My last stop on the Mitteleuropa journey, Prague is architect’s paradise and a heaven for architecture fans. It offers the eye so much information in such detail that you just get tired very quickly and give up. Besides, there is such a crowd of tourists moving about the city (mostly Russian and Italian-speaking) that you abandon all the attempts to have a nice peaceful walk and go with the flow.
Being a St Petersburg local, I’m quite prepared for a varied architecture with several epochs represented along one street, back-to-back. But Prague offers an even wilder picture as it also has yet another layer – Medieval architecture which with St Petersburg’s 300-and-something-year-old history is not the case.
We went from Bratislava to Prague by bus and after a night at a hostel we started off our day from the nearby Vitkov Hill. The National Memorial sitting right on top of this hill was originally constructed in 1928 – 1938 and that’s why it has a non-human totalitarian air about it. Well, it was really in the air that kind of architecture in those days. Ironically enough, this became an anti-Nazi monument after the war.
Prague is pretty representative of the Vienna-style Art Nouveau. It pops up here and there as hotels (below), residential houses or this Municipal House (above) which is extremely elaborately decorated both inside and outside.
To get even more of the Art Nouveau in the city we went to the Alfons Mucha museum and discovered for ourselves one of the sources of all things Art Nouveau in painting and decoration. Even if you don’t now his name, you will definitely recognize his elements in many many posters (1960s concert posters in America drew largely on Mucha’s style) and virtually anything which mimics the Art Nouveau style.
The windy and chaotic Karluv Most (Charles Bridge) over the Vltava river, the city most known landmark, with the Prague Castle in the background (above). And the view from the other side of Vltava:
Prague can get overwhelmingly touristy. Looking at its map now I can say that in some ways it is such a popular destination it is verging on being too much. Too much stuff is made for tourists that in the end you cannot really grasp the authenticity of the city. That’s why one would try to avoid Charles Bridge and Prague’s center – just to feel that you can be human again 🙂
Wandering in the city is easy – you just turn off the main road and keep your head up: pseudo-Gothic castles, real Gothic churches, baroque, classicism, you name it! Hard to tell which one is real and which one is a later interpretation.
I took photos of many a facade but I might just as well have dropped that thing at once as it is not possible to encompass all the crazy variety of architecture in Prague.
On our second day in Prague (which was obviously not going to be a warm day from the very start) we took a tram across the city to the other side of the Vltava river and then went up there where the Prague’s Castle is:
We got so cold in the Castle that I can hardly recall anything 🙂 Well, travelling in winter has its downsides. As is travelling on super hot days, I suppose, when your attention span is so short you can only think of getting something cold to drink and find a shady bench to sit on. Winter on its harsh days just makes your eyesight limited – you seem to be looking only in front of you, raising your shoulders and tucking your head in. Feels warmer this way 🙂
All I remember about Prague’s Castle is that although the entrance to the Castle is free of charge (they would just make you go through security check), it’s a sort of a tourist trap inside: entrance to anything else within its territory apart from several souvenir stores and the information center requires a ticket. But the view from the windy top was great. A real winter fairy tale. Somewhere over there there should be many creatures living on the roofs 🙂
By the way, they have a vineyard right on the slope of the hill which reminded me of Avignon. After descending back to the ‘ground’, spending some – warm – minutes in the Prague’s metro station right under the Prague’s Castle hill, we continued our wanderings in the direction of the Charles Bridge:
The ‘other’ side of Vltava proved to be a pretty cozy place, seemingly older around the Castle and probably less touristy than the “Prague 1” with its super touristy attractions such as the astronomical clock and the Jewish district.
After we got substantially cold and wind-bitten we ended up (twice) in a local cafe called At the Parliament (U Parlamentu). There we had a fix-price menu lunch with fried cheese and boiled potatoes on one day and on the other I tried some soup which turned out to be richly infused with smoked bacon :). You can obviously sample Czech beer at that place, along with some dumplings and other traditional stuff.
We did not go to any markets in Prague although the Christmas ‘market’ was still on place. We tried some local cheese though – brynza (salted white brine cheese), soft fresh cheese similar to the Russian tvorog (cottage cheese) and some pretty weird sharp-tasting cheese called Sedlčanský Romadůžek.
Here is another one of the spotted – allegedly – Czech dishes, Trdelnik, hugely popular and popularized street food which several countries claim their own, pictured at various stages of its preparation:
You can’t say it’s a baked bread because it’s cooked over coal, resembling something like a sweet shashlik or barbecue 🙂 Did not try trdelnik in Prague but later a friend brought some from Hungary where apparently they also consider it their traditional dessert. My impressions – overly sweet dough with lots of extra sugar on top!
Prague is a interesting place. It’s not a place you would go to relax though – you would just have no chance for that in the streets teeming with tourists ever hungry for more attractions. But it’s one of those ‘democratic’ places where everyone will find something of interest.