I ventured to Eastern Europe for the first time ever this summer, looking to see where my relatives originated. My first stop was Prague, formerly in the country of Czechoslovakia and now the capitol of the Czech Republic. I quickly found myself glancing at the locals to see if I bared any resemblance. As I soon learned on my trip, centuries ago Kings and Queens from various areas of Western and Eastern Europe often married to expand their family’s ruling land, and so when someone says they are from the Czech Republic, they really could be descended from a melding of families from several countries, or from a family that moved there in search of a better life.
Rich in historical museums, and famous for their fine glassware and beautiful gardens, the Czech Republic did not disappoint. Rumor had it that the legendary designer Louis Vuitton was staying in our hotel when we were there. Our driver was thrilled to share the news about an upcoming prestigious annual summer Karlovy Vary Film Festival in Prague, where Julianne Moore was arriving the day after we were leaving to receive an award and promote her upcoming film called “After the Wedding”.
My day in Prague started with a visit to the Prague Castle, and a highlight for me was the Waldstein Garden, with gorgeous fountains, sculptures, and rare albino male and female peacocks. I visited when there was a hot spell, so I had to search under the bushes in the shade to find them. The Czech Republic Senate building is adjacent to the gardens, and the streets are lined with a local favorite tree called Linden tree, which is beautifully fragrant and used to create many perfumes.
Afterwards, we headed off to find local crafts in other areas of the city. Famous for its artisan glass, be sure and see was the Artel store where there was an interesting mix of horse images etched into scotch glasses and the Prague skyline etched into drinking cups. Artwork of dogs and cats in regal outfits and poses graced the walls. Not to be missed, right next door was a puppet and marionette store called Marionety where Don Quixote, friendly teddy bears, dragons, and wooded children faces dangled from the ceiling. Hand puppets lined the store front window.
For a fun mid-day break, stop in and try Monastery beer at Pivovar Strahov, which is known for its “Antidepressant”, an Autumn Dark Lager. I would recommend the Klaster Monastery beer pub or the Bellavista restaurant, which has one of the best city views. Sign up for the Prague Monasteries Breweries Walking Tour, a four-hour tour of two monasteries where we learned the history of Czech beer and brewing. Beer tastings, food, and fun.
In the afternoon, we visited the original old city of Prague. The Old Jewish District was in the heart of the city, with a tower clock with Hebrew letters on it. Lined with cobblestone streets, six synagogues, and the Old Jewish Cemetery, be sure and visit the Old-New Synagogue, built in 1270, which is the oldest active synagogue in Europe. Visit its gift shop for an assortment of Judaica items, including beautifully embroidered yarmulkes. The neighborhood is a mix of old and new, as right across the street from the Old Jewish District was some of the finest shopping including a Red Valentino store, Brunello Cucinelli, and several antique stores.
The Museum of Decorative Arts has an exhibit by fashion designer Zika Asher, who was friends with and created fabrics in collaboration with Matisse, Picasso, the fashion line Balenciaga, and was worn by celebrities including Princess Diana. During WWII, many of Asher’s outfits had to be created out of parachutes because that was the only material available that he could use. On a separate floor was a vast display of glass artwork by artists including Pankova, Hlava, and Fisar. On another level was a display of European Design furniture, with many edgy and chic pieces from the 1930’s-1980’s, including curved benches, modern room dividers, candlesticks, and juice makers.
Prague offers a lot to see and do for everyone, and I cannot wait to go back again.