A 12-century-old castle which houses a country's president. A 500-year-old bear moat with bears still living in it. An Intercontinental hotel that has communist architectural influences. Welcome to Eastern Europe, where the past is still very much a part of the present. Wander down the cobbled streets of Prague, Vienna and Budapest and you will marvel at how different architectural eras are represented, like a Darwinian evolution of design. Ba roque, Gothic, Art Nouveau - you name it and you'll find it, sometimes right next to each other. And the locals are so proud of their design heritage that should anyone suggest giving an old building a contemporary twist - as happened with the Dancing House of Prague which won accolades for its modern glass facade - they will be up in arms at the travesty.
After a week's immersion which saw us walk down the same halls as the royal Habsburg family, visit a Jewish synagogue-turned-memorial for the victims of World War II, and viewing grey, uniform buildings from the Cold War juxtaposed with Art Nouveau houses, we can understand their sentiments.
We kick off our tour on roads so narrow, our cushy 40-seater bus can barely squeeze its way to Old Town (circa 9th century) - one of four sections that the city is divided into. There is New Town (not so new since it dates back to the 1400s); Castle Town across the river which holds the famed Prague Castle; and Lesser Town - home for the, well, less wealthy.
Old Town naturally has an Old Town Square with an Old Town Hall Tower, which offers a vantage view of the city; the Astronomical Clock, which puts up a rather elaborate show featuring figurines of the Twelve Apostles on the hour; and the stunning St Nicholas Church which dates back to 1755. For a complete experience of Prague, wander along the streets and take in the Square - designed in typical Renaissance fashion with the streets fanning out from the town centre - where you will find quaint cafes serving Czech staples such as bread dumplings, duck, beef goulash and, of course, their daily staple, home-brewed beers. There are also plenty of puppet shops, and a surprising number of absinthe bars.