Prague is a city of many, many secrets. And the pleasure of a visit is finding some of them. Indeed Prague has been called a place of the imagination.
He plays his violin soulfully outside Prague Castle. The flag is flying above him to show the president is in residence in the palace, sometimes called “the White House of the Czech Republic.”
The violinist plays soulfully because he is standing below the Marsalak statue and the watchful eyes of the country’s beloved first president. This is the country of the celebrated Anton Dvorak, and the city where Mozart composed two operas and actually conducted the first performance of “Don Giovanni” in Prague’s Estates Theatre.
And he is playing for his own pleasure. Yes, there is some marketing going on: A card shows he is a member of a band whose CDs are available for sale, and his open violin case contains a few scattered coins, but it’s clear from the contentment on his face that he’s really playing for himself. He’s not alone in playing for pleasure.
Every city has its street musicians, of course, but Prague’s seem more intense, more wrapped up in their music like the elderly man absorbed in what is actually an old hurdy-gurdy as he plays below Prague’s famous Old Town Clock. Others standing on the Charles Bridge have similar dreamy looks on their faces.
We find dreamy looks on others in this ancient and romantic city: Couples, for example, who have wed this day. Prague is a people place from smiling “sentries” guarding the approach to the Charles Bridge to more authentic, solemn ones standing sentinel before Prague Palace. Sentries can’t smile, but young women —
showing the contrast between traditional dress and business attire —
Tourism is big business, of course, in Prague from town bakers to shopkeepers like Antonin Herudek selling old posters including —
oddly enough in this city with such a rich history of its own —
a yellowing picture of Laurel and Hardy.
You see more of tourism as you walk the city, and walk it you should, preferably with a guide as English-speaking help is not so widespread as it is in, say, Northern Europe. Our guide is Milos, a popular given name in the Czech Republic —
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
consider Milos Forman, a famous movie director even before he came to America and won Academy Awards with and .
Here, our Milos chats with a friend who offers tourist rides in a classic Skoda, a Czech car started by an industrialist whose brother, Josef Skoda, was an equally well-known physician in the 1800s.
When you get down to Golden Lane in the vast grounds of the Prague Palace —
listed in the Guinness Book of records as the largest ancient castle in the world —
you can try your skills with an ancient crossbow.
But perhaps some couples come to the ancient city of Prague not to wage war but to make love. A Czech friend once told us, “It’s Prague not Paris that’s for lovers.”
Couples can stand near the Charles Bridge and consummate their relationship with a padlock that will hang there for eternity. Or they can stand in contemplation before the John Lennon Wall and muse about life —
When the Czechs were trying to throw off the yolk of communism, they saw the Beatles as anti-establishment and offered tributes to John Lennon on a wall below the Charles Bridge to encourage their people. As quickly as their graffiti went up the authorities painted it out —
until, surprisingly, the French Embassy, which overlooked the wall, asked for the writings to be left alone.
The Lennon Wall is now one of the better known secrets in this medieval city of many, many secrets. And the pleasure of a visit is finding some of them. Indeed Prague has been called a place of the imagination.
“Prague was built in layers on 14 hills,” our guide, Milos, says. “It is theater. We are a city of vistas. Look everywhere. Especially up!”
Photography by the authorsThe Andersons, who live in San Diego, are the resident travel & cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest. Nancy is a former nursing educator, Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the NH Academy of Family Practice, Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written five books, the last called