It’s a cold, sunny day in mid-January, and I’m sitting on a frosty bar stool outside, sipping the hot mulled wine the Czechs call Svařák.
I can see the colorful Astronomical Clock about thirty meters away, built by the master Mikuláš Kadaň in the early 1400s, with the Church of Our Lady before Týn towering above the Old Town Square.
Across the narrow cobbled street stands the ornate house, nicknamed the House of Minutes, where influential writer Franz Kafka spent his early childhood.
As always, there’s a steady stream of people milling about, wrapped in parkas and earmuffs, walking in and out of the beautiful plaza. Many people stop every hour to watch the Twelve Apostles appear at the top of the astronomical clock.
It’s busy but not crowded, yet more proof that the best time to travel is winter, when prices are low, tourists scarce and you can appreciate what a place has to offer.
Escaping the Covid madness
I came to Prague to escape the Covid madness that still plagues much of the United States and the West – and the increasingly aggressive corporate media propaganda.
My grandchildren needed someone to drive them back to London after their annual Christmas visit, and I immediately volunteered.
With my American Express travel points, I could get a ticket almost for free – and the prices for a week-long visit to Prague were too good to pass up. My hotel in Old Town Square, with its large ornate rooms and funky statues of angels with swords, only cost me $83 per night including breakfast. I couldn’t afford to stay home.
I had to pass not one but five separate Covid tests and demonstrate near-professional knowledge of computers to navigate bureaucratic hurdles, but went through Czech immigration without a glance.
After breakfast, I work in the morning on my laptop, then spend the afternoon exploring the city – Prague Castle and the magnificent St. Vitus Cathedral on the hill, the medieval Charles Street Bridge , the Museum of Communism, the shape-shifting steel statue of Kafka’s head by artist David Černý, the National Museum near Wenceslas Square, the Jewish Quarter.
I made the obligatory visit to an Absentherie, tasted the formerly forbidden Green Fairy, and took a cruise on the Moldau River.
What cities are supposed to look like
What strikes me the most is the optimistic and freer atmosphere of Prague.
Even though the United States prides itself on its love of freedom, the truth is that there is more freedom now in Eastern Europe than in many Western countries or places like Australia .
Some tourists wear face masks, but most Czechs do not. Life has returned to normal here in Central Europe, and the smiling faces and friendly greetings from dobrý den on the street stand in stark contrast to what you see in Los Angeles, New York or Chicago.
After nearly a week, I was only asked once for my Covid digital passport and when the scanner couldn’t read the US QR code, the waitress just shrugged and asked. let in anyway.
The problem with the Czech Republic is that its people have more than 40 years of experience dealing with communist governments and their senseless bureaucratic demands, from 1948 until the Velvet Revolution drove dictators out of power in 1989. tanks rolling through your streets, as happened in Prague in 1968, Covid madness is a small beer.
The other aspect of Prague that both delights and bothers me is the safety and cleanliness of the city. The streets are immaculate, the centuries-old architecture beautiful and the buildings freshly painted.
There are no visible homeless people on the streets, although you occasionally see a kneeling beggar, forehead touching the ground, hat or cup obsequiously raised for a donation. Young women walk the dark alleys and cobbled streets late into the night, seemingly fearless.
By contrast, on the road trip to Los Angeles for my flight here, there were entire tent cities nestled under freeway overpasses, mounds of trash piled ten feet high. Violent crime in American cities is skyrocketing, thanks to the “defund the police” movement and the election of left-wing “decriminalize everything” prosecutors.
In other words: Prague shows you that cities don’t have to be cesspools of crime, violence and uncollected trash. Instead, they can be havens of culture, beauty, and good neighborliness. The ethnic hatreds and identity politics that tear America and countries like the UK apart are absent here.
In the end, this trip gives me faith in humanity again – and in the possibility, at least, that big cities can become livable again.
If the relatively poor Czech Republic can afford cities of unparalleled beauty and serenity, the far wealthier United States can certainly do the same.
So the lesson I take from Prague is that there is hope for the future.
If the Czech people could oust the authoritarian, surveillance-obsessed bureaucrats from power in a peaceful, nonviolent revolution, so can freedom-loving Americans. Hopefully it won’t take us 40 years.