Dusting a Fairytale Land Walt Disney may have patterned his fairytale castle after the famous Newschwanstein Castle in Fussen, Germany, but it is beyond any doubt, in my mind, that Cinderella, Snow, and Tink all made residency in the Czech Republic--in the enchanting gilded city of antiquity known the world around as Prague.
There are far too many elements one could recount and embellish on from a weekend passed in Prague--the streets, skyline, food, markets, people, puppets, music, sparkle, and nightlife--as such it is an act of great difficulty to synopsize the finest points of Prague. Over the past few decades it has risen to the ranks of one of the most densely visited cities on the European continent, a tourist haven on par with the dazzle of such cities as Paris and London. Though the Czech Republic was made EU member only in 2004, Prague has been a world cultureal and economic center for over 1100 years and remains under the aliases of the Golden City, the Mother of Cities, and the City of a Thousand Spires. Prague seems of existence for the single purpose of gaiety and a good time, an unspoiled majesty remains on the land that perhaps before one thought only possible to find on Main Street and Splash Mountain. It is a nonpareil city in this respect; a poignant contrast to the cool sad grayness left behind in Poland. There are Pixies and Pucks to be found in the winding streets of Praha, and a certain mystery seeped in the odd and puzzling atmosphere of a Scandinavian village mingled with an Eastern Turkish feel and a whimsical Bavarian charm. I say, put down the map and look up--there is a puppet show to be seen, and a 20 crown Pilsner with your name on it.
What is this? This can't be real? Are the classic first words heard to escape ones mouth as they emerge from the winding cluttered village onto awe inspiring Charles bidge. The sheer population and commerce found atop the Charles Bridge is enough to deem it a city upon itself; portrait artists, painting peddlers, puppeteers, novelty salesmen, and musical artists of every make inhabit the outer lanes of the bridge from dawn until dusk. The ever present classical and authentic Czech style music paired with the smell of sweet roasted street nuts is a constant reminder that you are on vacation in a fairytale kingdom.
The Charles Bridge is perhaps the most prominent landmark of Praha; of the myriad bridges that traverse the Vltava River, it is the most highly decorated and revered as it boasts the history as the replacement of the first bridge (the Judith Bridge in 1170) when it collapsed in 1342. Charles Bridge is named for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, and is the direct link between the old town and new town on opposite sides of the river. The bridge is lined with a near 30 baroque style statues depicting Christian characters and icons pointing and jabbing in directions every which way. Of the many, the statue of Saint John of Nepomuk is the most eye chatching--though do not be fooled by the sparkling austerity of his golden crown, for all of the bridge statues are replicas of the originals who have since 1965 been residing in the national museum. Regardless they are wonders to marvel at. Though once across the bridge on both banks there are spectacles to gaze upon that leave all thought of counterfeit deceit behind: Prague Castle, the Opera House, the the Town Hall Tower and Celestial Clock, St. Vitus Cathedral, Tyn Church, and the Old Jewish Quarter. This city has by far too much to see. But make sure you squeeze in a black light show or you will regret it to the end of your days.
If there is a single thing one picks up on in cross-border travel, it is the similarities and differences in the everyday and average aspects of life. For instance--beer. Beer secretly runs th the world and civil society as we know it. In Ireland one must dig deep to find an add, sign, or human not boasting the label Guinness, and in France it is without a doubt Kronenburg seen on the tables of the nouveau-sans-vin generation as it is manufactured in Strasbourg in the Alsace region of France. In the Czech Republic it is Pilsner, and there is no competition. As often as one encounters Guinness in Dublin, once encounters Pilsner in Prague.
Pilsner Urquell originated in the Bohemian city of Pilsen in the mid nineteenth century, and has since become one of the nations top grossing manufactured exports world wide. Aside frm the beer, kabobs are rudy everywhere in Europe--though I much prefer and recommend the rabbit roasted and stewed in a red wine and plum sauce served with golden raisins and potato dumplings followed by a slow mulled hot wine. But would you believe if I said 10 euro for said feast? Fairytale land, I will emphasize once again--the currency of Crowns, or Koruna, is an unearthly wonder for an An American living USD through Euro. Yes, Prague is quite the affordable city.
It is common knowledge that a travel companion can make or break a voyage--it is paramount to find an amicable, trustworthy, and dependable associate in order to not only survive but to have a good time. For every Frodo there is a Sam, every Huck a Jim, every TinTin a Milou, every Lewis a Clark--my expedition was no different, Prague was made only more bright by the company of my comrade H, whose life as a professional photographer meshed well with my charade as an amateur one, and whose similar fondness for marzipan allowed us time for the search as well as a newly mustered mutual respect for our shared interests. Travel is stressful, unpredictable, and certain to proffer a dilemma no matter how carefully the schedule is followed or the steps taken measured--it is not the circumstances of how or when the inevitable happens that matter in the least--but rather that one can come out of them just as happy as when one entered. (As well as, I suppose, not being kidnapped and sold into slavery to an illegal black market puppeteer--but come now, I had everything under control.) That is the unit of measure of a travel companion--if you can laugh and work together through the marshes then it is hardly possible to ask for more short of a Gandalf. But who needs a wizard when you have a friend and a bar of marzipan.
Violins, puppets, and paper mache eggs are symbols of Prague's novelty and beauty. A visit to a medieval village preserved from time is enjoyed through afternoon lattes and evening mugs of grog as the glistening shafts of the dying sun poor through the dusty haze--proof of the City's being sprinkled by golden fairy dust. Even now it seems surreal, a pastoral image paralleled to the likeness of those created by Monet, Sisley, and Bruegel on canvas. But it is real. And had Disney not so knavishly claimed his kingdom the happiest place on earth--such a title would indisputably fall upon this cracker-jack city in the east.