Prague, Czech Republic, is a city of stunning physical beauty. The capitals of many other European nations were flattened or heavily damaged during World War II, but Prague survived intact.
Thanks to Prague's role as a focal point of culture and commerce for nearly a millennium, it retains evidence of the many nationalities that have influenced and sometimes dominated its course in history. Gothic and baroque spires, art-nouveau facades and even cubist structures reflect a crucible of German, Italian, Flemish and Bohemian artistic movements. At one time the seat of the Holy Roman Empire and at another the citadel of the Hapsburgs, Prague sustains a reputation as a vital political, cultural and economic center.
This is especially true since the 1989 bloodless Velvet Revolution swept out communism. Tourists and foreign expatriates continue to descend on the City of a Hundred Spires, although those hoping to see evidence of its totalitarian past may be disappointed to find that Prague has very much become a cosmopolitan Western capital. Gone are the days of standing in line for bananas in Spartan, communist-style grocery stores; instead, expect to see people standing in line for the dressing room at the Swedish clothing-store chain H&M.
Although the city embraces innovation, Prague's old-world appeal has been steadfastly preserved. Thick river fogs, arched stone bridges, mysteriously lit alleyways and other charming scenes linger around almost every corner. If you slip away from the main tourist scene, you'll likely stumble upon a bakery offering freshly baked brown loaves from 200-year-old recipes, or a lively political debate in a Hapsburg-era hospoda (pub). For many, Prague carries on as it always has.
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