Sunday, 28 September 2008


I was kind of under and overwhelmed by Prague all at once. A lot of it was more beautiful than any other city I've visited - there are so many amazing buildings all packed into one tiny space. There were some pleasant surprises too; it is, for example, one of the cleaner European cities I've visited. But for all of this, I was hoping for something more, something a bit different than everywhere else, perhaps something a bit more... eastern... which I just didn't find. The Czech Republic seems to have modernised very quickly since the Iron Curtain lifted, and although I know I would've found it hard to deal with if it had been gritty and confronting, somehow it just felt unfortunately like more of the same (only surprisingly more expensive). (Which just goes to show how spoiled I am becoming, and I am sure I will eat my words when I am home, and every city no longer has a handful of cathedrals from the middle ages.)

On the plus side, we were staying in a wicked cool hotel, although possibly this added to my malaise - quite honestly I would've been happy to lounge around in there all day every day. It was brand new, but fitted out like the dream of the 60s, with both new and vintage furniture. They also had delicious breakfasts and afternoon teas, and a big big bath. Which is, when it comes down to it, really all I want from life: food and soaking.

We didn't manage to pack a lot in to the 4.5 days that we were there. Perhaps we needed a break, or perhaps we just didn't manage to get inspired by the city quickly enough...

On our first day we did a bit of aimless wandering, and had an average dinner in a fancy art deco restaurant. The next day it rained a lot, but we did a 'free' (suggested tip of AUD$20 per person) walking tour of the left bank of the city, including the old town square, the Charles Bridge, the pee-men, the Lennon wall and the castle complex, among other things. We also saw the 'pee-men' a totally bizarre sculpture of two men peeing onto a map of the Czech Republic. You can sms your name and the pee-men will pee it. So maybe not entirely more of the same...

The following day we did the 'free' tour's other leg: the right bank, where we saw the astronomical clock, the hall where Mozart premiered Don Giovanni, the 'New' Town, Wenceslaus Square, Jan Huss' statue, Kafka's house, and the Jewish ghetto, plus a bunch of other things I have already forgotten. We also went to a crazy shopping mall becuase I'd decided to use the delightful hotel bath to finally try out some Lush products, and we discovered why Prague is such an expensive city. Apparently since the fall of Communism the Czechs have been shopping mad (like, REALLY mad) and there are gigantic Marion-like malls dotted all around the city. Totally bizarre.

On Friday we saw the astronomical clock chime, had a long and seriously delicious veggie lunch at Lehka Hlava (I even had birch sap to drink. Apparently now I will never get kidney or liver disease. Al-right.) In the evening we went to see the Czech Philharmonic play at the Rudolfinium. This orchestra is apparently the 9th best in Europe (although I don't know where they get rankings like that from) and I recognised two of the basoonists names (Frantisek Hermann and Jiri Seidl for any other nerds out there) which is kind of nothing short of amazing. Well, anyway, again, I was slightly underwhelmed. I'd be willing to put it down to perhaps we had bad seats and the acoustics weren't amazing, but they sounded a little wolfish and just somewhat less than perfection (bearing in mind, still 9th best...). Although full marks to the brass, and the silky brilliant solo trumpeter.

On the way back from the concert we came across a man on the Charles Bridge playing the New World Symphony on glasses played with water. That was, for better or worse, a more magical experience than the orchestra. Even though techically it's not even the same universe let alone ballpark, this guy was playing the glasses like I would never have imagined, and also putting his heart and soul into it...I was spellbound...until he finished and started playing the theme from Titanic. Well, I guess you gotta please the crowds when you're playing for tips...

On our last day we crammed a few things in that we'd missed earlier: we went to the musical instrument museum which I'd really recommend to any musicians visiting Prague (if only for the white baby grand with disco-mirror tiles). We saw (half of) the Lebkovitz Palace - the former home of a Bohemian prince, restored with all its contents to its family after the Velvet Revolution. It's a simple museum but they have some incredible treasures - like the original hand-written orchestral parts for Beethoven's 4th and 5th symphonies. Butter my bum and call me a biscuit - I did not expect that when I walked in the door! We also had a bit of a poke around the rest of the castle grounds and visited St Vitus' cathedral (which has some beautiful newer stained glass windows) and saw the changing of the guards ceremony. It was all pretty fun, and really enlightened me to how ridiculously old Prague is (the area has been settled since the paleolithic age).

Now we're in Amsterdam - reached by sleeper train direct from Prague, via Germany. I'm not sure mum totally enjoyed the experience, but I had a ball, although not a ball I'd care to repeat in a hurry. Something about sleeping in a moving vehicle, watching all the towns go by and the landscape change, having a nice young man bring me cups of tea and make my chair into a bed, seeing the lovely formulaic German train stations again, all really appealed to me.

1 comment:

Ben said...

Many people tend to be ambivalent about Prague. I certainly was. I think the combination of tradition and consumerism - and the gradual colonisation of the latter over the former - lends it its slightly unreal, anxious aspect. It's like a tourist village. Mind you, it does have some treasures. Not only Kafka's house, but also the Kafka museum, where I nerded up on handwritten insurance reports he wrote.