How a Native Son Returned After Twenty-Two Years and What He Discovered
“Where are you from?” is a question I sometimes get when people note my accent. “Raymond, Colorado,” I answer, and they laugh.
Okay, I was born and raised in Prague, Bohemia. “Wow,” they say and mention someone they know who went there and loved it. Now they’re curious themselves and look for any pointers.
My wife-to-be and I left when the Soviets invaded in 1968. After the Czechs sent the Russians packing in 1990, US AID contracted us to help restore the economy and civic society. Twenty years of labor of love ended with retirement back to our Rocky Mountains home.
I think about what we liked to do and the places, often off the beaten track, we enjoyed while living and working in Prague. Wouldn’t our touring friends want to learn about these?
First, a Bit of History
‘Bohemia’ comes from ‘Boii homeland.’ The Celtic Boii defended their territory encircled by mountains for some five centuries BC. Even the Romans stayed away from there, marking it on their maps ‘Hic Sunt Leones’—Here be dragons.
In early AD, according to legends, two Slavic brothers—from the biblical lineage Noah-Japheth-Javan—found their Black Sea homeland crowded and agreed to split. Lech went to today’s Poland and Čech with his folks up the river Danube to Bohemia. The Celts dropped their swords, “Hey, look at the girls!”
Čech’s daughter Libuše became the first queen of the new nation. She sent her people to a deep forest at the center of Bohemia. “Find a good-looking guy finishing his cabin with a práh (threshold). His name is Přemysl. He shall be king in the great city we build there.”
Praha, the city of the threshold. The threshold to the future.
Spring and Fall are our favorite seasons in Bohemia.
The months of May and June vibrate with concerts of The International Music Festival ‘Prague Spring.’ We liked to go when The Estates Theatre(1) honored Mozart, who supervised the 1787 world premiere of Don Giovanni. Other times we enjoyed less crowded outdoor performances at some of Prague’s gardens. Ask your hotel concierge about those.
Prague accommodates every taste and budget. Walking distance from the National Theatre is the floating Botel Matylda(2), where my wife and I once spent a romantic night just for fun. Four Seasons(3) at the high end serves business clientele.
Indulgences of the Fall
My highlight is burčák (pronounced ‘boor-chaak’), the fermenting young wine from Southern Moravia. Check which wine bars serve it and when; the season lasts about six weeks. If this is your first time, go slow! Very easy to overindulge.
I recommend setting base in the romantic Malá Strana (Lesser Town) that predates the Prague core Karel IV built in the mid-thirteen-hundreds. Our favorite is Pension Dientzenhofer(4) if you can book it and don’t mind tighter quarters. Or you can spread your wings at the Kampa Garden Hotel5).
Six Overlooked Attractions
1. You can spend days exploring in and around Kampa(6) on foot and by public transport. Here is a sampling of places where we enjoyed taking our visitors.
2. Stag Moat(7) is a relaxing downhill walk from the hustle of Prague Castle. Take tram no. 22 or 23 to the Castle, and proceed to the top of Jelení příkop. At the bottom, take the same tram back. Sadly, be cautioned to watch your purses and wallets, especially on these two tramlines.
3. Nebozízek Restaurant(8). Better have a reservation if you plan to dine in Nebozízek with a view of the city. Walk over to Újezd to the Petřín Funicular. Get off at the mid-stop and walk up to the restaurant. Enjoy the stroll downhill through the garden back to Újezd.
4. U maltéřských rytířů(9). Stories about the Knights of Malta cellar date back to the 14th century. Reservations recommended. The lowest room is below the river level; pick that if you can brave the steps.
5. Bar Konírna(10) (the Stable). One of many Prague pubs to experience a typical Bohemian beer menu. This one is a short but busy walk across the Charles Bridge. Order a bunch of different snacks and share.
6. Vyšehrad(11) is a magnificent fort built in mid 10th century. Take the subway line Metro A from Malostranská to Muzeum, where transfer to Metro C to Vyšehrad. Enjoy the history, view the city, and tour the underground gallery and casemates.