Following the success of the Reading University Making History society trip to Berlin last year, this Easter we took a whopping 33 of us to the Czech capital of Prague.
Arriving wearily into city, after a few hours of delays, our transfer pulled up at our hostel. After negotiating rooms the group split, some of us crawling into bed, the others off searching for some late-night, greasy goodness.
We woke up the following morning eager to see what Prague had to offer. Our route began by visiting Charles Bridge – number one on all tourist tick-lists. The Bridge was built to provide a route from the Old Town to Prague Castle, an important route as Prague was the seat of the King of Bohemia.
We all did our best to dodge the hoards of tourists whilst enjoying our first real view of the city. Along the Bridge are a series of elaborate statues, mostly in a Baroque style.
We then took a slight detour to see the John Lennon Wall. It is said that if you ask a local, they won’t know where it is as it used to be so hushed up. Under the Communist regime, the wall became a vehicle for disgruntled youths to express their grievances. The authorities would repeatedly whitewash their messages, accusing them of being agents of Western capitalism. The wall became associated to John Lennon and his ideals of peace and love, and since the fall of Communism the wall continues to express these ideals.
Making History on the Wall.
After feeling sufficiently peaced-out and loved-up we headed up the hill the Castle complex. You can get a ticket that gets you in to most of the buildings in the area. We first had a peek at St-Vitus Cathedral. It is the most dominant building on the Prague skyline and is a fantastic example of late-gothic architecture. Inside the stained-glass is phenomenal but looks a bit too good to be the original medieval glass. Although Prague is supposed to be known for its excellent glass making skills so who knows!
We then had a look in the remains of the Medieval Castle – there wasn’t much left. The best bit it the exquisite hall with the most amazing vaulting that I have ever seen, in the shape of flowers! The space was cavernous and was even used as a venue for jousting!
In the vaults is The Story of Prague Castle which is filled with artefacts, which as the name suggests, help explain the story of the Castle.
As we left the vaults the weather took a dramatic turn. We found ourselves in a minor blizzard, with roof tiles smashing to the floor, and so decided to call it a day. We headed as quickly as possible back down the hill in the hope of more shelter, quickly popping in to the Ice Bar en route back to our hostel. Here we donned thermal ponchos before being ushered into a bar, which as you would expect, was completely constructed out of ice. It was a surreal experience – drinking vodka and listening to club music at about 4 in the afternoon, whilst at -7C.
Our evening’s revelries took us on a bar crawl of the city. With the first hour including unlimited free absinthe, the evening quickly spiralled into debauchery. The night for some ended abruptly by experiencing the Czech hospital system after some very drunken, and extremely disorderly dancing on tables. For the most of us, we saw in the early hours of the morning in the super club Karlovy Lazne, becoming particularly fond of the ‘Kaleidoscope’ floor which played endless oldies and mesmerised you with its lit-up floor.
The following morning we understandably had a slower start to the day. We began with a sobering visit to the very unique Sex Machines Museum. The museum was full of early modern chastity belts and anti-masturbation devices, replica medieval machines to assist in all kinds of antics, screenings of the earliest porn films, and culminated in some quite scary modern BDSM equipment.
Thinking that we ought to spend the afternoon a little more culturally, the group split for us all to explore the Old Town Square area. Most of us quickly hurried in search of food, more specifically, Goulash – a Czech dish that many of us had become particularly partial to. It is basically a delicious beef stew served often with dumplings or some sort of potato. We were lucky to have a lot of sun while we were there, but it was also pretty windy and Goulash warmed us right up.
To fully appreciate the square, I’d recommend climbing the Gothic tower of the Old Town Hall. From here you get spectacular views of the square and the entire city. (It’s a steady ramp to get the top rather than endless spiralling steps, but there is also a lift if you are feeling lazy – like I was!)
This is the Church of Our Lady before Týn and it has the most wonderful, fairy-tale like spires. It took us a while to figure out how to get inside. The entrance opens onto a small courtyard surrounded by buildings so you have to get through one of these to find the entrance. The interior is beautiful and surprisingly intimate but we didn’t explore it fully as you had to pay and you could see the majority from inside the entrance.
Looking out towards Prague Castle.
At the bottom of the tower is one of Prague’s biggest sites – the Astronomical Clock. We timed it perfectly and joined the hoardes of tourists who gazed up to see the little figures pop out and jig about as the hour changed. The clock itself it beautiful but is probably more useful in telling you about the stars than the actual time. If interested there is an exhibition in at the University of Reading Special Collections called Voice of the Stars in the staircase hall until May 1st. (I helped out a little with it so excuse the shameless plug)
For the evening we decided to book tickets to a classical concert. I had had a few recommendations that you can see concerts in Prague for a fraction of the price that you’d pay in most capital cities. As we wanted to see an early concert we only had one option which was at the Lichenstein Palace. The building is impressive but isn’t anything special inside. If I were to visit Prague again, I would buy my tickets online so I could chose a concert on the venue as well as the music as there are plenty of shows in delightful, little churches or old baroque halls. We bought our tickets in person but here is their website. We saw a string quartet and they were fantastic, and their encore was the Pirates of the Caribbean theme which made me love them even more.
On our final day, after packing up and putting our bags in storage, we headed up towards the Petrin Tower. Whilst we were climbing up the hill, a deafening, crackling announcement echoed across the city. It continued for about five minutes before being replaced by a siren. It was horribly eerie. We couldn’t see anyone else and had no idea what was happening. In our hungover state, dramatic, panicky ideas spread amongst the group, that we were about to be showered with nuclear bombs or something equally ridiculous. One of us even text his mum and sister that he loved them..
After the siren ended and we had a quick google, we learnt it was the monthly air-raid siren drill and all felt very silly.
The Petrin Tower was inspired by the Eiffel Tower and similarly gives panoramic views of the city. But if you don’t fancy the climb up there (which feels a bit precarious in the wind) the views just from the walk up the hill are good enough.
Also up on the hill is the Strahov Monastery. Here we stopped for lunch where we could fully appreciate the views of the city. We then had a little explore in its beautiful libraries with a small exhibition of some historical manuscripts associated to the monastery. It was an unexpected find that I would recommend if you are in the area.
In Prague there is a drink called a Two Tone Beer and a few of us thought that this would be the best way to end our trip. We jumped on a tram and headed for the area it was supposed to be sold in. We poked our head round the door of the first bar we found and were in luck. They layer the syrupy dark beer on top of Pilsner lager, and it was delicious.
Our return journey was filled with more delays and a manic rush to get to the airport when our transfer didn’t pitch up. Although this tainted our final day, I don’t think it stopped any of us wishing we were back in Prague for more.
Prague was full of history, good food, and cheap beer and I cannot wait to get back there someday.