A Summer in Prague
Eleven years since I first set foot in Prague, the city still holds all of its romance and wonder. My body floated with an overload of visual input as we drove in from the airport. Even in the dim of dusk the pastel of the buildings and the majesty of the spires held my giddy gaze. Prague is like no other city I’ve visited; its rich history has not been diluted nor over run by modern glass structures or unseemly strip malls. That is not to say that ‘new’ has not crept in, The Dancing House (aka Ginger and Fred) designed by the esteemed Frank Gehry stands proud a mere block from Narodni Divadlo (the National Theater) which itself has been adorned with a late 20th century addition that resembles a giant square igloo. Prague has a classic esthetic, with all the amenities of a modern city, and by far the best transit system I have ever experienced. The history of more than six centuries still radiates, from the upper corner of lesser town, down the valley, across the Vltava and hundreds of meters out from the heart of the city, Old Town Square. Prague is a well-read book that never loses its relevance, a song that you never tire of, a painting that captures your eye and tells more than a thousand stories.
I had three weeks to share my favourite foreign city with Nance. On day one I took her on the preview tour, introducing her to some of my favourite sites. We entered Old Town Square the same way I did for the first time so many years ago, via Tyn square blocks from my old flat on Rybna. We crossed the famous 14th Century Charles Bridge, and sat in one of the most beautiful parks Valdštejnská zahrada (Wallenstein Garden) watching the peacocks and enjoying an ice cream. All this after I took her on a 15km walk to what I thought was the near-by Andel station to pick up a couple monthly metro passes and a grocery store lunch. Our grocery store lunch included two Staropramens, two pastries, and two wafer bars all for little more than $5 CND. We walked over 20km that day, a feat that we would continue to achieve throughout the trip. Despite its aforementioned well-run transit system and because of its aforementioned beauty; Prague is a very walk able city.
Cobblestone roads, winding alleyways and green spaces, seemingly around every corner, provide an pleasant amble. Thirsty? Simply stop at one of many public fountains for some cool spring water, or hop into a potraviny for a cold delicious beer for a price that feels like stealing. It is a very agreeable city, one I am sad I wasn’t able to reside in longer.
It hasn’t changed much visually since I visited last, the people seem friendlier, and the variety of cuisine has improved but the beauty and history remain. There are a couple exceptions, for some reason The Church of St. Nicholas is no longer white, my old flat has been completely renovated inside and out, and Bohemian Bagel, one of the best places to relax on a Sunday, has forfeited location and quality. One of the most offensive changes to my memories of Prague is the inability to enter the globe library, though I must admit I was not able to find/did not try very hard to enter it from the secondary entrance. How dare the city change. Centuries of history, and it can’t stay stagnant for a decade to appease my sense of nostalgia. Honestly, aside from the poor location of and less than satisfactory food at BoBa, most of the changes were for the better. Prague has been able to adapt with the times while still maintaining its rich history. A grotto wall in Havlíčkovy sady (a park near our hotel) was restored to its former glory, Palladium provides over 200 shops in a stylish mall hidden with a historic facade across from the Nouveau Municipal House, even the Tesco department store at Narodni Trida got a complete overhaul. Prague is a city willing to change without giving up what makes it so special, it appeases the hordes of tourists with the modern touches so many of us have grown accustom to.
Fun is an understatement for the time we had in Prague. I was over the moon showing Nance everything I could remember about the city. We took in an Opera at the Estate Theater, and some classical music at the Municipal house. We became kids again, not a great feat for me, in the candy shop and the two story toy store on Na Prikope. Enjoyed some delicious meals, most notably the goulash and beer brewed with a recipe that is nearly a thousand years old, at the Strahov Brewery. While up in Strahov, just behind Prague castle we enjoyed the Monks Library. Surprisingly we even managed to find a park I do not recall ever seeing despite it being next to a building a had certainly visited. Prague is a magical city. I lived there for a year in my twenties, visited again while backpacking through Eastern Europe in the late 2000’s and again this summer and have never been disappointed. If you get a chance visit.