21 November 2009

A long weekend in Prague

I first went to Prague to work in 1991 and spent most of the next two years there and made a few more trips in the following year. Since then the opportunities to go back have been more limited but have all been taken. I've been back for an IBM conference, a proper holiday and to break the journey home from Kiev.

The latest opportunity came thanks to some friends who now live there who offered a good reason for going, somewhere to stay and the prospect of some stimulating company. I just had to go.

I had a reasonably busy schedule for the three days that I was there but there was still plenty of time to do what I like doing the most, exploring the city on foot.

The journey started with a steep climb through the gardens of Vitkov Hill up to the National Monument where Jan Zizka sits motionless on his horse looking over the centre of Prague ready to spring to its defence.

A museum opened in the monument the week that I was there and I had a look at it but all the writing was in Czech so I did not have much clue as to what it was about. Some of the pictures look good though and there were also great views to enjoy.

It seems a little churlish to complain about a museum but I think I preferred Vitvok when there was no real reason to go there so I usually had the place to myself.

From Vitvok I walked roughly due south to the familiar Vysehrad before heading west to the Vlatava and an enchanting walk north back to the city centre past art nouveau splendour.

The Lavka bar, restaurant and club sits in one of the very best spots in Prague, on a spur of land that juts out into the river just south of Charles Bridge.

The garden at the back offers stunning views across Charles Bridge towards the Castle and this is where I usually ended the evening (or, more accurately, started the day) when I was living in Prague.

Sadly the garden was off limits this time due to the restoration work being done to Charles Bridge but the seating outside at the front was a fair alternative and I sat there for a while with a well deserved Gambrinus.

Next door is the Smetana Museum and a statue of the composer sits patiently outside providing yet another attraction for the many tourists who come here to capture the view. I did my Good Samaritan bit and took a photo of an American tourist with the bridge and castle behind her.

As I returned to by beer I tried to guess how many photos were taken there each day but this Fermi problem was beyond me.

Having sat and looked at the castle from a distance it was only natural to go there and take a closer look.

I could have walked up the hill but why bother when a tram can take you there in style?

Bizarrely, for one of Prague's main attractions, the castle has never interested me that much and I have never really explored it - ever.

The district around the castle and the views from the hill are another matter and it was for these reasons that I go there.

I love all sorts of roofscapes. I have particularly fond memories of Venice, Casablanca, Dubrovnik and Li Jiang, and Mala Strana (Lesser Town) deserves to be in this list too. I like the way that the different layouts and styles of the buildings produces interesting shapes that are emphasised by the white walls.

At the end of the day I just had enough time to go almost to the eastern edge of Prague, to Karanska in Malesice, where I and a colleague lived in a company flat.

This was two family flats, one above the other, converted in to one flat. It was enormous and there were some rooms that we never used.

The area is mostly high density housing, as pictured here, but the buildings were in good condition and there was lots of open space and vegetation to make the area attractive rather than oppressive. It's certainly far better than the equivalent housing in the UK.

Also much better is the public transport. Despite being right on the edge of town, getting around is easy as very regular buses (around one a minute at peak times) take you to the metro station about 2km away where the ridiculously fast and smooth trains take you to the heart of Prague in a matter of minutes.

Even more bizarrely than before, this minor road in Prague is on Google Street View whereas the road I live in now in London is not.

Every time that I go to Prague I leave determined to go back again one day. This time was no different.

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