"Uber-twiddly.........." Prague by leics
Prague Travel Guide: 11,424 reviews and 23,089 photos
A return to Prague in 2010 with a friend. Her choice.
What had changed since 2007? More expensive (really not much different in prices to the UK now, apart from some of the meals). It seemed to me cleaner (although my first visit was grey and chill in both weather and mood), more affluent, even more aware of its tourist-value and thus catering more for said tourists.
The beer is still excellent, the architecture still pure twiddliness-set-upon-twiddliness (although some of it is rather too brightly renovated, I think), the Czech food on offer still dumpling-prone and meat-focused.
The hotel I'd found was perfect for us. We enjoyed our wanders, especially amongst the trees of Petrin Hill on a warm and sunny Spring day (birds and red squirrels galore) and my friend especially enjoyed what she calls 'poking about seeing how people live'. We took the train to Kutna Hora on the one wet day, an experience in itself but a successful foray nevertheless (despite the fact that Kutna Hora seemed to be undergoing massive road refurbishment, with many streets a morass of mud and workmen).
And it was coming up to Easter, so the Old Town Square was full every day with market stalls and a-heave with locals and visitors: trdno and pikle and wood-roasted pork and skewered meats and sausages and sausages and sausages... Ribbon-strewed twigs and trees everywhere, painted eggs around every corner...
And as part of the Easter market we were lucky enough to catch a short folk music and dance performance by young Czechs (cue the 'aaah' factor), the girls tightly-plaited and pigtailed, the boys trying hard to behave very well indeed. I even took some video!
But what I wrote here in 2007 still holds true, in large part (I was right, I think, about the onward march of tourist-tack), so I will not delete it.
Prague is a lovely city in many ways, and unmissable if you are 'doing' European capitals. But it does not call me back and, in truth, I would not have returned had it not been my friend's choice to do so.
From my 2007 visit:
People had said to me, so many times, 'O, you must go to Prague! It's beautiful!'.
And when I said I was going, people said 'O...... lucky you......you'll love it!'
I knew that it had become a popular tourist city (and a far too popular stag/hen destination for far too many Brits) and, if I'm honest, that had previously put me off a bit. But it seemed stupid not to go, when flights from the airport nearest to me were cheaply available, so I decided to go and (possibly) be disappointed.
But I wasn't disappointed because Prague was indeed much as I expected: beautiful in many places, stuffed with uber-twiddly architecture, superb public transport system, horrendous traffic, hordes of tourists (even in late October) and, consequently, largely focused towards serving their needs.
You can see what's happening, and what will happen: the onward march of merchandising, the McDonalds and the Marks & Spencers, the tourist tack everywhere.........but there is nothing intrinsically wrong in any of that. People are entitled to make and spend their money as they will; it's just that I'm not interested.
So I did what I always do when I visit anywhere alone (as is usual); I wandered and walked, and watched people and saw what happened. Of course, I usually visit the main 'sights' of interest to me, but am happy to miss out many more because if somewhere holds no or little interest then what is the point of simply ticking boxes?
The good thing was, because I went from Monday to Thursday, I saw no nasty Brits stagging/henning their way round (a group arrived at the airport as I was leaving). For that relief, much thanks.
So what made an impression? Well, the architecture obviously..........if one is enamoured of Gothic and fin-de-siecle twiddliness then Prague has it in spades. I liked wandering the streets of Stare Mesto and Mala Strana, getting a little bit lost and seeing a little bit of how the city must have been centuries ago (there are clues tucked away, if you look hard enough).
Charles Bridge for an exploration of the statues pre-tour-group-arrival (hence the gloominess of the photos!), and a wander round the Old Town Square (and no, I didn't bother to wait for the Astronomical Clock to strike the hour): loved the sgraffito on the buildings, love the way twiddliness is further twiddled and painted-upon (even if it is just inauthentic 'icing' on older buildings).
Wandered up and down Wenceslas Square, to see it. Enough to just do that, I thought.
Josefov was an important place for me to visit. I feel impelled to explore what were Jewish areas in the past; it would feel somehow wrong to ignore them, to avoid the reminders. I think it is vital not to forget. Visiting the synagogues and the Old Jewish Cemetery was thought-provoking in itself, but the impact made by the 80 000 names carved into the Pinkas synagogue was far more substantial. Had I more time, I would have made a trip to Terezin.
Up to Hradcany on the tram, a brief exploration of the castle area (fighting my way through tour groups), a less-crowded visit to the Strahov Monastery (and its wonderfully-odd Museum of Miniatures).
More wandering, more watching: two consecutive vans getting stuck in a Medieval city archway because of its wheel-arch height bollards on either side (much huffing and puffing from the drivers, squeaks and squeals from the tyres, a captive audience fascinated to see how the vehicles could be extricated); a tired, tearful and angry American matron loudly telling her husband that he 'spoiled everything'; teenage school groups behaving badly, whatever their nationality, their attendant adults determinedly ignoring them; many blue-tinged visitors who thought that a fleece and light waterproof would be sufficient outerwear for a middle-European city at the end of October (the scarf-and-woolly-hat merchants were happy though!); a Tesco full-to-bursting at 5pm on a Wednesday evening, queues stretching to the back of the store and everyone fed-up (just like the UK!)...........
...........turning a corner to find the 'Fred & Ginger' building in front of me; hadn't sought it out at all, but I was clearly 'meant' to find it and photograph it .
As for the eating and drinking, well ......... all the beer I tried was excellent (I prefer dark beers, and the two microbreweries I visited brewed superbly fruity versions). It was rather nice to get a cup of proper black coffee without having to find an explanations in a different language ('cafe Americano' in Italy, mostly, 'podazjsana kava' in Slovenia). I didn't have any ice-cream (too cold) but the two cakes I tried were rather scrummy.
And I like Czech food, heavy as some think it is; it's true comfort food, to keep out the cold and fill the stomach. Eating out in Prague is cheap in comparison with the UK, so I enjoyed my meals even though, for some reason which I cannot pinpoint, I felt somewhat uncomfortable as a middle-aged woman eating alone in the evening. Not threatened in any way, just very slightly disapproved of......why was I alone, what was I doing there etc etc. A strange feeling, and one I have not come across elsewhere.
So, all-in-all, I am glad I visited Prague. I think I might well have preferred it a few years ago, but a few years ago I had barely started to travel...........so I am pleased I've added it to my list.
- Pros:Architecture, history, beer, trams
- Cons:Too many other visitors at times.
- In a nutshell:If you like twiddly architecture, Prague is the place for you!
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