D ay One

It’s our first day in the city, and I’m enchanted already. The buildings are a fabulous mix of ancient European architectural styles, and I feel I’ve been transported centuries back — minus the horse and carts.

The first stop on our itinerary is the Charles Bridge. This famous bridge is about a half hour walk from our hotel, through a shopping thoroughfare, and along the River Vltava. The temperature is 34°F (1°C), but as long as we keep walking, the cold is invigorating rather than biting. As we approach the bridge, we’re greeted by two dark-skinned sailors dressed in white sailor suits, handing out leaflets advertising boat rides. We tell them we’ll be back soon; we’re eager to take a closer look at the river first.

We stroll across the bridge, a major tourist attraction, judging by the many other people walking across. There are 30 statues on either side of the bridge, one every few meters. I’m enthralled by this walk across the long bridge, dotted with cartoon artists, musicians, and prostate beggars, face down, upturned peak cap in hand. As I gaze at the calm waters below us and the circles of pigeons flying overhead, I promise myself to return at night to cross the river again. (Indeed, in my few days in Prague I became an expert at navigating the tram system: alighting the tram, walking across the bridge on foot, and then taking another tram home.)

We walk back to our sailor friends and buy tickets for our river cruise. They hand us our tickets, as well as free vouchers for a hot tea (in a paper cup, how welcome!), a biscuit (no, thanks) and a free pass to the Charles Bridge Museum (wow, thank you!). We put on earphones (English, please, though Hebrew was also an option) and listen to the guide pointing out landmarks on our trip. He tells us about the Stalin Monument blown up and gone in a plume of smoke in post-Communist 1962, the fairy-tale-like Prague Castle, the Jewish Quarter, and the composer Bedřich Smetana who, inspired by the Vlatva River, composed the classical musical piece The Maldau. We’re even treated to several bars of the soul-stirring music. And — an unexpected bonus — we ride along a water canal that closely resembles the water canals of Venice, bordered on both sides by the quaint buildings of Prague I’ve grown to love.

After our boat ride, we visit the Charles Bridge Museum where we learn about the bridge’s construction. The bridge was erected in the 14th century, commissioned by Czech King Charles IV to link the two sides of Prague. It was first used as a driveway for horses and wagons, later for trams and cars, and is now designated for pedestrians only.

Next, we ride up a funicular (mountain train) to visit the Petrin Lookout Tower. Built in imitation of the Eiffel Tower, we can pay a couple of dollars for the privilege of walking up 300 steps and get a stunning view of Prague. But it’s cold and getting late, so we opt to walk down to street level instead. Our walk in the cold is rewarded with gorgeous views of the Vltava River. (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 698)