Prague is a breathtakingly old city that, when viewed aerially, appears to be an intricate labyrinth of bright red-orange roofs. I was first immersed in its incitement of utter awe at the age of seventeen during my first trip to Europe. The perfectly preserved antiquity of it leaves you feeling as if you’ve been transported back hundreds of years in an idyllic medieval town.
I had travelled here during Orthodox Easter, which turned Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí) — the location of the Prague astronomical clock, or Pražský Orloj — into a massive market of handmade items, freshly made food, and live performers. I spent well over an hour scouring the rows and rows of pop-up shops for things to bring home and treats to snack on while I did so. The only downside of beautiful Prague is that things were quite pricey there (at least in comparison to Kraków, Poland, where I travelled to after my time in Prague) for both food and shopping alike. However, with so many lovely little things to buy, I found myself consequently sparing as many meals as possible to instead stock up on things to bring back home: silver Austrian crystal teardrop earrings, a hand painted Venetian styled Carnevale-style masquerade mask, a colourfully hand-painted wooden nesting doll, and stunning porcelain doll with blonde ringlets and a traditional Czech dress, among other things.
Each place you visit in this city leaves you hungry for more of it, and excitedly moving onward to the next location in front of you without ever quite being satiated. Over the couple of days I spent exploring the area, I was comfortably able to navigate my way about half a kilometer on either side of the iconic fourteenth century Charles Bridge (Karlův Most). Each time I crossed the bridge, I touched the falling priest on the plaque on the statue of John of Nepomuk; it’s easy to spot, as it has been polished to a golden shine over many centuries of people’s fingers grazing over it in hopes of good luck and being ensured a return trip to Prague. There is also a small golden cross slightly before the statue, in the direction toward Old Town Square, that marks the place the saint’s body was thrown into the River Vltava. Touching this cross is said to grant a wish within a year and one day.
The first time after making my way to the other side of the Charles Bridge from Old Town Square, I wandered into Wallenstein Garden (Valdštejnská Zahrada), the seventeenth century gardens behind the Senate Palace and where (I recognized after re-watching the movie some time after my trip) a scene from the 1994 movie Immortal Beloved was filmed. This was my first real exposure to a proper European garden with geometric lawn space, perfectly trimmed hedges, neat rows of flora, and elaborately chiseled sculptures nestled amongst grand fountains. The stunning albino peacock roaming the area was an addition I could not help but fawn over. And after this, as one does when they are pulled forward by the sheer desire to uncover more of such an enchanting place, I continued on and upward, climbing the steep incline of hill through mini vineyards and cafés toward the massive castle perched at the very top.
Between those two points, you can wander through Golden Lane (Zlatá Ulička), a street constructed in the late fifteen century, with houses being built along it about a hundred years later. Though my tour guide said it was named after the alchemists that inhabited the area during the reign of Rudolf II, Nearby is also the torture chamber, this frightening space you can explore that is filled with various equipment used to — well, as the name suggests — torture prisoners. From here though, you can meander westward to see two places of worship. The first you notice is St. Vitus Cathedral (Katedrála Sv. Víta) which is so grandiose in its Gothic splendor that it nearly overshadows, quite literally, St. George’s Basilica (Bazilika Sv. Jiří) across the square. Though the former is the resting place and shrines of Saints Vitus, Wenceslas, and Adalbert, as well as the state treasury, St. George was built in the 900s and had its façade redone in 1142 to reflect Baroque and Bohemian art.
Once you have fully saturated yourself in the magnificence of these buildings, you can make your way slightly more westward to Prague Castle, the astounding palace built in the ninth century. Though the current President of the Czech Republic resides there, it has a much more interesting history. For me, the most exciting political figure to have lived there was the Empress Maria-Theresa stayed during her time spent in Prague (most notably because she is the mother of Queen Marie-Antoinette, with whom I am absolutely captivated by her story).
The outskirts of the palace here, is pushing the end of Old Prague. If you continue walking out of this area, you will find yourself slowly being integrated into a more urban, fast-paced city (though it is still interspersed with historical buildings).
Thanks to the plaque of the falling priest on the Charles Bridge, I’m still waiting on my return trip to Prague, but I know it’s only a matter of time before I return to that gorgeous city.
Until then, I’ll continue to think about how perfect it was.