Czech Republic

July 27th — July 31st

Anything even remotely related to eastern Europe is typically poorly covered in France’s education system. I think that folks of my generation who have grown up in the west don’t  usually think much of the countries that used to be east of the iron curtain. I think that to most people who haven’t been there, some of these provinces probably seem unremarkable. That was certainly my case and as such, I had very few expectations about Prague.

Prague swept me off my feet. It’s without a doubt one of the most beautiful capitals. It shares a trait with Rome in that the areas worth seeing that are actually well maintained are within a relatively limited perimeter, and exploring beyond that can be take you off your high, but it’s still large enough that you can wander about and marvel at the city for days on end.

Prague’s looks have got no parallel, both literally and figuratively. The streets are crooked, their public squares are loosely delineated, with buildings protruding in all directions. The colors of the facades in the historical center pop out in bright tones of pink and red. From above, the skyline reveals an eclectic mix of towers, churches, domes, palaces and forts. The Danube and its many bridges traverses the city and brings a sense of balance to a capital that otherwise feels delightfully chaotic — yet another quality Prague shares with Rome.

It’s very plain that Prague used to be the seat of great power and influence. As I mentioned earlier, this fact is obfuscated by our education in most western countries, but Prague reminds us of this fact at every turn. The pomp and splendor blew me away time and time again. Understanding how meaningful Prague must have once been, I couldn’t help but wonder how well such a capital would have fared had it not been hindered by its stint behind the curtain. Perhaps it could have been another Vienna.

We visited Prague in the dead of summer, our afternoon walks were scorching hot, and the center of town was packed with tourists, often skewing young. The price of beer must be a factor in this. It’s not uncommon to find pints of beer in Prague for the equivalent of two or three euros. Food and housing is also very affordable. It has to be the cheapest European major city we’ve been to. Even Berlin couldn’t beat it.

As for Germany, I can’t say that Czech food blew my mind, but there are many great food options in Prague, especially considering the price point.

At the end of the day, Prague was one of the best surprises we encountered. It’s a must see from my point of view, and a fairly easy stop for anyone traveling by train. If you’re on a budget, its appeal is all the more obvious. Visiting Prague also made me curious to delve further into Eastern Europe. Another trip for another time..