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Travel to Prague

Article by Michael Broker
Published in Clematis Magazine - 2003
Palm Beach, FL
Originally published in English.

Prague The tourists escape, an artists Nirvana

Photo of Article featured in Clematis magazine travel section featuring International artist Michael J. Korber in Prague, Czech Republic.
Clematis magazine featuring Korber in Prague

While the record-breaking high waters of 2002 have receded in Prague, the annual flood of tourists continues unabated to the destination that has been coined the "the Golden City of One Hundred Spires". Evident by its soaring popularity, there's no secret that Prague is a "now" place to be. This one time seat of the Holy Roman Empire has deservedly commanded the attention and respect of many an international visitor, drawing crowds from across the world.

Following the "Velvet Revolution" in 1989, when Czechoslovakia bloodlessly declared independence and withdrew from the Soviet Empire, the citizens of this formerly communist nation are still sobering from the prosperity brought on by a mass tourism infusion. While Westernized flavors are quickly seeping in, Prague still proudly retains the individualistic allure that has attracted visitors throughout history. As an added bonus, few places can match the diverse architectural showcase and cultural experience that the city has to offer for such a low price tag. US dollars go a long way here, but like all good things this will come to end in the all too near future. Following the recent vote to join the European Union, prices are guaranteed to rise as the country integrates onto the Euro.

Photo of the Prague Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square, Czech Republic
Prague Astronomical Clock, Czech Republic

While the city attracts crowds of all ages, Prague is especially popular with the younger scene. A vibrant nightlife, liberal laws, cheap prices and excellent booze make for a nonstop party during the summer season. Many visitors choose to stay in Staré Mesto or the Old Town district that dates back over a thousand years and in many ways is the epicenter of the city's pulse. Most of the winding cobblestone streets in this district converge on Staromestské nám or Old Town Square. Encircled with magnificent churches, vendors, cafes and other cultural attractions, the square is filled with people throughout the day and late into the night. With the many hotels found here, it's a great place to drop your bags and begin the Bohemian adventure.

Prague is located on the Vltava River, which runs through the heart of the city center. A series of bridges cross the river connecting the two sides of the city, of which the most famous is Karluv most or Charles Bridge. The bridge is host to a collection of local artisans and musicians that cater to the mass of curious visitors, and at times can be so crowded that crossing becomes an adventure. The bridge is adorned with a collection of thirty statues that help act as a storybook depicting the saga that has become this city's history. There are many possible ways to tour the city, including boats, buses, horse drawn carriages etc., but none can compare to the experience captured with a good pair of walking shoes and a guide book.

Photo of the Prague tramway in the Czech Republic
Prague tramway in the Czech Republic

Heading west over the Charles Bridge leads to Malá Strana and the Charles Castle. The unmistakable Castle complex sits atop of a hill and is visible from most locales in the city center. The castle has a magnetism that seems to mesmerize first timers, leaving them wide eyed and open jawed as they navigate through the narrow cobblestone streets to its feet. Inside the main gate stands the magnificent St. Vitus Cathedral. This highly ornate Gothic cathedral took 600 years to complete and now stands high with its spires stretching toward heaven. A daunting climb up the 300 steps of the adjacent Cathedral Tower provides a spectacular view of the shimmering city. The castle complex hosts a variety of other sights including museums, galleries, shops and the one time residence of local hero, Franz Kafka. This primer to the sights of Prague is just a taste of what the city has to offer. Numerous other churches, museums and attractions are located throughout the city and can be easily located with a guide book or map. But with a city that looks like a museum it can be just as entertaining wandering down alleys and stumbling into that next "Kodak moment".

Photo of the miniature Eiffel tower in Petrín Hill in Prague, Czech Republic.
Petrín Hill in Prague, Czech Republic

When the summer temperatures begin to rise in Prague, locals and visitors alike retreat to the vast urban park named Petrín Hill. In sharp contrast to the bustling streets below, this large sprawling park is filled with trails that link a mosaic of gardens, orchards and civic landmarks. The best views of the city can be had from another hike up the 300 steps of the miniature Eiffel tower. This vista is actually high enough that on a clear day it's possible to see the mountains to the north that separate Poland from the Czech Republic.

If a walk through the park doesn't sound like an appealing method of choice for cooling off on a hot summer day, perhaps a dip in one of the many local "swimming holes" will help. Or, as many prefer, the shade of a café's umbrella and the sipping of a cool beverage may do the trick. Within a stones throw of Old Town is the heart of the downtown commercial district, known as Nové Mesto or New Town. Centered on the grand Wenceslas Square this district radiates outward into the realm of the local Praguers.

Inundated with its many chic shops and boutiques, this is the fashion corridor of Prague. Always popular with local young people, this is great spot to people watch while chilling out for a few drinks at a café. The celebrated Café Café, is a popular place that caters to a young professional crowd and is a favorite of those in the know. While in the neighborhood, a scenic stroll up the main boulevard leading to the National Museum provides some fine examples of the city's art nouveau architecture.

In actuality a person could spend many, many hours uncovering the secrets, history and beauty that Prague has to offer while missing the living spirit of the city, the people. Miraculously, this ancient city is almost entirely in its original form following the occupation of some of the most powerful armies the world has known. Fortunately for today's visitors, the passive attitudes of former Czech generations, has led to the preservation of this magnificent landmark. It's very important upon arriving in the Bohemian capital to consciously begin lowering one's metabolism with the hope of leaving the rat race behind. Things are just more relaxed here. Sure there is the pulsating beat of any modern economy, but it's accomplished in a more laid back manner.

Photo of the figurative abstract painter and artist Michael J. Korber in Prague overlooking the Vltava River, Czech Republic
Vltava River, Czech Republic

It's not right, it's not wrong, it's just different, explains former West Palm Beach resident, Michael Korber about the Bohemian lifestyle which is the embodiment (that defines many of the social norms) of the Prague ‘tude. While not shouting decadence on the cover, it's the subtle behavioral differences that bring a grin to the face of many Westerners. Views towards public affection, pot, and prostitution are just much more relaxed here than other places. Korber, an internationally acclaimed artist, relocated from West Palm Beach to Prague in mid 2002.

Since moving to Europe, Michael's "trademark affection for line and color" style has brought home the top awards at art competitions in Malta, Venice and Paris. "The city is ideal for working artists" he explains while downing a few pints of Czech's finest in a beer garden overlooking the city. According to Michael, a person can live comfortably here for $12K US per year and "while not currently a great art market, this is the ideal place for an artist to create". To live in such an affordable place that is surrounded by amazing architecture, landscapes, tasty beer and laid back people,

Photo of Karlův most in the Prague, Czech Republic
Karlův most - Prague, Czech Republic

Michael's studio adjacent to the Charles Castle is a true nirvana. When not working hard on his current project depicting Dante's Divine Comedy Trilogy that will include upwards of 50 canvases, Korber can be found chilling in a local teahouse with a group of his new Czech friends.

Michael's "trademark affection for line and color" style has brought home the top awards at art competitions in Malta, Venice and Paris.

The younger generation is eagerly opening up to the flare of freeform culture that can be found in the popular local art, music and film scene. The Czech culture has a rich history in the classical arts but today is morphing into the pop electronica thing found in the States. Trendy restaurants, bars, cafes, galleries etc. are opening up throughout the city targeting this niche market for both locals and jet-setters alike. Dining options in Prague are abundant and run the full gamut in variety and price. The native Czech cuisine is of the rich caloric overdose variety and includes such staples as pork, red meat, cabbage and dumplings that are almost always swimming in a thick gravy. The menus here are cheap, the food is great, and good restaurants can be found throughout the city. A few of the popular ones with locals include Acropolis, Kozicka and the Kolkovna. The Old Town area is filled with places that serve everything from Afghan to Zimbabwian. Not really, but there are many cosmopolitan and continental restaurants including the popular upscale Bellevue, Circle Line and Kampa Park. Additional places to check out include the hip fusion restaurant/club Radost FX for a veggie menu and Arzenal for great Thai food highlighted by a décor of fabulous art glass designed by Czech's leading designer Borek Sípek. One thing to keep in mind when dining in the Czech Republic, is the popularity of chain smoking in all environs, non-smokers beware.

Czech citizenry lead the world in per capita beer consumption and even the Germans agree they brew the best. Needless to say there are many places to party in Prague, and while many bars and pubs cater to vacationers, others are more popular with locals and expats. A simple walk through Old Town after dark will lead to an assortment of watering holes ranging from Irish pubs to martini bars. A current phenomena happening in Prague is the popularity the city has gained as a top destination for British stag and hen parties. There is an unmistakable sound to a group of drunken British lads that are hell bent on sending their mate off in style. Be cautious, unlike the Czech locals, these boys like to get pissed, rowdy and rambunctious. The current "place to be seen" spot is the M1 Secret Lounge on Masná Street, Old Town. Recently opened by two American expats Glen and Matt, the bar lives up to its name and is barely visible from the street and only then by a small blue sign. The bar is very popular with locals and in-the-know visitors. Staffed by many beautiful Czech young ladies the spot is notorious for attracting a good looking crowd that likes to have a good time. For those more in the mood to dance, a stop in the infamous club Roxy for thumpin' DJs, the Duplex for a more sterile version of the same or Karlovy Lázne for under-aged teenie boppers should do the trick. If this combo doesn't leave you in an absinthe induced comatose state and you're still up after 3:00am looking for a party, the after hours club Le Clan is a great space with good late night energy.

Hotels are abundant in all of the major tourist areas in downtown Prague. Top honors for price and service would go to Inter-Continental Praha centrally located in the heart of Old Town. For a more middle of the road stay in Old Town, try the hidden little gem called the Maximilian or even the trendy Hotel Josef.

Budget minded travelers might enjoy a stay in the art nouveau style Evropa Hotel in Wenceslas Square, which provides a nice sanctuary immediately adjacent to the Old Town district. But for the truly renegade globetrotter, a night or two in the Traveler's Hostel on Dlouhá Street will provide some very acute Bohemian memories.

Photo of The city of Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic
Český Krumlov in the south of Czech Republic

While visiting the Czech capital it is easy to plan a few day trips or overnighters into the more rural countryside. A two-hour drive south of Prague leads to the enchanted fairytale town of Cesky Krumlov. This picturesque town of yesteryear provides a pleasurable escape from the hustle and bustle of the hectic urban experience and would be a great place to spend an unforgettably romantic weekend. The small Old Town area is filled with inns, shops, eateries and plenty of opportunities for recreational diversion. Within a few hundred kilometers to the west of Prague, near the German border lies the international resort town of Karlovy Vary. Once a popular destination for the likes of Bach, Freud, Marx and Peter the Great, the town's many therapeutic springs offer a world-class chance to imbibe in some of Bohemia's life enhancing elixir.

As with many of the capital cities of the Baltics, Central and Eastern Europe, Prague is enjoying a renaissance of sorts. Providing a gateway between the East and West, Prague can easily be included as a stop in many European adventures. So grab your bag, czech it out and enjoy the praguenosis!