I can honestly say that this is one fantastic city. I’ve starting posting pictures on the Flickr account but will have to wait a few weeks before I can post more because I’ve reached and beached my limit for the month. We were only there for five days but we managed to cover a lot of the place on foot which is an ideal way to take in the Czech capital. We had a broad agenda; day one Old Town; day two the castle; day three New Town; day four chill out and day five was for running around doing anything we may have missed before our plane home.
We were supposed to have had a few hours on the Wednesday night after we got into town in which to get acquainted with our neighbourhood but because our plane had been redirected via several Irish airports, it arrived in Brum almost four hours late so most things were shut by the time we arrived (which was GMT +1) and we were all exhausted (mostly through too much exposure to each other!) so we took ourselves off to bed.
The apartment was located in Mala Strana (Little Quarter) amongst a host of lovely bars, cafes and parks. On the Thursday morning we found ourselves wondering through some beautiful little back streets, shady squares and parks on our way to The Charles Bridge. Karlov most (Charles Bridge) must be one of Prague’s most recognisable attractions, due mostly to the many statues that flank the two walls of this handsome cobbled causeway. Sadly the statues of various saints and apostles have become blackened due to what must be industrialisation (fumes and possibly problems with acid rain) and much in need of cleaning. The bridge plays host to many street artists and musicians (some are good and some aren’t). The views from the bridge, however, are all good. For much of the break we had occasional minor showers followed by hazy near-sunshine and the temperature was warmer than in Worcs but the poor air quality (the slight intrusion of car fumes and the large number of smokers) made life a bit hard for Dad whose chest was playing him up. We took in the maze of Stare Mesto’s (Old Town’s) back streets and alleys before we happened upon the Old Town Square and hoisted ourselves up the Town Hall for the wonderful panoramic views. Considering the visibility wasn’t anywhere near its best we could see around much of the tangle of slated rooftops and spires all jostling for position. After getting lost in the more alleys and arcades we took a stroll through Josefov (the Jewish quarter) and ambled along the river back towards the Karlov most before a few beers and some food.
Czech beer is the true amber nectar. The Pilsner Urquell, Krusovice, Gambrinus, Budvar and Staropramen were all superb and really tasted wonderful on draught (the Star tasted noticeably better than that exported to us). Possibly the best thing I had to drink were the dark versions of the Pilsner (at 26 Kc – 63p) and the dark Staropramen (which went superbly with some wild boar I had in a Maltese restaurant’s cellar that was converted from an abandoned brick works). Disappointingly though, Stella Artois seems to have acquired a trendy status in Prague and most of the more fashionable and expensive places were shifting plenty of it. Apart from a few successes, we found the prices were actually not all that cheap unless you found somewhere not geared towards tourists, which is near impossible (hence only a few successes). Prague makes most of its money from tourism and since the amount of people visiting the city has grown steadily, so to have the prices; if it used to be really cheap then it isn’t now. This meant that once we left Mala Strana the number of Czechs we saw fell sharply – the main tourist areas are prohibitively expensive, and probably much more so to anyone living outside the city. There were table charges; hidden charges lying in the baskets of bread put out on your table; service charges that weren’t included in the bill. After two attempts to be adventurous and falling foul of tourist traps (and very underwhelming food) we stuck rigidly to our Lonely Planet guide getting great results and not feeling at all resentful when paying for the great food we ate.
Friday meant the castle and it makes for a grand adventure. It’s a tiring but pleasant trek up a hill with plenty to see (and spend your money on) along the way. The cathedral is magnificent and the terraced gardens are beautifully designed and fun to explore. The views again are worth the effort. The weather was also better for us and I got some good results with the camera. Because the zoom is so efficient on my camera I was able to get some good shots of the details on the cathedral (I have a thing for gargoyles and stone faces as you can see belowand from the rest of the pictures when they’re all up on Flickr). In the evening Rae and I tripped into town and found a great place called Zanzi Bar which must have the monopoly on serving you the city’s best cocktails whilst keeping your foot tapping with the finest tunes. It’s a smart little cloistered bar slotted into one of the alleyways by the Charles Bridge and the staff are well practiced at their flaring. We noticed its sharp logo graffitied onto one of the motorway’s otherwise clean underpasses near the airport on the way home. Cheeky!
Nove Mesto (New Town) proved to be a bit of a misnomer as we found out that we’d already stumbled across most of it on Thursday and the parts we were making for didn’t contain much (apart from the charming botanical gardens). New Town is essentially expensive high street shopping and chains. It was around this area that the bars and clubs that play host to visiting clubbers and stag parties are clustered and you get a sense of the real reason that so many other Europeans visit the city. Around Saturday mid afternoon you can witness the thrill seekers begin to move into Nove Mesto having soaked up the gentile charm that Old Town has to offer. And you can’t blame them.
On our day of rest we took a chance on the Petrin hill park. We strolled around these shady, steep paths until we discovered the funicular railway that could have brought us up the hill. This sort of thing never bothers seasoned hill walkers like us and we found that we enjoyed our half litre of Krusovice all the more. The beer garden of this little stall also afforded great views of the Cathedral in the castle grounds and Dad finally had his opportunity to do a sketch of some of Prague away from the tourist hoards and the car fumes. I left the family and had a wander further up the hill and happened upon a sort of bohemian walled garden, formal park areas and the city’s observatory with its telescope recoiled inside its open domed roof.
The day we left we did run around seeing stuff we’d missed but not without balancing it out with much resting in and around Stare Mesto. We were sad to leave but much beguiled by the place and convinced we would go again at some point. Anyone up for a trip there sometime?