Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 19, 2017
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Prague

Old-world mystery in one of Europe’s most touristed locales

Prague is often called the “best preserved city in Europe.” It avoided bombing during World War II and is an intricately layered showcase of the jewels of architecture from the Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, Art Nouveau, Cubist and Contemporary periods. This fairytale richness, which prompted surrealist poet André Breton to dub the Prague “the magic metropolis of old Europe” is intertwined with a sense of grit and shadow that is equally beloved by literary-minded fans of the city.

In recent years, the once-decaying facades of the well-visited tourist sites have been subjected to renovation and brightening that some feel has given them an over-prettified, dollhouse appearance. Massive crowds have come with these changes, especially in summer, and the murky old beer halls have been commercialized to accommodate the crowds. But fear not; Prague’s lush moodiness is more than new paint can conceal.

Prague is a playground for those fond of the avant- garde. Dozens of cubist buildings reflect the city’s enthusiastic embrace of Picasso and Braque’s fractured vision. A fine example is the House of the Black Madonna, also known as the Museum of Czech Cubism (tel: 011-420-2-2423-6378; kubista.cz), a minute’s walk from the Old Town Hall.

Those with extra time and a taste for the new Prague can take the 45-minute walk from there to DOX (tel: 011-420-2-774-145-434; doxprague.org/en), they city’s exciting new contemporary art museum, already being referred to as a “mini-Tate.” A less vigorous walk will take you to the city’s tallest structure, the Zizkov Television Tower, a futuristic structure adorned with viewing platforms reachable by high-speed elevators. The structure is adorned by giant sculptures of crawling babies, the work of Prague’s popular (and controversial) contemporary artist, David Černý.

At the conference: By foot, by Segway, by stomach

Make the most of Prague’s time-capsule-like nature by staying at the exquisite boutique hotel Domus Henrici (tel: 011-420-2-2051-1369; domus-henrici.cz), a 10-minute walk — downhill! a little longer going back up — from the Charles Bridge. Regardless of how you spend your leisure time, you’ll want some of it to be in Old Town, which is a quick and easy metro ride from the Congress Center.

If you’ve never visited the city before, it would be foolish to forego the treasures that line the old coronation route leading from Old Town to the Castle. And even if you have been there and done that, you may want to revisit the route in a new style: by Segway. Increasingly popular in Europe, Segway tours with delightful, well-informed guides offer an amusing low-stress way to pack in the five-star attractions and avoid the crowds. Well-reviewed Prague on Segway (tel: 011-420-2-775-588-588; pragueonsegway.com) offers five tours that are pricey (from $72 per person for 1.5 hours), but by all accounts, well worth it.

If you’d prefer to walk, consider the free 2.5-hour Prague Royal Walk (tel: 011-420-2-733-454-524; discover-prague.com), which meets daily in the Old Town Square by the Astronomical Clock at 11am and 2pm. Tours are in English and Spanish, and cover the Castle and Saint Vitus’ Cathedral, the 65-metre tall Powder Tower, the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn, the Old Jewish Quarter and Old New Synagogue, Wenceslas Square and the Art Nouveau Municipal House.

Regardless of how you explore, you’ll want good places to rest and rejuvenate as you absorb the sites. The city’s most renowned and atmospheric cafés are not at street level, but one floor up, wonderfully invisible to the visiting hordes. The Grand Café Orient (tel: 011-420-2-224-224-240; grandcafeorient.cz), above the Cubist Museum, is so sensitive to detail that its cakes come with oddly angled wafers. If you want to eat while you walk, a reinvigorating street snack not to be missed is trdlnik, a tubular sugary pastry akin to crepes in flavour.

And don’t leave Prague without trying knedliky — bread, flour or potato dumplings available as a side to wild game with rosehip sauce — at the traditional Czech restaurant U Maltezskych Rytiru (tel: 011-420-2-257-530-075; umaltezskychrytiru.com). And if you drink, of course, there’s the beer!

... and after: Magic beyond magical Prague

Bohemian Paradise, or Cesky Raj (tel: 011-420-481-540-253; cesky-raj.info), is a UNESCO European Geopark and the country’s largest nature preserve. It’s flush with bountiful forests, rare fauna, unusual rock formations, castles and skalni mesta , “rock towns” with dwellings carved into the sandstone cliffs. The town of Turnov at the region’s heart is a central place to stay for easy access to rock climbing, and hiking and biking tours. You can rent bikes at the Sedmihorky Camping Ground (tel: 011-420-481-389-162; campsedmihorky.cz).

If you prefer to stay in a castle, opt for a room at Hotel Zámek Hrubá Skála (tel: 011-420-481-659-111; hrubaskala.cz), 10 kilometres from Turnov in an old chateau built on the sandstone cliffs high above the valley: rooms are nothing fancy (be sure to request a “luxe” room if you want a bathroom). Hruboskalsko is an easy walk from Turnov and one of the best places to view the massive columnar “rock towns” riddled with caves and ancient bandit graffiti.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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