Prague, Czech Republic
August 2-5, 2005

Powder Gate in Prague Powder Gate
Prague old town square Prague old town square
Prague's astronomical clock Astronomical clock
Violinist near Prague castle Violinist near Prague castle
My trip to Prague was a special treat for me, as it is one of the cities that I visited 15 years ago in 1990, just after the fall of Communism. And although I probably spent no more than two or three days there at the age of 15, it's one of the cities that I remember most distinctly from my Eastern European tour. I still have vivid memories of the quiet plaza near Tyn Church, filled with pigeons and flanked by the towering astronomical clock at the Old Town Hall. I remember strolling along the Charles Bridge late one evening and even recall the accordion tune played by a lone street performer - a tune that I had never heard before and never since.

And while all of the landmarks are still there and largely unchanged, the feel of the city has changed dramatically over the last 15 years. The cobblestone plazas are now packed with tourists who greatly outnumber the pigeons; horse-drawn carriages clak along down the city streets; souvenir shops dominate the storefronts; and the Charles Bridge, which was once a quiet place to spend the evening, is now bustling with activity 24 hours a day, lined by dozens of street vendors and hundreds of tourists.

Prague has become a premiere tourist destination. At any of the major city attractions, you can hear languages spoken from every corner of the globe. Prague even boasts Europe's largest dance club, a five-story maze of rooms just 100 yards from the Charles Bridge.

Following the advice of Robert Zeithammer, a Czech friend that I met at MIT, I climbed up the Eiffel Tower replica atop Petrin Hill to get a bird's eye view of the city. To the north, the steep spires of the castle rise above the top of the adjacent hill. Looking beyond the expansive park to the east and across the river, the elaborate architectural facades of downtown Prague stretch off into the haze.

Joining some friends that I met at the A-Plus Hostel, I spent an evening at Krizikova fontana, a large complex of fountains where choreographed performances combine water, lights, and live dance to create a dazzling display of color and motion. Only when I looked at the informational pamphlet did I realize I had seen the performance before during my original trip visit to Prague, so I jumped at the opportunity to refresh those dusty memories.

After spending two days mingling with the other tourists, I decided to heed Robert's advice to get out of the city and took the northwest tram to its furthest extent. There, I hiked through the Great Gorge, a deep canyon with steep black walls that appears anomalous so close to the city and flanked by green rolling hills. Even though it's only 15 minutes from the city center by public transit, the quiet valley is totally removed form the bustling chaos of the tourist district.

The solitude of the Great Gorge reminded me of the Prague that I remember from 1990. And while it's wonderful that the city has become such a prosperous, popular destination, I'll always remember with fondness the lonely, private city that I once knew.

Czech National Museum Czech National Museum
Dancing Building by Frank Gehry Dancing Building by Frank Gehry
View from Petrin Hill View from Petrin Hill
Performance at Krizik Fountain Performance at Krizik Fountain
Namesti Republiky subway stop Namesti Republiky subway stop

© Copyright 2005-2006 by Rob Jagnow.