there were in the country. Also, our son was free to go on a long trip with us. So in the summer of 2007, we chalked out an itinerary, got our visas and off we were to the political, economic and cultural centre of the Czech Republic with waxing and waning fortunes during its 1,100 year of existence. We first travelled to Austria and stayed there for about six days. Then we drove down to Prague from Salzburg which was a seven hour ride passing through Germany, full of breath-taking views. That was just a teaser. The moment we reached, we fell in love with the red and white city.
On the first day, our son-in-law shared that due to its location in the heart of Europe, Prague is the best start point for trips to other central and eastern European nations. “You will be surprised to know that the area on
which Prague was founded settled as early as the Paleolithic age. According to legends, the city was founded by the Czech duchess and prophetess Libuse and her husband, Presmysl, founder of the dynasty of the same name.
The region became the seat of the dukes and later the kings of Bohemia. Founded during the Romanesque and flourishing by the Gothic and Renaissance eras, Prague was the capital of the Czech state and the seat of two Holy Roman emperors. It then became the capital of the Holy Roman empire,” he said.
Over our next 10-day stay, we found that Prague is a simple yet exciting city, different from other commercially popular destinations in and around Europe. Living up to the old world charm of the 1700s, the Czech capital seems to be an old painting, preserved just as it was hundreds of years ago but makes you a part of itself, courtesy its friendly and courteous citizens. Though Prague has easy to- go public transport system in place which is facilitated by taxis, trams and metro, we chose to explore the city on foot as it gives you an opportunity to know its people and admire its places better. The language of communication is Czech largely but knowledge of any other East European language may make travel easier. So all the 10 days we were in Prague, our daughter would drop us off at Old Town Square from where we would decide where to get to. Having our son around maximised the experience of exploring a new place, helped us navigate our way and make the fullest of the trip. As expected, it was an amazing time with the kids around in such a scenic city.
Our first stop was the Old Town Square which is forever abuzz with tourists. The moment you step here, you travel back in time, at least, by 600-700 years. The same seemed to have happened to us as we stood in awe, watching the ancient and magnificent churches there. From the tourist information brochure our daughter gave us, we found the Old Town Square is one of the two main squares (Wenceslas Square being the other five minutes’ walk away). It is one of the most beautiful historical places in Prague. Dating from the 12th century, the Old Town Square started life as the central marketplace and today its most notable sights are the Old Town Hall Tower and Astronomical Clock, the Tyn Church and St Nicholas Church. To appreciate the beauty of the Old Town Square, all one needs to do is just sit back and soak up the atmosphere over a cup of coffee or a cool beer at one of the pavement cafés lining the square. Else climb the Old Town Hall Tower for a stunning view of the city. We also spent some time at the 15th century Prague Astronomical Clock, the third oldest in the world and the only one that’s functional.
The next few days were spent visiting the largest medieval castle in Europe, Prague Castle, which was founded in 870 AD; the most recognisable landmark in the city, St Vitus Cathedral; the picturesque Lesser Town with its ancient burgher houses, quaint side streets and St Nicholas Church; the Royal Way, Nerudova Street and one of the oldest stone bridges in Europe, Charles Bridge. Visitors can also discover palaces, viewing towers, museums, art galleries, cafes and monasteries. But there is more to this historic city if you are a music lover, more so a jazz lover. Prague enjoys a vibrant jazz culture and has many popular jazz clubs where you can only sip on a beer minus snacks (to avoid the crunching noise) and let the music flow. The experience may alleviate your senses.
In one such club called Redutta, former US president Bill Clinton had performed on the saxophone in the past. Most of my evenings were spent at a jazz club even as my wife was busy shopping with my daughter, most of the time for crystals as they are famous to be the best globally.
Surprising though it may read but Prague has a few restaurants that serve authentic Indian spread, naans and daal being the most popular delicacies. But when you are in an alien land, you should experiment with local cuisine and that’s exactly what we did. Traditional Czech food isn’t exactly what one would call dietary but it perfectly goes with flavourful beer. Most Czech dishes consist of pork or beef meat with sauce and a side dish, the most common being dumplings but as we don’t indulge in either we opted for the classical Fried Cheese (Smazeny Syr in local language), garnished with potatoes and tartar sauce. I also relished Smazenice or shallow fried mushrooms and Zemlovka, a baked dish made from layers of sliced rolls or buns and sliced apples.
Having enjoyed to the fullest over the 10 days that we were there, we bid adieu to the Czech capital, promising ourselves to return to enjoy the famous getaways like the medieval town with a network of underground tunnels, Tabor; one of the Czech Republic’s most impressive castles, Karlstejn Castle and the finest spa town of Karlovy Vary the next time.