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Prague, Czech Republic highlights

October 29th, 2007

The Czech Museum of Fine Arts was founded in 1963 in the Nelahazeves Castle outside the city. Today the works are displayed in an historic building in Old Town, where on permanent display are works by Jan Preisler and Jan Zrzavy. The CMFA devoted itself to classical modernism of the 1920s and ‘30s, the 1940’s war years, new art of the 1950s, and contemporary pieces through the 1960s. Open Tues-Sun 10am-6pm. Closed Monday. Admission 50CZK. Husova Street 19-21, Old Town; metro, Namesti Republiky.

The Jewish Museum of Prague is an important historical look at the long history of Jewry in Prague, Bohemia, and Central Europe. The museum holds 40,000 items of local and regional Jewish art and cultural history. Open Sun-Friday, closed Sat & Jewish Holidays; Nov-March, 9am-4.30pm; April-Oct, 9am-6pm. Admission 290CZK. U Stareho Hrbitova 3a, Josefov. Metro, Namesti Rpubliky.

Prague is called “the city of 100 spires” because of its many churches and towers scattered throughout Old Town, New Town, Josefov (Jewish Quarter), Mala Strana, Nové Mesto (New Town), and Hradcany. Many of the old towers allow you to climb their stairs for a few Krona to get a spectacular, unforgettable view of the city. Powder Tower, at Nameste Republiky, is perhaps the best, especially in the summer mornings, when the sun rises from behind the tower to illuminate the dozens of spires and red-roofed buildings reaching down to the Vltava River and then back up to Prague Castle.

Josefov is Prague’s Jewish Quarter, where you’ll find the Old Cemetery, a place of piety, remembrance, and a bit of mystery. The headstones are stacked upright like photographic plates of sorts. The Hebrew tradition of stacking stones atop their surfaces is available to all visitors.

For a truly eerie cemetery experience, visit the New Jewish Cemetery in Zizkov. The towering trees form a canopy that lets light in as shafts and streams. The crypts are mostly raised above the ground, and you’ll find few people there. The reason I mention this cemetery specifically is because Franz Kafka is buried here (walk along the south wall for 100m or so; his headstone is white and well attended). Jana Zelivskeno. Take Green line metro to Flora stop, then Tram 5, 10, 11, or 16 up the hill. Walk north to entrance.

prague clock_4Prague Restaurants
Traditional Czech cuisine includes potatoes, cabbage, and beats, with venison, wild bore, and chicken; and then there’s goulash that’s out of this world. Get off the path of tourist areas to find the restaurants where locals eat.

Titanic is a restaurant whose name belies the delicious food for cheap prices. Lots of wild game meats and steaks on the menu, with good Czech beer. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Stepanska St (south off of Wenceslas Square). Metro, Mustek.

Café Louvre has been around since 1902, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a bohemian café style and atmosphere. If you have the stomach for it, try the frozen vodka and caviar in the a.m. (with a side of coffee). From 12 (noon) onward, the billiard room opens. There’s also a no-smoking dining room, and a gallery space. Open daily 8am-11pm. Naradni 22. Metro B, Narodni Trida stop. Trams 6, 9, 18, 21, 22, 23; night trams 3, 57, 58, 59, Narodni Trida.

Prague Nightlife
Prague has good live music venues, particularly Jazz clubs that often have restaurants upstairs while the basement buzzes with guitar licks and horn vibrations. Czechs also like cinema and theater, and in Prague there are several good venues.

U Maleho Glena (Glen’s) has nightly live acts appearing on its basement stage. Mondays & Wednesdays are Blues nights, with Stan the Man and The Rene Trossman Band of Chicago Blues fame. Thurs-Sat are Jazz nights, with many Czech jazz stars and the occasional international act. Upstairs the pub/café serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a good selection of Czech beer and 70 drinks on its menu. Open daily from 10am-2am (3am on Fri & Sat).

RTA Jazz Centrum has a good nightly line up of local acts that pretty much make the rounds to the other clubs in the city (just like every other city in the world cycles its music acts). Open nightly, 6pm-12.30am (live music 9pm-Midnight). Zelezna 16.

prague czech_9Kino Aero is a cinema, theater, and gallery wrapped into one place. Oh, yeah, it has a great outside courtyard to meet people and have drinks. The cinema has international films (in their original language), art house films, and cult classics. The theater has stage shows, live music, and “extravaganzas.” Open daily from 4pm-11pm. Biskupcova 31. Tram 5, 9, 16, 19 (night 55, 58) Biskupcova.

For an avant-garde theater experience, visit Alfred Ve Dvore. The venue organizes itself around two stages, so there’s rarely time when an act is not playing. Some strange stuff, but incredibly vibrant and creative talents work here. Open nightly from 6pm. Frantiska Krizka 36. Trams 5, 8, 12, 14, 17; Strossmayer Nameste.

Prague’s National Theater, housed in a Baroque palace of sorts along the Vltava River, presents national and international plays, operas, and symphony concerts. Check your city guide once you arrive in Prague for that week’s program, or get advanced tickets online.

Prague Transportation
International trains arrive at either Veseli Nadrazi (north of city center, across the river) or Hlavni Nadrazi, just down the street from the National Museum and Wenceslas Square. The Czech language is terribly difficult to learn, but nowadays so many Czech’s speak English you’ll need to learn only polite phrases such as dobry den (Good Day), ano (yes), jequeu (thank you), and proseem (please). Naturally, I’ve spelled these phonetically. Anyhow, once in Prague, the easiest transport is the underground metro system. There are three lines—color coded Red, Green, and Yellow—that traverse the city. Single and day-trip tickets are available at self-service machines and attended kiosks.

Your other option is to use the tram system, which is convenient, and takes a bit of getting used to what can seem a diabolical route system. Buy tickets at tobacco shops or news stands in packets of ten or twenty. When you hop your tram, don’t forget to punch the ticket using one of the little machines.

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