Prague straddles the Vtlava River, a staggering beautiful city with a mix of Gothic, Renaissance and very utilitarian, communist architecture. The small streets are dotted with old, open-topped cars carting tourists round the sites. 48 hours in Prague, where to begin?
Day one was spent visiting Old Town. The shadow of the castle and monastery sit above the city on a hill. We travelled there by tram which easy and convenient as it is otherwise quite a steep climb. Two day tram tickets can be purchased and used for all public transport.
We were fortunate to have exclusive access to the monastery library, which has one of the largest collections of bibles in Europe – over 10,000. The double stacked shelves and painted ceilings conjure up images of the monks that used to study there and was also used by students of Charles University, which dates back to 1348 and was the first university in central Europe. The castle was also incredibly impressive and we were able to walk round and some of the old halls hidden away from public view where jousting used to take place.
For a country that has had such a comprehensive history of occupation, the people are incredibly docile and maintain a very strong sense of patriotism. This is most notable when you discuss the Velvet Revolution, splitting from Czechoslovakia to the Czech Republic and Slovakia – and many have family and friends who have studied across the boarder and vice versa.
Life before the Velvet Revolution was monochrome, communism kept prices of beautiful clothes and groceries high so most people wore the same, grey drab clothing or made their own – our guide, Radkja informed us. They welcomed the revolution with open arms – the ‘John Lennon Wall’ was symbolic for The Beatle’s stance on love and peace. Buskers still use it as a podium for songs about a better world.
Exploring the city by foot is certainly the best way to see it. It offers you enough time to appreciate the beauty and romanticism, though running along the river in the morning is equally a wonderful way to get your bearings. Day two – In an odd twist of fate, unlike many other cities that were devastated in the second world war, Hitler’s appreciation of classical architecture preserved the city from being blitzed, unlike Budapest and so we see the city relatively unchanged. Day three was spent exploring the Jewish quarter that sits on the other side of the Charles IV bridge.
Another strange and uncomfortable notion: Amongst the looting, enslaving and exterminating of Jewish families, Nazi record keeping was meticulous and so much of the country’s wealth from the community ended up in Prague. Although not conclusive, it is commonly thought that Hitler was planning a museum of the extinct Jewish race – and the occupation’s tight inventories have enabled the Jewish museum to build substantial memorials – with a full register of the people that perished. This harrowing thought is communicated in the Jewish quarter and Jewish cemetery, where many make pilgrimages to.
In winter it is not uncommon to have winters of -20c, with heaps of snow but in the summer, one of the best activities is to hire a pedelow by the Mala Strana. The surrounding countryside of Prague is green and luscious with forest and open fields of rapeseed.
Food is Prague is delicious, a lot of soups, meat, potatoes and mushrooms fill the menu – mushroom hunting is a family pastime on Sundays. The dining scene in Prague is expanding and becoming more adventurous with infusions and scientifically put together menus using local ingredients.
I really enjoyed Prague and it was wonderful to have a guide for the days that we were there in order to really learn about life in the city. It’s relatively small and you can get about easily so just a few days is a perfect break.