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Chosen articles 22.05.2013
Locked between Poland, Germany, Austria and Slovakia, the Czech Republic is a nation that craves peace, values the family and revels in its own culture.
The history of Prague is one of beauty and courage against greed and aggression.
Rich with history and yet bursting with the energy of a country recently freed of the shackles of occupation and oppression, Prague is alive and well and waiting to be explored. It’s easily accessible and has so many magnificent sights and attractions that it is almost impossible to see them all. Yet, the very culture of Prague inspires visitors to give it their very best try.
Ease of access is what first made Prague great. Positioned by the river Vltava, Prague grew as a trading centre and market town. With three other rivers, the Elbe, Berounka and Sázarak, merchants and customers travelled from all points of the compass to the thriving hub of commerce. Now that there are faster, although not necessarily better, modes of transport available, Prague still draws an international crowd.
By plane, visitors arrive at the Ruzyne International Airport and are then shuttled by bus, taxi or hire car to the city center. For those not comfortable with flying there are also train lines that carry guests into the heart of Prague and the city has a commendable public transport system. However, the road system of Prague is not for the faint hearted and, although the plan is fine, there is good advice in recommending the trains, trams and buses ahead of tackling the roads too quickly.
This is especially important when seeking out the many highlights of the city. The beauty of Wenceslas Square is evident in the proud statue of King Wenceslas on his horse, overlooking all that occurs in his square. The buildings that surround it are a mingling of the styles and eras that have contributed to the history and character of Prague. None more so than the imposing and dignified facade of the National Museum, as it presents a backdrop of sophistication and national pride to the frozen King Wenceslas.
The National Museum itself, although the main building is closed for renovations until mid- 2015, houses some of the most fascinating collections in the New Building. Since its establishment, the Museum has provided the Czech people with a forum to recall or experience the moments that have made their country great. But, in its early days, the Museum also encouraged the study of Natural History, which is illustrated by the enchanting collection of the Beauty of Butterfly Wings and intriguing collections that reflect on the pensive moments of Czech history.
This is a history that has been woven with greatness and sorrow and a vital element in engaging with it is the Prague Castle. The largest coherent castle in the world, Prague Castle is around 570metres (over 600 yards) in length and, on average, 130metres (140 yards) wide. Building began in 880 CE with extensions and renovations occurring throughout history; the most prominent in the fourteenth century during the Golden Age of Prague.
The Castle offers an insight into the culture of Prague, but to appreciate the character of the city and its people fully, there is nothing more effective than experiencing their art, theatre, food and drink. In fact, experiencing the drink is a must as the Czech Republic has the highest consumption of beer per capita in the world. This love affair with the brew of the malted grain is celebrated every May for seventeen days through the Czech Beer Festival in Prague.
The city also hosts theater festivals including the Fringe Festival from May to June and the Four Days International Theater Festival in October. But the Theater scene of Prague is only one aspect of an Arts-rich community, where Museums seem to multiply, Galleries grow everywhere and the architecture abounds, boasting five hundred spires at last count.
Beneath the spires are indications of the history and social substance of Prague. Although the latest census suggested that religion was losing its hold over the Czech people, the role that churches have had on the development of the country can never be ignored. After the Celts and the Germanic tribes had skirmished across the same ground for a few centuries, the Slavs arrived and were soon followed by Christianity. In the course of the next twelve hundred years Prague would become the seat of the Holy Roman Empire, face Protestant rebellions and have kings and bishops canonized and immortalized in Christmas Carols.
Good King Wenceslas probably did look out on frost and snow as the winter temperatures in Prague are often freezing during the day and drop away during the long, dark nights. Being a landlocked country, there can be significant variations of temperatures between seasons, but the mercury rarely rises above 26°C (79°F) in summer and precipitation is usually between 24mm (0.8in), for winter months, to 54mm (2.7in) in the summer.
Whatever time of year one visits Prague, the welcome is always warm. Whether pursuing culture, history or the opportunity to take in a city that has been the center of an empire and the victim of tyrants, Prague offers a wealth of unique and wonderful experiences.