Conclusion Castle. It’s a bit like Takeshi’s Castle but without the crying, suited, Japanese business men and with a bit more culture, a lot more beer and a smattering of idea sharing. If you hadn’t guessed by now, day three was our final day in Prague (see the exciting Part One and the tantalizing Part Two) and we were off to see the Castle, Cathedral, New Town and draw some conclusions from our stay (Jump to: Conclusions).
Having toured much of the north bank of the Vlatava River and the Lesser Tower on our Prague Old Car tour we felt we had a good idea of the area and basic topography- but now to tackle it all on public transport! Concierge at Motel One kindly pointed us in the direction of the Namesti Republiky Metro Station and informed us to change at Narodni Trida (2 stops) and then catch Tram 22 directly out front… and to be honest it was a breeze. The public transport map we glanced at looked absolutely mind boggling but the system itself (and simplified map) made this one of the easier, more efficient systems we’ve used in Europe – and at great value too! 110Kc (£3.10) grabs you a day pass, whilst passes can be bought for 90 minute slots if that suits you better! If I was mayor I would definitely call this ticket the-football-hooligan. Vote CarlVersusLife!
Arriving at the Palace we were amazed at how peaceful the streets are. The palace district is now home to Parliament and many government offices including the homes and offices of both the President and the Prime Minister and it’s a far cry from the grey and brown fume-filled chaos of Westminster in London (where I work, incidentally). The scale of the place is just absolutely huge, one can only image how many ball rooms the place contains and how many staff are needed to manage it!
Though the archway and into the palace we decided to take the cheapo, freebie option of walking around without an audio guide or tickets. We stopped by for photographic opportunities and architectural reasons more so than the history and politics but by all means take the alternative if it suits you and your time frame allows it. The free option allows access to the courtyards and just inside the cathedral whilst the paid tour allows access into the main area of the cathedral, part of the Palace and concert halls within.
After a brief visit of an hour or two the job was done, we were suitably wowed and we were off to the New Town to see the more modern end of town. We caught Tram 22 back to Narodni Trinda and took the same Metro that we arrived on but for just one stop, to Mustek, in the heart of Wencelas Square. Not to our liking with bright lights, international shops and pricier beer, this consumer paradise was a far cry from the charm of the Old Town. This square, in fact, is not a square at all. It is the name given to a large stretch of road lined with a few trees, shops and hotels that lead from a pedestrian shopping street right up to the Narodni Museum some 400 meters away. This wide concrete streets could have been anywhere in Europe so we escaped the chaos for a hidden Czech pub/restaurant, our old friend Kolkovna. After a few beers and sausages we took a taxi back to the airport (520Kc – £15) and went our our merry, satisfied ways. But not before coming to the following conclusions on our stay in the Czech Republic….
1) I’m short on words and slightly repetitive when I say it but here goes: Prague is Beautiful. It just is. The Baroque and Renaissance inspired architecture, the cobbled winding streets, the sweet smells that waft down the lanes. The city has a friendly, openness to it, despite the narrow corridors of the old town, that welcomes tourists with wide open arms. It’s a city that wants it’s tourists to leave satisfied. It’s a breath of fresh air.
2) Prague has proved to be an excellent value break and one that certainly doesn’t lack quality for it. If timed right you can get a return from London and two nights in a hotel, with transfers, for under £140pp for a couple. Phenomenal value. Then take into consideration the quality and price of good food, beer and the relatively cheap cultural visits and you can comfortably come home with change from £100 if you so wish.
3) Our short stay in the new town was nothing compared to staying a short walk from the Old Town Square. Definitely choose to stay in the Old Town if you’re here for culture, choose the New Town if you’re on a booze cruise.
4) On that note, our experience was mid-week. We’ve heard of this being a large stag party destination but owing to our midweek travel we must have missed a lot of it, besides the hungover lunches on Monday. Visiting the New Town on the weekend could provide different results but we’re in no position to really say… if you’re surround by louts, head North.
6) Car vs Walk. As beautiful a walking city Prague is, it hurts. It’s tiring on the legs and the cobbled streets take their toll. Prague Old Car was a fantastic and highly recommendable way to see the city. Save yourself for the evenings. Alternatively, make sure you stop often to refuel and recharge yourself.
7) The beer was a disappointment. I’m a beer fan and to visit the home of Pilsner lager was most underwhelming. A brewing style that is recognised worldwide and one that has spawned some of the world’s largest beverage companies offers very little in the way of beer itself. Pilsner Urquell is everywhere, Kozel in most and Budvar in a few; outside of those three you’re shit out of luck. The beer, whilst good, got quite repetitive for somebody with a ‘refined beer palate‘ (read: sophisticated boozer). Whilst the city is a bona-fide Bruges beater the beer is certainly, surprisingly, losing Prague some points.
Overall, Prague took us by surprise. It was far from the eastern bloc we thought we might encounter before our trip. It was charming, full of character and a real eye opener. We learnt a great deal from this trip, we experienced new things and we’ve come away understanding a lot about a culture and people we would have otherwise been oblivious too. Prague had taught us a lesson.
This is why we travel.
WITH THANKS TO:
MOYAN BRENN (MAIN IMAGE)
Ever visited a city or country that completely surprised you? How was your visit to Prague? When was the last time a city threw you a curve ball? I’d love to know in the comments below.