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Having grown up in Austria, I had never made it to the Czech Republic, one of our neighbouring countries. Prague, in particular, had interested me for a long time, but I had never had a chance to visit it. Well, on June 1, finally, I was on my way to explore Prague, one of Europe's most popular tourist destinations. I took the train from Vienna, enjoyed a great conversation with a young Czech lady from Brno who is now living in Berlin, and finally around 3 pm I made it into the Holesovice Railway Station in Prague.
Later that afternoon and evening I took a personal tour of the Old Town area with local expert Jitka Simkova and her colleague Karel. We started on St. Wenceslav Square, with its early 20th century architecture, and walked through narrow cobble-stoned streets into the centre of Prague: Old Town Square. This expansive public square features two of the main attractions of Prague: the Old Town Hall with its famous astronomical clock, and the Gothic Church of Our Lady before Tyn with its distinctive roofline. Kinsky Palace and the Church of St. Nicholas along with a variety of pastel-coloured medieval houses impressed me as one of the most beautiful European squares I had ever seen.
We continued our walk to the famous historical Charles Bridge whose construction started in 1357 and continued for about 150 years. Walking back through the narrow streets we stopped at a typical Czech beer hall, U Medvikdku, where I got to taste some authentic Czech beer brewed on site. I also enjoyed pork tail and potato pancakes, a typical Czech dish.
On June 2 I got a tour through the historic Hotel Jalta, where I was staying, which dates back to the post-war era and is now a designated landmark. Then I enjoyed another tour and a delicious lunch just steps away at the historic Hotel Radisson SAS Alcron which distinguishes itself with its stunning Art Deco inspired interior. In the afternoon, Petra, my tour guide, took me to Strahov Monastery where I saw one of the most stunning Baroque libraries.
From there we explored the Loreto and Prague Castle with one of its main sights: the breathtaking St. Vitus Cathedral. The present Gothic cathedral was begun in 1344, although earlier churches had stood here since 925 A.D. The vaulted interior with its colourful stained-glass windows makes it one of the most impressive Gothic buildings anywhere.
On my final day in Prague I took a tour with my knowledgeable guide Richard through Josefov, the Jewish Quarter of Prague. Prague is intricately connected with famous writer Franz Kafka, and reminders of his past can be seen all over the Jewish Quarter. Formerly the Jewish ghetto, most of this area of town was demolished between 1893 and 1913 and reconstructed along the lines of the Parisian reconstruction.
Because the Nazis wanted to create an "exotic museum for an instinct race", many of the Jewish building are actually still left in Josefov. These include six synagogues, the Jewish cemetery and the Old Jewish Town Hall. Then Richard and I got an introduction to Jewish cuisine at the kosher King Solomon restaurant. Today's Josefov features a large number of impressive Art Nouveau apartment houses.
Richard then took me to Municipal House, a magnificent civic landmark and concert hall that was constructed between 1905 and 1912. It features stunning Art Nouveau architecture and amazing murals by the famous painter Alfons Mucha. In the second half of the afternoon I went on a boat trip on the Vltava River which gave me a completely different viewpoint of Prague from the water.
After another walk on the Charles Bridge, I crossed over into Mala Strana, the Little Quarter, on the other side of the river. I took the funicular up to Petrin Hill, where I admired a miniature version of the Eiffel Tower. Then I walked over to the Hradčany Hill which is the location of Prague Castle, which is said to be the largest castle in the world. I enjoyed a great outdoor dinner at the foot of the castle hill, overlooking the city.
On the morning of June 4 I took the bus from Prague to Telč, a city close to the Austrian border. My brother and my sister-in-law met me there and we jointly explored this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The pastel-coloured Renaissance houses on the main square, the castle, the Church of the Ascension of Mary and the pond behind main square made this a great final stop on my explorations of the Czech Republic.