I wonder how much my friends and family would mind coming to visit me if I moved to Prague? I am always going to be slightly swayed when I see a new place glowing in sunshine and the days are idyllic and I have been waiting ages for the weekend to come… but yes, I think I’d like to live in Prague.
At first I didn’t take in any exact impression of Prague because I was busy just being relieved that we made it there and had been in the right place at the right time. We hopped off the bus in the dark, again no real impression gleaned, and changed our money over in the extremely clean and quiet station – I am fascinated by the concept of holding 1000 of any currency in my hands, I quite enjoy going to countries with crazy comparative exchange rates, although I’m not very good at budgeting once I’m there. Then we wondered north and east behind the station to our first night crash over at Hostel Elf. The first thing about Prague that hit me in the morning was how eastern European it looked- sounds obvious I know, but- it’s waking up on a blank grey day and staring out over those terracotta roves, a giant grey-concrete statue looming much larger than life over your hostel, a war history museum up the hill and the colour on the streets radiating from only from the graffiti. In all fairness to Prague, we were right by the train station. But the overwhelming feature was the brash Žižkov Television Towerdominating your peripheral vision wherever you are in the city. It captures all the eeriness of the soviet era, it’s threatening but space-age at the same time; the way it stands out from the rest of the skyline is marked. We didn’t go up to it though, but rather to get another view of it and everything else by climbing the hill behind the hostel to the imposing statue of medieval Zizka of Trocnov. The enormity of it is quite daunting, you think there can have been no need for something so concrete to be so large, and the concrete husk behind has soviet stamped all over it. To add to the atmosphere on the wide grey plinth adorned with the gigantean horseman, we were joined by a few soldiers in their dress uniform having a cigarette break from whatever event was taking place inside the once-mausoleum-now-museum. The view from up here is pretty vast, you get a sense of just how big Prague actually is, and how little you actually visit when just haunting the old town on tourist visits. But we soon found out that Prague is not short of places to get a good view: here, the TV tower, Petrin hill, the Castle, The Metronome, the monastery, the list goes on.
The next day we planned our route to our destination hostel via more things we’d been keen on seeing. We stopped by the state opera- which has a beautiful, yet modest exterior, but the interior is supposed to be stunning- and headed into the architecturally interesting National Museum. I must confess I found the outside of the building more interesting that what the inside had to offer, but that wasn’t the case for everyone in the group. I had expected more on Czech history, since mine is pretty rusty, but the exhibitions inside are constantly changing, so we caught two on Money and Scandal, both with a Czech twist but a global overall outlook. I did find the Czech traditional costume inside very interesting though. We then spun round onto Wenceslas Square, the site of several revolutions in Prague, and I found myself in a Janus state- impressed and under-impressed. The beautiful building gazing down the promenade is the Czech Society of Anthropology and as we strolled down the central strip I was reminded of London; the same sheer number of people as central London and also the same style commercial strip complete with, to my surprise, Debenhams and Marks And Spencer; this was a bit of a mind trip, given I’ve been living away from home for so long. It was just a little too touristy and lifeless for my taste but this area soon blends seamlessly into a more quirky, young area as we headed for Mosaic House hostel.
I started to properly fall in love as the sun came out- I just love cities in the sun. We walked past the beautifully modern Dancing House, which is fascinating just to consider as a piece of architecture, it spills out of a very traditional, colourful and old street and the tall glass columns almost jar. I would definitely like to go in and see what the inside feels like. In the city centre I got a sense of Barcelona, the same tall, packed-in but beautiful buildings, with wide streets nevertheless so you never feel claustrophobic, but by the river it felt distinctly Parisian. The river is a massive defining feature of Prague, sweeping, wide and beautiful, dotted with little islands entirely for leisure and spanned by so many bridges in such a small space that you’re never short of a fantastic waterside view. Charles Bridge is obviously the most famous, and the most walked over, with its old stone carved gates and ornaments, and its direct access to the old town square, but other bridges are definitely more pleasant to walk across if you don’t want to become part of a human crocodile of shuffling people taking photographs. I personally like the two bridges either side of Charles Bridge for fantastic daydreaming spots and great views either side of the water. Apart from crossing the river, the water’s edge is worth a look too. On the Castle Side of the river you can get right down to the water at some points and the miniature parks there are indulgently romantic. In the Kampa Park there is a modern art gallery, with a courtyard that’s fully explore-able for free, between Charles Bridge and Mánesův Most is a quiet expanse of grass ideal for sunbathing and, down some adorable cobbled side streets, the Kafka Museum for the literary buffs.
Petrin hill is wonderful to walk up in the sunshine. I love the feeling in Prague that everything is neatly stacked, because of the hills that pop up all over the city, there is a sense of climbing a ladder to the next level of the city, and any green space they couldn’t fit at the bottom, the cities builders have just let climb upwards. The people climb upwards too, families wanting to play in the sunshine, dog walkers, runners, cyclists, photographers, sunbathers, everyone was scattered about on Petrin hill on Friday. By the time you’ve walked through the layered park to the observatory, then wound your way along the old walls, again drinking in the expansive views, to the mini-Eifel Tower, you feel like you must have already reached the Czech countryside and you’re merely balanced atop fairy tale city. There are more park gardens at the top of the hill and a few attractions including the Petrin tower, which you can climb, and the hall of mirrors (which I don’t recommend unless you have a very young child. Then the green space spills back down the hill, soaked in afternoon sunlight, towards more beautiful, pastel coloured buildings with their red-tiled roofs.
As far as food goes, I did try Czech food during my stay. All my breakfasts came with my hostel prices, so there weren’t many surprises there but in the evening we were determined to try some local food and drink. There are so many different local beers to try here, just like in Germany, and although I personally prefer drinking a Hefeweissen (because it’s slightly less bubbly) from a German brewer, the Lager here was good too. I can recommend the Black Beer, it’s very smooth. The food is like German but stodgier again. I was dying to try the local soups which all come served in bread-bowls, yes, bowls made of bread, and look like extremely generous portions but as I am off bread for lent I went for the Goulash instead. We ate in a recommended French café called The Louvre, which has been in Prague since Einstein was here (or Mozart, the girl who recommended it couldn’t quite remember which of them used to eat there), so it knows Czech dishes very well. There is a crossed between a Parisian vibe and an Austrian Kaffee Haus feel, complete with newspapers to read, a billiards hall and a smoking section- it’s the epitome of clichéd, European sophistication and my Goulash with dumplings was amazing, so filling! For the second night’s food we chose Indian and searched out Lal Qila in the area such behind and south of the main station. I can highly recommend this, it’s the best India food I’ve ever had and I was so impressed with the service, the atmosphere, and the great choice I made on the menu. While you’re out and about you should definitely grab some Trdelník (I didn’t try and pronounce it either), which is pastry, cooked by wrapping around a hot metal stick, over coals and turning until it’s just crispy, then flavoured with whatever sweet is your preferred taste- we went for cinnamon.
For all the hype, I didn’t enjoy the Old Town Square and the Castle as much as the rest of the city. And that wasn’t because either of them wasn’t beautiful. The Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square is beautiful, it’s intricate and delicate, there’s something very magical about it but the square around it, although architecturally stunning, almost to the point of overwhelming, was so packed with people it wasn’t entirely pleasant to be in. All of the buildings around this area are very grand, it’s a perfect candidate for neck straining (as with many central squares) as you try and take in spires, rooftops and balconies that are really much too high for the angle you’re at. As you move through to the Jewish quarter it is much the same, grand, tall buildings, an abundance of wealth visible from every angle (and an abundance of clamped, shiny cars- this made me happy). I wasn’t too taken with the area overall but off season it must be a lovely, almost sensual, walk through one of the old, lavish quarters of Prague. Climbing the hill to the castle is undeniably beautiful, each step giving you a better, wider, different view of the Golden City even if you are being borne up the main street by the sheer weight of people. There are quieter, winding back roads, like cobbled ladders, which can lead you to the castle in peace though. The castle itself is vast, bigger than I had imagined and it feels majestic to be looking down over the edge onto the now miniature towers and spires below. Wondering through the courtyards is nice, and again you are almost drowning in things to look up at- beautiful buildings, roofs, flowers and trees, clocks, people dressed in ‘traditional’ dress, the sweeping white monastery on the hill behind. We didn’t go inside any of the chapels or St Vitus Cathedral since the queues made Disney Land look reasonable.
Instead we wondered out of the back of the castle, across a small gully between the two hills, and through the royal gardens, which were picture-perfect idyllic on such a warm, sunny day, blossom and bees tumbling all around, the noises of people coming to me as if muffled by my dream-like state. Walking above the city, along the gardens and into Letná Park seemed otherworldly compared to the bustle below too. This was one of my favourite places in Prague, from its quirky metronome to its very chilled out beer garden, and the large group of skaters who occupy the space behind the metronome, you really get a since of a living park, of everybody from the city, any kind of person, coming here and integrating the park into their lifestyle. It was very serene.
I had one of the most relaxed, wonderful weekends in the dreamy city- I honestly think it was one of the nicest breaks in my life.