Saturday, October 27, 2012

Three Scintillating Days in Prague

Before we embarked on our river cruise down the Danube, Doug and Connie Cameron, Colin and Manio Radford, Sandi Klebe and Bill Trulock, and Steve and I spent three scintillating days in Prague. Since I hadn’t done much traveling in Eastern Europe, I didn’t know whether I would encounter dour old people unhappy with their lot in life like those in St. Petersburg, Russia or the warm and welcoming folks that smiled at us on the streets of Tallinn in Estonia.

From the friendly and informative driver from Prague Airport Transfers who picked us up at the Prague Airport to the entertainers on Old Town Square, the people of Prague have a zest for life and have clearly embraced the Velvet Revolution of 1989. As one of our guides told us, “the only people who prefer Communism are those who don’t like to work.” The people will tell you that as the Rolling Stones were rolling in to Prague in August 1990 for a concert, the Soviets tanks were rolling out. In July 1991, the tank representing a Monument to Soviet Tank Crews was painted pink by an art student named David Černý and now sits at the Military Technical Museum Lešany about 20 kilometers south of Prague.

Prague is known as the city of a hundred spires and I immediately knew why after losing count of the churches I had seen. I think Doug Cameron managed to capture 15 of the spires in one brilliant photograph.

During our tours, I learned that the Czech Republic has the highest beer consumption in the world. So I made a point of washing down the heavy meat dishes and dumplings with a Pilsner Urquell instead of a glass of red wine. The only exception to that was at the Eureka Restaurant where the act of pouring wine from a vessel with a very long neck was truly an art. I was so fascinated by it that I chose wine over beer but ultimately decided that Czech cuisine is best accompanied by a beer. The waiter told me that it takes one year to learn how to pour wine from this vessel; you have to correctly aim at the glass and then know when to stop pouring.

We enjoyed a fun-filled evening at the Eureka Restaurant which featured Czech music, dance and folklore. One of the Czech dancers chose me out of a crowd of 100 to dance with him. I’m a lousy dance partner because I prefer to do my own thing but I had just enough to drink to go with the flow and not fall down. Eventually there were about 12 members of the audience involved in this dancing exercise and most of us couldn’t stop laughing.

Prague Castle is the largest and most impressive castle I’ve ever seen. You could spend a month in Prague and still not see all of the palaces, churches, residences and gardens located within the castle complex. The highlight of my visit to Prague Castle was a tour of the Lobkowicz Palace, the only privately owned building in the castle. The audio tour was narrated by William Lobkowicz, who brilliantly relays his family’s proud, aristocratic 600-year history. I was particularly captivated by the story of his grandfather, Maximilian Lobkowicz, who fled Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939 to settle in London. Shortly thereafter, the Nazis confiscated of all of the family’s properties. Although the properties were returned to the family in 1945, they were confiscated yet again by the Communists in 1948. As a young middle-class American, William came to Prague in 1990 to claim his family’s former lands and castles. Today, he and his family have dedicated their lives to restoring the family’s cultural heritage and making the Lobkowicz Collections a living history for people to experience.

Although the Czech people have endured a difficult journey during most of the 20th century, they have eagerly embraced their new found freedoms. Besides being a beautiful city filled with many historical marvels, Prague is a bustling modern city and an upbeat and inspiring place to spend three days.

More pictures of Prague.

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