I can only imagine that I had the same expectations of Prague that everyone else who had never been there has before there arrive. Prague – enjoy and appreciate the beautiful architecture and seep yourself in the weight of its history.
When I arrive at Prague railway station I am faced with a scene that I have seen many many times – a large room with glass walls, lights and brand names. This is the ‘new’ Prague station, one that is boasts of its own modernity and services up-to-date and fitting with a forward thinking and dynamic Prague. Needless to say, for someone who was expecting to see something I had never seen before, this was a massive disappointment. There was nothing new here for me except the language. I could have stepped off the train at Manchester Piccadilly and saw the same thing.
There were a lot of people at the station. Either I had arrived at a busy time or it’s always like this. Most of the people had big bags and suitcases with them and none of them looked local. Anyway, I went to get some cash out but then realized my ignorance. How much is the Czech Koruna worth? I went to the currency exchange to find out. ~32Kč to a £1. Great. How much do things cost in Prague? Is it premium expensive or cheap as chips? I go into the Relay to find out. 30Kč for a 500ml bottle of Coca Cola. So about the usual then. I was ready to take out some cash. Out of the cash machine comes a 2000Kč note – about £65. Dealing with currency here was going to be different. After buying a few things I had come to realize that I had no idea if I had got the correct change or not because not only was I not use to doing the maths so quickly in my head I was not use to how the currency looked and so didn’t know what coins or notes were what. Even if I could do the maths quick enough I would’ve had to stand there analyzing each of the coins and notes I’d been given to check if it was right. So to save myself the time and mild embarrassment I decided to trust everyone had given me the correct change.
So off I went into Prague. First stop was the little apartment I was staying at, just outside of the city centre. The tram, I had been advised, was the fastest way, but where was the tram stop?
(As a note to anyone wanting to buy tickets for public transport in Prague – the machines only take coins, but pretty much all convenience shops sell them and they’re really use to people breaking large bank notes with them, although I did witness one place that just plain refused because it’d probably happened once too often that day and they were running out of change.)
I walked out of the station and I walked the wrong way and discovered Wenceslas Square, a kind of high street with popular shops. On the left you might make out a ‘KFC’ and I swear I saw a Marks and Spencer down there somewhere. All around were little adverts on lampposts telling the distance and pointing the way to the closest fast food restaurant, the most popular signs were for McDonalds. It was all very commercialized. I was in a city that had embraced Capitalism with gusto. This was a place where people aspired to be rich by any means. At least it felt that way, by the way the city presented itself to me that was the first impression I got.
The tram, when I eventually found it, took me through a newish looking part where a shopping centre was built. I could tell it was new because it just looked newer than everything around it. Inside the shopping centre was, again, everything you’d expect to find in a shopping centre in the UK, high and low end stores, a food hall and a cinema. Also part of this building was a Tesco Hypermarket. I didn’t go in, but Tesco are big in the Czech Republic, here is a store locator from Tesco themselves of every store in the country.
Later that evening I went to the cinema there. All mainstream films. I watched The Amazing Spiderman and the ticket was pretty cheap.
Things to do
I don’t usually like paying for tourist type things anywhere in the world. I don’t pay for them in London and I don’t think that paying for it and doing those things anywhere else is a very good way seeing the place. Going to the top of the Eiffel Tower is no more representative of Paris than Madame Tussauds is representative of London. I don’t believe that doing these things necessarily mean that you have visited a place.
In Prague I tried my best to soak the city in by walking around and trying my luck with each road/street/avenue/walk/alley I went down, it wasn’t very easy and it certainly wasn’t fun here.
Prague Castle bored the hell out of me. I walked up the hill and saw it. That was it. Lots of people gathering around the same places trying to take pictures of the same things. I ended up taking pictures of people taking pictures of the things. There was a well that people gathered round. You couldn’t really see anything but people tried to have a look anyway. Throw a penny down and make a wish? That’s what people do at wells right?
The Charles Bridge may be a beautiful bridge but with hundreds of tourists on it at any one time it is anything but. It was a bridge that now does not serve its original purpose. The people on it were not trying to get from one side of the river to the other, that was incidental. They were there to see the bridge itself. Anyone who just wanted to cross the river used any other bridge (there are quite a few of them). The bridge now serves only to bring tourists, not to act as a bridge. Poor poor bridge. I hope that one day it will serve its original purpose once more.
A few things that I ended up paying for the I otherwise wouldn’t have if Prague was more interesting to walk around:
- Sex Machines Museum
- Torture Museum
- Mirror Maze
- Astronomical Clock Tower
- Kafka Museum (café only)
- 1 hour on a Pedalo on the River Vltava
and I also bought a ‘fried cheese’ burger. Not a cheeseburger, a ‘cheese’ burger – a burger with cheese as filling, cheese that’s been grilled. I felt dirty eating it, but I ate two of them.
Sex Machines Museum
When I came across this I was thinking what you’re thinking right now – it’s a tacky place with gratuitous displays designed to get cheap laughs masquerading as a museum. I honestly thought that’s what I was getting into. To my very pleasant surprise, that wasn’t the case. The place had a mature attitude to sex and sexuality, and was pretty interesting. They had two pornographic videos which were two of the very first ever porno films. The lack of editing in the films meant you saw them lubing themselves up, the parts we no longer see in pornographic films anymore, in addition to the sex, which wasn’t done as much for the camera in mind as the professionals do it today. There was even a storyline. The first film was about a doctor seducing his patient! How times have not changed, as they don’t say.
The museum is set in a basement, which gave it a chilly eerie feel already. There were some pretty good models and well presented too. There was a bit where I turned a corner and thought I saw three cages hung from the ceiling with a skeleton inside (pictured above), but looking closer your realise it is actually just one cage and a mirror on either side that made it look like more than one. It was very convincing. Another bit made me see a model beheaded. There was some pretty gruesome stuff in there as well, some rather evil torture instruments. Well worth a visit. Go check it out.
This was not worth the trip or the money to get it. It was ~£2 to get in, but it still wasn’t worth it. I went out of my way to get off the tram and walk up the massive hill to get to it. The only good thing about it was I bumped into some people filming some kind of animation, which was pretty cool.
Okay, so my expectations may have been a bit too high for this. I guess I was imagining some kind of hypnotic, claustrophobic, mirrored space where I would have trouble telling left from right, like in a film where the character, trapped or lost in confusion, runs around the maze in a panic and the camera tracks round and round and round them, and there’s a feeling of disorientation. Needless to say, this did not happen, and not by a long shot. It was more like a stroll through room with a few mirrors.
Now I am not saying that it was totally shit. I don’t think with the expectations I had I can be truly objective. But I don’t think it’s worth any money to go in.
I don’t even know why I had such high expectations. I had already had a bit of shit time anyway. Hope. Hope that the next thing I do or see would turn it all around. This was not it. And that kind of hope is stupid.
On top of this hill was also the tower, which looks a bit like the tip of the Eiffel Tower because it’s meant to, that I didn’t go up. It might have been a bit more worth it than the maze as it is on top of the hill. The view must be pretty good. Anyway, I didn’t go up it. Who knows why.
Kafka Museum (cafe only)
The Kafka Museum seemed interesting and if I was more literately inclined then I may have gone in. I’ve read The Trial and I understood it (it’s about girls right?*) but that’s about it. Perhaps I could have learnt something had I gone in but I guess I wasn’t in the mood. This is all my own fault, I realise this.
So I sat at the cafe and had lunch. It was so freaking shit. That is all I have to say about that. If you ever come here, do not go to the cafe.
Astronomical Clock Tower
The third oldest in the world and the oldest one still operational, there for all to see for free. Climbing to the top of the tower, though, cost money. Not very much, mind, about £3.
The climb to the top wasn’t bad but one of the lifts was broken so it was quite a long way. Once at the top I finally saw Prague in all its beauty. The view was really good and what I had been missing on the ground I could now see from above. It wasn’t that Prague wasn’t a beautiful city, Prague had been corrupted and blanketed with a shallow layer or commercialism and flat-pack/instant Westernization. This had already been established upon arrival where glass and steel structures attempted to make an old place look modern. This had happened to the rest of the city. Slowly the adverts and labels and brands familiar to Western eyes were too loud to be ignored. I could not not see it and it had hid the city from me.
Pedalo on the River Vltava
The way to see the beauty of Prague, it seems, is from afar. I saw people on Pedalos on the river and the weather was pretty nice – the sun was shining and it was warm. I thought I’d have a go, although the guy at the pedalo stand found it pretty weird that I wanted to go on my own.
I pedaled out to the middle of the river and I saw, again, that Prague was a pretty lovely place. There were people sitting on the banks drinking wine and eating snacks and engaging in conversation etc. It was a pretty lovely hour; relaxing and calm whilst I admired the city from within and yet from afar.
Things I Liked in Prague
After a bit of time getting over the initial disappointment and a bit of digging through the shallowness I finally started to see Prague as a nicer place. It’s just such a shame that they have systematically buried it under a blanket of shit. Instead of changing to modernize perhaps integrating the rich history with the new, the bright, and the money.
Here are some pictures of what I enjoyed:
There’s an interesting history to the wall including a ‘fuck you’ to the Communist State and property laws.
It’s a bit of a shame that the Metro itself is pretty useless for a tourist because the stations are really lovely.
And, I didn’t take a picture of it, but Kino Světozor is part of the Europa group of cinemas and was one of my favourite places in Prague. I saw Cosmopolis there and the rest of the audience was just as much of a cinephile as I was. I heard them chatting before and after the film – obviously not during.
That was Prague. Interesting huh? Next, post-war post-reunification Berlin.