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Okay, I guess I’m gushing a bit. The trip was a rush of new traveling emotions – for the first time in I don’t know how long, I was truly in a foreign culture. I don’t know a lick of Czech, didn’t know anything about the country’s history, didn’t read up on the city in advance, and I had no idea what to expect. I barely remembered to write down walking directions to my hostel from the train station! So it was a great go-with-the-flow trip for me. I feel like I really earned my Solo Female Traveler wings on this one, trusting my instincts in a slightly more misogynistic culture (I got ogled and hit on quite a bit more here than in Germany or Austria) and safely making the most of my time there. The hostel was a great homebase for exploring and getting resources to help me find my way around, and despite the terrible night’s sleep I got there due to quite a lot of partying amongst the guests (did you know that Prague is also the new Amsterdam? Apparently so…) I really couldn’t beat the accommodations, especially for $23.
The city was abuzz all weekend long, with street musicians everywhere and artists selling beautiful art along the Charles Bridge, souvenir shops every 50 feet, even the Prague Grand Prix (5k and 10k races) crowded the Old Town Square on Saturday evening! If I had wanted to, I could have partied hard and long, either on my own or with the Prague Pub Crawl which apparently goes until 4am.
One of the things I love about Prague is its ease with having one foot in the old and one foot in the new. It seems that there have been two significant periods of flourishing for this city. One, in medieval times, created the Royal Route including Prague Castle, St. Vitus’ Cathedral, the Old Royal Palace, and the Golden Lane. All absolute models of the architecture and culture of that time period. Prague was the center of Bohemia from the 9th till the 20th centuries, with its greatest period of prosperity in the 14th century under the reign of King Charles IV of Bohemia (who was also the Holy Roman Emperor). Much of the city reflects the opulence and heraldry of that time period.
The Bohemians were fierce, y’all. I would not have wanted to squabble with them. The Theresian Wing of Prague Castle boasts huge stone busts of knights atop every wall, each flanked with six huge spiked flags. The front gate itself is watched over by two enormous naked warriors, one preparing to plunge his dagger into a terrified foe, the other ready to take his club to the head of an equally freaked opponent. My advice to you: don’t rassle with a Bohemian.
Fast forward: That fierce nationalism helped create the independent country of Czechoslovakia at the end of World War I, and thence came the second flourish, this time in the gorgeous curves and soft grandeur of the Art Nouveau movement, proudly led by nationalist Alphonse Mucha, who returned from the parlors of Paris and New York to his homeland, where he lent himself in every possible way to the establishment of the new country, even down to designing its first currency.
I learned all this at the Mucha Museum, hands down the highlight of my trip. Mucha has long been a favorite artist of mine, and not only was his art as inspiring as ever, but so, I learned, was his story. He is one of the few artists I have ever heard of, who had a crystal clear vision and purpose as an artist, and was given or earned all the resources necessary to give him an obstacle-free path to complete fulfillment of his vision during his lifetime. If you are ever in Prague, do not skip the Mucha. (The Municipal House is also stunning, a perfect study in Art Nouveau architecture.)
The city has a totally fascinating history and I can’t effectively write about it all here, but if you’d like to read more click here and enjoy. One aspect that I didn’t have time to explore is its Communist history, which lasted from World War II until the 1990′s. There’s a Museum of Communism that will be on my to-do list next time I’m there.
I would also like, next time, to learn more about the amazing Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square. It is really complicated, and seriously cool.
Oh, I have to tell you about one more great surprise: Carol. Last night I decided I wanted to eat dinner in the Old Town Square, and just soak up the atmosphere. I happened to sit down next to another solo female traveler, from San Francisco no less! Carol and I hit it off immediately, and ended up enjoying the Square and the food together for about three hours. She’s gonna friend me on Facebook. I predict we’ll be besties.
Ah, Prague! I left you too soon. 27 hours did not do you justice, but you can bet I will be back. I will be back….