B2 High-Intermediate US 2851 Folder Collection
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Hi, I'm Rick Steves,
back with more of the best of Europe.
As always, we're sampling the local culture,
and around here, that means great beer.
We're in Prague, in the Czech Republic.
Thanks for joining us.
Prague, which escaped the bombs of last century's wars,
is one of Europe's best-preserved cities.
Its nickname: "the Golden City of a Hundred Spires."
And, beyond its striking facades, it's an accessible city,
with a story to tell and plenty to experience.
We'll explore Prague,
filled with exuberant architecture
and slinky, sensuous Art Nouveau.
With music spilling into the streets...
And colorful pubs serving up some of the best beer in Europe,
it's a city thriving with visitors.
We'll take in sights ranging from Europe's
most interesting Jewish Quarter
to Prague's in-love-with-life Charles Bridge.
Buried in the center of Europe is the Czech Republic
and its capital and dominant city, Prague.
Prague, straddling the Vltava River,
is easy on foot, with highlights
like Wenceslas Square, the Old Town Square,
Charles Bridge, and the cathedral
up in the castle all within about an hour's walk.
The 14th century was Prague's Golden Age --
the Holy Roman Emperor ruled from here.
Back then, this was one of Europe's
largest and most highly cultured cities.
Until about 1800,
Prague was four separate and fortified towns:
The Castle Town, for a thousand years
the home of the Czech ruler.
The Little Town, where nobles would live
to be close to the king.
The Old Town, with its magnificent market square.
And the New Town, with the grand Wenceslas Square
providing a stage for this country's
tumultuous 20th century history.
Prague's four gloomy decades of Communist control
feels like a distant memory,
as the city is bursting with pent-up entrepreneurial energy.
Everything, from the buildings like the Dancing House --
nicknamed Fred and Ginger --
to the vibrant crowds in the streets,
seem to celebrate Czech freedom.
Charles Bridge was commissioned in the 14th century
by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV.
It offers one of the most pleasant strolls in Europe.
This bridge is part of the historic coronation route
called the Royal Way.
Coronation processions started above at the cathedral,
where the king was crowned.
From there they crossed this bridge
and headed for the Old Town Square.
Today the final stretch of the Royal Way
is a commercial gauntlet
lined with Prague's most playful diversions.
Like main drags throughout Europe,
this walk mesmerizes visitors.
Use it as a spine,
but make a point to venture beyond.
Prague is flourishing with inviting lanes
and vibrant markets.
Today, as they have since medieval times,
Prague's farmers markets
keep both hungry locals and visitors well-fed.
Every time I come to Prague, my tour guide friend, Lida,
keeps trying to teach me a little more Czech.
Can you teach me four important words in Czech?
LIDA: Don't you remember them?
After so many years.
I'm completely beginning.
Okay. You are my friend.
-Yes. -Hello, ahoj.
-Ahoj. -Ahoj, very good.
Ahoj, okay.
More formal. Dobry den.
Dobry den, dobry den.
So dobry is good, den is day, good day.
Dobry den.
Magic word: Please.
-Prosím. -Be careful to pronounce
the M in the end,
because the Czech is very perfect, exact language.
Prosím. Prosím.
-Very good. -Okay.
And another magic word: Thank you.
-Dekuji. -A little bit softer.
-Dekuji. -Very well.
Dekuji. Thank you. Nice.
Thank you, dekuji.
Okay, so, dobry den, dekuji,
prosím, ahoj.
-Ahoj. -And how do you say good-bye?
It's the same.
-Ahoj, like hello. -Yes, exactly.
Hello, good-bye. Ahoj, ahoj.
It's either.
STEVES: I'll test my new language skills
for the price of some local fruit.
Okay, let's practice what you've taught me.
Yeah. Oh, look, plums are in season.
Good. Dobry den.
-Dobry den. -Dobry den.
How do you say "plums"?
-Svestky. -And five?
-Pet. -Pet svestky prosím.
LIDA:Prosím, yeah.
And then dobro, very good.
Dobro. Good. This okay?
-Dekuji. -Dekuji.
-Ahoj. -Ahoj.
These will be great, that worked.
Prague's Old Town Square,
once just another farmers market,
is now the heart of the city, but today,
the commerce is clearly tourism.
The fanciful Gothic Tyn Church soars over everything
as if to remind tourists
lots of religious history took place right here.
Back in the 15th century,
some Christians were beginning to struggle against
Roman Catholic dominance.
This was Prague's leading Hussite church.
Hussites were followers of Jan Hus,
whose statue graces the square.
He was a local preacher who got in trouble
with the Vatican a hundred years before
Martin Luther and the Reformation.
The chalice is a symbol of Hus and his followers,
who believed everyone, not just priests,
should be able to partake in the Eucharist,
or the Holy Communion.
These days, the biggest crowds gather at
the 15th century Astronomical Clock
back on the Old Town Square.
The two dials seem to tell you
everything you could possibly want to know.
It tells the phases of the moon, sunset,
current signs of the Zodiac,
each day's special saint, and,
somehow, it even tells the time.
And of course, 500 years ago,
everything revolved around the earth.
At the top of the hour, Death tips his hourglass
and pulls the cord.
The windows open as the twelve apostles parade by,
acknowledging the gang of onlookers.
The rooster crows...
And finally, the bell rings.
But my favorite part of the show is watching the crowd gawk.
Prague has long been a mecca for musicians.
Mozart loved the place.
His operaDon Giovanni debuted just around the corner.
Antonín Dvorák lived and composed right here.
And today, that enthusiasm for music lives on.
Box offices around town give you all the options --
theater, opera, jazz, and classical.
Tickets are cheap,
about half what you'd pay in Vienna.
Racks of fliers show what's on,
and with this wall of photos,
you can choose just the right venue.
There's chamber music all over town.
We're enjoying a string quartet.
It's Vivaldi in the Chapel of Mirrors.
Enjoying Baroque music in a Baroque space like this,
the music takes on an extra dimension.
Prague Castle, towering above the town,
dominates the west side of the Vltava River,
also known as the Moldau.
It's a complex of churches and palaces
encircled by mighty walls.
For a thousand years, Prague has been ruled from here.
Even today, the Czech president works within its gates.
The changing of the guard adds a dose of formality.
And for some entertaining informality,
a quartet called the Prague Castle Orchestra
is playing just outside.
Their forte?
Songs that resonate with the Czech people.
I'm meeting another friend, Honza Vihan,
who helps me guide tours and research guidebooks.
He's joining us
for a sweep through Prague's history.
This piece just brings out emotion, doesn't it?
Yeah, the song is very important to the Czech people.
It's "The Moldau," or Vltava, by Smetana.
So that's the river here.
It's named after the river.
It's like the blood of the Czech people,
and wherever you go in the world,
you can just think of this tune
and it's like being back home.
STEVES: The castle complex is... complex, and vast as well,
with noble palaces,
ancient churches, and grand banqueting halls.
While you could easily spend all day within its walls,
the one essential stop is St. Vitus Cathedral.
The church is Gothic, started in the 1300s,
but not finished for centuries.
Inside, the clean, high Gothic lines
and vast windows create a space that's quintessentially Gothic,
full of light and uplifting.
Visitors are dwarfed by the scale
and wowed by the beauty.
A stunning Art Nouveau window created by Alphonse Mucha
in 1931 graces the nave.
But the importance of the cathedral,
both religious and cultural, is best felt in its intimate,
sumptuously decorated Wenceslas Chapel.
This place feels very sacred.
VIHAN: Yeah, a church in this place
has been the holiest place in the country for 1,100 years.
St. Wenceslas is buried here.
So that's Wenceslas' tomb.
VIHAN: Yeah. He's the first Slavic saint,
so the time when we had all this French
and Italian saints, this was the first Slav
to attain sainthood,
and he's the patron of the Czech people,
and the kings have been coronated here
for those 1,100 years,
and they'd always be just lent the crown of St. Wenceslas,
who otherwise rules eternally up in heaven.
STEVES: Just up the hill, the Strohov Monastery
overlooks the Prague Castle and the rest of the city.
The monastery was a center of learning.
As the Age of Enlightenment
swept into Prague in the 18th century,
it brought with it an enthusiasm
for the study of natural sciences.
Cases highlight oddities from around the globe
and wonders of the day.
Could this be a baby dodo bird?
The monastery is most noted for its library.
Libraries were the Google of the day.
It's hard to overestimate
the importance of these books back then.
The halls are decorated with paintings that
celebrated philosophy, theology,
and the quest for knowledge,
Knowledge is power,
and in Europe until modern times,
the Church was the keeper of knowledge.
This gave the Church extraordinary power.
For example, some of these books
dealt with particularly challenging ideas.
The locked case above the door was forlibri prohibiti --
the prohibited books.
Only the abbot had the key, and to read these books,
like the works of Copernicus and Jan Hus,
you had to get his permission.
As the Age of Enlightenment took hold in Europe,
the Church struggled to maintain its control of knowledge.
Pondering these treasured books
for more information age perspective,
I'm reminded both how abundant information is today
and of the importance of free access.
Prague is well-served by its tram system.
You can tame any big city
by taking advantage of its public transportation.
Trams slither up and down
the cobbled streets every few minutes.
The service is so good and cheap,
many locals never get around to learning to drive.
We're heading across town to the top of Wenceslas Square.
St. Wenceslas,
commemorated by this statue,
is the "good king" of Christmas carol fame.
The statue is a popular meeting point.
Locals says, "I'll see ya under the horse's tail."
The "good king" was actually an unusually educated
and highly cultured 10th century Czech duke.
Stories of his enlightened reign caused Europeans
to see Czechs as civilized rather than barbaric.
To this day, Wenceslas is a symbol of Czech nationalism.
Wenceslas square is the main square of the country
and a natural assembly point when the Czech people
need to raise their collective voice for a change.
In the 19th century, the age of divine kings
and ruling families was coming to an end.
Here as in much of Europe, nationalism was on the rise.
By the end of World War I, the Habsburgs were history
and the birth of independent Czechoslovakia
was celebrated on this square.
That independence lasted barely 20 years.
In 1939, the Nazis rolled in.
While Prague escaped the bombs of World War II,
it couldn't avoid the Communists who came next
and stayed for 40 years.
But with this square as the stage,
people power ultimately prevailed.
In the 20th century,
my family lived history in this square.
In 1918, my grandma watched the Habsburg eagles
being pulled down from the buildings.
In 1939, my aunt saw the Nazis pulling in.
In 1968, my dad stood here with his bare hands
against the Soviet tanks.
In 1989, it was my generation's turn.
So you were here. Tell me what happened.
In November '89, a student march
headed for this square,
kicked off two weeks of demonstrations.
For 40 nights, this square filled with 300,000 people.
Each night, 300,000 people here.
And on the last night, Václav Havel, the playwright,
who would become our next president,
announced from that balcony
the resignation of the Communist government.
-Wow. -Suddenly, we were free.
STEVES: And without a shot, the communist era
had ended for the Czech people.
And today, a big part of that newly-won freedom
is the freedom to enjoy
what many consider Europe's best beer.
Prague's beer halls, both big and small,
are an integral part of the city and its social scene.
Over the generations, beer has evolved from a heavy,
almost liquid bread beverage
to a lighter, more refreshing pilsner or lager.
It seems Czechs perfected lager,
and they drink it with a strong sense of ownership,
and in a place like this, even for a tourist,
good conversation and quick friendships go hand in hand,
especially with your second half-liter.
Prague's skyline of red roofs
and towering spires can hide the fact
that the city is home to one of
the oldest Jewish communities in Europe.
Dispersed by the Romans 2,000 years ago,
Jews and their culture survived in enclaves
throughout the Western world.
Jewish traders settled here in Prague in the tenth century.
In the 13th century, they built this synagogue,
now the oldest in Central Europe.
Stepping into this venerable place of worship,
you're marvelling at how this could have survived
the tumult of the ages.
We feel eight centuries of devotion.
The old cemetery reminds visitors that
this Jewish community was one of Europe's largest.
With limited space and tens of thousands of graves,
tombs were piled atop each other many layers high.
The Jewish word for cemetery means "house of life."
Like Christians, Jews believe that
death is the gateway to the next world.
A walk through here affords a contemplative moment
in a serene setting.
About a hundred years ago, Prague's ramshackle ghetto
was torn down and rebuilt
as the attractive neighborhood we see today --
fine mostly Art Nouveau buildings.
The few surviving historic buildings
are thought-provoking and open to visitors.
This synagogue is now a museum,
filled with historic and precious Judaica.
Even as Nazis were destroying
Jewish communities in the region,
Czech Jews were allowed to collect
and archive their treasures here.
But even the curators of this museum
ultimately ended up in concentration camps.
Nearby, another synagogue is now a poignant memorial
to the victims of the Nazis.
Of the 120,000 Jews living here before the Nazis came,
only 15,000 lived to see liberation in 1945.
These walls are covered with the handwritten names
of over 78,000 local Jews
who were sent to concentration camps.
[Man speaking foreign language]
STEVES: A voice reading the names of the victims
provides a moving soundtrack.
[Woman speaking foreign language]
STEVES: Family names are read, followed by first names,
birth dates, and the last date
that person was known to be alive.
[Man reading names in Czech]
Despite the horrors of the Holocaust,
the Jewish tradition endured, and a small Jewish community
survives in Prague to this day.
The Art Nouveau facades gracing the Jewish Quarter
in streets all over the city seem to proclaim
that life is precious and to be celebrated.
Prague is perhaps the best Art Nouveau town in Europe.
Art Nouveau was an ethic of beauty.
It celebrated creativity and the notion that art,
design, fine living -- it all flowed together.
For a closer look at that Art Nouveau aesthetic,
visit the Mucha Museum.
I find the art of Prague's Alfons Mucha,
who worked around 1900, incessantly likeable.
With the help of an abundant supply of gorgeous models
and an ability to be just provocative enough,
Mucha was a founding father of the Art Nouveau movement.
His specialty? Pretty women with flowers,
portraits of rich wives,
and slinky models celebrating the good life.
But he grew tired of commercial art
and redirected his creative energy.
A short tram ride away,
the Czech National Gallery of Modern Art
is Mucha's latest work, his magnum opus.
Mucha dedicated the last half of his career,
18 years, to painting the "Slav Epic."
It's a series of 20 huge canvases
designed to tell the story of his people on a grand scale.
In this self-portrait, young Mucha
is the seer -- a conduit determined to share wisdom
of a sage Slav with his fellow Czechs.
Mucha paints a brotherhood of Slavic people --
Serbs, Russians, Poles, and Czechs --
who share a common heritage, deep roots,
and a hard-fought past.
Through these illustrations of epic events
Czechs can trace their ethnic roots.
Mucha, with his romantic nationalist vision,
shows how through the ages, Goths and Germanic people
have brought terror and destruction to the Slavs,
whose pagan roots are woven deep into their national character.
With each panel,
you get more caught up in the story.
The establishment of the Orthodox Christian faith
provided a common thread for Slavic peoples.
To maintain their identity, they stood up
to the Roman Church
with courageous leaders
boldly confronting Vatican officials.
The printing of the Bible in the Czech language
was a cultural milestone.
Then they endured three centuries of darkness
during the time Czechs were ruled by the Catholic Habsburgs.
Mucha's final canvas shows the ultimate triumph
of the Czech people as in the 20th century,
they joined the family of nations
with their Czech ethnicity intact.
The "Slav Epic."
While Prague is packed with art,
history, and a wealth of unforgettable sights,
the most lasting impression I take
from visiting this magnificent city
is the spirit of the Czech people --
a youthful spirit that celebrates freedom
and looks forward
to a prosperous future.
And that's enough of an excuse for one last party.
The Prague Castle Orchestra is playing back at my favorite pub
and Lida and Honza are saving me a seat.
Whether you come to Prague for its golden spires,
its slinky art, its incredible beer,
or the Czech people, it's a great place to visit.
I'm Rick Steves.
Until next time, keep on travelin'!
Na zdraví!
Whether you come to Prague for the slinky music --
Whether you come to Prague for the golden arches --
It's a great place to visit.
And beyond its striking facades,
it's one of Europe's most...
Da da da da da.
♪ Love me two times ♪
♪ I'm going away ♪
Would you like more muscles in my upper body?
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2851 Folder Collection
Jane published on September 27, 2015
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