This weekend, I went to Prague with Jake and Iona. Not only are these two people kind and fun, they are also curious and introspective. I mean, Iona spent the weekend explaining how everything can be related back to the industrial revolution and reading Alain de Botton’s philosophical treatise, ‘the Art of Travel’. In fact, she talked about Alain de Botton a lot, sharing his theories on how architecture reflects human psychology as I gawked at Prague’s buildings. This meant that not only did we experience a bit of Czech culture, we overanalysed it as we went along – my favourite hobby.
We talked a lot about being a tourist, over-tourism and why it’s valuable to us to see new places. We talked about the strange parallel of some weekends being in another country by the time you’d usually just be snuggling into bed, about the diversity of culture and nature of productivity. We talked about how, as we get older, we appreciate incredible old buildings so much more, by realising that these iconic, complicated structures were designed, planned and constructed by people with a fraction of the tools we have now. It’s easy to ‘other’ the past incarnations of humanity, but they were probably more similar to us now than we might expect. We also talked about how mullets never look good on anyone (thanks to the guy sitting next to us in Hemingway’s bar for that particular topic of conversation).
As I start to write more about these experiences, I’ve thought a lot about my angle. I’m not a guidebook. There are so many better resources out there for any of the places I have the time and money to visit at the moment. I don’t drink beer. We only ate in a few places and I ate goulash and dumplings in all of them so variety is off the table in terms of recommendations. We couldn’t take the last tour of the KGB museum because we didn’t have enough cash and they didn’t take card, so while it looked great from the outside, I can’t recommend that you do or don’t visit.
I have a few recommendations. But what I mainly have is thoughts, punctuated by photographs so hopefully you don’t get sick of me.
A few recommendations
Let’s do the easy bit first. In terms of food, our two dinners were at Na Verandàch and Lokal Dlouhààà. Both were great and affordable, but Na Verandàch was slightly better. Plus they served strawberry dumplings for dessert that were divine. Our Sunday brunch at Café Jen, just outside of the city centre, was awesome. Think classic avocado toast brunch, except instead of plain avocado toast they have a ‘timeless’ breakfast that includes both scrambled eggs and a plum jam doughnut. Across the weekend, I tried four different combinations of Trdelnik and they were all delicious, though whipped cream and Nutella remains an unbeatable combination. I also tried an activated carbon Trdelnik so you don’t have to.
The drinks at Hemingway’s were wonderful and weird, some delicious and some strange but at £7.50 for artisanal cocktails it is worth trying. It’s such a pleasant bar; the rule is everyone must have a seat so it’s never overcrowded. We got lucky after queueing for twenty minutes but you can make a reservation to be sure of a seat. Also Absinthe is disgusting, though my life-long hatred of aniseed could probably have predicted that. My favourite cocktail was the Hermes Sgroppino, which consisted of champagne, lemon juice, jasmine water and a scoop of mandarin sorbet, topped with sugar lace. If you like pina coladas… you won’t find them here.
The Sex Machines Museum was as hilarious as it sounds. No surprise that humans have been devising innovative ways to make getting off easier since the dawn of time.
The stained glass in the cathedral is amazing. The crowds are not, but that can’t be helped. Walking all the way to the top of the tower was worth it for the views across the whole city.
Renting electric scooters via the Lime app was such a fun way to get around. They’re like Boris Bikes except they’re scooters and not named after a moron. However, those cobbles are no joke – it felt like there was an earthquake in my brain. If we hadn’t used the scooters then I would never have noticed how cobbled the city is – another check mark in the column for getting out there and trying something new (though Uber was also exceedingly cheap and convenient).
It’s so busy – but only in a few places. Obviously this is the end of October so I can’t imagine what the peak of the summer season is like. Seeing the crowds this weekend has definitely made me think that visiting the centre of Prague during the summer would be a mistake. However, this only rings true for the centre. While the route between the palace on the hill and the old town square, crossing the Charles Bridge – a route we walked on Saturday – was absolutely rammed, if you walked five minutes in any direction away from that path it was so quiet.
It made me think a lot about how people visit other cities and countries, and how many people in Prague that weekend only saw the top ten attractions and didn’t venture anywhere else. It’s not a bad thing, per se, but to only see the most lauded, photographed parts of a city provides a very limited view. You can tell that the centre of Prague has benefited from far more funds than the outskirts; the buildings are in much better condition and the whole area looks newer, even in the ‘old’ town. I was so glad we stayed in a different neighbourhood so we could see a bit of the suburbs.
Prague is well-preserved in general though, as apparently Hitler was planning to retire to Prague so kept it safe from much of the bombing in WW2. The city was also largely spared from rebuilding in the Stalinist style of architecture during the latter half of the 20th century, though the effects of many decades of oppressive rule can still be reflected in some of the buildings, not least the unusual Žižkov Television Tower built during the final decade of the Communist regime. The medieval elements prevail when many other European cities were architecturally decimated during the 20th century, but the centre and outskirts definitely have two different vibes.
This then made me think about what gets photographed, by me and by others. I am attracted to bright colours, bold shapes, blue skies and people (that I know, not strangers, because that would be weird). Grimy, grey buildings and rundown streets don’t tend to catch my eye. Shooting great pictures under a cloudy sky is so much more difficult than when it’s clear.
I’m probably right in thinking that these pictures will be less striking than the brighter, bolder ones. But one of the reasons I wanted to start this blog was to avoid just showing three of the best pictures from somewhere and leaving it at that, and not discussing the massive crowds or arguments or frustrating transport that can plague a trip (though fortunately not our trip to Prague, other than the mass of people around the old town). It seems then to only take pictures of the most photogenic parts of a place is just adding to the filtered view. I can’t say I did this that well in Prague, but I will be trying to photograph more of the less picturesque parts in future.
In the interest of honesty, we didn’t always nail the food timing yet again, and there were definitely some hangry words exchanged. Eating on a smart schedule for walking around constantly without buying overpriced mediocre food remains a challenge.
On a lighter note, another thought I kept having about Prague was that it contained a lot of hills. I hate climbing up things. Despite this, I walked up hundreds of steps to see the view from the tower, walked all over the city and a climbed a hill to watch the sunset. Sometimes, you do what you have to, like climb hills to make your friends happy. Sometimes, they schedule Trdelnik stops into the day just to make you happy. It’s a give and take.
I feel like this weekend was a great introduction to Prague. Next time – and I hope there’s a next time – I want to visit the Jewish Museum, finally make it to a tour of the KGB museum and perhaps take the ‘Communism and Nuclear Bunker’ walking tour. And eat more Trdelnik (this is honestly what my brain is like).