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Franciscan Gardens

July 27th, 2007

prague franciscan garden_1

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As you may have caught on by now, I like to try and get lost when I tour European cities and their parks. When I should take a left, but “left” is where everyone else is headed, I go forward—or better yet, right. I’m never lost for very long. European city streets and park paths always seem to wind around in such a way that “lost” is relative to what you want to discover around the next bend in the cobbled street or winding trail. The Franciscan Garden is another city park I stumbled into by chance in 1994 when I burst like an aneurysm through a tourist mob elbowing their way along trinket shops.

A one-time vegetable garden for the Franciscan brothers tending the church 500 years ago, the 20th century saw this green space remain green even while government development turned Wenceslas Square into a hotel and office-building hub within an onion’s throw of the park. It sits right behind a major shopping mall passageway, easily missed because the passageway turns shoppers left just when the alley leading to the park veers right. The alley looks like a delivery entrance for the shops, but walk along another five steps and you will see the park’s bronzed gate.

prague franciscan garden_2The park is found paradise in Prague’s ever-increasing tourist jungle—still one of my top five European cities no matter what time of year. Ringed with benches sitting beneath wild-rose arbors and shade trees, there is a calm in the Franciscan Garden like no other spot in Prague. I’m not sure why this is, but maybe it’s the thick walls surrounding the park, or that it’s behind the tall buildings protecting it from Wenceslas Square overflow. Or perhaps it’s the respect people pay the park for its connection to the Franciscan’s church yet standing behind the north wall. I’m not going to argue its peaceful setting, nor do the dozens of Czechs who always seem to have the best spots for sun, shade, and gathering the rose-scented air. They know their park.

The garden is definitely a chill-out spot for urban travelers. It’s made for resting after a long walk from Hradny Castle to Wenceslas Square, a place to catch up on your travel journal, making eye contact with a cute guy or girl, eating a snack or bagged lunch you’ve brought along or bought at a Wenchie Square sausage stand, and taking in the gardens as you do it.

The garden layout is a grid on which border hedges lead you around the circumference or slice ‘n dice through the sun-drenched center. As a throwback to the Franciscans, or more likely because that it’s a people’s park, an actual garden grows behind a fenced plot that surrounds an old stone structure built in the same style and material as the church. The park is not a place to spend a whole day, even if you’re staying a week or month in Prague—there’s too much to see and do in the city. However, the park is an urban traveler’s oasis, and you will be happy to have found it.

prague franciscan garden_4Food and Drinks in Franciscan Gardens
Short answer: there are none of either. Good alternatives: two entrances to the park lead onto streets that have snack kiosks, cafés, or markets. Just out the back entrance, as a matter of fact, there is a café-restaurant that serves Czech cuisine. Also, down that shopping corridor through the front gate there is a little lunch bar that serves soup and goulash and vegetables and hardy black bread. It is a local’s kitchen, really, where you’ll see office workers in tie and shirtsleeves rubbing elbows with construction workers at the counters. Czech is spoken here, so unless you know the language, you’ll need to use hand-signal communication. Just point to the steaming dish that you want and make it known that you want to take it away. Then get to the park to feel like a real Czech.

(read more about the Franciscan Gardens highlights here)

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