The most beautiful of Prague’s seven bridges is also the most beautiful bridge in the world.
You don’t believe me? Ask anyone in Prague.
"Crossing Charles Bridge is everybody’s favorite pastime," said a reporter whose office lies just beyond the Mala Strana embankment. "I live in Old Town. That means I get to walk across the bridge at least twice a day. It’s a special place.
"Seldom do I cross without somebody, often a Czech, handing me a camera and asking me to take their picture with the castle in the background."
Charles Bridge has seen six centuries of often-turbulent history. Yet every century has added to its beauty. One century saw the building of the Mala Strana, a picturesque village at the foot of Prague’s Castle. In a later century came the ornamental tower at the Old Town end of the bridge, traced with patterns and fringes in stone.
And with every century came new legends. As the story goes, when things are at their worst in Bohemia, St. Wenceslas will sally forth to retrieve a magic sword from beneath the stones of the bridge. When he is finished, his enemies will find themselves shorter by a head.
Some Czechs expected their saint to arrive in 1968 when the icy east wind brought Soviet Bloc tank armies to chill Prague’s spring romance with democracy. While awaiting St. Wenceslas and his magic sword, the Czechs glanced around and noticed that the tanks were guided through the passages of Mala Strana by temporary signs in Russian. Every night the Czechs turned these signs in a different direction, precipitating a monumental armored traffic jam the next morning.
Charles Bridge is really a simple but ornamental strand, illustrating the most compelling feature of Prague—its lack of ostentation. Franz Kafka complained that everything in the city was tiny and cramped. There is not one skyscraper or triumphal arch.
The works of Kafka and Jaroslav Hasek, author of "The Good Soldier Schweik," explain how the Czechs confront life. Kafka exposes the absurdity of their everyday existence while Schweik displays their ability to make light of absurdity, to confront violence with humor, to passively resist.
-- Restaurace Certovka, 22 Cihelna. For a wonderful view of Charles Bridge.
-- Palffy Palac, 14 Valdstejnska. Grand Old Dame of Prague dining. Faded glory but oh how gloriously faded. The cuisine is regal.
For getting around town: A valuable book to pick up free at the railway station is "Guide to Public Transit in Prague." Easy and cheap.