Monday 4 December 2017

A few days in Prague

I seem to have travelled to places beginning with ‘P’ this year. Porto and Pisa and last year other parts of Portugal and everyone knows my heavy love affair with Paris … but when wanting a little bit of a break that was cheap and cheerful before Christmas, me and a girlfriend this time chose Prague.
We bagged ourselves a couple of flights with Easyjet and after a laid-back start sipping Bacardi and Cokes (why, oh! why do I only drink these either on holiday or in departures? So refreshing and I gave up on the gin when they only had Gordon’s) at the Aspire Lounge at Manchester Airport, Terminal One. We were soon up, up and away, touching down only an hour and a half later. Maybe the hurricane that was looming sped up the process but it was safe, quick and bump free, just as I like it.

I checked us into Hotel Kavalir, not because it was glamorous or particularly aesthetically pleasing. It was, though, like a jar of Ronseal … it does exactly as it says on the tin; clean, cheap and adequate, with fantastic links into the city centre and also included breakfast (hot and cold choices). My advice would be to request a back room as the trams, albeit being convenient, do run all night and go past the front of the hotel at very regular intervals, which certainly can interfere with a good night’s sleep! Oh! and one thing I cannot stress enough, take an extra pillow!

Considering this was mid to late October, we were blessed on our first few days with unseasonably warm weather. Picture postcard, cloudless skies gave us enviable views across the river and the Charles Bridge. The higher we darted and drifted towards the castle and the changing of the guard (very much recommended) more spectacular sights took our breaths away. My Instagram never looked so pretty!

The architecture of this city is beyond outstanding, it’s like a fairyland everywhere you look. Quirky, Germanic Bavarian-style houses painted in various pastel colours intermixed with contrasting shades of flowers which adorn each and every window. It’s the only city I know that can marry the style of ornate glistening gold buildings with Eastern bloc style structures, coexisting happily despite the utilitarian and uninspiring look of the latter’s façades. And talking of architecture, don’t forget to wander past the Dancing House …. known as Fred and Ginger… designed by the Croatian Czech architect, Valdo Milunic, as you contort your head into various angles, wondering how this thing stays standing.

Prague is a walkable city, although it can be a little hard on the hips and thighs walking up the hills and there are many cobbles but as an alternative, the tram and buses are incredibly good value and run 24 hours a day. If a tour is more your thing, check out the array of old-school Ford’s and Mercedes for sightseeing trips around the city. The latter looking rather like the imposing vehicle Reinhard Heydrich was assassinated in when he ruled Prague with a vice-like grip during the Nazi Occupation.

We spent our days just wandering around this picturesque city (the old town is simply a must) the scenery, looking at that famous big clock and dining on many local specialities such as roasted duck with dumplings and lashings of mash and red cabbage. This made all the more tasty when washed down with an ice-cold pilsner, sat in the sunshine. It’s the only place I know where beer is cheaper than water! Have a small detour down the side streets for more hipster joints with cheaper prices, the burgers here are pretty cool. Also highly recommended is the beautiful Jewish quarter that is awash with pristine cafes and expensive designer labels and has an elegance more akin to Paris than what one would initially expect of Prague. I could have happily maxed a credit card (if I had one) around here and whiled away a very long lunch with the ladies that I’m sure do in this part of the city. Prague also has an array of green and outdoor spaces where you can simply sit and admire the view and people watch (the 90’s are big here) and best doing this with a local delicacy ‘Trdelnik’, a spun pastry that is surprisingly light, caramelised and dusted with sugar and I had mine stuffed with Nutella. Very, very lush!

We scoured the usual shopping joints we are familiar with back home to see if there were any cheap alternatives and some European chains we no longer see in the UK but the vintage scene was surprisingly disappointing compared to other Eastern European destinations. Budapest being my absolute favourite and I’ll write a separate post about that in the next few weeks. Most seem to be more retro than anything else …Levi’s, flannel shirts and the like. And the one I did want to
see, as I’d heard such good things about, Bohemian Retro, was closed on the day I wanted to visit and the hours it was open seemed very erratic. If anyone has any recommendations for second-hand stores, please send me your links. I do, unashamedly, admit that I was a big kid in Hamley’s toy store (the largest in central Europe, no less) riding the carousel and sliding down the giant slide with the same glee as a giddy toddler. As Carrie Bradshaw famously said ‘Shopping is my cardio.’ Well, I’ll say ‘Amen’ to that! … albeit with a drink at the end and in several different cities, naturally.

For night life in Prague I was expecting rowdy stag do’s and drunken teenager’s but we found it to be very alternative and cultured. We got our glad rags on, me in sequin trousers and an acid jazz blazer and my friend in her traditional, sophisticated black palette where we dined on refined fare at one of Prague’s most famous café’s, ‘Slavia’. Here, we sipped on bone dry Czech Riesling, whilst listening to the professional pianist and with views across to the National Theatre. We then made our way a few blocks down to ‘Jazz Republic’, situated in an old school bunker, listening to a fabulous band whilst sipping the freshest and tastiest frozen Mojito’s known to mankind. Prague has a great jazz scene but I thoroughly recommend this place not only for the amazing atmosphere and that you so easily make friends with your neighbours but it’s also free entry and to book a table. Another successful day had come to end and there is nothing quite like seeing Prague at night, either … the old town just looks even more magical in artificial light.

On our second to last day, we once again crossed the famous bridge, heading towards the ‘John Lennon’ wall where daubings of graffiti and neon slogans litter this giant wall where a pilgrimage of young Czech’s would pay homage and write messages about the man who was killed, incredibly, thirty-seven years ago. It really is a peaceful place even when there is a mass of people there. Nearby, the Museum Kampa had a fabulous Manolo Blahnik exhibition on which we happily got ‘Caried’ away with … see what I did there?! Manolo’s father was Czech and this beautiful exhibition showcased some of his most famous designs, all exquisitely handmade with the utmost care and precision. Included in the exhibition were the gowns and fur-trimmed shoes of his designs for the Sophia Coppola film, Marie Antoinette, which I can
thoroughly recommend to all. For our last supper, we dined at an elegant Italian restaurant, which was a very traditional affair with dark wood, traditional, red and white checked tablecloths and very attentive waiters.

A fitting end to a very enjoyable trip.

We flew to Prague with Easyjet. Prices start from £29.99. Hotel Kavalir single rooms start from £30 and include breakfast. Tram return journeys cost an average of 40p (yes, you heard that right!) and a beer will set you back around £2.00. A meal with wine for two will cost around £30. 

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