The magic and mystery of Prague
Every great city has something special, an enchanting feature that sets it apart from the rest. A city of captivating medieval beauty, Prague’s magic has a mystical quality. Both visitors and residents alike delight in tales of ghosts, of mythical saints who fly above the famous Charles Bridge. Passing along the banks of the River Vltava in a taxi, I wonder what charms the Czechoslovakian capital will hold for me.
Immediately striking is the sensuality of Prague’s baroque architecture. From Capitol Hill, the city slowly unveils itself. Gothic spires rise everywhere, forming a dazzling outline of the city. I remember how novelist and Prague native Franz Kafka described Prague as a city that “never seems to let you go.” And I am eager for Prague to take hold of me.
A few hundred yards from our hotel is Prague Castle. Perched high above the city on a site originally established in the early ninth century, the castle serves as the historical and political centre of both city and state. I had read that the climb to its peak was breathtaking, but I hadn’t imagined it literally – I had to stop several times to rest. The path is lined with quaint stalls displaying works original art and handcrafted jewelry. Hundreds of tourists bob in and out, searching for deals, bartering in their native languages. Finally, at the castle, I am breathless once again but this time because of the view. I am sure I can see all the way to Germany from here.
Inside the walls of the castle, I am surrounded by a forest of towering Gothic spires pointing to the heavens. St. Vitus Cathedral, the dominant part of the castle, is arguably the most beautiful. Completed in a little less than 600 years, the cathedral contains tombs of Czech kings and is a magnificent display of styles spanning six centuries from Gothic to Renaissance and baroque.
By late afternoon, I decide to find a place for a cold ale and some famous Czech dumplings. I head for the Old Town Square for a feast. At the banks of the River Vltava, I find my way to Charles Bridge. Once the only crossing, the bridge with its famed statues and the artists who entertain here are a delight for tourists and locals alike.
When I finally reach the square, my feet are thanking me. I sit back and enjoy the view from one of the many cafés. Directly in front of me is the majestic Church of Our Lady before Tyn, a striking landmark that was the main church of the Protestant Hussite movement during the 15th century. To my left, the 14th-century tower of the Old Town Hall features an astronomical clock marking the phases of the moon, the equinoxes, the seasons and the day. At the strike of the hour, the doors open to reveal a morality play of sorts. All around me are happy tourists, wandering the square, riding in horse-drawn carriages, browsing the shops. I’m beginning to feel the magic too.
Spring in Prague is too special to spend indoors so I pack a lunch and enjoy the day’s beauty down by the Vltava. In a paddleboat rented for a modest fee from Slavic Island, I float in the middle of the river with dozens of others. On a nearby island, artists have set up their easels. In the distance, the hills rise from the river, and at the very top of one of those hills – a metronome? A furious paddle and a 20-minute tram ride later and there indeed is a giant metronome. Unsure of its significance, I can only appreciate it for having brought me to the tip of Letna Park on a plateau above Prague. It is the most beautiful view yet. Directly across the river from the Jewish Quarter, I can see the entire city glowing from the sunlight streaming across the rooftops.
I stroll through the park and stop at a small restaurant. The Hanavsky Pavilion, which houses the restaurant, is surely one of the crown jewels of the city. It’s a picturesque building built in 1891 with a terrace overlooking Prague. As I take my seat, I’m reminded again of Kafka. I smile and look down on the city – Prague will not let me go. I’m going to hold on tightly to my magical moment for just a little bit longer.