After biking the rural country roads from Vienna to Prague in September, with Austin Adventures, being back in a large city was a bit of an adjustment. As gloriously beautiful as Prague is, the tourist pods -- hordes of tourists from all over the world speaking many tongues and dutifully following en masse the umbrellas of the barking guides leading them like nursery school students from one historic building to the other -- left us looking for some respite and quiet.
We found it, in Novys Svet, or New World, the delightful little cobblestoned street not far from Prague Castle, with tiny little pastel houses that used to be the servants' quarters for the castle but now are private homes and studios owned by artists and sculptors and writers and some of the wealthiest citizens of the city.
It's hard to believe that this little neighborhood, dead center in the middle of the most heavily trafficked parts of Prague, exists as if it were one of the sweet little rural villages that Austin led us through on bicycles in the countryside of Austria and the Czech Republic. The only hint on the 17th and 18th Century facades of the Novys Svet houses might be an occasional elaborate carved door handle which in many cases tells the observer what the owner does for a living, whether it's violin making or sculpting. One of the door handles, in fact, was sculpted by Czech sculptor Josef Nalepa, who lived in the house. Number One, the last house on the street, was owned by Danish-born astronomer Tycho Brahe, who was so disturbed by the (beautiful) sound of the neighboring Loreto church bells that he asked his patron, Emperor Rudolf II to instruct the Capuchin monks living there at the time, to finish their services before the first star appeared in the sky.
Nowadays visitors with children can find a hidden little playground behind the houses of Novys Svet, and if you book it well ahead, you can stay here in one of the most luxurious hotels in the city. It's the tiny, romantic Hotel U Raka, or Hotel at the Crayfish, inside the onlly preserved wooden house in Prague, with six renovated rooms, one with a fireplace, and a lovelly garden. While it feels like a country house inside, the beauty of Hotel U Raka is that guests can easily walk from there to some of the most notable sights in Prague, such as the Castle, the Church of Loreto and the Charles Bridge. Rooms are $205 per night, breakfast included.
Franz Kafka called Prague "a city of stability in turmoil." Novys Svet is a village of stability amidst the turmoil that is today's Prague.