Having come so close it seemed it would be a pity if we did not take a shot at Praha (Prague), now capital of Czech Republic. Czech Republic was established in 1993 before which it was federated with Slovakia. Many would have heard of Bohemia. Well, it was virtually the original name of the current Czech Republic having been known as the Kingdom of Bohemia for about 900 years since the 12th Century. Praha is known to be cultural, economic and political centre of Central Europe.
About 350 kilometres away from Vienna and yet, given the quality of roads, it takes little more than three hours to reach the place. There is a brief halt for immigration check at the Austrian border and another at a small town by the name Brno (pronounced Bruno). As we got to Prague our bus crossed a river went up a hill and unloaded us at the Prague Castle.
The castle is the biggest medieval residence of kings and the rulers of Europe. It was so of what was once a kingdom and later a state ruled by communist governments and elected presidents. Spread around 50 acres it has some architectural marvels, historical palaces, reception halls, offices, stately rooms, churches, buildings, fortifications and gardens. I happened to peep into one hall and what a beauty it was! Since it is more than a thousand years in age, the complex has had the benefit of all the architectural styles, from Romanesque to Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque. Hence, in one snapshot one is able to see almost all the styles. The Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral is an architectural marvel the construction of which was commenced by King Charles in the 14th Century.
Unfortunately for the Prague trip we did not get a more considerate guide. He led us through the milling crowds of tourists with his hands raised holding probably a hanky. Many a time we lost track of him. Whatever we saw was on our own initiative and we were never told the names of the buildings and complexes, they are so difficult to remember, anyway.
So we generally followed the raised hand with a hanky that was fluttered by the gentle breeze and walked on. The Presidential complex is so enormous and has such beautiful structures all around that we were generally in awe. While there were narrow lanes, there were also huge open spaces like Italian piazzas of magnum sizes surrounded by beautiful architecture. In the midst of all these we were herded through the crowd to another architectural marvel – more than 600 years old Charles Bridge named after the King Charles (was it?) IV. The Bridge is on River Vltava – the very River that we crossed by the bus before being unloaded – connecting the Prague Castle with the Old Town. It also became an instrument of faster trade between Western and Eastern Europe. The bridge has some fine statuary; around 30 beautiful statues adorn its sides. They are supposed to be more than 150 years old.
We crossed over to the Old Town as we were told that the bus would be available from somewhere near the Old Town Square. We had a bite before we commenced looking around
There was too much to see as we were in the Historic Centre of Prague – the World Heritage Site. The cobbled streets, the magnificent structures, the ancient clocks, etc. were captivating. No wonder the city is known as Mother of Cities or the Golden City or the Heart of Europe. We, as usual hardly had any time to give the place a good, hard look. Traditionally a cultural Centre of Europe the city hosts a number of theatres and has the reputed Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Prague Symphony Orchestra. There are museums galore and a number of art galleries, hundreds of concert halls. Outsiders flock to the place in large numbers to satiate their appetites for the varied fare that is on offer.
The Old Town Square is famous for two beautiful churches – one Gothic and the other Baroque. The Square is where they used to have executions during the rule of the Hapsburgs. The Square is also famous for the reason that the Czech novelist and story teller Franz Joseph Kafka used to live somewhere near here. Another thing; here in Praha I have seen Skoda cars in numbers that I had never seen before anywhere else in Europe. Skoda had not been in India till then.
Prague is one of the most beautiful towns we have ever visited. If we ever get back to Europe again Prague is the place where we would like to spend most of our time.