Czech Republic

Prague river view by CC user brighton on Flickr

Introduction

Located at the very heart of Central Europe, the Czech Republic is a cultural heavyweight that punches well above its diminutive size. As a result of its location within the European continent, its territory has served as a crossroads over the ages for all sorts of ethnic groups from all corners of the region, a fact that has melded all these influences into the Czech legacy and identity.

Being situated between all these competing kingdoms and states with its fertile and beautiful landmass has also graced its territory with a wealth of exquisite castles, cathedrals, and other countless examples of impressive architecture. While much of time will be spent exploring these meticulously designed beauties, don’t forget to take some time to wander the Czech Republic’s bucolic countryside, whose gentle rolling nature and rural charm will win you over if the urban attractions failed to do the job.

In any event, this country is one of Central Europe’s classic destinations: if you’re making a mad dash across Europe, please slow down during your time here as sprinting through this nation would be doing it a great disservice.

Currency: Czech koruna

Languages: Czech

Prague Castle by CC user bruchez on Flickr

What To Do

When you roll into Prague, there is no shortage of places to see or things to do.  Its well-preserved medieval architecture will have you wandering the streets at random for days, its museums will transport you to the past and school you better than any high school history class, and the many hearty meals accompanied by tall cheap local pints will begin to indoctrinate you into the Czech way of life.

If you are looking to get outside the big city relatively quickly though, there are two attractions you should drop in on before hitting the road/rails.  The first of these is Prague Castle, which is the largest ancient castle in the world.  So, just how old is this “ancient structure”? The first fortified structure that is part of the present building today was constructed in 870, well over a millennia ago in the dark days between the fall of the Roman Empire and the days of the Enlightenment, which was still a good 400-500 years away at that point.

While it has suffered damage over the eons during the usual wars that raged with regularity over the prior centuries, its grandeur has ensured its regular refurbishment.  As such, it is the home of the Czech president in the present day, though portions of this mammoth palace are open to the public through much of the year. Highlights include the castle’s sizable collection of arts, the royal gardens outside, and the daily changing of the guards ceremony.

Also present on the grounds of Prague Castle is St. Vitus Cathedral, a cathedral that has existed in three different iterations since its founding in 970. In that time, it has also become the final resting place of many Holy Roman emperors and Bohemian kings, granting one of the grandest churches in Central Europe some serious historical pedigree. With the present church designed in the Gothic style, its presence is as awesome outside as it is on the inside, with soaring verticals to its ceiling within its holy walls.

Once you’ve had your fill of Prague’s urban amenities, your first destination in the Czech Republic’s hinterland should be Olomouc, a youthful university town whose abundance of historical assets has granted it a place on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites. The one monument that is thought to be the clincher for its status is the Holy Trinity Column, which has sculptures from Christian religious lore (the Virgin Mary, the Apostles of Jesus, the Holy Trinity, etc) built into its 35 metre high spire.

An astronomical clock that also once had iconography from Christianity is also worth visiting.  After the Second World War, the angels and saints that once graced the clock’s sides were replaced by Communist authorities with heroes of the people (scientists, engineers, athletes, etc), which gives fascinating glimpse into the philosophy of the former regime that once ruled this part of Europe.

Sedlec Ossuary by CC user milanboers on Flickr

As far as standout attractions go, the most unique (and morbid) one that you should make time to see in the Czech Republic is the Sedlec Ossuary, which is a chapel made entirely of bones.

Human bones.

If that doesn’t put you off, this bizarre church will captivate you during the entirety of your visit, as it possesses a chandelier consisting of every bone in the human body, a crucifix made from bones, as well as the signature of the creator of the ossuary, inscribed in one of the bone walls contained within.

Those looking to get outdoors after spending their time amidst bones, some of whom were Black Death victims (it’s true), will want to get out to Bohemian Paradise, a small national park instituted in 1955. Cultural travelers will appreciate the liberal sprinkling of ruined castles and stately chateaus inhabited by the regional elite through the rolling countryside, but the presence of glacial features and caves will appeal to those interested in natural wonders, the latter feature of which contains the largest underground lake in the country.

If you’re looking play amid actual mountains, the Elbe Sandstone Mountains offer some of the loftier heights in the Czech Republic.  Here, the mesas created by the highly erosive sandstone that comprises these mountains will make for stunning sights while hiking, there are plentiful walls for experienced climbers to scale, and the presence of hot springs will allow the weary traveler to recuperate their wellness, soothed by the sights around them as the water soothes the muscles of their body.

Svíčková by CC user pepperlime on Flickr

What To Eat

When Czech people sit down to eat, a popular appetizer or side dish that accompanies their main dish is Knedlíky, which is a type of bread dumpling. This doughy sidekick has been so popular over time that it is said that in the past, many Czech girls were not allowed to get married until they knew how to prepare this dish.

This carby food goes well with many of the heavy main courses that compose Czech cuisine, of which Svíčková is a classic choice. This drool worthy number translates to English as beef sirloin in cream sauce, but it also includes vegetables like carrots and onion, which are cooked alongside the sirloin during preparation.

The dessert course in the Czech Republic has many worthy contenders, but quite often, Buchty is a favoured choice among many sweet-toothed diners here. Essentially, they are sweet rolls that are usually filled with jam, then either dusted with powdered sugar or drizzled with vanilla sauce.

This dish is so well-loved that occasionally, it is eaten as a main dish rather than for dessert.  So if you want to embrace your inner child, coming to the Czech Republic will work out very well for you!

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