Winter visitors to Prague are lucky; they see the city at its best. Cafés and restaurants are warm and welcoming, free of the crowds that invade them in summer. Theatres and concert halls come alive. And a stroll across the Charles Bridge is a walk into a fairy tale landscape that is for the moment all your own.
This majestic stone span over the Vltava River has connected Prague’s Old and Lesser Towns since 1402. Building began in 1357 under Emperor Charles IV, who had a flair for the dramatic. (He had the roof of the city’s defensive towers gilded, contributing to Prague’s renown as the ‘Golden City’.) In the 17th century the bridge was lined with 30 statues. Though some of the originals are in Prague’s Lapidary Museum for safekeeping, the copies ensure that the enchantment of this unique bridge lives on. Today the Charles Bridge is a magnet for every tourist, busker and souvenir seller in Prague. To see it at its best, visit early or late in the day.
The Charles Bridge museum opened in 2007. The highpoint of the exhibition is a model of the bridge in the 14th century, depicting its construction. Located at the foot of the bridge, near the Lesser Town Square the museum is open daily from 10:00 until 20:00 in summer and 18:00 in winter.
Also ‘unmissable’, is Prague Castle. Not a single castle but more of a small town, which includes the home of the Czech President and St. Vitus Cathedral. There are courtyards and streets, among them the charming ‘Golden Lane’ built in the 15th century to house the King’s marksmen.
The writer Franz Kafka once lived in No. 22. A changing of the guard takes place at the Castle’s main
gate on the hour, and a fanfare at noon. The only privately owned building in the complex is the Lobkowicz Palace, home to one of the most influential ancient families of Bohemia. Their fabulous art collection was twice stolen- first by the Nazis, then by the Communists. . The recorded guided tour brings the story to life. Classical recitals at noon in the Lobkowicz Palace Concert Hall.
The attractions of the Castle complex are open from 9:00 to 18:00 April through October and until 16:00 November through March. The Lobkowicz Palace museum is open daily 10:00 to 18:00 year round. The café is a picturesque setting for coffee or lunch. www.lobkowicz-collections.org
Prague’s 12th century Jewish Quarter, Josefov, houses five synagogues including the ‘New-Old Synagogue’, the oldest in use in Europe. According to legend, the remains of the Golem are in the attic. Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the 16th century scholar who created the Golem fable, is buried in the nearby cemetery.
Ironically, Josefov survived WW2 because Hitler planned to turn its Jewish Museum into a ‘Museum of an Extinct Race”.
The Jewish Museum open every day except Saturday and Jewish Holidays 09:00 – 16.30 in winter and until 18:00 in summer. Buy a single admission for the New-Old Synagogue or a combination to include five synagogues and the cemetery.
FROM MICRO SURGERY TO MICRO ART Many of the micro instruments used in Svatoslav Fyodorov’s eye microsurgery centre in the 1980s were devised by a Siberian craftsman named Anatoly Konenko. He later turned his skills to producing micro miniature art works and in 1996, Konenko produced the ‘smallest book’ in the Guinness Book of Records. Prague’s Museum of Miniatures is devoted exclusively to his works.
Even if you’ve never felt the urge to see a flea that’s been fitted with golden shoes or a caravan of animals on a human hair passing through the eye of a needle, you might be surprised at how long you linger over the exhibits in this slick new museum. They are set out side by side on shelves, each with its accompanying magnifying glass or microscope.
There’s a gift shop and the museum is open daily.
But every day except Monday, the Strahov Monastery Library, the museum’s prestigious neighbour, is also open and it would be a shame to miss it. Two magnificent rooms are on view: the Philosophical and the Theological Halls Open 9:00 to 12:00 and from 13:00 to 17:00. Borrow a printed guide from the library custodian. Go to www.360cities.net/gigapixel/strahov-library for a preview .The Monastery’s website is www.strahovskyklaster.cz