I’ll Praise Prague

This item appears on page 40 of the March 2015 issue.

The subject “I’ll Praise Prague” inspired travelers to try very different approaches in writing their essays, making judging difficult. This month’s top essay, as graded by ITN staff, was that of NILI OLAY of New York, NY, who will receive a 3-year extension to her ITN subscription. In second place was the submission of JOSIE GIBSON of Rio Rancho, NM, whose subscription will be extended two years. The third-place winner was DEE POUJADE of Portland, OR, winning an extra year’s delivery of ITN. Deserving Honorary Mention (and an ITN mug) are WILLIAM LESNER of Boston, MA, and DONNA PYLE of Boulder, CO. All of the winning essays are printed below.


It can be the small things that create our connection to a city — a place, an event, something commonplace. Such is my experience with Prague. 

Majestic music everywhere! In the streets, the squares, in the churches, music could be found anywhere and anytime. I attended a chamber ensemble concert in one of the churches, and was treated to a fabulous program of classical music in a venue so small that you could practically sit in the laps of the musicians. 

What fun to explore the narrow streets and canals, not knowing your destination but knowing that around every turn and corner was a discovery. It could be a charming small hotel, a garden, a restaurant hidden from the masses, or an inspired view that changes your perspective and appreciation of the city. Finding those secret places became a wonderful journey.

Eating outside could be a year-round pleasure, with establishments using outside heaters and offering blankets at the tables to keep warm while savoring your meal and watching the parade of people.

The happy pickles! In the Havelská Market, my favorite find was a stand of pickles. The pickles in the jars had faces and smiles on them, which made me want to just grin and grin.

At the Mozart Museum, the home where the composer spent several summers, I could touch the actual harpsichord that he played during his visits there. 

And no trip to Prague would be complete without enjoying coffee and pastry at the elegant Grand Café. 

So much to praise about Prague!

Josie Gibson, Rio Rancho, NM


Prague is a fairy-tale city, with a castle on a hill, a river and a famous bridge.

Prague is music. You can find a classical concert, chamber music or an organ recital almost any day of the week. Street musicians are top quality.

Prague is old. The castle dates from the 870s and the Charles Bridge from the mid-1300s. The city suffered less destruction during WWII than most Eastern European capitals. 

Prague is young. Its restaurants and bars are filled with enthusiastic youth. 

Prague is a tribute to the dead. It has a famous Jewish cemetery, the grave of Czech composer Dvor˘ák (among 50 or so “hall of famers” at Vys˘ehrad Cemetery) and the grave of Jan Palach, the university student who set himself on fire in 1969 after the Soviet invasion, at Ols˘any Cemetery.

Prague is alive. Crowds of tourists throng the Charles Bridge, with shopping opportunities at every step. Other tourists head to Wenceslas Square, scene of much of the city’s history and another tribute to capitalism, with expensive hotels and shops all around it. 

Prague is serious. It has a National Museum, a city museum and a postage stamp museum, just to name a few. It’s impossible to count all the churches and monasteries. An entire old section of the city is called the Jewish Quarter. 

Prague is fun. You can go to the Old Town Square and watch the performances of its Astronomical Clock with all the delight of a child. You can check out all the statues on the Charles Bridge to see how many names you can recognize. Or you can stoop down beneath the Belvedere Fountain at the Summer Palace of Prague Castle and hear the music that is imperceptible to those just standing around. 

I’ll praise Prague.

Donna Pyle, Boulder, CO


I lived a dual life in Prague this past October. By day, my friend Kay and I were tourists in the Old Town and Lesser Town. It was her first visit, my third, and we especially enjoyed the people-watching (and shopping!) on the Charles Bridge, exploring the castle and visiting the somewhat quirky museums. My favorite (new to me on this trip) was the Mucha Museum. Kay enjoyed a textile museum, and we both were quite intrigued by the Museum of Communism. 

By night, we turned into “locals,” commuting on the light rail to C˘erný Most (a 20-minute ride from the Old Town), where we rented a flat owned by Portland friends who use it for frequent visits to their Czech relatives. 

Mornings, after breakfast in the flat, we commuted to central Prague, where we maintained a busy schedule of sightseeing, lunching on traditional Czech food, walking the city streets, trying a Segway tour along the river (highly recommended, by the way) and shopping for souvenirs. 

Other highlights of our week in Prague included the Lennon Wall in the Lesser Town and Hergetova Cihelna Restaurant, with its great food and unsurpassed view of the Charles Bridge at sunset. 

Some nights, we stayed in “town” for an early dinner; other nights, we rode home with the commuters to shop for groceries at the supermarket across the street from our flat and prepare dinner “at home.” 

One night we ventured to a restaurant in C˘erný Most that offered a delightful ambiance and a very friendly waitress. However, no one spoke English, so we had to guess what we were ordering! It was a wonderful adventure, one I would happily repeat! 

Dee Poujade, Portland, OR


I’ll praise Prague. How could I not? Visually magnificent, musically enchanting and full of history, Prague even merited a second visit. Does cold, damp November or March weather dampen its beauty? Absolutely not; the beauty shines right through. 

I love Art Nouveau, and Prague is awash in this style. One of the movement’s most prominent artists is the Czech artist Alphonse Mucha. His art can be seen in the Mucha Museum as well as in the stained-glass window at St. Vitus Cathedral and on the painted ceiling and the exterior of the Municipal House, just to name a few. As you walk in Old Town and Wenceslas Square, just look up and admire.

When your eyes are tired of the visual feast, go to one of the many concerts. You don’t have to wait till 8 p.m.; there will be concerts throughout the day, and leaflets will advertise them. Yes, the favorite composers, Dvor˘ák, Smetana and Mozart get top billing, but the performances are excellent.

If it’s history you’re interested in, it is everywhere. I was most interested in the Jewish Quarter. Prague’s Jewish Museum consists of a number of synagogues, including the Old New Synagogue, completed in 1270, and the Old Jewish Cemetery. Hitler planned a “museum of an extinct race’ in Prague and had artifacts shipped there from synagogues in the countries he conquered. Therefore, the collection in Prague is so amazing. The cemetery, with its packed gravestones and banked burials due to lack of space, is fascinating.

Not enough yet? There is the Charles Bridge, churches, castles and much, much more. Go and enjoy. You will praise Prague, too.

Nili Olay, New York, NY


It was 1973, I was 23, and I was determined to see some of the Iron Curtain. As part of a solo trip to Europe, I decided to spend a week in Prague. 

I made arrangements through a government agency to stay with a family. After picking up the keys, I found no one home, so I let myself in. It was a lovely, large apartment that was fully furnished and appeared lived in, but throughout my week-long stay, no one ever appeared. It was very unsettling and felt like there were cameras peering at my every move. 

I wandered around Prague, which, covered in two inches of gray soot, seemed bleak and lifeless. I loved to travel, but I found Prague frightening. 

When I left by train for Vienna, guards pulled me off at the border. My body tensed and my heart raced as I watched my train continue on without me. The guards went through all my possessions, fined me around $20 (for what, I have no idea) and, hours later, put me on another train. I was incredibly glad to be out of Czechoslovakia.

In 2008, my wife and I decided to go to Prague. With such strong memories from my earlier trip, I had no idea how I would react.

It felt like I had emerged from a nightmare and entered into dazzling daylight. Prague was glorious. The soot was gone, and the scene facing me was lively, colorful and festive. 

I wandered the same streets I had some decades before but could scarcely recognize anything. St. Vitus, the Charles Bridge and the Old Town Square were still there and hadn’t changed, but surely they really had changed. The city as well as my memories were transformed. 

William Lesner, Boston, MA