Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is a multi-national déjà vue of a city. You pass English-looking park areas surrounded by buildings that could be in Alicante or Murcia in Spain, and the architecture lining both sides of the riverbank is distinctly Parisian. Then, below the Charles Bridge, you’re in Venice, with flats towering over narrow canals. Add a dash of Germany, a sprinkling of Holland and a touch of Deauville, Boulogne, and even London, mix well for several centuries, and you have Prague!
As the main central area is so well-preserved, it’s hard to imagine that some of it is eight centuries old. They certainly have a history of excellent builders!
Apparently there are several storeys below the streets because the level was cleverly raised in Medieval times to stop flooding.
The old buildings and streets are still there under the ground, and were used in World War II by the freedom fighters to move around without being seen by the Germans.
The streets are clean and there’s practically no sign of mindless vandalism. But there is graffiti everywhere, which is a shame, although they seem to leave the most ornate buildings untouched.
We travelled around on the marvellous tram system. We never had to wait for more than five minutes.
The hotel sold tickets and we bought 24 hour tickets.
Apparently the locals have season tickets, but we never saw anyone get on a tram to check them. The whole system runs on trust.
I was quite chuffed when a good-looking young male leaped up and offered me his seat. But I wasn’t chuffed at all on another trip when a good-looking young female leaped up and offered me hers! Then the tram jerked and I fell backwards on a man’s knee. He smiled happily for the whole journey. So you win some, you lose some!
On our first evening there, the tram stopped for a while and we heard the sound of police sirens.
Glad to have a chance to speak English, the man next to us, who’d been talking on his phone, told us that there was a protest march going on. Apparently there is a growing problem further North with immigrants and gypsies and a lot of people feel that the police and Government aren’t doing enough to control it. And it’s creating another terrible problem as Neo-Nazism is rapidly increasing.
The man waved goodbye and got off the tram, followed by us, and he went over to join the protesters, who had congregated in a large square, symbolically near the Jewish Quarter.
Crossed-out swastikas were stuck in the soil and a film played, showing Neo-Nazi violence.
A couple of policemen chatted to each other and casually glanced at the protestors from time to time. It was all very peaceful and well-organised.
We went to see the Jewish Quarter. I expected it to be my idea of a ghetto; narrow, slummy streets and rough, run-down houses. But of course, the Jews were very wealthy and occupied the best area in town. The roads are wide and the houses are terraced mansions.
The whole lot was fenced off by the Germans in the war.
We visited the Jewish Museum. It was very expensive to go in, but terribly moving, and a Must to see if you visit Prague. It’s an old synagogue and most of the walls are neatly painted with the names of the murdered victims, like some macabre modern wallpaper used in a room-renovating tv programme.
There is a display of the children’s drawings, and you don’t need a degree in psychiatry to translate their meanings. It was one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen in my life!
I’m afraid that I don’t understand why Prague is so popular for its Christmas markets. They were a lot smaller than I’d expected. Although the atmosphere was nice and Christmassy, none of the stalls sold anything that I wanted to buy. And they were very expensive. But…
Several miles outside Prague’s touristy area, across the river, is an undiscovered delight. It’s Prague’s largest market, stretching out over a huge area, on a permanent site. It’s mainly run by Chinese, selling everything at half the price of the other markets. You can buy clothes, shoes, fruit and veg, knuckle dusters, Ninja stars, replica guns, food, furniture.
I bought two pairs of leather gloves for around £10. The other markets wanted more than that for one pair.
Bargaining is easy. They don’t put up much of a fight.
As all seasoned travellers know, the best places to eat are where the market traders eat. There was a huge choice of stalls, cafes and restaurants.
We had one of the tastiest Chinese meals that I’ve ever had, with a large glass of beer and a mulled wine. And we had change from £8. We could have had a vodka for £1.
This bargain-hunter’s dream of a market was practically deserted. By midday the men gave up working and gathered in groups to play cards, while the women desperately tried to sell us something, with prices dropping drastically. None of them worried about leaving their stalls unmanned.
Where is it? Oh alright, I’ll tell you if you promise not to tell anyone!
Take the No 3 tram and stay on it to Holesvice in Prague 7. It crosses the river, then turns up a hill, and you’ll see the market on your left.
The cathedral is worth visiting. Surprisingly, entry was free.
The view from the top of the hill is not to be missed.
In Prague, the churches aren’t churches any more. They’re all used as museums and concert halls. You have to pay to go into all of them.
Public toilets all charge, but they’re clean and heated. It’s okay to walk in and use the toilets in cafes and restaurants.
We loved the hot mulled wine, sold outside most bars and restaurants. We walked around, sipping it out of plastic cups. Very warming. And, oh, the coffee and cakes! My poor yo-yo-ing body, that puts on a couple of pounds if it sniffs a chocolate bar, thoroughly enjoyed it, then protested (almost) loudly! Oh well, I probably walked it off again.
The locals are polite and well-dressed although wages are much lower than most of the EU. They just work longer hours or have two jobs.
We passed a lot of Christmas trees for sale, left unguarded for the night. They were still there the next morning, un-stolen and un-vandalised.
A couple of drunks were booked by the police. All very calm and polite.
The crime rate is low in Prague, and drugs are not a problem.
We had a very good meal in a bar/restaurant near our hotel, out of the town centre. We were the only foreigners there. Apart from the language, we could have been in England. There were bald heads, dreadlocks and the usual selection of fashions.
Our hotel, the Botel Racek, was obviously once a cruise boat. I loved it. It’s permanently fixed to the river bed. The only sound was the ducks outside our porthole. I fed half a dozen ducks and three swans one night, and the next morning when I opened the curtains, they were all looking up at the window and started shouting when they saw me!
The bar and restaurant had lovely views and a good menu, and it was so peaceful at night, even though we were next to the main road, that I slept deeply.
What’s my opinion of Prague? It’s a great city to visit for a break. I felt very safe there, and everything works well. They’re an efficient race and very polite. English isn’t spoken
everywhere, and it’s not spoken fluently. Even in the hotel they struggled with the words.
I took lots of warm clothes, but I wasn’t as cold as I expected to be. It’s not a damp cold like in the UK. But we were walking a lot.
Would I go back there? Probably one day, well not in the near future anyway. I enjoyed my three days there, and I would recommend it to my friends.