Hitler loved Prague so much that he wanted to save it for himself. When I heard this little-known fact, I just had to see it.
It’s incredible to think the black heart of an evil dictator holds space for such a reflection. Is it possible in some still moment he allowed the city’s mysterious beauty to pause his disdain for humanity?
Upon further research, I learned a long list of famous people adored the perfectly intact medieval wonder. Franz Kafka was born and wrote his famous works there. Einstein took a teaching position at Charles University, Mozart composed some of his best Operas in Prague.
In 2008, I decided to reinvent Christmas. Ready to ditch frenetic shopping sprees, barely tolerable social obligations and plastic Santas. “We’re going to Prague this Christmas!” I told my twenty-one and sixteen year-old children. “No gifts this year.” We would enjoy the company of each other while exploring a magnificent city, immersed in language, culture, food, history, and grand architecture.
Lovers of travel, my kids were “in.” We invited two of their friends. We often travel with my daughter’s companions and nothing delights me more than hearing their spontaneous laughter while watching young eyes devour the great and small amazements revealed in distant lands.
I found an apartment on the Internet in the heart of Old Town. It was five minutes walk from Wenceslas Square, home of the Velvet Revolution and right next door to the Cafe Louvre, where Kafka and Einstein frequently sipped coffee and wrote. It was pure joy to nurse my espresso and imagine how they both must have filled the space. Their energetic imprint surely remains.
Hundreds of years old, the apartment with its eighteen foot ceilings, massive raspberry colored rooms and long halls complete with secret doors was the ideal vacation home for history hungry tourists.
We meandered Prague’s four main quarters allowing the significant sites to sneak up on us, digesting each marvelous detail in slow and easy breaths. Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, the Jewish Cemetery, and National Theater, to name just a few.
Our favorite area was Old Town Square. Host to the Astronomical Clock and guarded by the haunting Tyn Cathedral. Gazing up at the church in the cold night air, you almost expected Dracula to swoop out of the Gothic upper windows.
No past holiday held a candle to the experience of shopping the red- roofed Christmas markets with scents of fresh baked goods, sausages and hot mulled wine wafting by our noses. Christmas carols played gently in the squares and every front door home to a small Christmas tree adorned in oranges, lemons, cinnamon and bows. This was a Dickens Christmas minus the Scrooge. Not a plastic snowman anywhere to be found.
Since our trip, Christmas has new meaning. This year, we will not exchange presents. We will instead enjoy the gift of food, family, friends, and music while kicking back and relaxing, taking in the beauty of winter and remembering the glorious city of Prague.