5 January 2001

Succulent sausages, tasty beer and style

After half a century of being

pushed around by bullyboy

neighbours, Germany and

Russia, the Czechs are

enjoying a renaissance.

James Evans relished the

jewel in their crown…Prague

IN those Cold War spy books, Prague was a city of shadows, menace and brutal secret police. "Czecho", as all the top spies called it, was a dangerous place, possibly leant on with extra enthusiasm by the Russians in revenge for its brief flirtation with freedom in the Prague Spring of 1968. The Czechs demanded self-government and the Russian tanks duly rumbled into Wenceslas Square.

Thirty-two years on, the only rumbling youll hear on the square (in fact, a pleasant, rectangular boulevard) is the noise of the trams, traffic and happy conversation.

The architecture of Prague is quite stunning – cupolas, castles, gingerbread towers, cornices, crenellations, gothic towers – and all preserved in full as Prague, alone among Europes major cities, evaded the scars of 20th century bombing.

Despite the strident warnings of the guide books and travel agents, we remained unmugged, unpickpocketed and unrelieved of our money by bogus plainclothes policemen. Perhaps we were just lucky?

If you are an avid meat eater, enjoy good beer and dont like paying too much for both, Prague is a paradise on earth. The Prague sausage, sold in abundance from stands throughout the city, is a noble creature. Often served with a smear of mustard and chunky brown bread, it is tasty, meat-filled and squirts fat in your face when bitten. One portion did us both proud for a midday snack (al fresco lunch for two at 50p. Not bad). Restaurants serving the native grub are heavy on meat too – veal, pork, wild boar and beef goulash are served in hefty portions, often with the ubiquitous dumpling in all shapes and sizes.

Czech pilsener beer is deservedly famous throughout the world. They are credited with the invention of lager beer and their own versions are cheap and tasty in both draught and bottled form.

Finally, a paean of praise to the Number 22 tram. We used this form of transport often. A 20p ticket gives you an hours travel on tram and metro and the 22 sails majestically through the city like a royal barge, giving regal views of all the best sights, slicing through the traffic jams and making you feel like a Bohemian monarch.

Take our advice. Go. Enjoy.

Lest we forget…the Jewish cemetery in Prague where Franz Kafka is buried. The nearby synagogue is also a museum of WWII crimes.