Saturday, March 1, 2014
Prague: A Bohemian Rhapsody
But one thing that the movie did do was reinforce my desire to visit Prague, one of the oldest cities in the world, basking in the glory of heritage and history. And finally, not so long back, when I visited the place, I was completely captivated by its old world charm: the city which presents a picture perfect montage of cobbled lanes, walled courtyards, cathedrals and countless church spires all in the silhouette of her imposing 9th century castle, overlooking the pristine Vltava River. Locally known as Praha, the capital city of Czech Republic offers a pot pourri of modern culture, fine dining, music, nightlife along with the legacy of Bohemian architecture. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the city has witnessed several historical events across the century which marked the reigns of the Holy Roman Empire, the Habsburg Monarchy, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Protestant Reformation and both the World Wars, even though it managed to remain untouched by the ravages of WWII.
As we drove from Vienna to Prague through the southeastern highway (D1), which is the Czech Republic's oldest and most used highway, we could see the landscape undergo a sea change right in front of our eyes, with the typical European tapestry giving way to slightly mystical elements of a medieval town of the east. As we made our way through the city centre, a part of me was gripped by a strong feeling of déjà vu, when I suddenly remembered my childhood days at my grandparent’s house in College Street in North Calcutta! The chaos, the criss-crossing tram lines and the colourful people formed a vivacious blend of the east and the west.
The next few days were a blur as we tried to imbibe as much as we could of a city which features in every traveler’s bucket list. Walking up and down the Charles Bridge, we could only stop so many times to soak in the panoramic view over the Vltava River, not to mention the regal Prague Castle which brought to life all the medieval war history that I had read in school. While the St. Vitus Cathedral with its lookout tower made me feel like Rapunzel in a fairy tale, the Astronomical Clock only dwarfed me in stature (as if the gigantic Czech men towering over me weren’t enough). As we loitered languidly in the Old Town, admiring the many architectural wonders (the pure Gothic Týn Church, the mural-covered Storch building, and the Jan Hus monument), the New Town was bustling with romantic restaurants, dazzling stalls and vibrant shops. The historic Jewish ghetto of Josefov gave us the flavour of Europe's oldest active synagogue and we traveled across the Vltava River to the Lesser Town which houses Holy Infant of Prague, the famous statue of Christ. The drive down to the Vyšehrad Castle as well as the slightly creepy but nevertheless striking Bone Church in the UNESCO heritage site of Kutna Hora, only added to the quixotic versatility that Prague offers.
If I was fascinated by Franz Kafka as a kid laboring through The Trial, it further deepened my fascination, as I stood in front his birthplace, staring vacuously, still coming to grips with the genius of one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. But while talking to some of the local people, I realized that while Kafka was a pride, the influence of the tennis player Ivan Lendl was as pervasive in a country obsessed with football and beer. Not surprisingly, Czech Republic ranks No.1 in per capita beer consumption, which was pretty evident as we explored a variety of places overflowing with international brands like Pilsner Urquell and Budweiser Budvar or the local flavour Staropramen. While I tasted one of the best pork ribs of my life, Czech style hotdogs were also refreshingly different from the usual messy and greasy variety I am used to, but the fruit dumpling (ovocné knedlíky) dessert definitely takes the cake!
My few days in Prague may have been too little to really soak up the magical mysticism of the city, but at least it provided me a tiny glimpse into the world which had forever fascinated me.
It was my Bohemian Rhapsody, may be a tad jarring, but musical all the same…