Travel Report: Prague, The Czech Republic.
Prague, Czech Republic.
In late 2002 I was living in Bratislava where I worked as an English teacher. Any free time us teachers had went on gobbling up the seemingly endless travel options in and around Slovakia. My first trip to Prague was a particularly memorable one in that I went with a great bunch of people. The kind of characters fate throws together just once in a lifetime.
Firstly, there were my flatmates, a sunny Californian from San Francisco called Rich and a Johnny-Cash-loving rogue from Nashville known as Goldblum. Because he looked a bit like Jeff Goldblum. Jesse & Caroline meanwhile hailed from Washington State, which left myself and Ben to add some much-needed dry British humour.
Prague, The Czech Republic.
That long ago trip was all about the camaraderie between us. I remember we spent a sizeable chunk of our time in the streets near the Charles Bridge. I was twenty four years old and I’d never seen anything like it.
I have so few photos from that long ago Prague trip. But boy do they bring back memories of cobbled squares, forgotten taverns, endless in-jokes and blurry, beer-fuelled nights of shared histories.
On the way back to Bratislava we famously lost Rich and Jon at Prague Train Station. As we pulled away, none of us had a clue what’d happened to them. They had been right behind us as we filed onto the platform from the main hall.
Neither Rich nor Jon were answering their phones. Moreover, these were the days before WIFI and WhatsApp. Hence it was a full twenty four hours before we learned that Rich had been pickpocketed en route to the platform. He and Jon had unsuccessfully chased the criminals, before ending up in a police station filing a futile report. They eventually made it back to Bratislava a few days later.
Return to Charles Bridge.
February 2012. It was over nine years later that I finally made it back to Prague. By this time I was married to S and we’d flown over from Amsterdam for a long weekend. Somehow it was even colder than my previous visit, thus we found Charles Bridge mercifully quiet during our evening strolls.
The wintry atmosphere on Charles Bridge that evening was almost Dickensian. A thin layer of frost and snowy footprints ran the entire length of the cobbled walkway. Gorgeous baroque-gothic architecture, traditional street lamps and looming statues as far as the eye could see.
A walk around Prague’s lofty castle district is a must. Apparently this is the largest castle complex in the world and therefore requires a full day to do it any kind of justice. Having climbed the two hundred stone steps of Nerudova Street, we arrived just in time to catch a line of marching soldiers performing The Changing of the Guard.
It’s a charming and modest procession that feels a world away from the grand ritual at London’s Buckingham Palace. Nevertheless, this is a quintessential Prague experience. And with hourly marches and smaller crowds, it’s much more tourist-friendly than the event in the English capital.
St. Vitus Cathedral.
Whatever you do, don’t pass up the opportunity to pop your head into the magnificent St. Vitus Cathedral. This gothic beast houses the tombs of Prague’s historical kings.
Construction began in 1344 and, so the story goes, wasn’t actually finished until 1929! Amazing on one hand, but then understandable when you factor in all those endless invasions, wars, periods of poverty and folk dying of the plague.
The Astronomical Clock.
You can’t come to Prague and miss the city’s world famous Astronomical Clock. On the hour, crowds flood in for the clock’s cutesy, 45-second performance. Among the clock show’s many details, look out for the four mechanical figures representing vanity, greed, death and pagan invasion. Apparently, the original Jewish figure representing greed was tactfully changed after World War II.
Installed in 1410, The Astronomical Clock is said to be the third oldest clock in the world. Its mechanism features three vital components: the astronomical dial, the walk of the apostles and the calendar dial.
Prague, The Czech Republic.
After the clock show, why not climb The Old Town Hall Tower for some of the city’s best views. Take note though, the 70-meter tower translates into 221 steep steps. Like me, you’ll almost certainly need to take a moment when you reach the top. Happily, it’s all worth it when you get that sweeping panoramic of Czech architectural gorgeousness.
Those views just get better and better as you work your way around the circular balcony. For the tower’s opening times and entry costs, have a look at the official website.
U Maleho Glena.
I can’t wrap up my Prague files without mentioning the very cool U Maleho Glena Bar and Jazz Club. You can find it at Karmelitská 23, just a short walk from Charles Bridge. It’s a fantastically intimate little restaurant and bar, decked out with wooden furniture and moody spotlights. The actual jazz club is in the basement, accessed via a set of narrow stone steps.
Prague, The Czech Republic.
It was at U Maleho Glena that I met up with my old college buddy Dave for a reunion that had been over fifteen years in the making! We had a lovely night reminiscing about our A-level days in Chesham, England. And of course putting the world to rights on the subjects of football, music and cinema.
You can also read through my short story series The Slovak Files.
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