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  • Hi, I'm Rick Steves,

  • back with more of the best of Europe.

  • As always, we're sampling the local culture,

  • and around here, that means great beer.

  • We're in Prague, in the Czech Republic.

  • Thanks for joining us.

  • Prague, which escaped the bombs of last century's wars,

  • is one of Europe's best-preserved cities.

  • Its nickname: "the Golden City of a Hundred Spires."

  • And, beyond its striking facades, it's an accessible city,

  • with a story to tell and plenty to experience.

  • We'll explore Prague,

  • filled with exuberant architecture

  • and slinky, sensuous Art Nouveau.

  • With music spilling into the streets...

  • And colorful pubs serving up some of the best beer in Europe,

  • it's a city thriving with visitors.

  • We'll take in sights ranging from Europe's

  • most interesting Jewish Quarter

  • to Prague's in-love-with-life Charles Bridge.

  • Buried in the center of Europe is the Czech Republic

  • and its capital and dominant city, Prague.

  • Prague, straddling the Vltava River,

  • is easy on foot, with highlights

  • like Wenceslas Square, the Old Town Square,

  • Charles Bridge, and the cathedral

  • up in the castle all within about an hour's walk.

  • The 14th century was Prague's Golden Age --

  • the Holy Roman Emperor ruled from here.

  • Back then, this was one of Europe's

  • largest and most highly cultured cities.

  • Until about 1800,

  • Prague was four separate and fortified towns:

  • The Castle Town, for a thousand years

  • the home of the Czech ruler.

  • The Little Town, where nobles would live

  • to be close to the king.

  • The Old Town, with its magnificent market square.

  • And the New Town, with the grand Wenceslas Square

  • providing a stage for this country's

  • tumultuous 20th century history.

  • Prague's four gloomy decades of Communist control

  • feels like a distant memory,

  • as the city is bursting with pent-up entrepreneurial energy.

  • Everything, from the buildings like the Dancing House --

  • nicknamed Fred and Ginger --

  • to the vibrant crowds in the streets,

  • seem to celebrate Czech freedom.

  • Charles Bridge was commissioned in the 14th century

  • by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV.

  • It offers one of the most pleasant strolls in Europe.

  • This bridge is part of the historic coronation route

  • called the Royal Way.

  • Coronation processions started above at the cathedral,

  • where the king was crowned.

  • From there they crossed this bridge

  • and headed for the Old Town Square.

  • Today the final stretch of the Royal Way

  • is a commercial gauntlet

  • lined with Prague's most playful diversions.

  • Like main drags throughout Europe,

  • this walk mesmerizes visitors.

  • Use it as a spine,

  • but make a point to venture beyond.

  • Prague is flourishing with inviting lanes

  • and vibrant markets.

  • Today, as they have since medieval times,

  • Prague's farmers markets

  • keep both hungry locals and visitors well-fed.

  • Every time I come to Prague, my tour guide friend, Lida,

  • keeps trying to teach me a little more Czech.

  • Can you teach me four important words in Czech?

  • LIDA: Don't you remember them?

  • After so many years.

  • I'm completely beginning.

  • Okay. You are my friend.

  • -Yes. -Hello, ahoj.

  • -Ahoj. -Ahoj, very good.

  • Ahoj, okay.

  • More formal. Dobry den.

  • Dobry den, dobry den.

  • So dobry is good, den is day, good day.

  • Dobry den.

  • Magic word: Please.

  • Prosím.

  • -Prosím. -Be careful to pronounce

  • the M in the end,

  • because the Czech is very perfect, exact language.

  • Prosím.

  • Prosím. Prosím.

  • -Very good. -Okay.

  • And another magic word: Thank you.

  • Dekuji.

  • -Dekuji. -A little bit softer.

  • Dekuji.

  • -Dekuji. -Very well.

  • Dekuji. Thank you. Nice.

  • Thank you, dekuji.

  • Okay, so, dobry den, dekuji,

  • prosím, ahoj.

  • -Ahoj. -And how do you say good-bye?

  • Ahoj!

  • It's the same.

  • -Ahoj, like hello. -Yes, exactly.

  • Hello, good-bye. Ahoj, ahoj.

  • It's either.

  • STEVES: I'll test my new language skills

  • for the price of some local fruit.

  • Okay, let's practice what you've taught me.

  • Yeah. Oh, look, plums are in season.

  • Good. Dobry den.

  • -Dobry den. -Dobry den.

  • How do you say "plums"?

  • -Svestky. -And five?

  • -Pet. -Pet svestky prosím.

  • Prosím?

  • LIDA:Prosím, yeah.

  • And then dobro, very good.

  • Dobro. Good. This okay?

  • -Dekuji. -Dekuji.

  • -Ahoj. -Ahoj.

  • These will be great, that worked.

  • Prague's Old Town Square,

  • once just another farmers market,

  • is now the heart of the city, but today,

  • the commerce is clearly tourism.

  • The fanciful Gothic Tyn Church soars over everything

  • as if to remind tourists

  • lots of religious history took place right here.

  • Back in the 15th century,

  • some Christians were beginning to struggle against

  • Roman Catholic dominance.

  • This was Prague's leading Hussite church.

  • Hussites were followers of Jan Hus,

  • whose statue graces the square.

  • He was a local preacher who got in trouble

  • with the Vatican a hundred years before

  • Martin Luther and the Reformation.

  • The chalice is a symbol of Hus and his followers,

  • who believed everyone, not just priests,

  • should be able to partake in the Eucharist,

  • or the Holy Communion.

  • These days, the biggest crowds gather at

  • the 15th century Astronomical Clock

  • back on the Old Town Square.

  • The two dials seem to tell you

  • everything you could possibly want to know.

  • It tells the phases of the moon, sunset,

  • current signs of the Zodiac,

  • each day's special saint, and,

  • somehow, it even tells the time.

  • And of course, 500 years ago,

  • everything revolved around the earth.

  • At the top of the hour, Death tips his hourglass

  • and pulls the cord.

  • The windows open as the twelve apostles parade by,

  • acknowledging the gang of onlookers.

  • The rooster crows...

  • And finally, the bell rings.

  • But my favorite part of the show is watching the crowd gawk.

  • Prague has long been a mecca for musicians.

  • Mozart loved the place.

  • His operaDon Giovanni debuted just around the corner.

  • Antonín Dvorák lived and composed right here.

  • And today, that enthusiasm for music lives on.

  • Box offices around town give you all the options --

  • theater, opera, jazz, and classical.

  • Tickets are cheap,

  • about half what you'd pay in Vienna.

  • Racks of fliers show what's on,

  • and with this wall of photos,

  • you can choose just the right venue.

  • There's chamber music all over town.

  • We're enjoying a string quartet.

  • It's Vivaldi in the Chapel of Mirrors.

  • Enjoying Baroque music in a Baroque space like this,

  • the music takes on an extra dimension.

  • Prague Castle, towering above the town,

  • dominates the west side of the Vltava River,

  • also known as the Moldau.

  • It's a complex of churches and palaces

  • encircled by mighty walls.

  • For a thousand years, Prague has been ruled from here.

  • Even today, the Czech president works within its gates.

  • The changing of the guard adds a dose of formality.

  • And for some entertaining informality,

  • a quartet called the Prague Castle Orchestra

  • is playing just outside.

  • Their forte?

  • Songs that resonate with the Czech people.

  • I'm meeting another friend, Honza Vihan,

  • who helps me guide tours and research guidebooks.

  • He's joining us

  • for a sweep through Prague's history.

  • This piece just brings out emotion, doesn't it?

  • Yeah, the song is very important to the Czech people.

  • It's "The Moldau," or Vltava, by Smetana.

  • So that's the river here.

  • It's named after the river.

  • It's like the blood of the Czech people,

  • and wherever you go in the world,

  • you can just think of this tune

  • and it's like being back home.

  • STEVES: The castle complex is... complex, and vast as well,

  • with noble palaces,

  • ancient churches, and grand banqueting halls.

  • While you could easily spend all day within its walls,

  • the one essential stop is St. Vitus Cathedral.

  • The church is Gothic, started in the 1300s,

  • but not finished for centuries.

  • Inside, the clean, high Gothic lines

  • and vast windows create a space that's quintessentially Gothic,

  • full of light and uplifting.

  • Visitors are dwarfed by the scale

  • and wowed by the beauty.

  • A stunning Art Nouveau window created by Alphonse Mucha

  • in 1931 graces the nave.

  • But the importance of the cathedral,

  • both religious and cultural, is best felt in its intimate,

  • sumptuously decorated Wenceslas Chapel.

  • This place feels very sacred.

  • VIHAN: Yeah, a church in this place

  • has been the holiest place in the country for 1,100 years.

  • St. Wenceslas is buried here.

  • So that's Wenceslas' tomb.

  • VIHAN: Yeah. He's the first Slavic saint,

  • so the time when we had all this French

  • and Italian saints, this was the first Slav

  • to attain sainthood,

  • and he's the patron of the Czech people,

  • and the kings have been coronated here

  • for those 1,100 years,

  • and they'd always be just lent the crown of St. Wenceslas,

  • who otherwise rules eternally up in heaven.

  • STEVES: Just up the hill, the Strohov Monastery

  • overlooks the Prague Castle and the rest of the city.

  • The monastery was a center of learning.

  • As the Age of Enlightenment

  • swept into Prague in the 18th century,

  • it brought with it an enthusiasm

  • for the study of natural sciences.

  • Cases highlight oddities from around the globe

  • and wonders of the day.

  • Could this be a baby dodo bird?

  • The monastery is most noted for its library.

  • Libraries were the Google of the day.

  • It's hard to overestimate

  • the importance of these books back then.

  • The halls are decorated with paintings that

  • celebrated philosophy, theology,

  • and the quest for knowledge,

  • Knowledge is power,

  • and in Europe until modern times,

  • the Church was the keeper of knowledge.

  • This gave the Church extraordinary power.

  • For example, some of these books

  • dealt with particularly challenging ideas.

  • The locked case above the door was forlibri prohibiti --

  • the prohibited books.

  • Only the abbot had the key, and to read these books,

  • like the works of Copernicus and Jan Hus,

  • you had to get his permission.

  • As the Age of Enlightenment took hold in Europe,

  • the Church struggled to maintain its control of knowledge.

  • Pondering these treasured books

  • for more information age perspective,

  • I'm reminded both how abundant information is today