As I made my way down the Hradcanske nam, something about the walk seemed vaguely familiar, though I couldn’t put my finger on it. Of course I had likely gone this path before, but I doubted it was on my trip to Prague five years ago, so was it the one 25 years ago or in a previous life? The smell, the sights, even the stone walls I passed felt like they were part of me. Given that more than half of my heritage stems from Eastern France and Eastern Europe combined, it could be that my cells inherently remembered the soil I was walking on, as if my ancestors were in fact with me on that late night walk through the streets of Hradcany.
By the time I did the same walk three times to get to and from my hotel, it was so familiar that I began to think of it as my daily commute, and only wished my time in the Czech Republic was two months, not two weeks.
Of course, the city has changed over the years, dramatically so since my first trip before the wall came down when Eastern Europe was not an easy destination. I was a student during my first visit but remember those Bohemian cafes as if it were yesterday. While food wasn’t plentiful at the time, there were still old world eateries in dark cave-like quarters, ones lit by candles and some melancholy voice or instrument could be heard nearby. Sometimes musicians would perform in restaurants as they did in Budapest during the same period, and other times, you’d hear them as they walked by, all looking for a coin or two.
My mid-eighties visit to Prague was one of the first memories I have of eating boar but back then, it was mostly served as a stew. Today’s Prague is internationally recognized on the culinary scene with three Michelin star restaurants and several more deserving one. I couldn’t help but notice how much French cuisine was influencing some of the higher end restaurants, including my favorites from my trip: La Degustation, Valoria, Kampa Park and Piano Nobile an hour outside of the city. My palette has always hungered for cooking with so many layers and textures that your mouth pops.
While I had plenty of scrumptious traditional and modern-European influenced dishes during my recent stint to this tasty city, it wasn’t the food that stood out most, nor was it Prague’s old town square, her magical clock or castle, and nor was it her incredible architecture I took in by day and night, as majestic as all of the city’s landmarks can rightfully claim to be.
Aren’t the best destinations always about the people in the end? The Czech people exude the sophistication and curiosity of Berliners and the warmth and authenticity of the Poles and a whole lot more, but it’s a starting point. While everyone will clearly have their own interpretation and no doubt, many may be a far cry from mine, it is that blend of whimsical, creative and intellectual with an almost sweetness that you don’t find in most of Eastern Europe that had me at hello.
How this correlates with the fact that per capita, they drink more beer than any other nation in the world or that Prague houses the second ugliest building in the world I can’t say, but wandering through her streets made me feel alive in a way that few European cities do. Late summer and early fall truly is one of the best times to visit Prague since the weather hasn’t yet turned cool even in the evenings when it’s the perfect time to sit outside by the river whether for a meal or a late night glass of wine.
On more than one night, I did just that, breathing it all in. Prague exudes an insatiable amount of romantic energy without even trying. Like Paris, people respond to her beauty automatically and naturally and the culture seems to embrace “romance” in a myriad of ways. Music, movies and quaint cafes with candles, book cases and flowers engulf you on many a’ Prague street, from the inner city center along Uhezd, a main cable car route, to quirkier neighborhoods on the outskirts.
Quite frankly, it’s impossible not to have a “romantic experience” here unless you’re dead set on not having one and by romantic experience I don’t necessarily mean with someone else. Simply put, I mean ‘feeling Prague’s romantic energy’ which simply means feeling alive in that youthful beautiful dream-like way. You can feel the romance of old world Europe simply by walking through Prague’s streets, buying a decadent piece of dark chocolate and slowly eating it on the bridge as you watch the boats pass by, sitting at a corner café sipping your cappuccino as if tomorrow will never come or reading a Milan Kundera novel in an ancient bars, some of which still have preserved wood and stone from as far back as the 1200’s. Like most European cities, you can see remnants of wars gone past with bullet holes in some of the buildings. There’s also graffiti, wall art, murals, bars that pour some of the best beer you’ll ever taste and youthful energy throughout the streets, especially along the river.
Every night before turning in however, I tried to have at least one exchange with a local as the last thing I did for the day. It is in this exchange that I remember what makes Prague so special above and beyond her incredible architecture, deep-rooted history, culinary delights on every corner and world renowned beer. The children are precious and will always bring on a smile……
This musician that I randomly met on the tram offered to play for me as we got off conveniently at the same stop. And, play he did in a park at midnight. His fingers lit up this string instrument as if it had been waiting to be played all day and echoed through the park, waking up the birds and delighting all those who passed by.
Quirky and creative is abound in this historical city by one of the most picturesque rivers in Eastern Europe. (Sorry Budapest!) There’s no shortage of musicians, artists and performers who will also have you at hello.
So yes, you will love the people on your Czech Republic journey, even in bustling Prague. That’s of course not to say that Prague’s art, culture, history and architecture isn’t worthy of seeing — they will also have you at hello. Be sure to also take in early morning and late night walks and by all means, please don’t be afraid of getting lost or trying new restaurants and bars. I can assure you that my Ultimate Foodie Guide to Prague should keep you busy for weeks.
From this place and with these memories, I climbed into the black car waiting to take me to the airport on my last autumn morning and bid the romantic city with grace a temporary farewell. I will be back!!!
Other Useful Articles:
- A Comprehensive Guide to Getting Lost in Prague – this guide largely covers the other side of town, across the Charles Bridge and the Lesser Town district
- Lindner Hotel Prague Castle Sits on Same Site as 12th Century Monastery
- The Ultimate Foodie Guide to Prague’s Culinary Delights
- Valoria Restaurant Review
- Prague’s Kampa Park for that Romantic Night Out
- Re-Awaken Your Palette at Prague’s Michelin Star La Degustation
- Piano Nobile, When You Want Exquisite Food in a Czech Countryside Chateau (an hour outside Prague)
- Your Guide to Prague, From History & Architecture to Arts & Culture
- Hotel Imperial Spa & Health Club in the Heart of Karlovy Vary’s Hot Springs (a side trip from Prague)
- Medical & Wellness Spa Programs at Karlovy Vary’s Imperial (a medical spa and a side trip from Prague)
- Why Dreamy Loket & its 13th Century Castle Attracts Film Makers & Celebs (a village and side trip from Prague)
- Head to Karlovy Vary for its Healing Thermal Springs & Storyland-Like Walks (a side trip from Prague)
- Discover Heavenly Spa Town Marianske Lazne in the Heart of Bohemia (a side trip from Prague)
- Get Upscale Pampering at Prague’s Mandarin Hotel (luxury spa)
- Pure Radiance and More at the Four Seasons in Prague (luxury spa)
- Behind the Scenes at the Moser Glassworks Factory in Bohemia (a side trip from Prague)