St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague.
Photos by Pinky Icamen
Prague & Cesky Krumlov: Bohemian jewels
Pinky S. Icamen (The Philippine Star) - April 25, 2019 - 12:00am

Central Europe’s Old-World charm never fades.

With its sublime beauty, this region is enrobed in a tapestry of postcard-perfect vistas, towns seemingly plucked out of fairy tales and grandstanding medieval architecture. These are impeccably interwoven with modern conveniences like its cities’ excellent network of public transportation, which endears it more to local and world travelers alike.

And with its most sought-after sights and hidden gems, two precious destinations in Czech Republic truly stand out not only with their magnificence but also with how they manage to seep into one’s consciousness after one has left them — Prague and Cesky Krumlov.

‘City of a Hundred Spires’

Before embarking on an eight-day Avalon Danube River cruise (which included ports of call in Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary) arranged by Air Space Travel and Tours and Baron Travel Corp. for Bayer Crop Science’s top distributors and dealers, the group, with this writer, first explored Prague, also known as the “City of a Hundred Spires.”

As one steps into this city of about 1.3 million people, one immediately notices how Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, wears its more than a thousand-year history on its sleeve. From centuries-old mostly Gothic churches and structures, the colorful Art Nouveau buildings by the Vltava River and burgher houses in Mala Strana to functionalist buildings greatly inspired by German Bauhaus, Prague is truly a sight to behold.

It is easy to create a lasting love affair with Prague, especially with those who are willing to take the effort to find its soul, may it be while getting a coffee fix and people watching in a quaint corner café, walking through those peaceful cobblestone streets or sharing a pint of Czech beer with a fellow traveler.

Built between the 11th and 18th centuries, the city’s historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is not to be missed.

When promenading on the city’s 14th-century Charles Bridge, one must let one’s senses misbehave. At the stone Gothic bridge named after Charles IV is a parade of 30 Baroque statues (some of them are now just replicas) mounted on its balustrade. These sandstone statues are silent witnesses to the daily action on the bridge — throngs of tourists, souvenir vendors, artists, jazz buskers and even beggars (who kneel for hours begging, mostly with their dogs). The bridge is bookended by the imposing Old Town and Lesser Town Bridge Towers, which serve as markers on which end of the bridge one would opt to discover.

View of the Cesky Krumlov Castle from Barber’s Bridge.

About a 10-minute walk from the bridge is the Old Town Square, nestled in the oldest part of the city that dates back to the 9th century. There, find the medieval Prague Astronomical Clock known as the Orloj at the Old Town Hall. Tourists gather around the Orloj for its hourly spectacle, so one must make sure that one claims a spot at least five minutes before the “show” begins. East of the Orloj is a view of the towering 80-meter spires of the Church of Our Lady before Tyn amidst the backdrop of blue spring skies.

Perhaps one of the most visited sites in the city is the Prague Castle, the largest coherent castle complex in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

There are many parts of the castle to explore but the St. Vitus Cathedral, the largest and most important temple in Prague, is definitely a sight to behold with its Gothic spires, flying buttresses, gargoyles, stained glass windows and numerous relics in its treasury.

Prague is, indeed, enchanting, mesmerizing.

‘Pearl of the Bohemian Forest’

In the south Bohemian region of the Czech Republic is the small picturesque medieval town of Cesky Krumlov, known for centuries as the “Pearl of the Bohemian Forest.”

This UNESCO World Heritage Site sits still with all its Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque glory. With just the fact that this tiny town’s architectural heritage has remained intact for centuries (like its roof shapes, medieval streets and vaulted spaces) should be enough to caress one’s interest.

In its historical center are 300 protected buildings declared as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. They co-exist with the town’s charming riverside restaurants, art galleries, medieval inns and residential houses. Cesky Krumlov is home to about 14,000 inhabitants, 65 percent of them work for the town’s tourism industry.

The 22-square-kilometer town is so small that from its square, the main attractions are only a five- to 10-minute walk! One must be ready to tackle its cobblestone streets as, depending on one’s footwear and tolerance with pain, they are not too comfortable to walk on. But pain should not be a hindrance to see the rest of the medieval town as the views, even the quiet alleys, are worth checking.

The most prominent resident of the town is the Cesky Krumlov Castle, which proudly towers over the medieval town. This 13th-century castle, built earlier than the town by the Lords of Krumlov and later inherited by the Rosenbergs, can be seen at almost every angle, every street corner or alley in town. From these views, the castle’s mostly 16th- and 17th-century frescoes are also evident, weathered but still stunning.

Stroll around the town for souvenirs or find hearty Czech cuisine at restaurants in its pretty alleys. Also try Czech beer as most restaurants offer a variant or two on their menu. Check out its local book store that carries mostly Czech literature and English translations of much-loved Kafka and Kundera classics. 

Musicians playing medieval or jazz music all over town are such a treat. And it will surely complete one’s Cesky Krumlov experience if one catches the medieval procession that leads to the town square.

(Air Space Travel and Tours is located at No. 2153, A. Mabini St., Malate Manila. For more information, call 522-3287 and 522-3273 or e-mail airspacetravel09@gmail.com.)

AIR SPACE TRAVEL AND TOURS CZECH REPUBLIC PRAGUE
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