Thoughts on Prague

The Prague Bus station, where you will be dropped if you head to Praha via bus, is approximately two kilometres away from the Charles Bridge. If, like me, you’re bag is slightly on the heavy side, or you’d rather not carry it that distance, you only really have one option: the metro. And it was in the metro I first experienced the local’s hostility towards tourists. 

If you’d like to use public transport in Prague, you pay for time—within that time you can use any public transport you wish, from the buses to the cable car. You can buy 30min passes from about 18kcz and full day (24 hour) passes from 100kcz.

Czechoslovakia dissolved in 1993, which, in the grand scheme of things, is rather recent. From Czechoslovakia came the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Czechoslovakia as a nation was constructed after the first World War. It survived the Second World War, as well as a four decade long stint under Communism, to fall three years after it found democracy. 

Prague as a city has been around for centuries. It began as a Celtic settlement, and had no permanent buildings until around 800A.D. when the Prague Castle was built. From the fourteenth century, Prague was the cultural and political capital of Bohemia. It prospered during the 16th century, but fell into despair for much of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. 

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Since then, Prague has become a tourist capital; it sits alongside the likes of Paris, London, Berlin, and Rome. In a recent press release, Prague City Tourism, cited 7.07 million visitors to Prague in 2016. That number is only expected to have increased during 2017. Further, in the first three months of 2017, 1.38 million people visited Prague. 

This intense touristification of Prague has had some serious repercussions in the capital. Unlike the likes of London, or Paris, Prague is much smaller and denser, with a population of 1.26 million. The area around the Charles Bridge is a tourist hotspot. Every second store is either a souvenir shop or a trdelník stand. Local prices have also, naturally, been driven up by the tourists, as have accommodation costs in the city centre.

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Now this may paint a rather bleak picture of Prague, but it is an honest one. The locals are sick of tourists. Those I spoke to, like that woman in the metro, were impatient—and that is if they stuck around long enough to be asked something. This, however, was quickly eased by a few words in Czech. My advice? Learn simple words and phrases such as ‘hello,’ ‘please,’ and ‘thank you,’ before you go. Especially if you’re going to venture out of the touristy areas; the locals will appreciate it. 

Prague remains a beautiful place, if not a little crowded, to visit. My initial inspiration to visit, and what put Prague on the map for me, was Laini Taylor’s novel The Daughter of Smoke and Bone, in which she describes Prague in the following way: 

“The streets of Prague were a fantasia scarcely touched by the twenty-first century—or the twentieth or nineteenth, for that matter. It was a city of alchemists and dreamers, its medieval cobbles once trod by golems, mystics, invading armies. Tall houses glowed goldenrod and carmine and eggshell blue, embellished with Rococo plasterwork and capped in roofs of uniform red. Baroque cupolas were the soft green of antique copper, and Gothic steeples stood ready to impale fallen angels. The wind carried the memory of magic, revolution, violins, and the cobbled lanes meandered like creeks. Thugs wore Mozart wigs and pushed chamber music on street corners, and marionettes hung in windows, making the whole city seem like a theatre with unseen puppeteers crouched behind velvet.” 

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The city lived up to every description. It was an awesome blend of medieval and gothic architecture, more so than Bruges (or so it felt), and of modern amenities. Walking the streets, especially surrounding the Charles Bridge, and Prague Castle, felt as Taylor described in the above. It was easy to imagine the waves of history sweeping through the streets.  

Next time I visit I hope to explore more of the little side streets, talk to the locals, and visit some of the galleries. I’ll definitely visit outside of August, too, as the heat of the days and the lull of the crowds were often too much for me. I enjoyed walking around at twilight, and in the evening, when the air cooled, and the crowds thinned, but many of the attractions closed at five, if not earlier. 

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Have you visited Prague or do you intend to? What are your thoughts?  

When travelling around Europe, I used ‘Use-It’ maps just about everywhere I went. I first came across them in my hostel in Bruges, and quickly picked them up when I could. The Prague map in particular, was incredibly helpful. It even included this short introduction to the language: 

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Use-It maps can be downloaded from their website: https://www.use-it.travel/home, or they have a handy app you can download for IOS or Android.

Prague City Tourism can be found here: www.praguecitytourism.cz

More information about Daughter of Smoke and Bone can be found here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13600168-daughter-of-smoke-bone or on Laini Taylor’s blog: http://www.lainitaylor.com/

UNESCO’s site has a brief overview of Prague’s history in several languages with photos and videos: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/616 

And this article on Czechoslovakia, granted from an American perspective, is really interesting: http://www.nytimes.com/1993/01/01/world/czechoslovakia-breaks-in-two-to-wide-regret.html?pagewanted=all. It gives a more in depth overview of Czechoslovakia than I did. 

Thanks for reading! 

Jo