The political drama of the birth and early days of the Czech Republic has frequently upstaged the exceeding charm of the people and the quiet beauty of the place.
Prague, with its iconic Prague Castle, is the capital and heart of the country. The architectural range and quality of the buildings and the ambience of the Castle District, the Small Quarter, Charles Bridge, Wenceslas Square, and the Old Town make the pedestrian-oriented city center worth days of exploration. Museums, restaurants, cafés, the theatre, opera, art galleries, and music of all kinds grace this great Central European city.
The people of the Czech Republic have not always had it quiet, though, and today's peace and prosperity have been won at great cost and with continual struggle. After 300 years of domination by Hapsburgs from Austrian, freedom for the Czech and Slovakian Federal Republic began after WWI and continued until Hitler appropriated the Sudetenland with the compliance of the Munich Pact of 1938.
Post WWII Communist rule restricted rights and freedoms. The exuberance of the Prague Spring of 1968 and the ‘human face' of Dubcek's reforms was quashed by the Warsaw Pact invasion of that August. Civil rights protests of the late 1970s eventually developed into the peaceful ‘Velvet Revolution' of 1989 and a newly democratic state. The separation of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and the Republic of Slovakia - the ‘Velvet Divorce' - was announced on the first day of January in 1993.
Since 1989 tourism has burst upon Prague and more recently on smaller towns and attractions. The small physical area of the Czech Republic has a large range of geological features - mountains and broad plains, river valleys and canyons, lakes and bogs, rolling highlands, and magnificent caves - and they provide the resources for activities beyond Prague.
The spas of Karlovy Vary contain water with over 40 chemical elements that respond to a variety of discomforts and disorders. An underground river has carved one of the longest cave complexes in the world from the Moravian Karst near Punkevni. The Sumava Mountains are virtually untouched forest and supply ideal hiking trails and cross-country skiing.
Several towns and villages in the Czech Republic have made UNESCO's World Heritage List of places special to the people of the planet. Among them, the town of Cesky Krumlov with cobbled streets and Renaissance buildings sets a superb festival at the summer solstice with costumes, a street fair, and human chess matches.
Another on the list, Kutna Hora, whose silver mining history is captured in the Hradek Mining Museum, has an attractive small village atmosphere, a famous ossuary that is a bit bizarre, and a variety of building styles that rivals Prague.
The Czech Republic has become one of Europe's great new destinations, and now is the time to visit.