… After only 5 posts, I’ve already lost the ability to create a witty title, that leads into the first paragraph, or creates an intrigue which is answered as you read on… So I’m not doing it, so there… This post is about our stay in Prague (Praha).
Our train journey from Berlin to Prague was definitely the best so far. Four and a half hours on a single train with no changes, in 6 seater cabin to ourselves, and stunning views of snow covered hills, towns, and forests along the Elbe river valley.
Arriving in Prague in the evening, with no local currency to buy a tram ticket, our first action this city, was a criminal one. After a short, bumpy, and rather anxious tram ride, we arrived at our hostel. Later finding out that they have plain clothed ticket inspectors who give a roughly £50 on the spot fine for fare dodging. Not sure how likely you are to get done, but we got lucky.
The hostel (hostel ONE) had the best atmosphere of any place we’ve stayed in. It was roughly £30 a night for a room with a fridge, kitchenette, and a balcony. Granted the cooker didn’t work, but it’s the thought that counts… “Ah, your room is on the 5th floor… I’m afraid the lift isn’t working at the moment” explained the genuinely helpful girl on reception. After a slog up to the 5th floor with our gear, I noticed cobwebs on the lift doors, and suspected that the lift hadn’t worked for a very long time… These aren’t real gripes with the place though, you can’t complain for the price (less than £15 each a night each). The young reception staff available 24/7 were all friendly and helpful, and the common room and kitchen areas felt like a proper lively travelers hub. Also – 3 days a week a girl comes in and cooks a free soup for everyone for tea! (you just give a little tip if you liked it).
Prague (or Praha) was our first experience of not being able to understand any written language at all. With our combined minuscule knowledge of languages, and a bit of logic, it was easy enough to get by in The Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany – but Czech to our ignorant eye balls was pure, unadulterated gibberish. There were plenty of signs and instructions knocking about that had English instructions, but also plenty that didn’t.
The Prague skyline certainly deserves its reputation. The Gothic towers and church spires on both sides of the Vlatva river are hugely impressive – and even more so at night.
We were staying in the Zizkov district (missing diacritics), proudly home to what was once voted the worlds 2nd ugliest building (now with added giant babies, see pictures). It was just 15 minute walk to the Old Town, not quite far out enough to be amongst all the big concrete communist tenement blocks – but far out enough to feel like we were seeing some authentic Prague, where locals lived and hung out. It was good to be able to walk into town seeing the place from a different point of view than the tourist trap.
One of the biggest downsides to Prague was the tourist atmosphere. In comparison, based on our very limited experience, Amsterdam seems to have managed to blend tourism into a fully working, thriving city very well (although it can be a bit much sometimes). Berliners wouldn’t bat an eye lid if all tourism stopped tomorrow – the city works without it. And in Bruges, the tourism trade seems to be strictly managed so as to maintain the medieval integrity of the place… In Prague it’s a bit jarring to see people wearing “Special Offer” signs and handing out leaflets against the fairytale medieval backdrop. This is one of the main reasons why Prague can be a much nicer experience at night.
As amazing as the medieval old town and the castle are – some of the communist architecture is very impressive to behold as well (See pictures of the TV tower and the National Monument). The contrast of historical Prague and the brutal communist buildings are one of the most interesting things about the place – if you’re interested in that sort of thing.
Prague like many cities, seems to have bit of a visible dark underbelly. In the places we’ve visited so far, for what ever reason, we have barley noticed a single homeless person or beggar. Here, in the tourist hotspots, the streets can be lined with them, kneeling, faces to the floor, hands outstretched. It’s sad, and it’s hard to know whether they are genuine homeless or opportunistic junkies (After dropping some money into one blokes hand, we looked round to find him walking across the street to his girlfriend and dog and hurrying off down an alley). It’s mix and a bit of both I would guess. Coming from Manchester – which has an obscene amount of homeless people and beggars on the street, we’re not judging, just noticing. We also saw two lads blatantly shooting up, sat in plain view on the grass between the train station and police station. I suppose loads of cities (especially in the UK) have these underlying social issues, it may just be more of a shock against such a beautiful background (A few smack heads are just part of the wallpaper in some areas of Leigh). And it was more visible here than anywhere else we have been so far.
Food and drink (particularly drink) are very cheap. One night we treated ourselves to a meal each, a large beer, and a glass of wine, in an authentic Czech restaurant near the hostel – for the princely sum of £12. Pork, dumplings, and cabbage feature heavily in most of Czech dishes – great for us on a cold winters evening – not sure if I would be too enthusiastic about eating it through the summer though. For 500ml of excellent Czech Pilsner it costs an average about £1.27 (I know!). Due to this small fact, we may have ended up drinking a little too much during our stay in Prague…
A couple of times we went to a great little bar round the corner from the hostel – FUBAR. Owned and run by British ex-pat, and all round top bloke, Joe. It’s a nice cosy little place, that does all sorts of karaoke and open mike nights and the like – and it just has a genuinely nice, lively atmosphere with a great mixture of locals, ex-pats, and tourists. And you can get ace bar grub (burgers and mexican stuff) any time until closing time – which is, as far as I can tell, never.
One night in Fubar we were sinking a good few beers with Joe, and also occasionally nipping outside to try and get through some of this bag of thai stick that we still have left over from Amsterdam (Prague is pretty laid back about weed)… You can probably see where this is going… After a while Amy whispers in my ear that she needs to leave – immediately So, helpfully propping all the buildings up as she went, we eventually managed the 30 metre stumble back to the hostel, and I heaved her into bed… It wasn’t long before I heard the Immortal words – “I need to get off this boat, the sea’s too rough” followed more alarmingly by “I’m not going to make it”. She was right, she didn’t make it. Amy leaned overboard, and hurled, into the brown wooden sea.
Some other things we learned about Prague:
– Beer is VERY cheap – see above
– Amy will never smoke and drink together again – see above
– Prague looks better, and has a better feel to it, at night.
– Dog walkers are provided with free poo bags!… But in the area where we were, nobody uses them. Bag dispensers on on lampposts on the corner of many streets, however the streets seemed to be absolutely covered in dog shit. That’s the only downside to the otherwise charming and buzzing little area we were staying in. Sort it out Zizkov.
– The communist museum is terrible. (We don’t usually go in the museums and such as we are on such a tight budget, but ‘cos I’m really interested in this sort of thing, I unreasonably dragged Amy around, and on a hangover she’d like me to point out!). There are hardly any exhibits apart from the occasional trinket from the era. You just walk around reading from huge information boards. Interesting stuff, but I could of just looked it up in a book or on the net.