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The Golden City

November 12, 2007

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Sounds of jazz danced around the Charles Bridge in Prague on a sunny day in October as we took in the sights and joined the “party”. It is no wonder prominent personalities like Mozart, Dostoyevsky and Goethe have paid homage to this great city throughout centuries. Sparkling adjectives like “golden city”,
“the prettiest gem in the stone crown of the world'”, “hundred spired” and “a stone dream” have been used to describe the beauty here.

Prague was spared the extremes of 20th-century, high-rise-glut development by communism and was the only Central European capital to escape the bombs of the last centuries wars, which allows us to enjoy its Gothic, Bohemian Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture today. This and the friendly scale of the historic center make it a delight to walk around in.

There were two other ways of exploring the city that we really enjoyed. We had done a horse and carriage tour in Brugge and Seville, but it had been many months ago and Mozart really wanted to do it here. Some cities just seem to call for this and we allowed ourselves the fantasy of pretending we lived here in another time when this was the main mode of everyday transportation.

Surprisingly, we just loved our tour on a small 19th century canal boat, which turned out to be a highlight. Luckily I had read on Fodor's that this guided was a far better experience than the other cruises at half the price. It was only eleven euros and they give you free ice cream and beer (or other drink), which Mozart found very cool.

We never would have taken a boat excursion at all had I not read these raves about the Prague-Venice line. Even with that rave in my hand, DaVinci was quite suspicious of the sailor suited, unkempt, slick talking men on every corner trying to sell the ride. He wanted to take a pass, but we finally decided to at least go and see what the deal was.

They lead you through a dark passageway and down stairs, away from the crowds and you can't help but wonder if this is some kind of set up for a robbery or con. Perhaps we are too suspicious, as it was perfectly legit and turned out to be a  hidden area of peace and quiet with with ducks and beautiful wooden boats. The next thing we know we were being served by a nice young blond man in yet another old fashioned sailor suit, while we waited for our turn to ride.

It is a wonderful and different way to see the city and I only wish we had done this upon arrival as one gets a sense of the city this way that is like nothing else. A pretty young girl, in a matching sailor suit, talked to our small group without a mike as we quietly floated along, sipping our complementary drinks.

Drifting along the Vltava River that runs through Prague, one gets a very different perspective of the Charles Bridge looming above or the seventeen other bridges that stretch over the river. We rode over to Kampa Island where an area with houses right on the water are called the “Venice of Prague” and there is a picturesque ancient water wheel.

We got close to the group of swans at the waters edge and learned about the importance of St. Nepomuk to the Czech people. His is the only statue on the Charles Bridge that is bronze and not a replica. We had noticed that people rub a place on that statue and now we learned they do that as a ritual for good luck, unlike the luck that poor St. Nepomuck had. King Wenceslas IV had him thrown from the stone bridge into the River Vltava because he would not divulge the secrets of Queen Sophie’s confession.

One always hears tales and sees pictures of the famous Apostle, 16th century clock in the Old Town Square and there certainly are always crowds waiting to see that show every hour. It reflects the medieval view of the world with the planets depicted as circling the earth. We found it to be one of the only anticlimactic moments in this city. It was beautiful and quite animated for something that is 400 years old, so perhaps I am becoming jaded as somehow we expected a little bit more. Maybe my eyes need a close up lens like my camera.

Nevertheless we were charmed by this magical city and friendly, creative people. There is much to love here and we were seduced by Prague’s magnetism. It was hard to leave, but we needed to start heading south.

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