Travel Report: Prague, The Czech Republic.
December 2002. In late 2002 I was living in Bratislava where I worked as an English teacher. I was oh so young, carefree and silly back in those days and any free time us teachers had was spent 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 Rich Kessell, a sunny Californian from San Francisco and Jon ‘Goldblum’ Crisp, a Johnny-Cash-loving rogue from Nashville, Tennessee. Jesse & Caroline Kinsman meanwhile, from Washington State, were two of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet; which left it to Ben Wright and myself to fill in the blanks with some much-needed dry British humour.
December 2002. That long ago trip was all about the camaraderie and I remember we spent a sizeable chunk of our time in and around the gorgeous Charles Bridge. I was twenty four years old and I’d never seen anything like it.
December 2002. I have so few photos from that long ago Prague trip and they’re all a little sketchy, but boy oh boy do they bring back memories of cobbled squares, forgotten taverns, endless in-jokes, private catchphrases and blurry, beer-fuelled nights of shared histories and anecdotes.
December 2002. On the way back to Bratislava we famously lost Rich and Jon at Prague Train Station and as we pulled away I remember none of us having a clue what had happened. Neither Rich nor Jon were answering their phones and in the days before Wifi and WhatsApp it took a full twenty four hours for us to find out that Rich had been pickpocketed as we were boarding the train. He and Jon had unsuccessfully given chase to the criminals in question and ended up in the police station that evening filing a tedious report. They eventually made it back to Bratislava a couple of days later.
February 2012. It was over nine years later that I finally made it back to Prague. This time I was accompanied by S for a long weekend and we flew over from Amsterdam. Somehow it was even colder than my previous visit, so we found Charles Bridge mercifully quiet during our evening stroll.
The wintry atmosphere on Charles Bridge that evening was almost Dickensian in nature, a thin layer of frost and snowy footprints running the length of the walkway with its backdrop of baroque-gothic architecture, traditional street lamps and looming statues.
February 2012. A walk around Prague’s steep, cobbled castle is a must. Apparently this is the largest castle complex in the world, so needless to say there’s a huge amount of sites to check out. Having climbed up the two hundred stone steps of Nerudova Street, we arrived at the castle entrance just in time to catch a line of marching Czech soldiers performing The Changing of the Guard.
It’s not quite as grand as the procession that takes place at London’s Buckingham Palace, but still a quintessential Prague experience and here the change is performed hourly, which is very tourist-friendly.
February 2012. One could easily while away an entire day around Prague Castle, but this was pre-blogging Leighton, so we ended up taking it easy and skimming through a few highlights. Whatever you do, don’t pass up the opportunity to pop your head into the magnificent St. Vitus Cathedral, a gothic beast that houses the tombs of Prague’s historical kings and ancient Roman rulers.
Construction of St. Vitus Cathedral began in 1344 and, so the story goes, wasn’t actually finished until 1929! Amazing on one hand, but then not so exceptional I suppose when you factor in all those endless invasions, wars, periods of poverty and folk dying of the plague. The entry situation seems to be a bit complicated with all kinds of Prague Castle combination tickets on offer. Or like us you can go for the free entry option which takes in a fifth of the cathedral’s sights. For more info, head for the official website.
February 2012. Love it or hate it, you can’t come to Prague and miss the city’s world famous Astronomical Clock, mounted onto the southern wall of The Old Town Hall in the Old Town Square. No matter what the time of day there’s always a crowd here, especially on the hour for its cutesy albeit slightly underwhelming 45-second performance. Among the many details of the clock’s hourly show, look out for the four 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 and boasts a mechanism of three vital components: the astronomical dial, the walk of the apostles and the calendar dial. People seem pretty dismissive of the Astronomical Clock experience, but I found it to be a hugely impressive contraption!
February 2012. While you’re at The Astronomical Clock, why not climb The Old Town Hall Tower for some of the most charming Prague views available. Let’s not mess around though, the 70-meter high tower translates into 221 steep steps, so like me you’ll no doubt need to take a moment when you reach the top. But then, boy oh boy is it all worth it with the resulting views, a sweeping panoramic of Czech architectural gorgeousness.
Those views just get better and better as you work your way around the circular balcony, proper picture book stuff from start to finish! For The Old Town Hall Tower opening times and entry costs, have a look at the official website.
February 2012. I can’t wrap up my Prague reports without mentioning the very cool U Maleho Glena Bar and Jazz Club at Karmelitská 23, just a short walk from Charles Bridge. This place is a fantastically intimate little restaurant and bar, decked out with wooden tables and chairs with moody spotlights. The actual jazz club is in the basement, take the horribly tight stone steps down to reach it.
It was at U Maleho Glena that I met up with my old college buddy Dave for a reunion that’d been over fifteen years in the making! We had a grand old night reminiscing about our A-level days in Chesham, England, before putting the world to rights over football, music, cinema and just a touch of politics. “Lonely boooooooooy, no strength no joooooooyy-aaaaagh!” Sorry, that’s an in-joke, you’d never understand. In fact, I’m still not sure I get it myself.
You can also read through my short story series The Slovak Files.
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