The city is full of Euro-posh restaurants, cafes and clubs, all blended seamlessly with its layers of colorful history. We started with lunch on Friday at a vegetarian-chic place called Lheka Hlava (Clear Head), where we sat in our own private room feeling healthy and oh so trendy. Then it was off to see Charles Bridge – completed in the early 15th century by Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia, Charles IV – and the Prague castle, which dates back to the 13th century. They’re the kind of monumental, stunning sights that you dream of seeing in Europe and the sort of history, magic and romance that can only be found here.
That evening we got dressed up and saw the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra at the Rudolfinum, a lovely Neo-Renaissance building that provides the perfect stage for striking and beautifully overwhelming music. After the concert we ate a late dinner at a stylish and serene French-Asian fusion restaurant called Nostress, sitting and talking for hours over rose, salmon and steak.
Saturday was spent strolling through the gorgeous Prague streets, admiring one fabulous building after another. I’ve now hardly written anything and find myself running out of adequate adjectives, so please bear with me. Tiffany introduced me to famous Czech Art Nouveau artist, Alphonse Mucha, whom I can’t get enough of. The women in his paintings are reminiscent of Greek and Roman figures and framed by the kind of rich, elaborate detail and color that was popular in the early 20th century. Each one is gorgeous, sumptuous and endlessly evocative.
Next, we spent a little time in the Museum of Communism to learn about the city’s tumultuous past; it provided a somber insight on the darkness and dictatorship from which Prague has only recently emerged and begun to rebuild into the jewel it is today. The revolution was in 1989; violence in the fight against communism erupted in the streets of Prague as (Tiffany pointed out) we were probably sitting at home watching Disney movies, worlds away from the oppression the Czech people survived.
The image we left with was of the huge Wenceslas Square, every inch packed with people in protest of the Communist occupation. We left the museum – housed in an old castle that is also now home to a casino and a McDonald’s – and headed for Wenceslas, turning the corner into the square and walking down the crowded boulevard that now thrives with shops, hotels and restaurants. At the head of the square, outside the National Museum, lies a subtle and graceful memorial to Jan Palach, the student (not even twenty-one) who set fire to himself in 1969 in protest of the Soviet invasion of Prague. The area is now alive with peaceful commerce and expression, and he is remembered by a mound under the brick on the ground, a black cross and a few roses that lay over it.
Old Town Square was also buzzing that evening with the opening of the Christmas Market and the lighting of the big tree – the tree is smaller than it used to be because allegedly the larger one that was once used fell on an unassuming British tourist and paralyzed him. The square was packed to an almost impossible degree with locals and tourists enjoying the holiday music, treats and lights. After coffee at the Globe, we braved the crowd for as long as we could before taking shelter in a traditional Czech restaurant where we warmed up with some local fare: cheese soaked in beer, fried cheese, potatoes galore, and some sort of pot roast, all washed down with some dark Czech beer. I mean, I couldn’t eat trendy food all weekend.
The meal gave us energy for a fantastic night on the town that lasted until morning and made me appreciate the city on a whole new level. (A side note for those of my generation: we went to a club called Radost FX that was the location for Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” video.) With only 2 hours of sleep, I floated through the following day in a lazy and I’m-so-tired-I’m-delirious kind of happiness. We ate at more fabulous places, visited the Kampa Museum to see some inspiring modern art set against the river and Prague’s skyline, and overall just enjoyed the beauty of travel with wonderful people.
My weekend ended that evening atop the steps of Letna Park – at the base of what used to be a 30-meter statue of Stalin. The sun set and we gazed peacefully over the whole of Prague and I tried to ignore the sad fact that I was soon to leave it. The city was more beautiful than I had imagined and my company was more fun. And in this lies one enormous reason that I travel: the chance of a little weekend exceeding my expectations, and the guarantee of at least having my expectations – whatever they may be – always answered by something I could never have imagined myself.