The twenty years between the two world wars represent a particularly rich period in Czech history. At that time, the Czech lands became one of the centers of modern European life. The Czech towns of Brno, Hradec Králové, Plzen, Pardubice and Prague boast unique functionalist architecture. In the galleries, you can find paintings and sculptures created by artists whose work still ranks among the most appreciated in the world, while the contemporary industrial products (especially cars and artistic glass) captivate with their precision and timeless design. The interwar era left behind numerous monuments, museums and cafés equipped with period furniture, and sporting traditions whose stories are waiting to be discovered.
Any trip to the Czech Republic will likely begin and/or end in Prague, and for good reason. Besides being the capital and transportation hub of the country, Prague is one of Europe’s great cities: historical Old Town...4 castles...4 a combination of modern and iconic architecture...4 lively restaurant and bar scene...4! Add to this the fact that food and accommodations are some of the most affordable of any major European city.
Prague is best seen on foot. It has four quarters: Old Town, New Town, Little Quarter and Castle Quarter. Old Town is connected to the Little Quarter by the famous Charles Bridge. This area has been a booming commercial center since the 10th century and is home to the main town square and the Astronomical Clock. This clock was first built in 1410 and was then rebuilt after being damaged in WWII. It is currently undergoing its first repair in over 70 years and will be completed in fall 2018.
Crossing from Old Town into New Town leaves behind the typical souvenir shops. New Town is home to fancier shops filled with local crafts including a shop specializing in Bobbin Lace, a ceramic workshop, a folk costume shop, and a high-end doll shop, among many others. New Town is also home to the famous Dancing House built by American architect Frank Gehry.
A visit to Prague wouldn’t be complete without a stroll across the Charles Bridge with its live music, vendors and panoramic view of Prague Castle. Built in the 10th century, Prague Castle served as the seat of government and was home to the royal family until 1918. Actually a cluster of several squares and palaces, Prague Castle also is home to the Lobkowicz Palace, the only privately owned palace within the castle walls. It is owned by an American who regained this family palace through the restitution program.
In Prague, JAX FAX stayed at the Radisson Blu Acron and the K+K Hotel Central, both centrally located within easy walking distance to Old Town and New Town.
Exploring Czech Republic’s Arts and Industry
A short one-hour drive northwest of Prague is the town of Mlada Boleslav, home of the Škoda Museum. The glory of Czech cars under the Škoda brand began in 1925 when the Plzen corporation acquired the car manufacturer Laurin & Klement in Mladá Boleslav. Laurin & Klement got their start in the transportation industry in the late 1800s, first making bicycles and then motorcyles. They started producing cars in 1905. In 1934, Škoda started mass production of affordable cars known as Popular, or the Czech VW. Today, Škoda is one of the most conspicuous and best-selling Czech brands on the world market and one of the largest employers in the country. At the museum, over 100 years of their products can be seen, starting with their bicycles and motorcycles, progressing through the large variety of passenger and race cars they have produced. A tour of their production facility can also be arranged. http://museum.skoda-auto.com/
In nearby Liberec, the Porsche museum is housed in the residence where Ferdinand Porsche was born in 1875. Porsche was initially an electrical engineer who developed his first car in 1902, and formed his own car company in 1930. In 1934 he developed a “car for the masses,” the first VW Beetle for Hitler’s Germany. The museum houses a collection of Czech inventions as well as a few examples of Porsches’ cars, including one from 1902. Since 2011, the birth house has been the property of Škoda Auto. In 2016, extensive reconstruction began, aimed at returning the building to the appearance it had in 1875.
Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic since 1993, has long been known for its artisans, and especially its glass makers and jewelers. The foothills of the Jizera and Lužice mountains are the cradle of Bohemian glass-making. Czech master glass-makers achieved a great reputation during the 19th century, and were fully utilized in the period of the First Republic. Chandeliers from Kamenický Šenov illuminated the interiors of opera houses in Rome, Milan, Brussels, and luxury hotels in the United States, and the decorative glass became an important element of modern Czech functionalist architecture. The significance of Bohemian glass can be documented by the fact that the products are used as official gifts on various occasions. They have been presented to many statesmen and even the British Queen. Ajeto Glassworks in Lindava offers not only the traditional Czech glass including luxurious and exclusive works by world famous designers and glassmakers, but also other services including lots of information and experience. The Glass Tavern is a great place to try authentic Bohemian cuisine and beers.
For a more in depth look at the history of Czech glass and jewelry, visit the Museum of Glass and Jewelry located in an Art Deco style building in Jablonec. Historically, the inhabitants of this region became artisans because of the poor quality of the soil for farming. Established in 1904, the Museum of Glass and Jewelry is the only museum specializing in glass and costume jewelry in the Czech Republic. It was awarded the 1st prize in the Gloria Musaealis competition for the Best Museum Initiation in 2004, and was also nominated for the European Museum competition in 2005. In addition to its vast collection of locally manufactured glass products, the museum is also home to a 51,000 piece collection of glass buttons, and has a display of black glass which is now a lost art.
To bring home beautifully manufactured glass works of your own, visit the nearby shop, Palace Plus, featuring Czech bijoux and glass and is the largest selling center of Czech jewelery.
JAX FAX flew American Airlines from Delta/KLM through Amsterdam. AA recently launched non-stop service from PHL and Delta offers non-stops from JFK.For more information on the Czech Republic visit www.czechtourism.com or contact the tourist board in NYC at 212-288-0830.