Conor McKenna discovers the delights of Prague, a city famous for the best beer and noted for its examples of Gothic art and architecture.
The capital of the Czech Republic has been a popular destination for Western Europeans since the Velvet Revolution and the end of Moscow rule. I embarked on a four night stay with high hopes of cheap living, stunning sights and a good beer.
Prague is not an expensive city, though Ryanair have stopped services and thus flights on average cost more than they used to. Within the city itself travel is relatively cheap also, certainly when compared with Dublin Bus. Staying self-catering was a plus and would be something I’d recommend to anyone going to Prague. While the cost might put some backpackers off, I found the freedom to cook my own food kept the overall price of the trip down.
Having lived abroad previously, I am no stranger to the sympathetic looks of the natives as I ask directions. I found the people of Prague to be very polite and eager to help. Though most of the people I interacted with had no English, they seemed happy to yammer on in Czech while I looked befuddled.
While half of Europe has frozen over this January, it remained chilly in Prague. The temperature slowly dropped over the visit to -15C on my final day. My first trip was to Vyšehrad Castle which sits atop a hill in the southern part of the city and features some of the most spectacular views that Prague has to offer. The site is also famous for the cemetery where several famous Czechs are buried.
Prague, at the centre of Bohemia, is famous for being the seat of the Holy Roman Empire and the architecture of the city reflects the grandeur associated with it. One ticket allows entry to five sites including Prague Castle, which was refurbished under the reign of Charles IV, and St. Vitus Cathedral that hosts the tombs of many Emperors. Though be warned should you visit Prague in winter that these buildings are not heated. I found it colder inside than out (there was even a window open in the Castle).
Prague plays host to the largest museum of Jewish culture outside of Israel. The museum is located next to a large Jewish cemetery. The Jewish quarter is well worth a wander around.
The Charles Bridge, built in 1402, is one of the most famous landmarks in Prague. Beautiful even at night, the bridge offers stunning views up and down the river Vltava. Only a short walk away is the Lennon Wall; once a plain wall, it was covered in lyrics from Lennon and the Beatles in the 1980s and was seen as a form of dissent against the oppressive communist regime.
Prague’s Old Town includes Wenceslas square. The area was known for demonstrations, but has since become a centre for tourist shops and indeed tourist prices. Advice from Prague’s locals is to avoid the square at night as it has become the centre for the drug’s trade.
Czech beer is world-renowned and one cannot visit the capital without tasting some of their finest pints. Budvar is quite common in Ireland, though it doesn’t appear to be as popular as the bigger brand Pilsner Urquell. Beer comes in various alcohol percentages (denoted with a degree) and with colours ranging from golden through to deep red. I enjoyed a mid-afternoon tipple at the Staropramen brewery, located conveniently behind my apartment, and would recommend the beer as well as the tour to any lager lovers.
“Prague never lets you go… this dear little mother has sharp claws,” described local Franz Kafka and the reality, it transpired, was surprisingly true.