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Revisiting the renaissance

The sheer energy of the ancient city of Prague makes it great for a weekend visit or even a long, leisurely trip

travel Updated: Nov 26, 2011 11:21 IST

The capital of the
the Czech
Republic has a life
of its own.
begins right from
the railway station, a unique
one with a lush garden
around it. The best way to
begin is at the National
Museum, followed by the
Wenceslas Square and the
famous Charles Bridge.

Founded in 1818 as a regional natural history museum, the architectural symbol of the Czech National Revival was completed in 1890 in a Neo-Renaissance style. Wenceslas Square, once a horse market, is now flanked with cinemas, souvenir stores and cafes offering Czech beer.

The 750-metre-long and 60-metre-wide square has seen a great deal of Czech history. In 1969, a university student, Jan Palach, burnt himself to death in protest against the Warsaw Pact invasion. In November 1989, protest meetings against police brutality were held here, leading to the Velvet Revolution and the end of communism in Czechoslovakia. In the middle of the square is a monument of St Wenceslas on a horse, accompanied by sculptures of four Czech saints.

Beautiful architecture from varying periods is displayed in building clusters -- the Rococo Kinsky Palace, Gothic Tyn Cathedral, Baroque St. Nicholas Church, National Museum, State Opera, Church of St Ignatius, and the Clock Tower which attracts the most eyeballs. Groups of tourists gather around looking up in anticipation every hour, when the window opens and the apostles give their blessings.

You're overwhelmed by the live music, stalls dishing out traditional Czech specialities like old Prague ham, Halusky (a snack made of potatoes, cabbage and bacon), stores selling an amazing range of marionettes, colourful crystals and cut glassware which the country is famous for. Some factories like Ruckl at Nizbor offer a free tour.

A spot that sets you thinking is the Jewish Quarter which also has the cemetery, founded in 1478, and Europe's oldest surviving Jewish cemetery with over 12,000 gravestones. During the Nazi regime, people were buried on top of each other due to lack of space.

A few metres away is the ever-lively Charles Bridge, famous for the 30 statues that stand on it. The bridge was the most important connection between the Prague Castle and the Old Town.

Open to pedestrians only, there are plenty of street musicians and wares on sale -- jewellery, paintings and artists who'll paint your portrait on the spot. Keep aside one full day to visit the Prague Castle, which is situated on a hill, with a tram taking you up the winding road. The largest ancient castle in the world, it has churches, gardens, alleyways and royal residences on its campus. Watch the change of guard at the castle which now houses the Czech President's office.

If pubbing is not your scene, then the Krizik Fountain Show is a good bet in the evening or even the Black Light Theater WOW Show. Or just hop in to the Palladium shopping mall which has 200 outlets and a food court that dishes out even Asian specialities.

On the outskirts of the city, the Karlstejn castle of Charles IV, accessed by a horse cart (about 150 kronas per person) is a good day trip. Frescoes, a rich history and the famous chapel of St Cross that safeguarded the crown jewels of the Holy Roman Empire make this visit memorable.

How to get there?
Well connected by rail, the Czech capital has direct trains from Zurich, Munich and Vienna. You can also take a connecting flight from any of the major European cities. Fares start at R 35,000GOOD TO KNOW: Make sure to change your Euros to Kronas from a reliable bank. There are touts who promise to give you a good rate but try and avoid them as they dole out fake notes. 24 Kronas = 1 Euro

First Published: Nov 26, 2011 11:21 IST