Travel: Czech Republic
A 100-year Celebration
By Kate Robertson
The Czech Republic has experienced its share of upheaval over the past century. Czechoslovakia gained its independence following the collapse of the powerful Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I. Then, in late February of 1948 the Czechoslovak coup d’état took place when the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (with Soviet backing) assumed undisputed control over the government, marking the onset of communist rule for the next four decades. In late 1989 the nonviolet Velvet Revolution lasted one month, one week and five days, and signified a restoration to democracy in Czechoslovakia and the collapse of the communist regime. A self-determined split of the federal state of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia took place on January 1, 1993.
The 20 years of independence between the two world wars was an amazingly rich period for the nation, and became one the main centres of modern European life. This year, the Czech Republic is celebrating 100 years since it gained that independence in 1918.
Prague is Czech’s vibrant, historical capital, and its one of the most visited cities in Europe. Hit, accidentally or not, by American fighters in 1945, there were many civilian casualties and damages to homes and historical sites. An amazing 866 hectares of the old city are UNESCO protected for their gothic, renaissance and baroque mix of architectural wonders.
To best explore the city’s must-see attractions, wear comfortable walking shoes (the cobble-stoned streets are endless), and be prepared for crowds. Start at the enormous, beautifully reconstructed Prague Castle. A guide can fill you in on lesser-known facts, like when President Havel (leader after the Velvet Revolution) climbed through a window onto a balcony of the presidential palace, along with members of the Rolling Stones, to address the public, when nobody could find the key to the door.
Take a stroll across the Charles Bridge to the Old Town (13th century) to view the Astronomical Clock, as well as the Jewish Quarter. On the border of Old Town and New Town (don’t be fooled by the name, it was established in the 14th century), you will find the iconic golden-roofed National Theatre, where you can purchase tickets to a play, ballet or opera. Theatre, and the arts, are extremely important to the Czechs, as it has helped them survive the hardships of the different regimes.
To learn more of the Czech Republic’s rich history, head to the Skoda car factory, which is located in Mlada Boleslav, about an hour from Prague. Known as one of the best selling Czech brands in the world, their museum will give you insight into how the company started. Apparently, two bicycle manufacturers merged in 1905, along with a heavy equipment manufacturer and, together, they started to produce cars. Take a tour of the factory to see the production line. Amazingly, a car can be completed here in just 24 hours.
The country-side is filled with picture-book, half-timbered houses, barns and green pastures. World famous, Bohemian glass-making started in this area back in the 13th century. The special sandstone that was found here was perfect for glass-making. Take a tour of Ajeto Glassworks, and watch the artists melt the glass in 1,200-degree (Celsius) ovens, before expertly blowing it into the final product.
At the Museum of Glass and Jewelry, in nearby Jablonec, you’ll soon see why this area became an imperial centre for costume jewelry and glass products, which were much-desired by people from all over the world.
Spend the night in historical Liberec at the Clarion Grand Hotel Zlaty Lev, with its period furnishings and crystal chandeliers.
CAVORTING WITH CARNIVORES
Czechs love meat. Beef tartare is a common appetizer. If you’re adventurous, try some of their different cuts, as well as organ meats. For the less courageous, stick with hearty, traditional dishes, like roast duck served with dumplings and purple cabbage, goulash stew with thick dark beer, schnitzel with potato salad, or svickova – a sweetish, creamy vegetable sauce served over a piece of beef sirloin.
For Prague fine dining, visit the Michelin, award-winning Alcron Restaurant (in the Radisson Blu Alcron Hotel), or for a rowdier atmosphere, try La Republica restaurant and beer bar.
Czech has a long history of brewing, and beer is plentiful. Czechs fondly refer to it as their ‘water’ or ‘liquid bread’, and don’t really acknowledge it as an alcoholic beverage. To taste a local favourite, order Rezane – a mix of a dark and light beer.
Close to the Prague Castle is the Strahov Monastery craft brewery. Monasteries have a long history of beer brewing. The monks at Strahov do a fine job with brews like the Anti- Depressant Dark Lager – the name says it all.
Czech beer is served with a lot of head. Locals like the taste of the foam and consider it a sign of a good beer. Cheers!
Kate Robertson can be contacted at email@example.com
Photography, Kate Robertson