Since the collapse of communism in 1989, Prague has consistently found itself among the top 10 most visited cities in Europe. Known for its beautiful and charming old buildings and alleyways, as well as its reputation as a haven for intellectuals and artists, Prague remains one of the most popular-and affordable-destinations in Europe. From the romance of the Charles bridge, to Prague Castle (the largest castle in Europe), to restaurants, bookstores, antique shops, and roaming jazz bands, the sights and activities have been drawing tourists in droves, and the flood of visitors isn’t likely to subside any time soon.

Prague has a laundry list of world class attractions including classical music, art galleries, castles, museums, churches, all in as stunning and gorgeous a setting as a traveler can find anywhere. For history junkies, Prague offers enough interesting delights to keep anyone busy for weeks, months, even years studying and visiting its beautifully persevered old buildings. Though World War II was most unkind to the Czechs, it did spare Prague from bombings, and the buildings in the city remain totally intact.

The Czechs are a fiercely independent people, but the fact that the Czech Republic is a small country, historically and geographically positioned between larger empires, independence for the Czechs has never been assured. Beginning with the Habsburgs and the Holy Roman Empire in the Middle Ages, then concluding in the 20th century with the rule of the Germans and Soviets, the Czechs have had to fight for their freedom, independence, and identity. Stifled for much of the past century, the recent renaissance of Prague and the Czech Republic has helped usher in boom times.

Prague has joined the European Union in many aspects, but has yet to accept the Euro currency as its own. The prices, while double or triple what they were in the early 90s, are still very low for European standards, making Prague a bargain, even nearly 18 years after becoming a free market.

Many Americans immigrated to Prague in the early 90s: some drawn by tales of $50 a month apartments and real Bohemian life, others by the idea of investment opportunities. Perhaps they were greeted in the train station by someone offering a bare-bones apartment or extra bedroom with sporadic telephone service and little or no hot water. Five star accommodations were non-existent. Whatever the reasons, the Prague that these early visitors found is not the same as the Prague that exists today.

The days of the $50 a month apartment are gone, but the quality of housing has improved dramatically. Now, the same studio apartment that cost $50 a decade ago can be found for around $400, but is likely to include satellite TV, DSL internet, and stylish, modern furniture. Many Americans who went to Prague in the early 90s hoping to take advantage of cheap rents and were shocked at the lack of services and amenities offered then, would be amazed at the modernization and improvements that have occurred in the past decade. A quick search on the internet will yield endless possibilities for affordable housing.

Under communism, the Czech traditions of coffee, beer, cigarettes, and café conversation were severely stifled (well, more the conversation than the others), but today Czechs are more than happy to sit, smoke, drink, and discuss politics, music, art, cinema, and current events with their visitors from different parts of the world. Some studies say that the Czechs consume more alcohol per capita than any other country…and it’s not hard to believe. Beer is incredibly cheap, and some of, if not, the best in the world. Budvar, Pilsner Urquell, and Velvet are some of the more popular and delicious brands.

Older Pragers greet the future and the changes underway with a mix of awe and scorn. Having lived through so many changes and travails, their reservations are quite understandable. The young Czechs, however, embrace the present and future with open minds and arms. Hope is in the air, and Prague will continue with its timeless traditions, even though the future is quickly becoming now.