When the Iron Curtain fell in Eastern Europe, the region underwent massive change. You can see examples of that in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic.
KPLU travel expert Matthew Brumley made his first trip there in 1986.
“All the buildings were gray. You could walk across Charles Bridge and be alone. It was very Kafkaesque,” he said. “The mood was dark and mysterious and intriguing and romantic.”
Today, Prague is a major commercial hub.
Brumley says that has been good economically for cities like Prague. And it’s even helped preserve some of the history in Eastern Europe. But Brumley says there are drawbacks, too.
“Lipstick and rouge has been put on all the buildings,” he said. “The historic cores of these great cities – Krakow and Warsaw and Bratislava and Prague – have become too expensive for the local population.”
A Rich History
Prague is regarded by many who visit as one of Europe’s most beautiful capitals.
“Prague was never destroyed by the Nazis in World War II,” Brumley said. “For that reason, it’s this beautiful open-air museum.”
You can still find churches, like the Church of Our Lady, with its Gothic towers reaching into the sky. You will also find Baroque, neo-classical and other styles of architecture.
The Czech Republic is also home to Bohemia. Bohemian culture can now be found around the world.
Once upon a time, this place was called Czechoslovakia. The split – into the Czech Republic and the neighboring nation of Slovakia – is a sad subject among many Czechs, Brumley says.
"It wasn’t a happy divorce. It wasn’t a violent divorce, but there was never a referendum,” he said. “Neither population was ever asked their opinion. The two presidents came to a deal and split the country.”
There’s still some nostalgia for the days when the two countries were one.
Sites To See
It’s relatively easy, financially and physically. First the physical part: Fly to any of Europe’s hub airports – London, Paris, Amsterdam, or Frankfurt, among others – and hop a connection flight to Prague.
Now the finances: Prague is probably about 30 to 40 percent cheaper than western European capitals. Look for $15 to $18 dinners.
Brumley visited the Estates Theatre and saw the Marriage of Figaro – in the same place Mozart conducted it, thank you very much – and says the best seats in the house were around $50.
“Instead of, say, $300 in Paris or $400 in London,” Brumley said. “My buddy and I stayed last night in a four-star hotel for $65 a night. You could never do that in Western Europe.”
"Going Places" is KPLU's weekly exploration of travel topics. Matthew Brumley is the co-founder of Earthbound Expeditions on Bainbridge Island, which provides small-group travel to clients including KPLU. Been to Prague? Tell us about it. Or just leave a suggestion for a future segment.