18 July 2013

Prague on my mind

Just my luck! I leave Prague, and the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI) schedules its 24th International Nursing Research Congress there. As I spend my days in Karachi coveting my colleagues’ enjoyment of beautiful Prague and her fabulous culture, I will be remembering my very favorite places while I lived there. And, because I hold no rancor for my “missed opportunity,” I will share the thoughts Ill be having with you now, in case you want to seek out my favorite places, too.

Everyone will tell you that the Charles Bridge, the Prague Astronomical Clock and Prague Castle (Prasky Hrad) are must-sees, and they are. If you have time to visit only the Big Three, don’t miss them.

The clock, which is in Old Town Square, is the third oldest astronomical clock in the world, dating from 1410, and the oldest one still functioning. On the hour, it strikes, and the show begins: a series of bell tones, trumpet blasts, and figures of the Apostles appearing in small doorways just above the clock face. Go early, as it will seem that everyone in Prague is waiting to view this hourly exhibit, and it can be difficult to find a good place to take photos.

Prague Astronomical Clock
The Charles Bridge dates from 1357 and is named after the Holy Roman Emperor, King Charles IV. Over several hundred years, carved statues were added to the bridge. The current statues are copies, and the originals are displayed out of the elements elsewhere, but the effect is the same. Note: The bridge is frightfully busy during a good part of the day and early evening. If you want a magnificent experience, get up early and be at the bridge before 7 a.m. If you are really lucky, there will be fog on the Vltava River, which gives the bridge an amazing otherworldly effect, unspoiled by the presence of people.

St. Vitus's Cathedral in Prague Castle (Prasky Hrad)
Of the “Big Three,” Prasky Hrad is my favorite. The castle complex, which marks the old walled city of Prague, has been around in enlarging forms since the 10th century. Once inside, opt for the audio guide, because it provides excellent information, and it assures you a no-wait line to get into St. Vitus´s Cathedral, where there are many treasures to enjoy. I am a fan of stained glass windows, and the window I love most in the world is here. So, when you are standing before the window designed by the famous Czech artist, Alfons Mucha, in his distinctive Art Nouveau style, think of me.

My favorite stained-glass window.
Most people identify classical music with Vienna, but Prague is electric with great music every evening of the week. My favorite concert venue was a very old church, St. Martin in the Wall, located in New Town, just off of Narodni. There are concerts there every Friday and Sunday at 6 p.m. sharp! You can purchase tickets online or at the door, but don’t be late because, once the concert begins, to prevent disturbance of the performance, you will not be admitted.

If St. Martin’s is inconvenient, don’t hesitate to find a venue more to your liking. Most Czech churches have been decommissioned as places of worship and have been turned into tourist and concert venues. The art within is often on par with the finest museums, and you won’t be disappointed in the music selections. Signs out front advertise the evening’s program, time of performance, and the price of tickets. If you happen upon a venue just before concert time, and you are interested in attending, ask for a price discount. Chances are good you will save a few koruna (crown), but don’t haggle too hard. The music will be worth the price of admission.

With its more than one thousand years of history, Prague is an architectural or art student’s delight. One of my favorite places is the Municipal House (Obecni Dum), located in central Prague. Following a major overhaul about 100 years ago, the present décor is predominantly Art Nouveau. Dine in the first floor French Restaurant or Café, or make your way to the basement to dine in the American Club. The food is fine, but the ambiance and tile mosaics are marvelous.

Monuments abound in Prague. You can’t help but pass them on any major street. But the one dearest to me also happened to be located next door to the apartment building where I lived in Prague. The Memorial to the Victims of Communism is of 21st-century design and pertains particularly to victims in the Czech Republic. It took me a good bit of processing before I decided how I felt about it.


Memorial to the Victims of Communism
Even if this monument isn’t to your liking, it sits at the bottom of Petrin Hill, a wonderful green space with excellent walking trails to explore. Just follow the trails up the hill, and you will eventually reach the Czech version of the Eiffel Tower and great views of the entire valley. About halfway up the hill are a couple of lovely restaurants with quite decent food and amazing views. Sit out on their patios, and enjoy!

Vyšehrad Cemetery
I enjoy cemeteries in a very nonmorbid way, and the Vyšehrad Cemetery is a real treat. Not only is it the final resting place of some internationally famous people—Alphonse Mucha and Antonín Dvořák—but it is also a place full of beautiful mosaics, sculptures, and interesting monuments. Immediately adjacent to the cemetery is the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul with its beautifully painted wall scenes, casements containing original Charles Bridge monuments, and the Gothic Cellar, which is a museum of interesting medieval artifacts. To get there, take trams No. 3 or 16 to Výton, south of New Town, or take Metro line-A (green) to Vyšehrad Station, and walk about 15 minutes up the hill. I always took my visitors to Prague to the Vyšehrad, and it never failed to please.

Finally, Prague is famous for its beer (pivo), and there are dozens of boutique breweries all over town. My favorite is located at the Strahov Monastery, located at the top of the hill above the Prasky Hrad. The monastery has much more to see than the brewery, and I recommend a leisurely stroll around the grounds, through the church, the art gallery, where there are rotating exhibits, and the library, recently beautifully restored.

And finally, advice from my experience in Prague. When you fly into Prague airport, pay attention to the signs, located where you collect your luggage, identifying taxi companies recommended by the city government of Prague. When you exit the building, there will be a line of taxi cabs. Do not be fooled into thinking you must take the first cab in line. Take ONLY the recommended cab companies, and if you like the driver, ask for his card and call him again. Your hotel will arrange proper taxi service to your destination, but you will need to call for a returning taxi. One of the recommended taxi companies has stands around town that are usually reliable.

Just know that hailing a taxi in Prague, as a foreigner, is a very risky business, and you are much less likely to be dissatisfied if you take the recommended taxis, the metro or trams, which provide excellent and inexpensive service.

So, colleagues, have a terrific time in this very lovely European capital city. Prague is magical and begs to be savored.

On a personal note, I am retiring from active practice in a few months and, sadly, this is my last post for “NP Worldview.” I am returning to the United States to bone up on my grandmother skills, and I can’t wait. My career in the U.S. Foreign Service has been an amazing experience, and I do hope I’ve been able to share some of the best of it through my blog.

Best wishes to each of you!

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

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