6 Places to See in Prague

6 Places to See in Prague

In the US and around the world, travelers think of Paris, London, or Rome when they think of a European city to visit, but my personal favorite is Prague. It’s not only more beautiful than all the other cities I’ve visited, but it also is the most authentic. Its cultural significance stems from its long history as an Imperial capital city, when kings and emperors, musicians, writers and artists have called Prague home. And, since its beginnings in the 9th century, Prague is the only major European city not to be destroyed by bombs in war. Prague straddles the Vltava River in modern day Czech Republic. The historic central area is easily walkable, and has been marked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992. My Favorite 6 Places to See in Prague 1. Old Town Square: The open cobblestone square began as a marketplace for merchants from all over Europe. King’s processionals to the elaborate palaces, public executions, and widespread rallies have taken place in Old Town Square since the 11th century. The great Astronomical Clock built in 1410 is fascinating. Its Apostle and skeleton figurines dance at the top of each the hour, and large crowds gather to watch the show.   At Christmas and Easter and other special times of the year, market stalls dot the Square with merchants selling traditional crafts and foods like Trdlnik (warm cinnamon pastries) and roast pork pulled from an open-air spit, Czech beer and mulled wine.   For a bird’s eye view of the square and Prague’s Old Town, venture up the Old Town Hall tower.   2. Josefov, the...
Alphonse Mucha, Prague, and Mucha’s Art

Alphonse Mucha, Prague, and Mucha’s Art

“The purpose of my work was never to destroy but always to create, to construct bridges, because we must live in the hope that humankind will draw together and that the better we understand each other the easier this will become.” -Alphonse Mucha One of my favorite of Mucha’s works is located in the Prague Castle, on a stained glass window inside the St. Vitus Cathedral (above). Alphonse Mucha (Alfons Mucha, said Al-fons Moo-ha) is an artist you may not have heard of, but it’s likely you’ve seen his work. Mucha lived and painted in Paris at the turn of the century 1900s in the Art Nouveau style, but he was from Czechoslovakia. He was prolific with his lithographs for commercial art. I’m continuing a series on art and artists I saw while I lived in Europe. I loved getting to tour the Mucha Museum in Prague, Czech Republic, with a group of friends. The museum is located at the Kaunický palác Panská 7, 110 00 Prague 1. {All photos related to Mucha’s work in this post, other than the St. Vitus stained glass photo, have been found under public domain at Wikimedia Commons.org (free media) because inside the Mucha Museum, photography is not allowed.} Mucha gained initial success for designing a poster for the 1894 play called Gismonda, which starred the most famous Parisian actress at the time, Sara Bernhardt. A few of my favorite Mucha pieces remind me of antique soap boxes and other advertising I saw at my relatives’ homes when I was a child.   Do you remember seeing any of Mucha’s work? What do...
Life in Prague as an Artist & Writer

Life in Prague as an Artist & Writer

“Art is the queen of all sciences communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world.” -Leonardo da Vinci One of my favorite parts of the internet world is getting to know other writers and artists. Writers and artists aren’t folks who are easily known. We don’t have cards we hand out or wear certain spiffy suits to mark us as doing something notable. But in the cyberworld, we tend to find each other. One such friend is Lisa Ahn. Lisa wrote me a few months ago and asked me if I would write a guest post for her excellent blog, The Hatchery. Out of admiration and based on years of writerly camaraderie, I agreed. “Of course!” I said. “What would you like me to write about?” Lisa didn’t hesitate. “What it’s like to be a writer and artist in a city like Prague.” There is so much to say about living in Prague– the language barriers, the people, the incredible places and sites, the natural beauty. But there is also something deeper which is hard to put a finger on. For me, that is the feeling of so many lives that were lived there–the history, the people, the art. So that is where I began for my piece on Life in Prague as an Artist & Writer. I tried to put a finger on the significance of my experience in Prague, and how it changed me as a person. Here is the beginning of my piece for Lisa … Life in Prague as an Artist & Writer When I was very small, I loved to watch my grandmother...
Prague: 10 Top Things to Do and See

Prague: 10 Top Things to Do and See

Over the 4 years I lived in Prague, I used and refined this list many times. It is useful as a tour list, the Top 10 Must-Do Things in Prague. The city is relatively small and easy to navigate and tour, but even more, it is, in my opinion, the most beautiful city in Europe. Prague: 10 Top Things to Do and See Day 1: 1. The Charles Bridge: As early as you can, kick off your jetlag and pick up coffee at one of the cafes on the way to the Charles Bridge. Walk the cobblestones of the bridge, which was constructed in 1357 under the rule of King Charles IV to cross the Vltava River. Three tall towers have guarded the Charles Bridge for centuries, and 30 haunting statues gaze over pedestrians as they cross. Read more… 2. Old Town Square: Wander through the serpentine cobbled streets toward Prague’s Old Town Square. With its alfresco cafes, Astronomical Clock, its imposing Gothic Tyn Church and Baroque St. Nicholas Church, you’ll see centuries of history surrounding you in the buildings lining the square. In December, the Christmas markets set up in the square are lively, especially when it snows. Read more … 3. Jewish Cemetery Little more than a stone’s throw from Old Town Square, the Old Jewish Quarter stands near the Vltava River as an inseparable part of the city’s fabric.  The small patch of ground of the Old Jewish Cemetery contains over 12,000 tombs on the surface, with tens of thousands more entombed in countless layers underneath — making the sea of tombs seem to ride on...
What Freedom Means Now

What Freedom Means Now

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” -Nelson Mandela An American flag flies high above the US Embassy in Prague, from an iconic white building high on Petrin Hill, where it billows in the breezes along the Vltava River. The Czech flag and EU flags fly elsewhere, especially at the Castle and throughout the historic and governmental sites, but none sticks out so prominently from so far a distance as that lone American flag. Once, after obtaining approvals and while wearing loads of badges, accompanied, of course, by a US Embassy friend, I had the privilege of climbing to the white structure with the American flag. The site is called the Glorietta. (In the photo, the Glorietta is at the tip of the white arrow.) And though I didn’t have my camera (security reasons), I will never forget the view. It was what freedom looks like. When I moved to Prague, I became friends with people who were often parents of my sons’ friends at school, people from far-reaching places around the world like: India, China, Russia, Malaysia, South Africa, Egypt, Israel, Iran, Ukraine. Some stories I heard in the years with them were funny, others heartbreaking, and some so different from the way we live in the US that it was hard to believe they could be true. But they were. One close friend, a native of Czech Republic, shared the truth about her family during the Nazi occupation, and then during Soviet communism. Hers are the stories that...
The Expat Experience: 5 Things I Learned from 4 Years in Prague

The Expat Experience: 5 Things I Learned from 4 Years in Prague

“Life might be difficult for a while, but I would tough it out because living in a foreign country is one of those things that everyone should try at least once. My understanding was that it completed a person, sanding down the rough provincial edges and transforming you into a citizen of the world.” -David Sedaris, on the expat experience Three months ago, my life changed drastically. After packing 5 suitcases to last 2 months, I boarded an airplane with the 4 men in my family, and said Na Shledenou, Goodbye to the country we’d called home since summer of 2009. That country was Czech Republic.   I loved living as an expat. The expat experience was tough, but so rewarding. I loved getting to know Prague. Where is Czech Republic? It’s most often thought of as Czechoslovakia (it separated from Slovakia in 1993), was occupied by the Germans in WWII, taken over by the Soviets after the war, and became free from the USSR and communism after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Czech is surrounded by Germany, Poland, Slovakia, and Austria, in Central / Eastern Europe. Czech Republic is ripe with history, horrific like at the Nazi concentration camp of Terezin, yet filled with castles and natural beauty like Cesky Krumlov, Nelahozeves, and the Prague Castle. The Old Town of Prague feels like old world Europe. Almost every detail is authentic. Prague is the only major European capitol to be unscathed by wartime bombs. I believe Prague is the most beautiful city in the world. One of my favorite parts of the expat experience was getting to become...
Charles Bridge, Aristotle, and Italy’s Cinque Terre

Charles Bridge, Aristotle, and Italy’s Cinque Terre

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” -Aristotle I have 3 things to share this week: 1) Happy news: Capitol Prague, a new restaurant and cafe in Washington D. C. / Georgetown, has bought use of of one of my photographs of Charles Bridge in Prague for use as a mural inside their cafe. Isn’t it gorgeous? And, illy is my very favorite coffee, the one we drank at our home in Prague. Na zdravi! (Cheers!) 2) Food for thought and soul: Brainpickings.org. I’ve long been a fan of the site, but have recently re-discovered the genius of their offerings. A recent favorite article: The Pace of Productivity and How to Master Your Creative Routine. There are hundreds of well-thought articles for every creative and thinker type, some of the pure excellence available in the web-world of our time. 3) Travel photos: Cinque Terre It’s the third Tuesday of the month, my Travel Tuesday, and I’ve been thinking constantly of Italy’s Cinque Terre. My work-in-progress novel is partially set in the Five Lands, or Cinque Terre, which is a place of beauty and history like none other. The last time my family and I visited there was about 18 months ago. I posted about the Cinque Terre (Cheen-kway Terra) here, but also have new photographs to share here today:   If you ever get the chance to visit the Italian Riviera, seize it. It’s one of the places in Europe where time stops, the seafood and wine are plentiful and good, and the sun and sea rise up to kiss you...
Saying Goodbye to Prague, Hello to USA

Saying Goodbye to Prague, Hello to USA

How lucky I am to have known someone who was so hard to say goodbye to. Almost four years ago, I learned that my family and I would move across the ocean to a faraway city called Prague. My first question was, “Where is Prague?” The opportunity to move there was for my husband’s job, and we thought the stay in Eastern Europe would be for 2 or 3 years. It was a dream for us, to get to live in a foreign country and to have the chance to travel Europe with our family. Though those 2 or 3 years turned into almost 4 years, it all really was a dream. My husband and I moved to Prague with 3 young sons, not knowing how our time overseas would go or turn out. Everything was new; everything was different. From navigating narrow roads with no lines to learning to live in a smaller space with tiny appliances for a family of five, our first months abroad were a continual challenge of learning how to adapt and make the most of the experiences at the same time. One of my biggest challenges was as a person with severe allergies to grass and tree pollens. I had survived springs and summers in the US in air conditioning, and then later as an adult with allergy shots. But moving to a former Soviet country meant moving back in time. Our home not only did not have air conditioning or central air, but it also did not have window screens. And, I didn’t have easy access to an allergist … or so...
The Lost Wife: a Book Recommendation

The Lost Wife: a Book Recommendation

Over the past several weeks, my family and I have been wrapped up in the process of moving across the Atlantic. The details have been tremendous, but all have worked out so smoothly they’ve unfolded like stepping stones, one tiny step at a time. And while I’m wrapped up in transition and helping my kids to get settled and engaged in their new school in Ohio, I am taking time to think and understand the vast changes we’re going through. We already miss our friends in Prague, but are thrilled to be back home in the United States. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be blogging about the move. But for now, I’m posting part of a piece I’ve written for today at Great New Books, on one of my recent favorite books. I’m closing comments here, but I hope you’ll join us at Great New Books for the rest of the post and discussion. Thanks!  The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman    In the best book covers, a reader can sense the story held inside the pages even without opening the book at all. THE LOST WIFE by Alyson Richman is one novel I’ve recently read that I fell in love with, not only for the cover art (which shows a couple kissing on Prague’s famed Charles Bridge), but with the words, the story, and the pull I felt while reading to immerse myself in every word all the way to the end. In the very first pages of The Lost Wife, in combination with the cover and the evocative title, the reader learns that a husband and wife...
Snow, Charles Bridge, and the Beauty of Prague’s Spires in Winter

Snow, Charles Bridge, and the Beauty of Prague’s Spires in Winter

“The color of springtime is in the flowers; the color of winter is in the imagination.” – Terri Guillemets The first time I saw Prague’s Charles Bridge, the weather was hot and the bridge was crowded. It had been the height of summer tourist season (August) and construction crews worked on replacing the cobblestones on over half of the width of the legendary bridge spanning the Vltava River in Prague. I remember thinking about taking a photograph, but with three children in tow and other tourists pressing in on all sides of us, there was no opportunity other than simply to make it across. Despite the heat and the crowds, my first time across Charles Bridge was a memorable experience.   Every time I’ve seen the bridge and had the opportunity to meander across it in the four years since then, I’ve walked across in wide-eyed wonder. There is so much to see: the saint statues and the river, the spires on each side of the river, the autumn changing leaves, and the soaring swans and water birds, the organ-grinder man collecting change in an old hat, the artists and vendors and jazz ensembles adding flavor to the air. The Charles Bridge is Prague’s most enchanting place.   In January, an unexpected snow fell overnight before I was to meet a friend at the Castle in Prague. When I woke, I saw this view and decided to venture straight downtown, to write near the bridge on that day, and take a few moments to capture the beauty I might find there.   And beauty blew me away.   I...