Much is Revealed On the Road to Prague
Sunday, July 25th, 2004: Prague, Czech Republic
Dresden to Prague: 153 kilometres
We say goodbye to Dresden, and look forward to the delights of Prague. A Sunday drive through some very picturesque German country side is scheduled this morning. Part of our route is indicated on our map as a scenic route and it certainly is. We enjoy green rolling hills with fields of sunflowers crossed by many rivers and streams. Small towns, their homey houses cascading with overstuffed flower boxes of trailing geraniums greet us as we drive through. Many tourists never get to see this part of Germany. Rather they opt for the Munich/Bavaria tour, traveling the Romantic Road and seeing the conventional Germany of beer gardens, lederhosen and oom-pah-pah.
Some Intrepid Businesses
We reach the border of the Czech Republic in about an hour and a half and after we are pulled over, passports inspected, we enter a whole different landscape. All of a sudden there are mountains, some with sharp peaks, sheltering small castles on them. Stretching fields of hay and straw and corn lie in front of us. Many other things reveal themselves to us as we drive through the small towns that dot the road to Prague. Dilapidated buildings, many still windowless and grey, left over from the Communists. Some of these buildings hold intrepid businesses: brothels with young (and not so young) Czech women scantily dressed selling their wares on the highway outside these hamlets and on the quiet main streets inside, many of them beside seemingly-blind local residents. Suddenly Sunday morning has taken on a different feel. Many of the women try to wave us over as we drive by. We wave back and keep on our way into the city.
An Intoxicating City Beckons
We head out in the Sunday afternoon sun to explore the city. There is a metro stop just outside our hotel and we are only four or five stops from the old town. We get off at the bottom of Wenceslas Square, the avenue of fast food joints, pick-pockets, hustlers, tourists and some of the most interesting Art Nouveau buildings in Europe. It is a busy place and all our guidebooks warn us to keep our belongings safe as we stroll up the avenue. At the top of the avenue sits the statue of good King Wenceslas IV , the third Bohemian and second German monarch (NOT of the Christmas carol fame), and the National Museum, modeled on the Louvre. It is a motivating beacon to reach the crest of the boulevard. Prague is an intoxicating city. So much history, architecture and art crammed into such a relatively small area. We know already that this will be one of our favourite cities on this trip. We wander into Staré Město (Old Town) and reach the vast square, home to the old Town Hall and the Bridge Tower. The square has been through many transitions both political and social over its history and plays host to many different types of architecture from Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Art Nouveau, and even Cubism, rondo-cubism and other modern styles. These buildings now are the silent witnesses of the dozens of expensive restaurants and cafés that lure the tired tourists in for coffee or beer – which is cheaper here than anywhere we have been on the trip – it can be had in some of the cafés for about C$1 for ½ litre. We continue down to the river Vltava (the Moldau) and cross the river over the Karluv Most (Charles Bridge) named after Charles the IV. It is now pedestrian only and it is always busy with strollers out for the view. Across the river is Malá Strana (Little Quarter) nestled right under the Pražský Hrad (the Prague Castle). The nobility built their homes and businesses here, encouraged by proximity to the seat of power. Now, the palaces are home to government agencies and international embassies. The red roofs of the buildings draw your eyes up to the castle at the summit.
We wander back across the bridge and choose a riverside restaurant for a quick beer in the setting sun. Then we cross the river again, find a traditional “beer and Czech food” dinner in Malá Strana before heading for home and sleep.