“Prague is the Paris of the ’90s” – Marion Ross.
I am European and I have seen alot of Europe over the last 12 months, but this was my second visit to Prague in Czech Republic within a 6 month period. Why? Well my first Prague visit was a whistlestop business trip (and a very indulgent trip I might add). I mean, I was staying in a fit-for-royalty bedroom in the British Ambassador’s residence (whose next door neighbour is the infamous Prague Castle) and I accompanied Ministers to a couple of swanky roundtable lunches in extremely posh pockets of Prague. So my first impression of Prague was one of great beauty and tranquility. And I fear this initial one-sided perspective put some very rose-tinted spectacles on my nose.
My second trip was a weekend break in March with my friend Jo. We’d been to Tokyo together and fancied a little European break somewhere interesting and exciting. I banged on about how picturesque and unspoilt Prague was. And so we picked Prague over Budapest and Vienna.
We were staying in Nove Mestro which was about 300 metres from Wenceslas Square (well more of an oblong than a square but hey-ho). We were staying in a four star hotel that was both gothic and antiquated in its appearance. I quite liked that as it blended in well with the Prague vibe. Afterall, who wants to stay in a lifeless, cold, minimalist hotel with no character?
On our first day we decided to go wherever our feet would take us and to just explore this magical gothic city. It wasn’t long before we were in Wenceslas Square and bobbing in and out of the countless gift stores in and around the Square. It was ok, but the purpose of our journey was to find ‘Old Town’ – the little hidden gem of Prague where everything is to be frozen in a timewarp. Well, at least that’s what we were expecting.
We accidentally stumbled across Old Town Square and it immediately felt like we were in the heart of Prague. It’s a large square dotted with unusual street performers, ranging from an insane man dressed in an elephant suit, to an even more insane man pretending he was a baby in a cot.
There was the usual scatterings of street performers who were fully spraypainted in gold and standing there pretending to be statues (you know who I mean). Although the Czech’s added a twist to it and stood there sprayspainted in gold with numerous real-life parrots hanging from their forearms. So it was a little bizarre here, but entertaining, and the Square certainly oozes culture and makes you feel you that are in an extremely quintesential European city.
It’s therefore a shame that there is another side to Prague that literally hits you in the face like a ten tonne train as you arrive in the main tourist areas – it’s seedy, loutish and bursting with Brits (and before you all kick off I’m a Brit and I’m not ashamed to admit that our reputation abroad is not over exaggerated). Okay, so thinking about it, Prague isn’t that far from the UK and it’s DIRT cheap and fairly warm. So needless to say that it attracts the Stags and Hens. But it was a bit too loutish in places and it’s hard to fully absorb the beautiful Prague scenery.
That night we spent a couple of hours in a rustic old Czech bar and had 3 glasses of wine each (much to the surprise of the barman who seemed startled when we confirmed that a 3rd glass of wine was exactly what we wanted please). Hmmmm **contradicts my paragraph above about Brits abroad**.
On our way home we stumbled across these shed-like wonders in Old Town Square that sell lovely little food and alcohol things including hot wine, beer and crepes. So we had a crepe each. They were so huge that I was sitting there for minutes not realising this disaster had happened to my face. See for yourself. I’m not drunk at all *wink wink*.
After a roasting hot sleep with no working air-con (I can’t bear to speak about it right now), we woke the next day feeling rather rough. But we had a plan of action – to walk about 45 minutes up to Prague’s highest rated ‘tourist attraction’ – Prague Castle.
The Castle was a bit of hike but it took us through some lovely Prague scenery. We walked over the Charles Bridge and had magnificant views of Old Town and New Town. When we eventually reached the top of the hill towards the Castle we were surprised to find ourselves in the middle of a soldier’s march – it a bit like a low key Trooping of the Colour.
I have to mention our final night in Prague because it was such an omnishambles. We went back to our favourite rustic bar and ordered another glass of cheap wine. I drank it quickly. Super quick infact. Within 10 minutes I started to feel very strange and nauseas, to the point were we had to leave and walk all the way back to the hotel. Poor Jo was gagging for a quality pizza, was wearing sandles, had no jacket, and then it started to pelt it down with rain. She was calm and reasonable though as we waded through the rain to get back to the hotel.
Thankfully, I felt better within the hour and we were able to go out for that pizza. Then, all stuffed and tired and with the prospect of an early start, we went to bed early. Then BANG – the heating comes on at 1000 degrees celsius and the bar next to the hotel starts playing cheesy mexican-style music at stadium gig volume. It wasn’t long before I had it out with the hotel manager (a literal full on argument which resulted in the pointing of the finger at each other) which led to the music eventually being turned down and our air-con being turned on. Poor Jo was exhausted but thankfully managed to sleep through most of the drama whilst I was running around the hotel in my PJs like a mad woman.
So my summing up of Prague is actually quite simple. Visually, it’s a stunning city. It’s probably one of the cheapest cities I’ve ever visited. I only went with £130 and I came back with £20. It can be unfriendly and unwelcoming and very seedy in certain pockets of the city. That said, if you’re after a classic European city with culture, history and a lively atmosphere then this is probably the place for you.
I feel OD’d on Prague right now, and even Europe to an extent, so I probably won’t be returning again but I’m glad I visited this historical and visually overwhelming city.