Our best laid plans sometimes go astray but that’s not always a bad thing
“Perceptions” by Gerry Warner
Something funny happened to me on the way to Prague, Czech Republic. I got there all right and all I can say is what a beautiful city it is. The medieval architecture, cobblestone streets and soaring spires of its numerous churches will live in my memory forever.
But my plans to take an ESL teaching course and teach abroad fell through. The karma wasn’t right for it and I can’t give you a better reason. But I can offer you some valuable advice.
Go to Prague someday. You won’t regret it.
Aside from producing some great hockey players, Prague is home of the “Velvet Revolution,” the “Velvet Divorce” and was at one time the centre of the Holy Roman Empire, a city drenched in history if there ever was one.
From a few scattered huts along the river Vitava, Prague emerged as a small city in the 10th Century to rise in prominence as the Huns and the Visigoths were busy sacking Rome. Called “The Times of Saints and Blood,” the Prague royal family was awash in blood with Queen Ludmila strangled by her daughter-in-law and her grandson Vaclav murdered by his brother, but later made a saint.
The mid-1300s were the Golden Age of Medieval Prague when the King and Emperor Charles IV made Prague the centre of the Holy Roman Empire and started the building of the many architectural wonders that tourists enjoy so much today like St. Vitus Cathedral overlooking the Old Town, Wenceslas Square, named for Good King Wenceslas, the patron Saint of the Czech Republic, and the Charles Bridge, sometimes called “the Bridge that Never Sleeps” and lined with dozens of gnarled statues from Prague’s rich, Czechoslovakian history.
By the mid 1500s, Prague was the capital of Bohemia, which was only one kingdom belonging to the mighty Holy Roman Empire along with Hungary, Croatia, Slovakia and numerous German states. The empire dissolved in 1806 and Prague became part of the powerful Hapsburg Empire until it broke up in the wake of World War I and Czechoslovakia became a country of its own in 1918.
But not for long.
By the late 1930s, Nazism was goose-stepping across Europe and Adolph Hitler’s Wehrmacht troops swallowed up Austria and Czechoslovakia and the Western allies, consumed with appeasing Hitler, didn’t say boo. The Munich Agreement (Peace in our Time) was the death knell for the briefly-lived Czech Republic and to this day many Czechs have felt a “Munich komplex” about their country’s history and its tragic betrayal by the allies, according to a wonderful historical guide I picked up at the Prague Info Centre near one of the many ornate bridges that span the Vitava.
Czechoslovakia re-emerged as a country again after World War II, but quickly fell under the yoke of communism and became a stolid satellite of Moscow. In 1984, when I attended the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, I was told by several experienced Europe travellers not to visit Prague because it was depressing and the people were dour. I regret now that I heeded their advice.
Whatever the case, my advice now is to go if you want to enjoy one of Europe’s most historic and glittering cities chock-a-block with palaces, cathedrals, monuments, haute cuisine and little hole-in-the-wall restaurants where I had tasty goulash in a bread bowl that I’ll never forget. Not to mention the unique “astronomical clock” on the stone tower in Old Town Square which shows earthly time and time in the cosmos.
To be honest, the heavy hand of communism can be still felt to some degree in Prague in some of the boring Soviet era, Stalinist style buildings, but also in a positive sense in the very cheap and efficient transit system boasting both underground subway lines and above ground rail trams and buses.
It’s not every country that can use the word “velvet” to describe the revolution that saw it break away from the Soviet Union and use the same word again to describe the amicable divorce between it and Slovakia.
By all means, consider a holiday to Prague. Good King Wenceslas would approve.
Gerry Warner is a retired journalist, who can never get enough of historic Europe.