Central Europe: Prague, Czech Republic

0. Cover

I’ve been so preoccupied with getting my head around my classes at work for this new academic year that I have slightly neglected my writing from my summer travels. Fortunately I have only one more entry to make, and judging by how much time has lapsed and the minuscule notes I might not be able to give the full picture!

1. Edge of the town square

I arrived in Prague by coach from Vienna with a company called ‘studentagency’, who despite having a name that may not evoke images of comfort and luxury, turned out to provide the best coach service ever; entertainment system, leather seats more than adequate legroom and what amounted to table service from the on bus host! At a mere 14 euros I couldn’t have felt happier on what is generally my most despised form of travel. I arrived feeling reasonably fresh and walked across the city and over the Vltava River to the western side of the city where I checked into a well above par hostel (Adam & Eva Hostel) that boarded on having hotelesque facilities and décor.

Being a Saturday and the beginning of the football season in England I took it upon myself to be very British and search out a local bar to watch some football, I wandered around the local streets before I found a small little bar that had some German football match on one screen and, unfortunately, the Bournemouth vs West Ham game on another. No Tottenham for me, but all the same I had a few beers while I watched the English game and listened to the German commentary. I sat alone in the bar on one side as the regulars crowded the bar opposite until an elder Czech man came in, sat next to me, sparked up a cigarette and then started reading a right-wing newspaper and pointing out all the pro-nazism it contained. Full-time couldn’t have come quick enough and I went for a nap back at the hostel.

My evening was much more successful as I hung out with a Swiss guy called Patrick who I met at the hostel. We managed to find some traditional Czech food pretty cheaply across the river and managed to accidentally witness the Prague Astronomical Clocks animated actions as we walked through the Staromestska (Old Town Square), a huge throng of smartphone toting tourists oggled the clock as the puppet like figures appeared in their automated windows and the skeleton rang his little bell. Pretty respectable technology for a six-hundred year old clock. We walked back across the Vltava River over the Charles Bridge and then found a great little bar called Kavarna Mlynska on Kampa Island where we managed to squeeze in a few beers before closing time.

1. Prague by night 2. Astronomical Clock 3. Wall

The next day I set out on my own in the morning and trekked up through the steep Petrin Park to Prague’s very own mini version of the Eiffel Tower. There was a small festival happening at the base of the tower and I enjoyed some local craft beer and a roast pork sandwich while I debated the affordable entry fee to the tower against the inevitable crush of tourists. I opted to pay and walked to the top where I was rewarded with some incredible views across Prague although there was definitely a mini-crush on the upper-deck to negotiate to be able to truly enjoy it. As I descended I dallied at the craft beer tent again and ordered myself another beer, which seemed like a good idea. It being a vacation and all that, as I supped my brew I looked on at what I thought was a performance by some local folk band but turned out to be a performance by a local religious community; I only discovered this as one of the sock-sandalled followers sidled up to me and told me I had been invited to join their community. As I politely endured his sales pitch, I hastened my drinking and made a quick exit.

4. Petrin Tower 5. Tower view

After my friendly cult encounter I walked across toward Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral but baulked at the entry costs, it was nice enough to explore outside and take in the architecture, although I was disappointed to later realise that some of it had been free to enter. I was feeling a little sleepy after my mid-day beers and decided that I would get some sleep in before my evening plans came around.

6. St. Vitus Catherdal 7. Looking upto St. Vitus

Throughout my summer trip I had been unable to see any live professional sports, every time I arrived in a city I checked if there were any pre-season or early league matches but I was always leaving town a day early or a day late. Finally, though in Prague, my visit coincided with a home league match for Sparta Prague. On the league fixture agenda was a city derby against Dukla Prague. I left early to ensure I could buy a ticket before the game started and I walked along the edge of the Vltava before heading up through Letna Park, briefly pausing at the viewpoint where you can find the rather odd Prague Metronome and a very popular focal point for local skateboarders who were speeding along and having varying success at pulling off some tricks on the various concrete features of the park.

The Genrali Stadium can be found across the park heading away from the Vltava River and the more recognisably cultural districts of Prague. I was early enough to not have to queue for a ticket on the door but not too early that there wasn’t already a small atmosphere building around the stadium. That being said I was one of the first through the turnstiles giving me first chance to enjoy a beer or two and a pork steak sandwich on the concourse surrounding the stairs to the stands.

The game was preceded by some proud flag waving march around the edges of the pitch and I was quite quizzical as to why there were only a handful of away supporters in the stadium despite it being one of the Prague derbies. The game however was quite entertaining. Dukla would counter as Sparta consistently held the ball and created plenty of chances with their territorial advantage. Sparta went 1-0 up and as the game opened up toward the end they grabbed a second goal to earn a much deserved victory. Czech legend and captain David Lafata being the man of the match and also having the proud honour of having the best of a bad bunch of fan chants.

14. Slavia Ultras 15. Prague Derby

The following morning I embarked on a big trek across the city, I began at The Dancing House, one of Prague’s more modern and alluring buildings, much different from the neo-Gothic architecture that perpetuates around the historical centre. It was here that I went into an exhibition of Kaja Saudek’s cartoon art, an influential and rather imaginative artist who was often repressed by the communist forces of his time. The modest entry fee, worth it for the exhibition alone (although parental guidance might be wise), also included a free drink at the roof top Fred & Ginger cafe where I stole some WiFi to plan a few more of my stops for the day and also gave me a good vantage point of a large group of professionally dressed Korean women all posing for some promotional tourist link photo-shoot between the two countries on the riverside down below. A brief reminder of my old home back in Korea.

8. Kaja Saudek Exhibition

I walked along the river to the Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral as well as the Vysehrad Castle and had a mooch around before heading uphill to the ‘boho’ district of Krymska where I had an incredibly healthy and delicious lunch at Plevel Restaurace. Vegan isn’t my thing at all but it has to be said that wholesome food when you are tired and weary from a long journey is undeniably appreciated. From Krymska I headed to the more traditional centre and took in the sights with the tourist throngs. My favourite moment came however in a rather innocuous park outside the Church of St. Ludmilla, where I sat on a bench taking in the sunshine and giving my feet a little rest from my side-street wanderings. At the base of the park near to the metro tracks there was a piano that had been previously installed for a long-since-passed monthly art project by Ondrej Kozba, the success of which has meant the pianos have remained throughout Prague. As I sat there a mother and daughter hashed away at the keys but after they went on their way a young woman walked through the park, seemingly on a typical walk to work or to meet friends, sat down and launched herself into some expertly played classical music. Her impromptu performance was eventually curtailed by some rather overly-curious drunk tramps who made her feel rather uncomfortable as they sat beside her and tried to talk to her. She took the interruption well and politely made her excuses and left, the moment not ruined but just oddly juxtaposed between beauty and skill and social deprivation.

12. Open Mic pianist

I took in a few more of the main sites and enjoyed the buzzing summer atmosphere around The Powder Tower and the Old Town Square, in spite of the constant annoyance of Segway tour guides touting for business and making general idiots of themselves before I went back to the hostel and thought about preparing my things for my flight back to Spain in the morning. One last night time excursion for a burger at a local bar where I was served by an incredulously enthusiastic and cheerful waitress, who coerced me into a couple of extra glasses of wine and my significant time in Prague was done.

9. Rather garish hotel 10. The Powder Tower 11. Municipal House 13. Penguins

The following morning a combination of metro and bus brought me to the airport where I flew to Barcelona. My onward flight to Granada, (which cost more than any of my other flights during my travels) was an awkward seven hours away but thankfully Barcelona Airport is full of enough places to relax comfortably, eat and entertain yourself. It gave me time to reflect on what had been both an enjoyable and eye-opening journey across some regions of Europe that I had never even been near before. The beginning of the refugee/migrant crisis gave it a sobering edge and a stark reminder that travel is not only to be enjoyed but also to be used as a tool to educate yourself and open yourself to new horizons, people and life choices.