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How to Visit the Mucha Museum, Prague

The Mucha Museum, in Prague, is one of my favorite “almost hidden” treasures in the City of 100 Spires. Located in Nové Město, just a quick walk from Wenceslaus Square, it should be on your must-see list of things to do in Prague.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click on a link for an item or service I recommend and make a booking or purchase, I may get a small commission on that sale. It won’t affect the price you pay. Also I was offered a discount on this tour to be able to write about it for you. But that has not affected my opinion. My enthusiasm for this experience is genuine.

December 26,1894 – The workshop office of Lemercier Printers, Paris:

The phone rings and Maurice de Brunhoff, manager of the publishing firm, picks up. On the other end is the most famous actress in Paris, if not the world, Sarah Bernhardt. Her current production of Gismonda is being extended and she wants a new poster designed at once. Of course, Madame, M. de Brunhoff replies. Then Bernhardt drops the bomb; she wants the poster ready to distribute by January 1.

Let’s imagine the rest of the conversation, shall we?

“But, ma chère madame, that is only one week away!”

“Mais oui, mon chèr Maurice. And I want something different, non? Something unique. I am going to plaster Paris with them. See to it, please, will you, mon chèr?”

Well, clearly, M. de Brunhoff now found himself in a pickle. You just did not say no to the world’s greatest actress, not to mention one of your firm’s best customers, as they had been printing Bernhardt’s posters for some time. But it was the holidays; all his artists were unavailable. Where was he to find someone to design such an important commission and get it ready and printed in seven days?

Fortunately for him, and for the future of the art world, a not-well-known but talented artist/illustrator, a fellow from Moravia, was in the print shop at that moment, correcting some proofs. “Can you do it?” the manager asked after explaining the problem. Well, of course he could, replied Alphonse Mucha. And he did.

The Sarah Bernhardt poster for Gismondo, her gown in shades of gold, as seen at the Mucha Museum, Prague.

One week later, Paris was indeed plastered with Mucha’s 6 ½’ high poster. Bernhardt was delighted with the design, full of complex details and subtle colorations. It showed her full length and bigger than life, dressed as a Byzantine princess with orchids in her hair, holding a palm frond. Her head was outlined with an arc that looked like a halo, a design feature that would become a signature element of Mucha’s work. So popular was the piece that people were pulling it off walls and kiosks, taking it home to decorate their own walls. 4000 posters were printed. Bernhardt immediately offered Mucha a six-year contract to design posters, costumes, and stage sets for her.

Alphonse Mucha, who had been struggling to make his name known, to say nothing of paying his café bill and the rent on his atelier, had been designing restaurant menus, advertising posters, and illustrating popular novels. With this poster, he became one of the most popular artists in Paris almost overnight.

You can see this beautiful Gismonda poster—yes, the original proof print, from 1894—at the Mucha Museum in Prague. And I heartily suggest you do.

How to Get the Most Out of a Mucha Museum Visit

I have been a fan of Mucha’s work since my college days—a long time ago!—so I was thrilled to see so many of his pieces in person. Also, since I knew almost nothing about his life, I enjoyed seeing the photos, drawings, and the reproduction of his Paris studio. The museum is small, but rich for anyone who loves the work of Mucha or Art Nouveau in general.

I suggest you plan to spend at least an hour here—I stayed closer to two—and that you begin your visit by watching the excellent 30-minute film—in English—shown in the video room at the very back. It gives a great overview of the artist’s life and work, and is the perfect introduction, especially if you are not familiar with the breadth of his work.

After the film, return to the front of the museum and work your way through the sections one by one.

“The purpose of my work was never to destroy but always to create, to construct bridges, because we must live in the hope that humankind will draw together and that the better we understand each other the easier this will become.”

– Alphonse Mucha

The Decorative Panels and Posters

The first sections are where you’ll see the Mucha works you probably know best—decorative panels and posters. In fin-de-siècle Paris, there was a hunger among the middle class for beautiful but affordable artworks to adorn their homes. Mucha was happy to supply them with a stream of decorative panels, calendars, and prints. He developed an archetypal style that would forever mark his work—flattened, subtle colors, curved lines, flowing hair and fabrics, and strong outlines.

He often worked in series—The Four Seasons, The Four Flowers, The Four Times of Day. I particularly loved The Four Arts–Dance, Poetry, Painting and Music. Its warm golden tones, the lushness of its flowing lines contrasted with the rigidly round crescent behind each figure, drew me in.

Mucha's The Four Arts, a four-panel piece. Each panel has a woman in slowing dress and hair, in warm colors of yellows and golds.
The Four Arts, by Alphonse Mucha–Dance, Poetry, Painting, & Music

The Four Flowers has a quite different feel, although a similar palette. The thing that most struck me about it was how modern the flowing dresses on the four women seemed. You could put these gowns on any woman walking the red carpet at a celebrity-heavy awards ceremony and they would not look out of place.

A set of four tall, narrow panels, each with a woman adorned with a different flower. The shades are pastel pinks, yellows and golden tones. At the Mucha Museum, Prague.
For Mucha, The Flowers are a full-blown expression of his Art Nouveau style.

This is also where you can see some of the famous Bernhardt posters. I was intrigued by the Medée poster, which captures the actress’s powerful presence in the look of horror on her face as she stands over the bodies of the children she has killed. The snake bracelet she is wearing was a design detail the artist added. Bernhardt liked it so much, she commissioned the jeweler Georges Fouquet to make her one just like it.

Mucha’s style was also perfectly adapted to the growing need for printed advertising materials in turn-of-the-century France, and he was glad for the commissions. He designed advertising prints for champagne and chocolate, beer and Benedictine, bicycles and corsets. And his ads sold merchandise, making him much in demand.

In this section, you can see his famous ad for JOB cigarette papers, featuring a scantily clad woman in flowing fabric and even more flowing long black hair. This wild mass of almost Medusa-like hair was another signature of Mucha’s work, often called “macaroni” or “vermicelli.” The woman’s pose is flirty and sensual. Even in such early advertising, it was already clear that “sex sells.”

An advertising poster for JOB cigarette papers, it features a woman in a strapless red gown with exaggerated long black hair that flows around her in waves. She holds a cigarette in one hand.
The Alphonse Mucha JOB cigarette papers ad shows that
even 125 years ago, he knew. “Sex sells.”

Documents Décoratifs and Czech Posters

The next section of the museum contains a number of what are called Documents Décoratifs. These are primarily pencil drawings highlighted with white paint showing his designs for everything from furniture to fireplaces, tableware to cutlery, hair combs, fans, chandeliers, and jewelry (much of which was produced by the famous Parisian jeweler Fouquet).

These works are followed by more posters, Czech ones this time, created after he returned to his country of birth in 1910. He was very much a Slavic nationalist, and the work he created at this time shows a distinct difference from the Paris posters. Folk costumes, Slavic faces, and strong Slav sports figures replace the flowing, almost liquid lines of so much of the Parisian work. Social commentary in speaking out against the Germanization of the Czechs is also present.

Alphonse Mucha Paintings

Although Mucha made his name and fame as an illustrator and graphic designer, his first love had been painting, which he studied in Munich. There are not a lot of examples of his painting work here, but one drew me to it and I stared for a long time, taking in every detail. It is a powerful work, called variously “Star,” “Woman in the Wilderness,” and “Siberia.” It shows a Russian peasant woman, wrapped in a shawl, sitting alone on a field of snow, her face turned upward to the night sky with a single bright star hanging above her. There is defeat, acceptance, and finally a sense of peace in her posture. The artist’s wife, Marie, posed for the painting.

Mucha's painting "Woman in the Wilderness," also called "Star" and "Siberia." A field of snow and a blue-gray night sky with a single bright star lighting a Russian peasant woman wrapped in a shawl sitting on the ground.
“Star,” by Alphonse Mucha, is also called “Siberia” and “Woman in the Wilderness.” It is a powerful evocation of aloneness, defeat, and acceptance.

A Man of Many Talents

The final section of the museum seems specifically designed for the artist to just show off his astonishing versatility. There are drawings and pastels and studies, jewelry and sculpture, a design for a stained-glass window at St. Vitus’ Cathedral (which you can see while you are in Prague). There are examples of the Czech banknotes and stamps he designed.

You’ll also see here a small reconstruction of part of his Paris studio. That studio must have been a lively, happening place (especially when the painter Paul Gauguin lived with him for awhile). You can tell by looking at the many photographs on display. Mucha made glass-plate photos of models in preparation for many of his pieces, and they are fascinating. Look beyond the models at the studio itself, the furnishings and objects of the exotic Bohemian interior.

Paul Gauguin (left) lived in Mucha’s studio in Paris for a time. On the right is Gauguin’s teenage mistress and model, Annah la Javanaise.

“Advised to “Find a Different Career”

This is the feast of the Mucha Museum. Once you have seen the astonishing brilliance and breadth of his work here, it’s amusing to learn that in 1878, when the budding young artist was 18 years old and applied to attend the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, he was rejected. The person rejecting him told him to “find a different career.” I don’t suppose anyone remembers that man’s name. While Mucha went on to be hailed not only as the greatest of the Art Nouveau artists, but even as “the most famous artist in the world.”

After working your way through the entire Mucha Museum, I hope you end up loving Alphonse Mucha and his work as much as I do. This visit was one of the high points of my time in Prague. See this post for other high points and “insider tips” to what you should see in Prague.

If you’d like to get a good meal near the museum, I suggest heading to Bistro Spejle, just a block away; good food and a fun concept, with everything served on a skewer, with your bill calculated by how many skewers you consume. You can read my full review of Bistro Spejle here.

Fast Facts for Visiting the Mucha Museum:

Where: The museum is located at Panská 7 in the Kaunický Palace. This is in Nové Město, just a short walk from Wenceslaus Square. With your back to the National Museum at the top of the square and the venerable good King Wenceslaus astride his horse, walk about 2/3 the length of the square to Jindřišská and turn right. Go one block to Panská. You will see the museum on your right.

When: The museum is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm

Cost: Regular admission tickets are 300 CZK, about US$13.25. NOTE: There is a senior discount for visitors over 65 with tickets costing 200 CZK, about US$8.85

Amenities: There is a wonderful gift shop at the front near the entrance, full of Mucha inspired gifts, books, posters and other items.

Accessibility: The museum is wheelchair accessible.

Facilities: Clean, free restrooms are located near the front of the museum across from the ticket desk.

A tower sculpture made of books, with an opening so you can stick you head inside. Mirrors placed inside make the tower seem like it is infinite. Another of our great Prague secret, at the Prague Municipal Library.

Prague Secrets–12 Insiders’ Tips for Traveling to Prague

Want some great Insiders’ Tips for traveling to Prague? I’ve got them. I’m not a Prague local, not at all. But I know one. And he led me to hidden spots and secret gardens I never would have found on my own. With these secrets of Prague, you can find them too.

Prague castle lit by the setting sun at dusk.

Prague castle is visible from much of the city. Here, it glows in the last burn of a setting sun.

Prague is a New Old City

A short 20 or so years ago, traveling to Prague still held a tinge of the exotic. The city and its people were just emerging from the shadows of foreign occupation and its Communist dictates. No more. Prague is now one of the hottest go-to spots in Europe. And for good reason. Its churches and monuments, squares and parks, twisty streets and beautiful buildings enchant the millions of tourists that now visit the city every year.

Everyone traveling to Prague wants to visit Prague Castle, walk across the Charles Bridge, and drink Czech pilsner in the famous beer gardens. A stop at the John Lennon wall, catching the changing of the hour on the Astronomical Clock, strolls through Old Town Square and Malá Strana—all but compulsory. And every guidebook can give you the information you need for all these Prague highlights.

But what are the secrets of Prague? What do the locals know about visiting Prague that the rest of us don’t? It was these kinds of non-touristy things to do in Prague I was looking for when I first visited this gorgeous city.

My Personal Guide to Hidden Prague.

Guenther Krumpak, my personal guide to Prague

Guenther, my guide to discovering cool and quirky things to do in Prague–his mission of learning all about his adopted city is a labor of love.

I was lucky right out of the gate. When I decided I would be traveling to Prague, I booked an AirBnB room from a pair of guys, and one of them was a Tour guide! Guenther Krumpak, originally from Vienna, loves Prague and it shows. He has made it his personal mission to learn everything about the art, architecture, culture, history and quirks of his adopted city. And sharing that info with their guests is a labor of love.

Each morning after breakfast, he would spread a map of the city and ask, “What kind of experience do you want to have today?” Not “what do you want to see,” but basically “How do you want to feel?” His question opened my eyes to a new way to discover a city and led me to many experiences I would never have had on my own. I was so excited about his vision of Prague, that I hired him for a personal walking tour through this magical city. Best money I spent on my whole trip! Guenther’s insider information and knowledge of the hidden things not to miss in Prague led me up backstreets and into hidden gardens, to cups of coffee on almost deserted terraces and down stairways that Salieri might have traversed in the filming of Amadeus.

So with great thanks and a lot of credit to Guenther Krumpak of FunTastic Prague, here are the Prague secrets I discovered. I can’t wait to go back and find more of them. Because, as Franz Kafka wrote:

“Prague never lets you go… this dear little mother
has sharp claws. One has to yield, or else.”

The Hidden Garden of Květnice–a True Prague Secret

A white iron bench in the hidden garden of Květnice on Petřín Hill.

A corner of the “secret” Květnice Garden on Petřín Hill in Prague. I was the only person there!

The Rose Gardens on Petřín hill are famous, and definitely worth a visit for anyone traveling to Prague. But there is another garden right next to them that few people know about or ever see. “Květnice” translates roughy as “Blossomarium,” a garden full of blossoms. A perennial flower garden planted to be beautiful at almost any season. Guenther told me how to find it. On the day I went, a sunny September afternoon, I was the only person there.

The entrance gate that leads into the almost-hidden Květnice Garden on Petřín hill. Worth a visit when traveling to Prague.

The entrance gate that leads you into the peace and abundance of the almost-hidden Květnice Garden on Petřín hill.

Walk or take tram 6, 9, 12, 20 or 22 to tram stop Újezd. From there you can get on the funicular up to Petřín Hill. When you get off, you will be almost in front of the famous Rose Garden. Do take a few minutes to enjoy the roses if they are in season and gaze at the lovely sculpture called “Kiss,” by Josef Mařatka from 1921.

Facing the Rose Garden, turn left and walk along the wall until you see a discreet entrance in it. Turn in there and a few feet further in, on your right, you’ll see the pretty wrought-iron gate into Květnice. Overflowing with flowering shrubs and water plants, lawns and white-rocked pathways and surrounded by a hornbeam hedge, it has a way of catching the spirit. Sit a spell on one of the white iron benches and enjoy the peace. And if you listen carefully enough, you just might hear the light tinkle of fairy laughter. It’s that kind of garden, a truly enchanted secret of Prague.

Černý’s Upside-Down Horse and Lucerna Gallery. What?

Whimsical 1990s upside-down horse sculpture by Czech artist David Černý in Lucerna Passage in Prague. See many of Černý's pieces wen traveling to Prague.

This whimsical 1990s piece by Czech sculptor David Černý is found within the Art Nouveau/Deco explosion that is Lucerna Passage in Prague.

The Czech’s seem to have a penchant for black humor and no one does it better visually than the post-modern sculptor David Černý. There are several of his works you’ll want to check out when traveling to Prague. But this one, by far, is my favorite. I can’t even look at a photo of it without smiling, and I think I was giggling the whole time I was there photographing it.

For a more detailed story of the piece, check out my Photo of the Week post about the Upside-Down Horse. You’ll find this whimsical sculpture in the Lucerna Passage off Wenceslaus Square. The 1920s passage itself is worth exploring, a sort of cross between Arab bazaar and Art Deco/Nouveau hallucination.

To find the passage and it’s upside-down horse, begin in Wenceslaus Square. With your back to the National Museum and the original King Wenceslaus statue, walk along the left side of the square. The entrance to the passage, “Lucerna Pasáž,” is a bit before the entrance to the Mustek Metro station.

The Mucha Museum—a Paean to the Master of Art Nouveau

Alphone Mucha's brilliant bigger-than-life-size Art Nouveau poster of Sarah Bernhardt in Gismonda. The actress wears a golden Byzantine gown with orchids in her hair, holding a palm frond, with her head outlined by an arc like a halo. See it at the Mucha Museum, Prague

This Art Nouveau poster of Sarah Bernhardt in “Gismonda” is the work that jump-started Alphonse Mucha’s career, the one that quickly turned him into “the most famous artist in Paris” in 1895.

I’m a bit of an Art Nouveau freak, so of course Prague was the perfect city for me. It’s everywhere there, around every corner. And one place I really wanted to explore was the museum dedicated to the work of my favorite Art Nouveau artist, Alphonse Mucha.

The Mucha Museum in Prague is an ode to the master’s lovely Belle Epoque ladies with their diaphanous gowns and long sinuous locks of hair. (Those waves of Medusa-like hair came to be called “spaghetti” or “vermicelli.”) I loved his famous posters of Sarah Bernhardt, but I didn’t know they actually launched his stratospheric career.

The museum also has paintings, drawings, sculpture, jewelry, and some wonderful photos of Mucha’s atelier in Paris—which he shared for a time with Paul Gauguin.

The breadth of his versatility was truly astonishing and the Mucha Museum gives a very good overview of that.

Insider Tip: You can see more of Mucha’s work at the Smetana Theater, where he painted the ceiling in his prototypical Art Nouveau style. There is also a stained-glass window he designed in St. Vitus’ Cathedral.

For a more complete story on the Mucha Museum, Prague, and why you should visit it, read this post. 

Choco Cafe U Cervene Zidle

Entrance to the Choco Cafe in the Stare Mesto area, a good place for a break when traveling to Prague.

The entrance to the Choco Cafe U Cervene Zidle in Prague’s Staré Město area. Let the smell of chocolate draw you inside for the best mug of hot chocolate you’ve ever had.

You’re certain to be walking around Staré Město, Prague’s Old Town. A lot. At some point you’ll want a break, to rest your feet and your mind, maybe get out of the rain or cold or too much sun. You’ll need a chance to stop and process all you’ve seen and done.

My favorite spot to do that was the wonderful Choco Café on a nearby side street. I loved it so much I went back three times! It was the smell that caught me and pulled me through the door the first time—the heady scent of chocolate wafting sweetly on the air. It was the hot chocolate that brought me back—simply the best I have ever had, anywhere. It’s thick, almost pudding like. Think of the best chocolate bar you ever had melted into a mug with a little cream, then topped with whipped cream. Yep, that’s it.

Choco Café is casual, relaxed, with wicker and wooden chairs and comfy sofas. The staff is friendly. It was never over-run with tourists when I was there but is popular with locals. Prices are very reasonable. The WiFi is good. And the cakes are to die for.

Find Choco Café at Liliová 250/4, between Zlata and Naprstkova in Staré Město. Open daily, 10am-9pm (8 pm on Sundays). There is also a second location at Bethlehem Square #8. For more pictures, visit their web page. (in Czech).

The Sculpture Garden of Sternberg Palace

Leaf-draped steps in the walled courtyard garden at Sternberg Palace.

The walled garden at Sternberg Palace, near Prague Castle, is one of those places I would NEVER have found on my own. One of my favorite Insider Tips for Traveling to Prague. Thank you, Guenther!

This is another garden oasis, one of the Prague highlights I never would have found without Guenther guiding me there. The Sternberg Palace is part of the National Gallery. It houses a superb collection of Dutch, German and Austrian art, among others. But saving that for another day, let’s check out the sculpture garden.

Although the former Baroque palace is only a few steps from the entrance to Prague Castle, it’s tricky to find it. It shares an entrance with the Archbishop’s Palace, and there is almost no signage. Go through the arch into a lane or alley. Walk down that passage where it curves to the left. You’ll see some large iron gates with the letters “n g” for National Gallery above them. If the gates are closed, just push on the small door on the right, and you’re in.

At the entrance, simply tell them you’re going to the café. You won’t have to pay the entrance fee and you can walk right past the café into the garden. A well-curated collection of 20th-century Czech sculpture is intriguing and well displayed among the green.

Despite being almost within spitting distance of the Castle, with it throngs and hordes of tourists, the small walled garden is quiet. We were the only people there for the half-hour or so we wandered its paths. If I’d been alone, I might have spent all afternoon. I would sit and listen to the breeze through the leaves, watch the light bounce off the water in the granite pool, feel the smooth bronze of the sculptures, and smell the green.

If you’re hungry or thirsty, do step into the café. It is better, cheaper and more comfortable than anything at the Castle itself.

Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-6pm. To visit the collection of European Art–which is superb–inside the palace galleries, it’s best to use the combined ticket that gets you entrance into all the National Gallery properties.

Shop for Hedonistic Luxury at Botanicus

A glimpse of soaps and other organic products at the original Botanicus store.

The original Botanicus store in Prague is overflowing with organic soaps, creams, lotions, cordials, essential oils, honey, chutneys, and other hand-made small-batch organic items you won’t want to come home without.

In the Týn Yard, in Staré Město, you can find my favorite shop in Prague. Botanicus now has outlets around the world–traveling to Prague is not absolutely necessary to buy their luxurious products–but this is the original.

The first thing that hits you when you enter Botanicus is the smell—earthy, fresh, spring-flowers-and-sweet-grass heady. The products here begin at Botanicus’ own farm at Ostra, about 35 km. from Prague. Everything is grown organically, using as many traditional methods as possible. No fertilizers, chemical sprays or growth stimulants are used. The manufacturing uses age-old recipes and traditional small-batch techniques. Flowers, herbs and fruits are processed raw, not dried, to get the best quality oils and extracts.

The result of all this attention to tradition and fine craft is a huge selection of hand-made soaps, cosmetics, essential oils, honey and marmalades, teas and candles and herbed vinegars. There are cordials and chutneys, syrups and spices. If you’re like me, you’ll need to keep reminding yourself of the limitations of your suitcase. But thinking ahead, this is perhaps the best place in Prague to buy gifts for those back home or for hosts and friends you’ll encounter later in your trip.

For more information about Botanicus, their mission, their farm and their shops, visit the Botanicus website.
Open every day, 10am-6:30pm

Find Your Journal at Skoba Bookbinders—or Make Your Own

Two beautiful hand-made journals, made using recycled paper and vintage sewing patterns at Skoba Bookbinders, one of my favorite Prague secrets.

These hand-made journals from Skoba Bookbinders used vintage sewing patterns for one of the decorative elements.

The next stop on our Prague Secrets insiders tour is both a shop and a workshop. Something you might not know about me is that I am a bookbinder by hobby, so this was one of the unique things to do in Prague that I found really exciting.

At Skoba Bookbinders, in the interesting Žižkov neighborhood, you can browse the shop to find the perfect hand-made journal for your precious words, plans, and lists. But even better, if you time it right, you can take a 3-5 hour workshop and learn to make your own personalized journal. 

Owner/master bookbinder Václav will teach you step-by-step how to make a “notebook with a soul” using eco-friendly paper and lots of vintage elements. And there’s cake and lemonade! It’s a great way to spend an afternoon in Prague.

You’ll find Skoba at Ševčíkova 4, Žižkov, and it is open Monday to Friday, from 10am to 7pm.

To find out more about the shop and the workshops, check out the Skoba website.

Get Dizzy in a Tower of Books at the Public Library–One of the Best Weird Things to do in Prague

A tower sculpture made of books, with an opening so you can stick you head inside. Mirrors placed inside make the tower seem like it is infinite. Another of our great Prague secret, at the Prague Municipal Library.

Cleverly placed mirrors inside Matej Kren’s “Idiom” make the book tunnel seem like it goes on into infinity.

Just a two-minute walk from Old Town Square brings you to the Prague Municipal Library for another of our non-touristy things to do in Prague—experience a work of art in a new way. Inside the foyer of the main building, which is right across the street from City Hall, is an art installation by Slovak artist Matej Kren. He has used some 8000 hardcover books decommissioned by the library and formed them into a tower. As you come through the library’s main entrance, the book tower is just ahead of you and up the stairs.

Dubbed “Idiom,” the installation reaches right up to the ceiling. Be sure to stick your head inside for the full effect. Kren has placed mirrors in such a way that the spiraling tower seems to go down into infinity. It’s a bit dizzy making, but quite wonderful. Have your camera ready. This thing is an Instagram photo op just waiting for you.

The Ride That Never Stops—the Paternoster Lift at Prague City Hall

Right across the street from the library and its magical tower of books, is Prague’s City Hall. Come on, we’re going for a little ride. And it’s one of the most fun free things to do in Prague.

Have you ever heard of “The Elevator of Death?” I hadn’t, and when I did, I wasn’t sure it was something I’d ever want to try. But actually, it’s fun! Picture an elevator, just big enough for one person, with no door. And it never stops moving. You stand there in front of the open elevator door until it slowly comes along and you step inside to get whisked (slowly) up or down. It sounds a bit weird, but really, it’s not much different than stepping onto a moving escalator.

Staff in the building use the paternoster elevator all day to move from floor to floor. If you’re going to try it, plan to make a “round trip.” Step into the elevator as it passes and ride it to the very top of the building, past the last “stop.” When it reaches the attic, it will turn in a circle, rumbling and shaking as it does so, (just hold on and keep our fingers away from the wheel) and then it will begin its descent. If you’re really adventurous, you can ride it all the way down to the basement, where it will once again turn in a circle before heading back up to where you began.

To find the paternoster elevator at City Hall, walk straight from the entrance to the back of the building. You’ll hear it rumbling before you see it.

Are you seeing it? Maybe this video will help you get what I’m describing. Obviously, this for people with significant disabilities. Only the sure footed should try. But if you’re game? I found it was my one of my favorite unique things to do in Prague.

 

Feed the Swans at Vltava Beach

There is a small, man-made sandy “beach” on the banks of the Vltava River between the Charles Bridge and the Manesuv Bridge in Malá Strana. It’s generally a peaceful spot. The great view of Charles Bridge makes for a wonderful photo op.

But mostly it has swans. There are ducks too, and quarrelsome seagulls. But mostly… swans. A lot of swans. They are very used to people so you can walk among them easily. If you bring some bread or pretzels, they will eat from your hands. But be careful, they do have a tendency to snatch.

And did I mention the views? Those beautiful bridges are right there, so do take your camera.

To get a better sense of what it’s like to feed, photograph or just watch the swans at Vltava Beach, check out this video.

Hopefully, it won’t be a gray, rainy day when you are there.

Have Coffee and Pastry at the Art Nouveau Municipal House Café

The beautiful Art Nouveau interior of the Municipal House Café in Prague

Enjoying coffee and pastry in the incredibly beautify Municipal House Café in Prague is like going back
to the glory pre-war days of Europe’s café culture.

This has to be one of the most beautiful cafés in Prague. This is the kind of café I always imagine when I think of old Vienna. It’s the sort of place you can picture ladies in hats and fur wraps, men in well-cut suits with cigars. Refined. Glamorous even. It’s a pre-war movie come to life.

In high Art Nouveau style, the soaring ceilings, tall windows, mirrors, and crystal chandeliers of the Municipal House Café make you simply want to look and look, to take it all in. From the mahogany booths and leather-covered benches to the stained-glass details and marble-topped tables, every detail is perfect.

The coffee was rich and delicious; the pastry was flaky and flavorful; the service was impeccable. This is a must-see spot in Prague.

To get a better feeling of what to expect, take a virtual tour of the Municipal House Café. Municipal House is located right on Republic Square, next to the Powder Gate, at Náměstí Republiky 5.

Open every day from 7.30 am–11pm

A Discount at Prague Castle

Finally, here’s a little tip to save you some korunas.. You most definitely WILL want to visit the castle during your visit. It’s one of the highlights of Prague. So let me give you a quick tip that is perfect for you not-so-young Nomad Women travelers. When you buy your entrance ticket to the Castle grounds, tell them you are over 65 to get 50% off the price. If you are buying a combination ticket that includes all the Castle venues and exhibits, it’s a significant savings. I don’t recall if I had to show ID or not.

And here’s another insider’s trick: In high season the Castle can be unbelievably crowded, as in totally crazy making. BUT…most tourists are a bit lazy; hey, they’re on vacation…and don’t like to get up and out too early. But even if you, like me, are assuredly NOT a morning person, you might reconsider when you learn that the Castle complex opens to the public at 5 am in summer, 6 am in winter. If you go then, almost nobody will be there.

However, the cathedral and other parts of the castle requiring tickets do not open till 9 am. So my suggestion is to get to the castle grounds around 8-ish and wander around a bit–there is quite a lot to see–then head to the cathedral at 9. First in, least crowded.

Also note that your ticket is good for two days, which means the day you buy it AND the following day. The buildings and grounds are extensive. And don’t miss Golden Lane!


If you want to experience Prague with the best guide, as I did, you can find Guenther Krumpak at the Arcos Guest House website. Consider staying with Guenther and Jan, enjoying one of the best breakfasts of your life, every morning. And you get access to all that personalized information in the mix!

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Blue doors, a rose-colored step and fuchsia bougainvillea petals in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

POTW: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico-It’s the Little Things

On how a photo presented itself to me in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and reminded me to pay attention. To look up.  To look down. To listen and smell and feel the air. To notice the “little things” that can turn any trip into a rich and fulfilling adventure.

On Noticing the Little Things Along the Way

Blue doors. A rose-colored step.  A sprinkling of fuchsia-colored bougainvillea petals.

Blue doors, a rose-colored step and fuchsia bougainvillea petals in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

A perfect still life in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, one of the “small moments” we must slow down to notice as we travel.

This lovey composition was just there, being itself in all its beauty, not waiting for me to come along, not posed for the camera or “set-up” as a perfect shot. I just happened to be walking by. I was on my way home from a meeting, my mind spinning with ideas and “must-dos”—what to fix for dinner, a business call I had to make, a bank balance I had to check. I was half-writing my next blog post in my head while keeping one eye on the ground to avoid tripping over the cobblestones or an all-too-common hole in the sidewalk here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. My only real point of focus was getting home.

But something made me turn my head to the side. A flash of color. A piece of composition. It barely registered and I kept walking. But then I stopped, turned around, walked back the few steps to look at it again. I realized it was beautiful, a perfect composition of color and form, shape and placement. It was a little piece of Mexican art handed to me on a plate.

I whipped my phone out of my pocket and snapped a few photos of it before going back on my busy way.

Later that evening, I looked at the photo again, and I liked it. I decided to put it up on my Instagram page. I post quite a few pphotos of my home town of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico there and they usually get a nice response. I also shared that photo on my NomadWomen Facebook page. I didn’t think too much about it for the rest of the evening.

But when I looked at my page the next day, I realized that this one photo was getting a much greater response than usual. Something about this pretty color composition had struck a chord. People were liking, it, commenting on it, and sharing it like crazy, this little photo that was basically an afterthought.

And that got me thinking. How many of these small moments, these little gifts of noticing, do we let go right past us in our normal lives and even in our travels? If you’d been walking up Calle Hernandez Macias on that sunny afternoon, would you have seen that blue door with its rose-colored step and its sprinkling of fuchsia petals? How many times have I passed something very similar in this town and NOT seen it myself?

The Lesson for Travelers from my San Miguel de Allende, Mexico Moment

The moral here, I think, is a simple one. First: Slow down and pay attention. Let your senses run free. Look around you. Smell the wind. Taste the air. Feel the stucco or the water or the wooden door.

Ask yourself: What “small things” and precious moments do we miss on our travels as we rush from place to place? When we go from one “must-see” attraction to the next, when we focus our attention on the street ahead and the day ahead instead of being fully present in the moment, what wonders go right past us unseen, unheard, unnoticed and lost forever to our conscious enjoyment of our trip?

Some Examples from my Own Recent Travels (with Bonus Photos)

If I had rushed through the Rijksmusem, seen the paintings I love, and then run off to the next thing on my Amsterdam “must-do” list, I would not have stopped to rest on a chair in the gardens behind the museum. I would not have noticed how the sun shining through the dancing fountain there created a rainbow that gave me great delight as I watched its changing stripes of color weave through the droplets while the fountain danced its rhythms.

A rainbow in the fountain behind the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

A rainbow plays with the dancing fountain in the garden behind the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

 

If I had been solidly focused on getting to the Charles Bridge in Prague, a highlight of any trip to that magical city, I might not have been hit so hard by the divine smell of chocolate when someone opened the door of the Choco Cafe just as I passed by. I might not have realized I could take a break to rest my sore feet, step inside and order what turned out to be the most decadent, most sensory-fulfilling, most delicious cup of thick hot chocolate I’ve ever had.

The facade of Choco Cafe, near Old Town Square, Prague

The facade of the Choco Cafe, at Liliová 250/4, near Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic.
Photo courtesy of Choco Cafe.

 

If I had not been paying close attention as I strolled the aisles of La Boqueria market in Barcelona, my nose might never have taken in the full variety of the different fish smells and my eyes may not have taught me that barracudas have wicked sharp teeth and are apparently a popular food fish in Catalunya. Or that the movements of the man slicing Jamon Iberico from a large hanging shank of that specially cured and especially delicious ham are a beautifully choreographed ballet.

Head of a barracuda with sharp teeth on a bed of ice at La Boqueria market in Barcelona.

A barracuda with its wicked sharp teeth, resting on a of ice at La Boqueria Market in Barcelona….
not someone you’d want to meet out in a wine-dark sea, or even a sunny one.

 

And I never would have caught, from the corner of my eye as I hurried home, the perfect abstract composition of a pair of blue doors, a rose-colored step and a handful of fallen bougainvillea petals in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.


Pinnable Image of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico with Text Overlay--How Noticing the Little Things Can Turn Your Trip into an Adventure

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Prague's upside-down horse hangs with King Wenceslaus riding his belly.

POTW: Prague’s Upside-Down Horse

An upside-down horse is likely not what you came to Prague expecting to see. But then Czech artist David Černý likes to do things differently. The horse and the beautiful Lucerna Passage it hangs in, should not be missed.

On any trip to Prague, you’re certainly going to visit Wenceslaus Square. This is where things happen in Prague… revolutions, celebrations, demonstrations. And all this feverish activity is watched over by the country’s patron saint, Vaclav, who we in the West tend to know as Good King Wenceslaus. He was the Christian ruler of the country in the 10th century and was murdered by his ambitious brother Boleslav the Cruel.

There he sits at the top of the square, astride a majestic prancing horse, in front of the domed National Museum. The statue was begun by sculptor Josef Vaclav Myslbek in 1887 and finally put into place in 1912, a testament to Czech honor, patriotism, and all that good stuff.

But not so far away, near the other end of the square, is another King Vaclav and his horse… but with a twist of classic Czech irony.

Prague's upside-down horse hangs with King Wenceslaus riding his belly.

Do you think King Wenceslaus is oblivious to the fact that his steed is not only an upside-down horse
that’s sticking its tongue out but is also dead?

Inside the Lucerna Passage—an elegant and decorative Art Nouveau shopping and entertainment area built in 1920—you’ll find yourself confronting another horse that, while perhaps not of a different color is certainly of a different condition. He’s dead, you see, and hanging by his feet, his poor head lolling down and his tongue sticking out. But apparently King Vaclav still needed a mount, dead or alive, and so he mounted the upside down steed, riding astride the dead horse’s belly.

This upside-down horse, a perfect depiction of the Czech penchant for black humor, was created in 1999 by the post-modern Czech artist David Černý. The same David Černý who once painted a Russian tank that was gracing the square pink. And the same one who designed those odd babies you might have noticed crawling up the sides of the Czech TV tower.

The poor dead horse and his oblivious king seem yet more bizarre surrounded by the elaborate marble work and stained glass and general Art-Nouveau kitschy loveliness of the atrium where they hang. You can’t help but wonder how that fragile and lovely ceiling can support the weight of such a large piece. But although it looks like bronze, the horse and rider are actually sculpted of foam.

A Presidential Connection

The building was built by Vaclav Havel, grandfather of the famous poet/playwright/dissident of the same name who became the first president of the nation after the fall of Communism (which he helped bring about). Havels are still part owners of the property and in fact, one of the stories I heard about the Upside-Down Horse involves the family. Word is that an aunt of the presidential Vaclav was a firm Royalist and ordered the statue as a statement of persistence and faith. She decreed that the king should ride on an upended dead horse until the monarchy is restored to Czech. Probably an apocryphal tale but if not, our Vaclav here is likely to have a long dead ride.

Like most of Černý’s work, this bizarre, controversial but ultimately enjoyable piece of art is certainly a worthy addition to the Czech tradition of Theater of the Absurd.


Note: There’s a nice cafe on the upper level of the atrium, the Cafe Kino. Just go up the amber-rose colored marble steps across from our guy here. If you can get a seat by the window looking down into the atrium, you can get a nice angle for a photo. I had coffee with whipped cream and a pastry. A bit pricey for Prague, but not out of reach and a pleasant spot.

The sign at the entrance to Terezin Prison Camp, near Prague, "Arbeit Macht Frei,"--Work Will Make You Free

Visiting the Terezín Concentration Camp and Ghetto, Near Prague

I didn’t know what to expect when I decided to visit the Terezín Ghetto and Concentration Camp, near Prague in the Czech Republic. But whatever it was, it wasn’t what happened to me there.

Feeling the Sun

When I step off the tour van in the parking area to visit the Terezín/Theresienstadt concentration camp/ghetto and prison, the sun is shining brilliantly and the sky is a piercing blue. I hadn’t paid much attention to the weather when we left Prague an hour ago. But now I notice that the sun is making everything vivid, alive, almost sparkling.

Walking from the parking area to Terezín’s “Small Fortress,” I stroll beneath a row of trees in full leaf—although every now and then a butter-yellow leaf drifts towards my feet, signaling the onset of autumn. If I were wearing one-sided blinders, I could imagine I was walking in a peaceful park on a sunny day, for then I could not see the rows and rows of stone tablets beyond the trees to my right—thousands of them—set into the lush grass to mark the resting places of so many who died earlier than they should have. Most of the plaques have names; some do not. A few are marked only by a number, just a few digits to sum up an entire life.

The 5-digit number tattooed on a woman's arm, a survivor of Auschwitz and the Nazi Holocaust.

This is what they did at Auschwitz. This is how they turned people into numbers. This is what I saw tattooed on the arm of a survivor
on a hot summer day in Amsterdam in 1971.

Seeing the number on one gravestone takes me back to a day in 1971, the first time I lived abroad. I was standing in line at the post office in Amsterdam, fanning myself with the letter I was waiting to mail. It was summer, and hot. Everyone was in short sleeves. Uncomfortable and impatient, I counted how many people were before me. And glancing down, I saw the arm of the woman standing directly in front of me. It was a freckled arm, I remember, dusted with soft light hairs. And among the freckles there, on the outside of her left arm, were the blue-black marks of a tattoo. Five digits. Etched into the freckled skin of her arm. She had been at Auschwitz, the only concentration camp where the Nazis, with their so-German efficiency, marked their victims in this way, the better to maintain their meticulous records of life and death.

I do not know what to expect here, in Terezín, which the Germans called Theresienstadt. I have never been to a Nazi concentration camp. I suppose I hope to see in reality what before had been only old and cracked black-and-white photos of Auschwitz, Dachau, and Treblinka, of gaunt prisoners in striped uniforms clinging to wire fencing. I did not expect to see grass and flowers and a yellow leaf floating down under a bright blue sky.

The Small Fortress Prison at Terezín

The walls of the star-shaped Small Fortress at Terezín are built of rusty red brick topped with grassy mounds. It was not built as a concentration camp. It was used as a political prison for more than 150 years before the Nazis came. But they knew how to make what they considered very good use of it.

We cross a bridge over a moat, dry now, filled with grass, and enter through an arched entryway. Soon after, we walk through a second portal, the entrance to the prison itself. This one is adorned with that favorite bit of Nazi camp irony… the ubiquitous Arbeit Macht Frei painted over the portal, the motto that greeted those who entered so many of the camps. “Work Will Make You Free.”

The sign  at the entrance to Terezín Prison Camp, near Prague, "Arbeit Macht Frei,"--Work Will Make You Free

The Nazi’s favorite ironical device–the ubiquitous sign at the entrance to most of their concentration camps.
“Arbeit Macht Frei,” or “Work Will Make You Free.” It didn’t.


A well-informed guide shows us around the camp and tells us what we are looking at. I see rooms lined with three-tiered wooden bunks. I see tiny isolation cells just big enough for a cot. I am shown the showers where prisoners and their clothes were de-loused. I see dead-bolts on doors and barbed wire atop walls.

What I do not see are gas chambers, for Terezín was not an extermination camp, like Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Small Fortress was used by the Germans as the Prague Gestapo prison. It held political prisoners, trouble-makers, Czech resistance fighters. Jews from the town who were caught stealing paper to make art or write music on were sent here. But no, there are no gas chambers.

Which is not to say people did not die here. Thousands did, from poor conditions and from murder. I am led to the execution grounds. There on the ground, beside the grass and shaded from the sun, are three cement forms, looking exactly like crosses, where marksmen laid with their rifles aimed at a grass knoll a few meters away. Here prisoners could be shot and the hill behind them would conveniently absorb the bullets.

The wooden gallows at Terezín Prison Camp, with their rickety steps and rough wood platform, look like something a child would build.

The gallows on the killing grounds of the Nazi Prison Camp at Terezín, near Prague, looks amost like a toy,
an oversized version of a child’s game of “Hangman” come to horrible life.

At one corner of the area stands a gallows, almost insignificant looking, a feeble wooden framework with two steps leading up from the platform, crude and easiy pulled away. It seems far too small to be so lethal. It looks like something built in the back yard by children to play a particularly sick game.

Off to one side of the execution grounds is another grass-covered hill. Here, some 600 bodies were found in a mass grave after the war.

But no, there are no gas chambers. No spot where the local equivalent of Dr. Mengele stood and casually divided fresh arrivals, pointing these to the left and those to the right, these to slavery and hard labor and starvation and those to a more immediate death. Terezín, you see, was not a “death camp.”

And I am shocked to realize that I am disappointed.

Disappointed that it was not more cruel? More inhuman? Disappointed that I will not be able to see face-to-face how barbaric we as a race can be to each other? Sorry that I will not get the entire effect of the brutality of war thrown in my face?

Feeling Numb

I disgust myself with this observation, with its overtone of pining for the sensational. But disgust is the strongest emotion I allow myself to feel. Mostly, I feel numb. I look at the cells and the bunks, the meager toilets and the barbed wire, and even the feeble little gallows; and I feel numb. I concentrate on the settings of my camera. I look up at the blue sky. I frame a shot just so and wonder if I should print it in black and white for better effect. I have detached myself completely from what is in front of me, unable to let the horror all the way in.

A desolate wall topped with broken barbed wire marks the edge of the Terezín Concentration Camp/Prison.

Decaying barbed wire tops the wall at Terezin Concentration Camp/prison, n ear Prague. a desolate reminder of what happened here

As we leave the Small Fortress, I watch my feet step across the square stones of the path. I pick up a mahogany-colored chestnut fallen from one of the trees, full and lush overhead with their deep-green leaves. I polish the nut on my pants leg and drop it into my pocket, not knowing why. (Later, when I return safe and whole to my own comfortable home in central Mexico, I will decide to place it carefully on the table altar in my meditation niche, beside a Buddha figure, a Mayan carving and a Virgin of Guadalupe.)

The Terezín Ghetto

We leave the prison and move on to the town itself, the fortified village of Terezín. Once again, the Nazis had a new use in mind for the old village, realizing that the high walls and sturdy gates designed to keep people out also made it perfect for locking people in.

Built to hold some 5000 residents, at its height during the war the ghetto at Terezín enclosed more than 58,000 Jews behind its fortified walls. In the over-crowded conditions, here they died—some 34,000 of them—of malnutrition, disease and stress. But most of those who were sent here, thousands of Czech Jews but also those from Austria, Hungary, Germany, the Netherlands, stayed here only until they were chosen for the next transport east…usually to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Almost 90,000 of them left here, packed into the cattle cars of the transport trains. 15,000 of them were children. 90% of them never returned.

Train tracks lead away from the Terezín Ghetto and Concentration camp, heading east, toward Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The trains that left Terezín Ghetto and Concentration Camp were generally headed to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Of the almost 90,000 people shipped east from here, 90% never returned.

The town was doubly useful to the Nazis—as a “holding camp” for Jews on their way to be used up or disposed of elsewhere, and as a “picture-book” resettlement area that could be used to show the world how well the Jews were being treated. For a while, it even worked.

When the International Red Cross insisted on sending a delegation to the ghetto, they were shown a nice façade—cleaned up, dressed up, whitewashed and filled with luscious baked goods in the bakery, children’s soccer games and temporarily well-dressed and forcibly smiling Jews. They were treated to a brilliant concert of Verdi’s “Requiem” performed by some of the hundreds of professional Jewish musicians sent to Terezín. And after they left, they gave the ghetto a clean bill of health. While the people behind the walls starved.

We are shown briefly around the town. From the outside, it looks not so different from any other small Czech town, with its 18th-century façades and neatly cobble-stoned courtyards. But behind the walls, I do see more barracks full of multi-tiered wooden bunks and tiny wood-burning stoves. A wall is covered with the names of the dead. Photographs, documents, and the yellow stars embroidered with “Jude” that were sewn to clothing are on display. They are in showcases, behind glass, a barrier that not only protects them from me but also me from them. I find it all… “interesting.”

Feeling Sick

We go into the museum. And it is here, finally, the numbness lifts. The change is sudden and violent, a sucker-punch to the gut, and I feel as though I am about to throw up.

Why here? The crematorium did not do it, that ugly room where the bodies of the thousands of dead were burned, their ashes stored in urns only later to be dumped into the river when the Nazis saw the end was near and tried to cover up the scope of the deaths. No, for all its ugliness, the crematorium did not make me feel sick. The rows of bunks, the barbed wire, the execution grounds could not lift the veil of numbness and make me nauseous.

No, it is the drawings—hundreds of drawings made with colored pencils, crayons, charcoal. Drawings made by the children, who were protected as far as possible, both physically and psychically, by the Jewish elders in the town, given better food and access to sports and music and art lessons. It is the drawings of home, of nature, of happier times and future hopes. That is what makes me feel sick, because I, unlike the children, know what their future held.

Here is a drawing of a house covered in red hearts to show the love inside, there a charcoal sketch of a beloved black dog, a crayon picture of a carrousel, another of a rainbow, flowers, butterflies. Below each drawing is a note: Name of child artist, date of birth, date and place of death. Most were between 10 and 14 years old.

Children's art at Terezín Ghetto, Czech RepublicChildren's Art at Terezín Ghetto, Czech Republic
Names of some of the children from Terezín who died at Auschwitz

I try to hold my camera steady, to concentrate on framing a picture, exposing it correctly, eliminating glare from the glass in front of it. But my hands are shaking and I realize I can’t breathe. I need to leave. I need to leave now. I am afraid I will be sick here on this nice clean marble tile floor.

I walk out of the museum and cross the street to the park. I notice again that it is a beautiful day. I can smell the flowers and hear the soft breeze rustling the leaves of the chestnut trees.

I sit on the cool soft grass, close my eyes and turn my face up to the sun.


Terezín ghetto and concentration camp lies 40 miles west of Prague. Several companies offer day tours from Prague. Tours run around $50-60 and last about 5 hours. I took my tour from Prague to Terezín/Theresienstadt Concentration Camp and Ghetto with Viator.


Pin for Later: A visit to the Terezín Ghetto and Concentration camp near Prague, Czech Republic