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Prague - by any other name would be just as beautiful


Prague, Czech Republic
Vltava River Runs Through Prague

This past summer, we visited Prague for several days. Though the nature of our business was family oriented, we hoped to see a bit of the "Mother Of All Cities" and some surrounding countryside during this time. For Bob, it was his first visit to this beautiful historic city. For me, it was a visit filled with memories since I called Prague home for the first twelve years of my life.

Admittedly, as a child I did not comprehend, nor was I that interested in, the historical and architectural splendour of a city that has been around for almost ten centuries. Certainly, as a student, I had my fair share of history lessons, many of which sounded like fairy tales because they were filled with stories of kings, queens, emperors, and knights. It is important to note that even these lessons were 'watered' down by the communist government so our studies could be more focused on the regime that ruled the country at the time.

Our family emigrated in 1977 when the country was still very much under the communist rule. This made it impossible for us to return even to visit family members that stayed behind until the iron curtain came down at the end of the Cold War in 1991. Having been back only once before (in 1998), I looked forward to being able to share the city of my childhood with a few good friends.

Prague - Czech Republic
View of Prague from Petrin Hill
Prague Castle
Prague Castle
Prague is one of the top ten visited cities in Europe and although it has suffered some damages to its historical landmarks during the war and even afterwards during the liberation” by the Red Army 1968, Prague was one of the least marred cities in the war and post-war era. Yet to this day, the tour guides will draw your attention to the shrapnel damage to the National Museum by Soviet machine guns which is still clearly visible. Presently, St. Wenceslaus Square, with the National Museum at one end, is one of the most popular areas for locals and tourists alike. It is lined with many inviting shops and cafes that beckon the visitor to browse or just sit back and enjoy the outpouring energy of this friendly city.

We were fortunate enough to stay in a beautiful hotel within walking distance to the Prague Castle. Blessed with beautiful blue skies and warm weather, we embarked on our adventure. I was excited to share at least a part of the city I grew up in with my travelling companions. The fact that Czech is my mother tongue helped tremendously in getting directions to our destination.

Quite by accident, mostly because I was unaware of its presence, we stumbled upon the Memorial to the Victims of Communism. The inscription "THE MEMORIAL TO THE VICTIMS OF COMMUNISM IS DEDICATED TO ALL VICTIMS, NOT ONLY THOSE WHO WERE JAILED OR EXECUTED BUT ALSO THOSE WHOSE LIVES WERE RUINED BY TOTALITARIAN DESPOTISM". The memorial consists of figures walking down a set of stairs with only one figure being "whole" but each successive following figure has less of their bodies visible until there is almost nothing left to the figure. In one way I would consider myself a 'victim of communism' as my father was a political prisoner of the system for many years and this affected not only him but his family and loved ones in many ways. The continuum of destruction of the human soul which, to me, is evident in this memorial continues to affect many families around the world. It is unfortunate that many people who visit this memorial view it just as another photo opportunity in Prague without understanding its full meaning.

Memorial to the Victims of Communism
 - Prague
Memorial to the Victims of Communism
Memorial to the Victims of Communism
 - Prague
Detail of the Memorial


But onwards through the gardens of Petrín we trekked with our focus on visiting the landmarks of Prague. Although there is a venicular, it is not accessible and so we soldiered on by foot. The views from every part of the park were spectacular so it was not such a hardship except for the fact that some of the pathways were pretty steep, and Bob's mobility scooter sputtered a few too many times. The day grew hotter and we finally came upon a restaurant just at the foot of the Petrín lookout tower with the attitude of a parched nomad seeing an oasis in the desert. Beer never went down so well as it did that day.

Prage Czech Republic
Another View from Petrin Hill
Strahov Monastery
 - Prague
Strahov Monastery


Probably the most popular and the most visited area of Prague is Staré Město (Old Towne).

Here you will find small town squares, almost always with communal wells (now not in use) as well as obelisks that were erected in a medieval effort to ward off the Black Plague.

Many of the streets surrounding the Old Towne were, in fact, in the 9th century, moats constructed for protection.

As the city grew under the rule of Charles IV, the moat became streets that to this day house architecture that reminiscent of the history that the city is founded upon.
Old Towne - Prague
Old Towne Square
One of the most popular buildings located on the bank of the Vltava River is the National Theatre (Národní Divadlo), which had its original debut in 1868, is considered a national monument. Prague prides itself on its culture, more specifically, in its history and influence on classical music, poetry, and the arts.
National Theatre - Prague
National Theatre (rounded roof) on the far left.
Many world famous composers 'cut their teeth' playing the circuit in Prague – for example, Smetana, Dvorak, Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven among many others. And because it is such an important part of the Czech culture, the theatre is not exclusive to the upper crust of society. Some opera productions are adapted to the younger generation so they too can enjoy and appreciate the fine arts.

As a child, I remember going to the theatre to see operas and operettas that were based on children's folklore. (In those days, theatre was more popular than the cinema.) To this day, the National Theatre boasts productions worthy of its past and continues to enthrall audiences with operas and concerts by world renowned musicians.


There is much to see and a person could spend days just wandering around the Old Towne and New Towne, taking in the views of hundreds of spires from both sides of the river. Most tourists are initially drawn to one of three landmarks – The Prague Castle which also serves as the Presidential Palace, the Charles Bridge with its foot-only traffic and thirty, mostly baroque style statues, and the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square.

According to the Guiness Book of World Records, the Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world. Over the centuries, it has been home to many kings, emperors, and presidents.

St. Vitus Cathedral - Prague
Cathedral of St. Vitus
A vault with crown jewels that date back to the 14th century is kept within the Cathedral of St. Vitus. The crown was made for King Charles in 1347 which makes it the fourth oldest crown in Europe. It is closely guarded under seven locks in an iron safe. Seven people have a key each to unlock one lock each and they must all convene in order to open the treasury.

Most of the castle grounds are open to the public with many museums, gardens, several palaces, a monastery and defense towers that are all housed within the castle walls. Just like with any other palace, the changing of the guard always invites crowds every hour on the hour. The Cathedral of St. Vitus, home to the crown jewels, is surrounded by the walls of the castle. Many kings and emperors are buried in the cathedral, which also holds the title of being the largest and most important church in the Czech Republic. It continues to be used for church services and visitors are welcome to enter and admire the beautiful stained glass windows and its magnificent design.

St. Vitus Cathedral - Prague
Cathedral of St. Vitus - Interior


The Charles Bridge was the only bridge until 1841 that connected the Old Town and vicinity with the Prague Castle. Legend has it that during the building of the original bridge, egg yolks were added to the mortar to strengthen the construction. In recent times scientists have not only found traces of egg yolk but also milk and wine. Over the years it has survived many disasters, including floods and wars, and though over the centuries parts of it have been restored, this ancient bridge is one of the most visited landmarks of Prague.

Charles Bridge - New Town Side
Charles Bridge - New Town Side
Charles Bridge - Prague
One of the Charles Bridge Statues
Most of the statues are of saints and patron saints and were erected on the balustrades of the bridge between late 1600 to early 1700. All of the statues on the bridge presently are replicas, the originals have been moved to a lapidarium at the National Museum. Many vendors set up their stands on the bridge and offer up their wares for sale. Mostly these are watercolour paintings of Prague, jewellery and other handcrafted items. The artwork is first class and the artists are not usually assertive to the tentative customer. However, they will often engage in a dialogue about their beautiful city and their art. I strongly encourage you to take the time to interact with the locals. Often you will learn more about Prague's history and even more about its many legends.

The Astronomical Clock is one of three and the only one in the world that is still functional. The original clockwork and dial was built in 1410 but over the centuries other dials were added as well as statues and figures of the twelve apostles and moving figures underneath the clock face.

In front of the clock, the square is always full throughout the day, especially as the minute hand nears 12.

Not only does the area below the tower fill up with curious travellers, but you may find it challenging to even get a table at one of the outdoor cafes or bars as people will often meet up with their friends at this rendezvous spot to enjoy a world famous Czech beer.

Tourists from around the world watch intently as the twelve apostles peer and rotate through the windows at the top of the clock tower on the hour. At the strike of the hour, the skeleton figure rings a bell at which the other figures (a miser, a vain man, and a Turk) shake their heads signifying that their time is not up yet. (These are the "original bobble heads").

A favourite legend has it that the clockmaker Hanuš was blinded after completing the original clock so he could not repeat his masterpiece. In turn, he broke the clock and no one was able to repair it for a hundred years.
Astronomical Clock - Prague
Astronomical Clock


Regardless of what sights draw visitors in, the rest of the architecture that fills this area cannot be missed. The beautiful Church of St. Nicholas is found just around the corner from the clock tower and is often the location for many concerts as its domed ceilings contribute to remarkable acoustics. Whether you come to listen to a concert or just to admire its beautiful architecture and frescoes, you will not be disappointed.

The square acts as a centrum to small streets that wander off in all directions. Here you will find many shops, mostly souvenirs, but also high end fashion stores, as well as countless Czech pubs and restaurants. More historical landmarks await you around every turn. One of the most visible ones is the Powder Gate. Built in the 11th century, it was one of thirteen gates to the city and was known as the New Gate. It was renamed in the 17th century because its main purpose was to store gunpowder. You can climb the stairs inside to get beautiful panoramic views of the Prague Castle and the Vltava River.

Powder Gate - Prague
Powder Gate
Troja Castle - Prague
Troja Castle


From the perspective of a person with a mobility challenge, I would strongly remind you that this is a medieval city at best. The same rules that apply to North America about accessibility still do not apply here although many new buildings now have to adhere to special needs codes. However, it is almost impossible to install elevators in 800 year old stone buildings. And while access to the base of many historical monuments are accessible, the monuments themselves may not be. One of the most impressive things about this city is the frequent use of cobblestones, not only on sidewalks but also on roadways. If you use a mobility device, be prepared for some major bumpy rides. Perhaps bringing a cushion for your trip would make your experience more comfortable.

Mobility in Prague


Barb Salivar
Barrier-FreeCruising.com

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