I spent a few days in Prague this week with good friend and refugee family “mom,” Anne-Lene. I don’t think I have ever been to a place that felt so light and uncomplicated. The city lived up to everything I had heard about it — wall-to-wall charm, stunning architecture adorned with elegant detail of all kinds, walkable streets, friendly Czechs and a lot of very happy tourists. It is the kind of place you want to visit when you want to forget about “it.”
Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic, which has a short history as a nation but a long and complex history as a place. The short version: after thousands of years of tribes, dynasties, religious wars, castle-building and kings, Czechoslovakia became a nation in 1918. In the 20th century, it was occupied by Hitler and then the Soviets. In 1968, playwright Vaclav Havel famously lead dissidents to demand freedom during “Prague Spring”, was subsequently imprisoned and then in 1989 became the country’s first president after the fall of the Berlin wall. A few years later, Czechoslovakia agreed to a peaceful dissolution to become the two independent states of Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
But about the beer….Czechia, as it is affectionately called, is all about the beer. Beer is legally designated an essential food so it cannot be taxed as alcohol according European Union rules. Czechs drink more beer per capita than anywhere on earth. And there are no beer brands in Czechia that aren’t Czech. Anne-Lene doesn’t drink and I am a wine drinker but we each had a beer during the week in honor of our hosts. Yes, it was good!
We also learned that Prague is in Bohemia, so named for complicated reasons but most recently for the (gypsy-like?) ethnic groups that ruled the region during Medieval times.
During our stay, the central city was alive with street performances of all kinds, including folk dances, classical music, and acrobatic feats. The food is a lot of meat, and the stuff in the touristic center of town is mostly to be avoided, although we found two great vegetarian restaurants.
Anne-Lene is a dedicated photographer and she especially loves photographing buildings — so she was totally in her element!
We also took advantage of the many ways to explore the area — joining a walking tour through the center, enjoying a boat ride down the Vitava River and then biking through the gorgeous Czech countryside.
Anne-Lene and I agreed we will have to return some day because we missed a tour of the Prague Castle and the paddle boats and the Jewish Cemetery and the Communist Museum! Three days is not enough time to see wonderful Prague….