Shireen Passi Chopra, a regular contributor to The Times Kuwait, shares with us her wonderful experience in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic.
“When I learned about my upcoming trip to Prague, I was in seventh heaven. Being able to see the Roman style buildings, long windings, small, colorful cafes marking either side of the streets with fun and dining, I was all set with bells on,” she recalled.
“The thirty minute drive from the airport to the Four Seasons Hotel was riveting. In rapt attention, I gazed at the dense forest, tall, dark green trees on either side of the long-winding road; rows of small, orange-roofed, white wooden houses nestled within the dense flora; the sprawling open fields covered in patches of light and dark-green grass. It was a show stopper.
“The Four Seasons Hotel, an impressive building of its own, built in the heart of the city, amidst ancient baroque buildings, with stone sculptures and busts of men and women is no surprise one of the most expensive hotels in Prague. A quick change of clothes and off we were to explore. With only four days in Prague, there was no time for rest.
“We walked the narrow cobbled streets, our cameras handy. Everything made for a breathtaking picture. The old and slightly moldy baroque, Gothic and art nouveau edifices marked by pointed arches, big columns and elaborate tracery lining both sides of the street; some yellow, rust or green, while others painted in pink and purple, now fading with time. Colorful flowers and trees painted on one, people on some, while others had entire battle scenes on them.
“Seated in a famous Italian restaurant with the best view of the city, built on a big wooden boat, harbored on the edge of the Vltava River, overlooking the famous ‘Charles Bridge,’ we felt as if we had stepped into a scene straight out of a renaissance painting. The Charles Bridge’s gigantic Gothic entrance towers and thirty towering statues of gods and angels, of saints and sinners, moldy and blackening with time, set apart a few meters from one another was a sight worth watching.
“The old town, built in the 9th century, now home to souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants, led to the Old Town Square. Once a busy center for trade and craftsmanship, and many a ‘Sunday Markets’, it is now a bustling tourist attraction, with modern cafes and restaurants. A big black stone sculpture of a notable saint is constructed in the center of the square where locals gather, some juggling multiple balls or hats on their heads, some performing magic tricks before an amused crowd, others playing a musical instrument and some sketching caricatures. The 14th century old town hall, with its observation tower offers a mesmerizing panoramic view of the entire town. Art nouveau and Gothic-style buildings; houses painted in the whitest of white color with bright orange-rust rooftops as far as the eye can see. And then there is the famous Prague astronomical clock, or Prague orloj, the third oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still working. Mounted on the southern wall of Old Town City Hall it is composed of three main components; first is the astronomical dial which represents the position of the Sun and Moon and displays various astronomical details. Then there is the 'Walk of the Apostles', a clockwork showing statues of the Apostles (the primary disciples of Lord Jesus) with all twelve presented every hour, along with other moving sculptures. The third is a calendar dial with medallions representing the months.
“We rose early the next day, excited to visit the Prague Castle, the largest ancient castle in the world that houses many ancient structures such as churches, palaces, towers, including a dungeon, sprawling gardens and at present several museums dedicated to Czech history which exhibit a large collection of Bohemian art. However, the most notable and historic buildings of the castle complex are the basilica of Saint George and the basilica of Saint Vitus, both founded in the first half of the 10th century. The Roman Catholic cathedral contains the tombs of many Bohemian kings and Holy Roman Emperors, and is the biggest and most important church in the country. The design of the cathedral is based on Romanesque architecture of the Holy Roman Empire, with certain Gothic elements as well.
“I was utterly mesmerized and speechless as we strolled leisurely through the perfectly manicured, lush green palace gardens, with the idyllic Prague city on one side and the majestic Prague castle on the other, it seemed as though providence had brewed a bit of romance in the air. It took us close to the six hundred steps to reach the Prague castle. Nearly four hours and it was time to descend those steps and head back to our hotel. With each step, the majestic Prague castle grew smaller and smaller until it disappeared behind buildings, but the magnificent experience will remain with us forever!
“A visit to the stately Troja Castle was scheduled for the next evening which was also the venue of a business gala dinner organized by my husband’s business host for the business delegates and their better halves. As we entered the castle’s tall iron gates, along the red carpet which led straight to this imposing red and white castle. A big circular fountain gushing out water lay in the middle of the pathway, while lush, landscaped gardens in circular and square shapes on either side adding to the richness and opulence of the place. To add to this feel, our business host had the locals dressed in Victorian style. Going past the gigantic water fountain and towards the Troja castle, I came across the ancient art nouveau staircases on either side leading up to the castle’s main entrance door. Each staircase had several stone statues holding ancient weapons representing the fight of the gods and the giants. The castle terrace was decorated with a rare collection of big vases. The interior projected angels and saints, counts and noblemen, horsemen and horses; entire scenes painted all over the ceiling, walls and pillars, and highlighted by golden, purple and blue floodlights and laser lights. Gazing up and down, and all around all the time, it was rather difficult to concentrate on the golden-rimmed cutlery or the delectable four course meal that followed.
“Art nouveau buildings, Gothic-style palaces, theaters, churches and chapels. The city has in its repertoire futuristic and contemporary architecture as well. To add modernity to the vintage mix, buildings constructed in contemporary design stand with the same proud air among their ancient counterparts. There are sprawling parks with perfectly manicured lush green grass and trees with green, rust and orange leaves which have been erected everywhere around the city.
“All those compulsive shopaholics need not worry for they may be housed in ancient baroque and Gothic-style buildings, but those standard Louis Vuittons’, Christian Diors’, Jimmy Choos’, Rolexs’, River Islands’ and Zaras’, with their scrawny mannequins are very much there.
“Despite the ravages of the World War II bombings that destroyed many historic sites, this fascinating 1,100 year old city has managed to maintain its mystic beauty and ethereal aura. Time, with all its rigors and tender moments, seems to have come to a standstill,” says Shireen.
A city built on dreams, Prague is a dream you never wish to wake up from!