Monday, June 27, 2011

The Bobby Six Guide to Prague

In the first of a new series here at, Celeste Macdonald does her best to avoid the puking Brits as she takes us around Prague:

If, like this tourist-hating traveller, when you think of Prague, you think of drunk Englishmen on stag weekends in matching footballs shirts and hoards of Japanese shutterbugs blocking your path at every angle, well, you're partially right.

Upon first glance, the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square appear as an overcrowded tourist trap, filled with restaurants, tacky tourist shops and vacuous crowds staring at the Orloj Clock, an admittedly beautiful ancient astronomical timepiece. Push past the masses towards the Charles Bridge, passing an array of portrait artists and buskers and follow the steady flow of tourists up the hill to the Prague Castle, the world's largest ancient castle. Ideally, attempt this journey in the late afternoon, the crowds have dispersed slightly and you can appreciate the spectacular view as the sun sets.

While the main attractions of Prague are a must for visitors, those who are looking for an untouched paradise will be wholeheartedly disappointed. However, take the time to scratch below the city's touristy exterior and you will find a host of chic bars and pubs, leading examples of art nouveau architecture and modernist sculpture.

Take for example the Czech Republic's heralded sculptor, David Černý, whose controversial, provocative modern treasures are hidden throughout the city. You can easily spend a day absorbing Černý's sculptures, notably, his cherub-esque faceless babies can be seen climbing the Zizkov Tower, which serves as a stark reminder of Prague's Communist history.

A great way to spend the day is by taking a trip to the Kampa Modern Art Museum, where you will see a variety of modern sculptures against the picturesque setting of the Vltava River. It's also a chance to see Černý's famous faceless babies up close (below). Wind down with a picnic lunch in the park outside. Finish the afternoon with a stroll through the Jewish Quarter, an ancient area which plays hosts to cafes, bars, galleries and shops and is also the birthplace of Frank Kafka. The Jewish Museum and Old Cemetery are well worth a visit for an understanding of the rich Jewish history of the Czech Republic.

Daring to wander further than the town centre is a must if you want to discover the real Prague. Additionally, you will find that beer prices are usually less than half of those in and around the town centre. A must see venue for mingling with locals in an uber-cool setting is the Cross Club, a chic, arty bar with a welcoming, laid-back vibe. Such an atmosphere extends to many of the bars in Prague and is perhaps a result of the Czech Republic's decriminalisation of drug possession.

Nearby, in the suburb of Žižkov you will also find Bukowski's Bar, named in honour of Charles Bukowski, the famed American poet. The crowd is a mix of locals and expats alike.

One thing you will inevitably notice about Prague is that it only requires a short amount of time before you feel as though you have seen everything. All the main tourist attractions can easily be visited in one long weekend. This rule doesn't apply where the awesome Clown and Bard is concerned. This quirky little hostel with its own bar, just outside the town centre, draws backpackers in with the promise of cheap accommodation in a friendly atmosphere. Foolishly, most book a two-night stay and vanish into the cloud of smoke, emerging several days later, dazed and confused, with new friends and an impossible-to-avoid appreciation for foosball. To quote Joe, the bearded barman: "It's dangerous having a bar in your living room."

One important warning: as hard as you try to avoid the Old Town Square, you will inevitably find yourself inadvertently stumbling through one of its various entrances, the intense smell of grilling meat subconsciously dragging you in. Don't let it disillusion you, away from it there is an entirely authentic side of Prague waiting to be found.

You can access Prague by air with Easyjet or by bus with Eurolines

Words by Celeste Macdonald. Pictures by Celeste Macdonald and Rob Townsend.

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