Prague. Such a beautifully city. The architecture is what really grabs you. Every building a stunner. Any one of them would be a ‘wow’ moment in New Zealand. Here they are the norm and I imagine the locals barely notice. The tourists love it though. Our driver out to the airport commented the Czech Republic has ten million residents and seven million tourists every year. But, as he pointed out, there’s a good reason for this.
We arrived off the MavStart train from Budapest into the central railway station. The train wasn’t as good as the German one, the seats even in first class are close together and although we had booked a window seat the actual window was mostly behind the seat so visibility wasn’t great. However for the first three hours we sneaked up to a vacant row so from Budapest to Bratislava we were very comfortable. At Bratislava (Slovakia) our carriage filled right up and we had to return to our original seats but it was a small thing and not a deal breaker. Next time I would try to book seats facing each other.
Arriving in Prague after the seven hour journey we were met by a driver we had prearranged with Airbnb and we arrived at our apartment promptly. We had booked a one bedroom apartment in the ritzy Parizska street in the Staré Mēstro or Old Town. Fantastic location, only a block from the beautiful Old Town Square which is full of stunning architecture including the Astronomical Clock (on the hour Death rings it’s bell, inverts his hourglass and the 12 Apostles parade past the windows above the clock). The square crowds with tourists looking up in expectation just before each hour but the display is kind of underwhelming and it’s pretty funny watching everyone look at each other and say, “Is that it?” And, yes, that’s it. Sounds more exciting than it it, let’s just say. But then again the clock was first installed in 1410 and it’s the oldest one still working in the world so it doesn’t need to put on a big show, does it?
Moving on, the square is one of Europe’s biggest and has been Prague’s main square since the 10th century. Apart from the Old Town Hall in the square there is St Nicholas Church, a baroque extravaganza, built in the 1730’s and a Hussite church, and the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn with its towering twin gothic spires that seem to loom over the square. All in all there’s a lot to see and that’s only the beginning.
Everything is within walking distance in Prague but you do clock up the kms. My Fitbit was loving counting all the steps! Prague Castle has an amazing view over the city and I’d like to say it was amazing inside but the queues to get in were ridiculous. And barely moving. So we made an executive decision to check out the outside then try and get away from the crowds (seemingly impossible on a sunny Saturday afternoon). But the cobblestone streets are so beautiful that just strolling along is enough. Charles Bridge is another huge attraction, full of buskers, artists and cartoonists, pickpockets and hustlers, and many, many baroque statues. The river Vltava runs right through the middle of Prague and, like Budapest but on a smaller scale, it defines the city.
We stopped off at the John Lennon Wall. After his death in 1980 Lennon became a pacifist hero from young Czechs and an image of him was painted on a wall in a secluded square near the French Embassy. Beatles lyrics and political graffiti were added and no matter how many times the secret police whitewashed it they snuck back and decorated it again. Most Western pop music was banned by the Communists and musicians playing it were sometimes jailed so no wonder the authorities hated the artwork. Now tourists add their own messages and when we were there a musician was playing Beatles songs. There was a good atmosphere.
Sunday found us again walking the cobblestones this time to the New Town which is a misnomer in that it was built in the 14th century. A massive statue of King Wenceslas (1316-78), otherwise known as Charles, sits at the end of a long boulevard with the National Gallery behind it. There is an excellent exhibition running down the middle of the boulevard explaining the history of Prague. If you were wondering about his name, he was named Wenceslas at birth but took the name Charles at his confirmation in honour of his uncle and godfather, King Charles IV of France. He was well known for his intelligence, education and religious devotion. The Good King Wenceslas Christmas Carol was based on Saint Wenceslaus 1 (907-935). Also a good bugger!
Another place we found fascinating was the Orthodox Cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius. Not for religious reasons but for its significance during World War 2. This is where Czech paratroopers holed up, hiding from the Germans after they assassinated the Reichsprotekor Heydrich. His orders from Nazi Germany were to suppress any hint of resistance to Nazi Germany and to set in motion Hitler’s plan to liquidate the Czech nation by forcing Germanisation, resettlement and murder. The Czech people however supported military action prepared by the government in exile based in London. Hence the paratroopers being dropped in with their mission to assassinate Heydrich.
2 villages were wiped out completely in retaliation of Heydrich’s death and five thousand people executed and/or deported so there were no winners. Makes you realise how horrendous war is. The crypt of this church was the where the soldiers were discovered after the regime was tipped off by a traitor. With nowhere to go the paratroopers hung in as long as they could and those still alive when the Germans finally made it into the crypt committed suicide rather than be caught. We saw the bullet holes inside the crypt. Emotional stuff.
To lighten things up lets talk about food! Or should I say beer because Prague is all about beer. As we were having breakfast one day the guy next to us was enjoying a large beer and it seemed pretty normal. Pilsner pale ales like Urquell and Budweiser Budvar, and many many more, are served in beers halls all over town. We tried to get into one but it was completely full with no free tables. Did try the beer of course though. In the stunningly renovated Art Deco Municipal House we ate at the Kavárna Obecni dum, considered among the most beautiful cafes in Prague. So good we went there twice. With a jazz trio playing we enjoyed the stunning interior and some delicious food. A real highlight.
Another lovely spot we had lunch at was the famous Kavárna Slavia. This is the most famous of Prague’s grand cafes. Art Deco cherry-wood and onyx overlooking the Vltava river. Apparently Franz Kafka was a regular as well as many dissidents from the 1970s and 80s. I was in apple strudel heaven!
After 5 days in Prague it was time to hit the road yet again. The Airbnb people booked us a car to the airport (which arrived on time and was excellent) and eventually we boarded our Easyjet flight to London Gatwick. Picking up a rental car (Europcar) we drove four hours to our housesitting destination of north Cornwall where we are now ensconced. Time to slow down and smell the spring flowers!