The Charles Bridge was an introvert's nightmare as there was barely anywhere to stand. Even at 4AM it was still bustling with (mostly drunk British) visitors. Weaving through the crowd as a couple was difficult. A leisurely stroll to enjoy the views and statues was nearly impossible due to tour groups and professional wedding photo shoots. Also, serious artists who once sold paintings along the bridge had been replaced by people selling Chinese-made Prague souvenirs (like overpriced keychains and other useless trinkets). I got really fed-up with hearing street musicians playing Coldplay covers on their squeezeboxes, instead of regional music that fit the atmosphere. It was a stark contrast to my experience years before. Things change.
The second big difference this time around was how relatively clean the city was. Buildings had fresh paint and many had been restored to their former glory. This is actually a good thing, but took away from the humble and charming Bohemian feel the city had before. Stare Mesto (Old Town) and Mala Strana were as clean and colorful as Stockholm. The street that I stayed on in 2006 was unrecognizable. My wife and I went out looking for the hostel where I stayed in for cheap over decade ago. Before it was dirty, seemingly every other business was an absinthe bar, and many buildings were in disrepair. We never found the building because I simply couldn't recognize it. That neighborhood, just a few blocks off Old Town Square, is now the upscale shopping district. Prada and Rolex among other high fashion retailers now line the streets along with trendy bars, Starbucks, and hipster restaurants. It was actually difficult to find an authentic and affordable Czech meal. Sausage stands were nowhere to be found!
This shows that Prague is looking up economically, mostly because of the recent surge in tourism. That's great for the small country and citizens. However, I was a bit disappointed that the entire atmosphere had changed. It didn't feel like the same Prague. It was "Prague-Land" now - a bit diluted and heavily influenced by Western culture.
The third difference was that every Czech person we interacted with spoke English very well. Czech is a bit difficult to learn, so I struggled with communicating on my first trip, especially in restaurants. This time there was no issue speaking English. Every restaurant had an English menu. Prague has a young population and English and American influence from music, the internet, and TV have obviously made an impact over the last 12 years.