It’s Prague’s time to shine as a hotspot destination

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Next to the presidential guard outside the entrance gate to the Prague Castle (top photo), where the Czech President officially resides

Next to the presidential guard outside the entrance gate to the Prague Castle (top photo), where the Czech President officially resides

By Wendell Gaa

Prague has got to be Europe’s most internationally popular tourist destination to emerge within recent years, and at the rate things are going, I’m positive that it will soon rank as high as London, Paris, Rome and Berlin as the continent’s leading city attractions for travelers.

My visit to this beautiful city made me understand just why, much thanks to the wonderful hospitality of my hosts the Philippine Ambassador to the Czech Republic Victoriano Lecaros and his wife Melissa.

As my plane landed at Prague’s international airport, and the driver for the Philippine Embassy picked me up, I glanced at my urbane surroundings, and observed a curious mixture of both Cold War-era and contemporary residential and commercial buildings. Upon arriving at the Ambassador’s official residence, I learned how his charming townhouse condominium complex was actually just barely a minute’s walk to the Embassy itself, and both building complexes were conveniently alongside the same road. My adventure in Prague had begun in earnest.

Upon the advice of the Ambassador, I began my city tour at the Old Town Square, which was an obvious starting point given that this area is within easy walking distance from the Embassy. Mrs. Lecaros was kind enough to walk with me for a few hours so that I could get a feel of how quite easy it was for the average foreign visitor to walk around the Square without getting lost.

We first strolled through the street market area where the booths were selling an assortment of tourist souvenirs and food. I tried a glass of that famous Czech beer and took a bite out of a salty yet tasty “deer sausage,” another local specialty.

Later in the afternoon, I joined a tour group company called “Sandemans New Prague” by registering online at their website. My first tour with “Sandemans” was around the Old Town Square itself. We met at our designated rendezvous point at the Square, and thanks to the expertise of a funny and animated British guide named Vivien, the history of the attractions at the Square all came alive for us, such as the soaring Gothic Church of Our Lady which has been the main church of this section of Prague since the 14th century; the baroque-style St. Nicholas Church; and the always amusing medieval clock which was first built in 1410, and the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world as well as the oldest one still in active use (this attraction is easily distinguishable in the Square as there are almost always huge crowds of tourists congregating to watch it).

Nighttime came and I was given a small “welcome dinner” by Ambassador and Mrs. Lecaros at this charming Italian-Mediterranean restaurant just right near the Old Town Square. Also joining us was the Embassy’s Consul Jed Dayang, a close family friend of mine who had also began his diplomatic career by serving as a junior diplomat under the wing of my father, the late Ambassador Willy Gaa, who headed the Office of Asia and Pacific Affairs (ASPAC) at the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs from 1999 to 2002.

Once our dinner concluded, Consul Jed fulfilled his promise to introduce me to Prague’s Bohemian nightlife by walking with me to sightsee the city’s main attractions. We once again walked through the Old Town Square, which I realized looked so romantic and magical at night. We sampled a delicious regional pastry dessert called Trdelník (rolled dough wrapped around a stick, then grilled and topped with sugar and walnuts) as Consul Jed narrated to me the tumultuous yet ultimately triumphant history of the Czech Republic in its transition from a Cold War-era communist nation to a growing and active member of the European Union, much thanks to the efforts of legendary Czech statesmen, the late Václav Havel, who served as the first president of the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003 after the country had officially split from neighboring Slovakia.

We then decided to walk all the way to Prague’s most iconic site, the Charles Bridge crossing the city’s Vitava River. As alluring as this bridge appears at daytime, at night it just simply takes on an even more hypnotic appearance with its glaring lights. Walking across this bridge is the quintessential Prague experience, and the very sight of numerous statues of Christian saints and Bohemian royal figures aligned along both sides of the bridge is something that will stay with you long after your tour of Prague is finished.

The view of the equally famous Prague Castle overlooking the Charles Bridge was also a lovely sight, so much to the point that I decided to follow up my first-day excursion of the city by once again signing online to join the “Sandemans” organized tour group the following day, this time to thoroughly explore the Castle.

I met with my group at a designated rendezvous point along the Vituva River not too far from the Charles Bridge, where our tour guide for the day was Andrea, a very intelligent and engaging Slovak national. I was also delighted to see how our group comprised of visitors from countries as varied as Australia, New Zealand, Israel and the U.S.A.

Andrea expertly led all of us to travel to the Prague Castle using the public buses, and amazingly none of our fellow group mates got lost in spite of the crowded transports. We then arrived at the entrance gate, where we embarked on a fascinating walking voyage through the history of the Castle. This entire castle complex dates all the way back from the 9th century and where the President of the Czech Republic officially resides. It is from this castle where the historic kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors and past presidents of the once unified state Czechoslovakia all exerted their power and influence all over the region.

The Prague Castle covers a vast area of around 570 meters in length, and is no doubt the largest castle of its kind in the world dating all the way back from the Medieval Age. No finer and more thorough repository of Czech and Bohemian history could be found anywhere else in the city (or the country for that matter) than right here. Medieval armor and weaponry, gothic cathedrals and fountains, and lovely gardens from where you can take in splendid views of the city skyline of Prague can all be found here as well. This Castle was even a witness to 20th century events which were pivotal to the entire European continent, most notably World War II and the Cold War.

Beyond a doubt, Prague deserves its “hotspot destination” label, and I, for one, would definitely rate this as one of the top European cities to visit in 2016.

The author by the iconic Charles Bridge which looks magical and enchanting during the evening

The author by the iconic Charles Bridge which looks magical and enchanting during the evening

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One Comment

  1. Matthews wrote:

    Great article by the author. I have been to Prague a few times and I had the pleasure to have me the writer, his late father and his loving mother, too.

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