October 10, 2017

PARIS OF THE EAST

Words Protima Tiwary

WE SET OUT TO EXPLORE THE MAGICAL CITY OF PRAGUE… FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE… ALL OVER AGAIN

We are standing at Praha Florenc, the local bus station at Prague, with our suitcases next to us and wallets clutched to our hearts. We know all about the notorious little child that Prague is, but nothing could prepare us for the time a completely ordinary man coming out of a money exchange shop duped us of 100 euros. One hour into Prague and we’ve learnt to deal with shock, loss and disappointment, and we laugh at our naivety as we drag our suitcases along the road, watching out for cars and trams. This is what Prague does to you; it introduces you to a slice of reality and makes you fall in love with the simple truth. Prague is the land where prices are cheap and markets are plentiful, you don’t need to have a plan to make those discoveries.

The Vltava runs through the city. © Image: shutterstock.com

The quirky alleyways and artisan-filled streets paint a beautiful picture of a storybook city that sits on the photogenic Vltava river. The bohemian city of Prague will always hold a special place in my heart. The skyline of Gothic spires and cobbled streets looked right out of a painting, and as my eyes darted over the horizon, trying to take in the hustle and bustle of this small town, I realised one trip was not enough to experience the charm that this city seemed to exude. I had mentally made a note to come back later in life, maybe once, maybe twice, to learn all the secrets those towers and churches were trying to share. With this reassuring thought in mind, I switched off my Google maps, forgot all about the must-do tourist lists, and set out on my own to discover Prague. I got lost a bunch of times in those tiny lanes around Old Town, and at the end of it all I knew one thing for certain: love, the most powerful emotion in the world, had helped build this town, and love was what held this town together till date.

Wooden booths offering souvenirs are a popular tourist stop. © Image: shutterstock.com

Those old alleys and lanes and secret passages spoke of tales between lovers; couples, hand in hand, sat by the river and watched the sun set, those who were heartbroken left messages on locks and letters by the bridge in the hope that they would be reunited soon. Seeing the theme of love all around the city, I realised how easy it was to fall in love all over again; in love with a city, with life, with food, and with love itself. This enigmatic city filled with churches, synagogues and museums is best explored on foot. So I set out to explore the town, complete with my most comfortable pair of shoes and food, milk and snacks to last all day. Starting on the urban Wenceslas Square that is filled with tourists, I weaved my way through the cobble stoned lanes to Old Town, and ultimately Charles Bridge.

START AT WENCESLAS SQUARE

The focal point of the New Town Quarter, Wenceslas is rich in history. This is where you will find the Jan Palach Square, a memorial to commemorate two college students who set themselves on fire in 1969 to protest the Soviet Union’s invasion of the Czech Republic. The statue of King Wenceslas is still a popular meeting point for locals.

The Prague castle is a sight to behold © Image: shutterstock.com

WALK ON CHARLES BRIDGE

This is the most iconic bridge in Prague. This pedestrian-only bridge over the river Vltava is a huge celebration of art, love and life. Once upon a time this bridge, with its gothic statues and towers used to be completely empty, but today is seen filled with tourists and vendors alike. Be prepared to be stopped with requests to click pictures. Switch on your tourist mode and have a blast while you’re at it.

WALK UP TO THE PRAGUE CASTLE

Cobble stoned streets take you around Old Town, all the way up to the Prague castle. Take your time in the castle grounds; do visit the churches, courtyards, and palaces; they offer quite an interesting journey into Prague’s history. Do spend some time at the St. Vitus cathedral, unique due to its ancient baroque structure.

Crowds throng the old town square; birds eye-view of traditional red roofs. © Image: Shutterstock.com

VISIT THE LENON WALL

While Lennon himself never visited Prague, a wall of his name draws hordes of tourists to Prague every year. This wall was seen as a sign of revolution back in the days, and since then has served as a means of expression to many tourists and locals alike.

VISIT THE FRED & GINGER BUILDING

A little ahead of Charles bridge towards the end of the road, you’ll find a lot of tourists clicking pictures of a building. Upon a closer look, you’ll know why. The Fred & Ginger building is an architectural marvel. In the medieval town of Prague with its Gothic architecture you come across this modern looking glass building which is fondly known as the Dancing House.

Take a carriage ride to old town © Image: shutterstock.com

FIND THE SIGMUND FREUD STATUE

A 7-foot long statue of Sigmund Freud can be seen dangling from one of the buildings in Old Town and is quite a spectacle. When this was made, people actually thought someone was trying to commit suicide and they reported this to the police! Tip – you need to search for it, literally. Look up towards the sky while you are trying to find it.

VISIT THE ASTRONOMICAL CLOCK

It’s a pity that it was under renovation when I visited, but it didn’t stop me from clicking pictures. When functional, this clock at the end of every hour has a small performance in store for the city of Prague. Two windows open up to reveal the 12 apostles greeting the city, and this performance ends with the bell ringing to signify the hour. Legend has it that the first cock-crow in the morning drives away the evil souls from Prague.

The Jewish Quarter (Josefov) is the best preserved historical Jewish historical complex in Europe © Image: shutterstock.com

TAKE A SNOOZE BY THE VLTAVA

Being on your feet all day can get tiring. Make like the locals and have a picnic and cat nap by the river Vltava. ‘Gorgeous’ is an understatement. I enjoyed a tequila flavoured beer, a bagel and an afternoon siesta by the river, and slept like a baby.

RETAIL THERAPY IS GOOD FOR THE SOUL

Stop by at the small antique stores, pick up a gingerbread or two, buy a book at one of the hidden libraries tucked into those tiny alleys, peep into the windows selling tarot cards and gypsy clothes, and simply take in the charm of the bohemian Old Town. Tip – Carry a bottle of water with you, the walk gets tiring. Also fill up the water bottles as soon as you see the public water taps. There are not too many of them, and you don’t want to be running out of water when you’re climbing up the slopes.

EAT A TRDELNÍK

This is a cone made out of sweet dough, coated with sugar and sprinkled with cinnamon, and filled with the icecream of your choice. Sold at 10 euros, this is a complete meal by itself, and a very messy one too. This is worthy of a travel bucket list though, and I highly recommend you add this jumbo cheat meal to your itineraries.

Trdelniks are ice cream filled cones of joy, here’s how they are made. © Image: shutterstock.com

VISIT THE JEWISH QUARTER

Stop by to know more about the Jews in Prague, and do keep the Jewish cemetery, Jewish museum and Old New Synagogue on your list. It was 10pm as I sat by the river with a glass of beer and a hot dog, and talked about nothing, and everything, with my date. We took in the sights and sounds that Prague had to offer; reflection of the city lights on the river surface, party boats with people in the mood for a drink, couples in love, airplanes passing by in the distance, a beautiful blue night sky, the silhouette of the Prague castle looming in the horizon, well-dressed men sharing a laugh over beer, beautiful women in flowy dresses making their way through the crowd, people walking their pets, families cycling together, locals with serious fitness goals ran on the cobblestoned river bank. We sat in silence, enjoying the sun set and soaking it all in. From being duped to enjoying one of the world’s most beautiful experiences, sometimes life takes you to unexpected places. Some fall for the picturesque beauty, some are enchanted by a vibe, some fall in love with the history, but one thing is for sure: these are all places where you end up feeling at home.

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