Prague: First Impressions and Afterthoughts

As with many new places, and having been told about Prague from several friends before arrival, I was prepared to fall in love with the city, and I was not disappointed. The exploration of the unfamiliar is both exciting and terrifying to me – much like falling in love, I suppose. The risk of being somewhere new, the potential for anything to happen, the headlong excitement of losing yourself (physically, metaphorically). Yes, new beginnings, they most certainly terrify me, and I will nonetheless continue to seek them out, because without the risk of the new you can never reach the comfort of the familiar.

We arrived on a Sunday afternoon, and found the public transport system pleasantly simple to use. A bus (number 100) directly from the airport took us to Metro B at Zličín, which in turn took us to Náměstí Republiky, just a couple of streets walk from the hotel we were staying. The ticket process is simple enough; several options based on how long you need to travel, and the tickets cover both bus and Metro. We only needed the one trip, which cost 32Kc for a 90 minute journey. You purchase the ticket and timestamp it yourself when you board the bus (there’s a little yellow machine right by the doors). If the journey begins on the Metro, there are similar machines near the ticket machines, before you go down to the platform.

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Right next to the Metro entrance, there was a little street food market going on, and so after checking in to the hotel and freshening up, we headed back there to load up on food before embarking on the evenings drinking. We both settled on the potato and sauce based food, which I can’t find a specific reference to, but mine was essentially some sort of delicious potato carbonara, and J’s was a dense tomato based sauce with liberal chunks of sausage. We completely overestimated the density of potato, and were far too full afterwards to try anything else. In retrospect, we should have shared one plate instead, and even that might well have filled us.

One point to make about the street food vendors is that the prices often seem to be listed by weight, which is worth bearing in mind when ordering anything heavy on something like meat or potato. We had no real frame of reference at the time, but what we paid from that stall was expensive compared to what we were paying for food throughout the rest of the trip. If I recall correctly, two plates plus a beer came to around the 400Kc mark (about £12 or so). Although, as I say, one plate would have easily sufficed. We didn’t have any real sit down meals, both preferring to nibble as we walked around, but generally we were paying around 60-80Kc (£2-3) each for a hefty looking sausage in a bun with sauce, or maybe 300Kc (less than a tenner) total in a cafe or bar for a variety of side plates and fries to share alongside one or two beers each.

In terms of cost in general, I had heard mixed things about Prague. Some people seemed to consider it an expensive trip, others a cheap city. I took 7000Kc (roughly £200) for four days, and I think that it could easily have been done on maybe half that. Given the money I spent on boots (because I found the perfect pair for half what I’d seen similar for in the UK), and the Instax film I bought (again, because it was half the price I’m paying in the UK), I only spent around £30 per day on food, drink, cigarettes, postcards/gifts, and travel, even with over-tipping slightly. And let me tell you, we were neither hungry nor sober the entire time.

One thing that I do enjoy when exploring new cities is just walking, without a rigid plan, and just allowing a natural process of discovery to occur. We didn’t use public transport (other than the airport journeys) at all throughout the visit, and according to J’s fitness tracker, we were covering 10-15 miles each day, which is great news on both the exploration front, and on the working off all that beer and sausage front. 

Old Town Square

First mention obviously goes to this area of Prague, which we didn’t realise we were situated so close to, and which we drifted into quite unintentionally. It was still daylight when we passed through, so we got a great first view of the Astronomical Clock. It was later in the evening when we returned, and the views of the buildings lit up were absolutely breathtaking. 10947205_1592722890969742_4589610170698803329_n

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Comix Gallery Bar

Situated in a little covered alley not far from the astronomical clock, this small cellar bar is tucked away down a narrow flight of stairs, and was one of the first little gems we found on Sunday evening. With walls covered in graffiti and music playing at the perfect volume – not so loud as to make conversation impossible, but not so quiet as to render it pointless – the chilled out atmosphere makes this a wonderful place to just kick back, have a few beers, and enjoy just existing. We ended up back there at least once a day for the duration of our visit, and it’s where we had our first taste of my favourite beer over there – Fenix – and of the deliciously lethal Tuzemský.

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Kafka Museum and David Černý Statue

Once again, we located the Kafka Museum by chance wandering. Trying to find the Charles Bridge, we instead walked across the bridge one across, and decided instead to explore that side and make our way back over the Charles. In the winding streets across the river, the Kafka Museum is located in a small courtyard, the centrepiece of which is the famous David Černý ‘peeing statues’ sculpture. We didn’t end up going into the museum at all; whilst we had planned to return later or on a different day, it didn’t end up happening, so that’s on the list for next visit, I think.

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Museum of Alchemy

I could wax lyrical about this place for pages. I got so much inspiration from this small museum, and I’d love to go around it again. There’s two sections; the entrance and Faust exhibition, with various alchemical pieces and information on display, and Kelley’s Tower, which is a locked area and guided by one of the staff. It’s like a treasure trove of visual intrigue, and I genuinely could have spent hours up there.

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Kellyxir

Situated in the same courtyard as the Museum of Alchemy, and part of the Kelley Tower, this small bar is beautifully decorated and wonderfully friendly. We paid a second visit later in the week for another drink, and it where we first tried the Slivovitz, on recommendation from a friend.

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analogue: Lomography Store

Situated just down the hill from the Museum of Alchemy, we found a Lomography store, the existence of which I was unaware. Inside, we were greeted by friendly staff and a dog in a neckerchief. Doubly wonderful was the discovery of Instax Mini film for a remarkably low price, so stocking up was done, and a quick tiny picture taken inside the shop. Once we’d got talking to the man there, he invited us to see an exhibition of tintypes in the back rooms, which was a wonderful surprise, and a fantastic little addition to the week.

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SocialPoint Cat Cafe

This one was a complete accident, and a gleeful discovery. 80Kc for the first hour, then 1kc per minute thereafter, gets you access to unlimited tea and coffee facilities, plus nibbles, wifi, Xbox gaming and of course, cats. You have to ring the bell (for obvious reasons really) but the staff are lovely and helpful, and the place is just fantastic for some relaxing cat-therapy.

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Globe Bookstore and Cafe

I was aware of this bookshop before I travelled, and it was one of the few places we did get the map out for. An English language store, it stocks an impressive selection in such a small space, and includes topics from local interest to fiction to politics, on two levels.

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Off the Beaten Track

Between the Globe visit and finding our way back to Old Town, there were places we popped into which I can’t recall the names of at all, but are certainly worth a mention. One was a tiny, smoky bar, with booths lining either side, and fruit machines at the end. I got the distinct impression that non-Czech customers weren’t very common, but we were made welcome and I really enjoyed the place. Again, even somewhere like that, the table service remains in place, and the lady on the bar – although speaking no English – made sure we had all the drinks we wanted, and we managed to get by with good humour and gestures. I’d like to make an attempt at learning at least a little Czech for my next visit over there, if only for encounters like that. There were a handful of little shops we found along the way too, which I doubt we’d have wandered into if we’d been sticking to a strict schedule.

Charles Bridge

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Absintherie

After passing it several times, we really had to. I wish I could remember what I had exactly, but I know that it was Czech absinthe, and tasty. As was the absinthe beer we had alongside it. We considered the ‘tasting tray’ option of four types, but after discussion with the very helpful bar lady, elected to go for just one each, all done properly. Which, it turned out, was a good plan for our ability to get anywhere afterwards 😉

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Medieval Tavern U Krale Brabantskeho

Located not far from the steps up to the castle area, a warm welcome was dispatched, and we loved the place instantly. A little pricier than some of the other places we drank in, but that’s to be expected in that area really. Certainly not the most expensive place we saw by a long shot, and they do a house beer which is dark and delicious.

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Tavern of Seven Swabians

This was another recommendation, which it turns out we had already passed by (and photographed the knight outside) previously. Fantastic little place with a lovely atmosphere and the sort of beautiful decor which seems typical of the city. I did have some food in here, although just nibbles, so I’d like to return to sample the menu properly.

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Luna Lounge Cocktail Bar

A special mention has to go to this place, where we wandered into feeling rather over-beered and in need of a cocktail. Behind the bar we found a lovely bloke from right around our neck of the woods in Yorkshire, studying politics in Prague, who made us several very strong cocktails, and was happy to chat for a while about living over there.

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Vodka Bar Propaganda

The very last stop on our very last day, and given the 20Kc price of a beer, somewhere I kind of wish we’d found earlier (although maybe my liver doesn’t feel quite the same way).

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No doubt I’ve missed lots of things, and will remember more later, but I think that I’ve covered the basics. There’s so much I could say about the inspiration I’ve brought back with me from the city, both in terms of personal creativity and things I want to research and discuss further, it’s been difficult to edit this down to an overview. I find myself hugely intrigued by the entire Faust legend, and interested in the meanings behind certain things we saw, the history of the political climate, and the art situation in Prague in general. I’m definitely going to be returning, hopefully in the near future, with a handful of things still to visit, and a handful more to go back to and spend more time with.

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