“OK, Time To Fly!”

That was the slogan of Czech Airlines a long time ago when I first visited Prague–by train, through No Man’s Land–and it was set in a cartoon  balloon as if the words were spoken by a cheery gal in a Robin’s egg blue skirt and jacket and little cap.

The city back then, and on two subsequent visits, had a self-contained and aimless charm: Very much the museum, preserved and punished by the Reds and the locals who fed at the trough or really believed in the universality of mankind.  I was especially taken in by the architecture, of course, and the emotional proximity to my hero at the time, Kafka, and to the affordability for a student. The shops were empty then and so were the restaurant larders; mostly it was cold beer, sausages, and eggs.

One night, arriving without a reservation, I was put in a homeless shelter as the police required all outsiders to have an address.

Returning here last night was pleasant: The city is cleaner and more vigorous and prosperous, and if people are depressed it’s most likely for personal rather than the political reasons long ago.  The food is plentiful, the beer situation is unchanged: $1.50 gets you a pint, and dinner can be had for as little as $10.

I’m enjoying the Mala Strana or lower town on this visit; staying at a lovely place, a residence hotel, where I have two floors of rooms and a kitchen beside the river: Alchymyst. Last night I enjoyed a tasting menu at the city’s best restaurant: La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise.  No choices, blissfully, one less thing to think about, so it was the six course tasting menu rather than the longer version.  Delicious vegetables, lovely wines, wonderful and precise portions.

Tonight it’ll be Cotta Crudo. Meanwhile, cooking Hungarian white asparagus and eating cheeses sold at a store around the corner and facing the river where many products come from farms in the area: Real sauerkraut and sausages, too.

The chief drawback to the city are the nearly inescapable crowds and the Disney-fication of the streets, from Kafka coffee mugs to t-shirts that say, “Prague Drinking Team.”