Small tips for a great city. What not to miss in Prague

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Every year it seems to have a favourite city where I am back more than once. Once upon a time was Budapest, or London or Tel Aviv. The winner of the 2014 trips was the lovely Prague, which I had the occasion to visit at least four times this year, after more than 2 trips on previous occasions in the last years. This last time, as it was a spontaneous trip, I tried to spot those things that should be on the bucket list of the traveller to Prague, and mostly can be done without too much money or special efforts.

During my first trip to Prague, the spectacular Dancing House – nicknamed Fred and Ginger, after the famous dancing partners Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers – caught my eyes. Designed by Frank Gehry in collaboration with the local architect Vladi Millenic, it goes against the classical standards of local architectural beauty, but it definitely has its special charm. If you see it once, it’s hard to forget it!

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The lovers of classical architecture and especially of Art Nouveau, will have a lot of opportunities to nurture their eyes with beautiful apparitions. All you need is to learn how to use your eyes. After the first hour of walking around the old city, it will easily become a habit to speedily browse with the sight every building looking for some special unexpected corner.

??????????There is not only the Charles bridge. Although the most famous, it is only one of the 10 bridges over Vltava river. Many of them can be crossed by foot.

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Prague and the Czech Republic are famous for their exquisite glass art. Around the capital city, there are a couple of glass factories that can be visited, but otherwise, the best works of glass art can be admired in the small shops, some of them also offering live workshops introducing the visitor to the secrets of this traditional craft. Booking in advance is not necessary.

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If you start your journey early in the morning, it’s hard to avoid the open markets, selling besides souvenirs, among which various drawings, also fresh fruits and vegetables. My newest discovery was the Havlova Market.

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Some of the local samples of architecture are more than simple habitats, but decorated as unique works of art.

??????????Prague is a traditional city for jazz lovers. One of the famous one is Reduta, but there are many others inviting places for those passionate about this music style.

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The newly reopened Prague Technical Museum offers an extensive introduction to the Czech industrial history, with its samples of cars, airplanes, balloons and bikes. An interesting journey also for the non-practical humans, like this writer.

??????????If not necessarily in the mood to spend one or two or three late nights in a club with live music, it’s easy to have your own musical auditions. Some of the bands can be really good so they fully deserve some $$.

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While walking in a completely new area during my last trip, I was surprised by the ugly yet interesting insertion of the highway in the middle of the small buildings from the Vinogrady neighbourhood.

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My first encounter with Prague took place at the Art Nouveau decorated Central Station, as I was coming by train via Budapest. Built at the beginning of the 20th century, the Hlavni Nadrazi – the busiest railway in the Czech Republic – went through massive renovations in the last years.

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Although Prague is still an affordable city for tourists, little by little it is developing its luxury side too. Proof: the recent Jimmy Choo boutique opened, where else, but on Parizska – Paris – street.

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If not in the mood for some luxury shopping, a good coffee, near the window, from where you can observe the daily coming and going of the street is a good solution. This time, I tried O’Papa, a quiet bistro with a lot of healthy food options too.

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Last but not least: don’t forget to try some good traditional Czech beers. Near the Florench bus station, you can find the smallest microbrewery in the world, Pivovarsky Klub. Don’t forget to order some traditional Czech food too!

For more pictures from Prague and links to previous posts, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board

How to spend two full hours in Prague

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My 3-week long trip to Central and Eastern Europe started with a pleasant surprise: I was offered the chance to spend 2 full hours in Prague. After ten years of unjustified absence from the city, I was able to visit the city twice within the last 6 months. As during my February trip I made almost the full list of to-dos in the city, I had the freedom of gazing to the buildings or just walk in under the sunny sky of this summer. With sure and (very) fast steps, we headed directly to the old town area.

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I will never have enough time to fully understand and admire the spectacular architecture and art displayed on the streets of the city. From the massive realist statues that seem to fight hard to get a life of their own out of the stone carvings to the delicate Art Nouveau details, my eyes were challenged to keep a permanent focus.

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Many of those details I’ve seen more than once during my trips in the city, but you can never have enough of too much beauty, I suppose.

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My wandering to the city had at least one clear direction: to spend a bit more time at the Municipal House, right near the Powder Gate. The massive construction that was inaugurated in 1912 after 7 years of work is situated on the former location of the palace of the King of Bohemia who lived there in the second half of the 14th century. The historical details might be not obvious for the first-time visitor, but the beautiful embroideries of the building and the elaborated glass paintings and decorations are unforgettable.

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Every inch of wall and surface was carefully adorned with elaborated glass walls painted mostly in the Art Nouveau style. Nowadays, the municipal house is a distinguished concert hall – Smetana Hall bearing the name of a famous local composer, but it was used for various purposes in the last century. Here, for instance, was signed the Czechoslovak Declaration of Independence in 1918.

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The hall – that can be visited with guided tours – continues with a big coffee, Coffee Kavarna, where I dreamed to have my morning coffee for a long time. Before the coffee arrived, I spent a lot of time admiring the golden outlines of the interior decorations, delicately insinuated alongside the massive white marble.

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The lightning installation reflected in the massive mirrors are creating an even greater impression of a huge space. If you have a lot of imagination, you might feel invited to a secret ball at a castle.

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The entrance reminded me of old pieces of exquisite jewellery. Too much decorations are always a dangerous taste decision, but a creator should always assume the risk of going beyond the limits of accepted standards.

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Overloaded by colours and golden rays, I finally had my coffee paid with the local currency carefully saved from the last trip. Given the ambiance, the prices of a breakfast are much higher than the usual cheap offers around, and the coffee was not the best in the city, but I was too happy for finally spending time here for excessive kvetching.

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With some more time left, we took fast the road under the Powder Gate trying to see at least Charles Bridge in the summer. The only discomfort of the last trip was the late winter cold, which limited significantly our freedom of movement. Now, people were all over the places, many of them wearing delicate cotton umbrellas to get protected against the hot sun. Cleaning cars were spreading water on the streets aiming to bring more freshness.

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The streets were full not only with tourists, but with many more street artists, either presenting their works on sale, or sketching within minutes portraits of the visitors interested to leave with a special personalized memory from Prague.

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The colours of the painters were joined by the exuberant outbursts of sounds uttered by the street bands. Artists were almost everywhere and most of their music was very pleasant to the busy ears.

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Shortly after 12 o’clock, making your way through the streets was not an easy task. Especially if you hurry up as we did. Most shops in the old town were open and the offers of restaurants were becoming even more tempting. Languages from all over the world were heard on the streets, creating a good feeling for the indefatigable traveller in me: world can be so small sometimes!

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In the front of the Prague Astronomical Clock we went through another new experience: waiting together with a significant mass of people the last three minutes before 13 o’clock. Some were there with a purpose, some – like us – were simply by accident trying to get into the exciting mood of all the people gathered there. When the time had come, it was hard to stay untouched by the wave of excitement of people listening to the first gongs.

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We finally made it to the Charles Bridge as well, although for very short couple of minutes only, and at least with two new memories about Prague, we headed back to the bus station, waiting for the return in another dear city of mine: Budapest. To be continued.

For more insights from Prague, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/prague/