By Lisa Vivirito
About 10 years ago, the city of Prague - the capital of the Czech Republic - was a dreary Eastern Bloc capital.
Today, it is a modern European metropolis. With its first inhabitants arriving during the early Stone Age, Prague has a long and colorful history making it a very worthy vacation destination.
Fifteen large bridges dot the panorama of Prague. Fourteen of them span the Vltava River and one the vast Nusle Valley.
The oldest, the Charles Bridge, was built in 1357. Its construction was commissioned by Czech King Charles IV.
On each end of the bridge, there is a tower that offers an elevated of the city. In the 17th century, 30 Baroque statues were placed on either side of the bridge. Today, many of the statues on the bridge are reproductions. The originals, and many other stone sculptures, can be seen in a museum called the Lapidarium.
A popular statue is one of Czech martyr Saint John of Nepomuk. A plaque on the statue has been polished to a shine by countless people who have touched it over the centuries. Touching the statue is supposed to bring good luck and ensure your return to Prague.
The bridge is also popular with artists and musicians. And vendors' stands line each side of the bridge all year long.
A visit to Prague Castle will bring visitors back in time. Prague Castle, which has the largest castle grounds in the world, has three courtyards and buildings covering more than 18 acres.
Founded in 880 A.D. by Prince Borivoj of the Premyslid Dynasty, the castle has served as the seat of Czech princes and kings, and later was the seat of the Prague Bishop.
The first stone building was the Church of the Virgin Mary. Remnants of the church can still be seen. After centuries of deterioration and renovation, the castle was finally opened in 1989. Today, the Prague Castle is the seat of the Czech president and the most important National Cultural Monument of the Czech Republic. It is also home to historical documents, priceless art relics and the Czech Crown Jewels.
The National Museum, features exhibits on the history of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia, as well as view collections of rocks and minerals and zoology, paleontology and anthropology displays.
The museum, which opened in 1890, suffered damage to the front fašade when the building came under fire by occupying Soviets in 1968.
Although Prague is a great walking city, another nice way to see Prague is by taking a lunch or dinner cruise on the Vltava River. This will allow visitors a different perspective of the city's monuments and also offer a look at the city's quieter areas.
Strolling through the Old Town Square, visitors will find the Gothic spires of the Tyn Church, the statue of reformer Jan Hus, and the famous Astronomical Clock on the Old Town Hall.
Wander off Old Town Square and see Wenceslas Square, then the Municipal House, Prague's Art Nouveau gem.
Not far from Old Town Square is the Jewish Quarter, home of the Jewish Museum and the Old-New Synagogue, the oldest working synagogue in Central Europe.
When not walking around the city, visitors will want to use Prague's public transportation system, one of the best in Europe. It is a very convenient system of subways, busses and trams. Tourist passes are available, which allows for unlimited use of any type of mass transit.
No matter how visitors decide to travel to Prague - whether on foot, boat, train, tram or bus - they'll discover that the history of European architecture's various styles and periods are all represented in this magical city.
Lisa Vivirito is owner of Diamond Travel in Vero Beach. Call her at 772-567-8481 or 800-795-1986.www.diamondtravelofvero.com