I’d heard great things about the Prague spring time. After I left Croatia in March, I migrated to the Czech Republic, formerly known as the Kingdom of Bohemia, and once also the jewel of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
In March, it was bitingly cold. I found an AirBNB a little bit on the outskirts of the city. Just to leave this (rather disappointing) apartment, I’d generally have to wear multiple layers with a jacket on top. Once I was dressed like Kenny from South Park, I could begin exploring the beautiful city.
It was a short hike from my apartment through the Baroque streets to find Charles Bridge. This magnificent bridge was built by King Charles IV in 1357, which replaced an even older bridge that was destroyed by a flood. It is guarded by over 30 statues of bishops, soldiers and saints. The bridge and the accompanying tower are absolutely amazing representations of gothic architecture.
The bridge is the gateway into the ancient part of town just past the Vltava river. In early March, it was still the tail end of winter, and this is an interesting time when there are fewer tourists, and you get to experience the much more quiet presence of countless amazing, gothic buildings. The architecture could easily be the domains of vampires and other creatures that go “bump” in the night. If you’re like me – obsessed with dark imagery and a bit of the macabre, you’ll feel right at home.
As Prague begins to thaw out, what you get is a bustling Disneyworld for grown-ups. Castles, clubs, parties, tons of tourists (plus way too many British guys having their stag parties) magnificent forests, and more than one beautiful princess.
My second place of residence was in the area of Prague 2, where I moved in April as the city began to warm up. The baroque style in this part of town is a pastiche of Victorian, Renaissance and just plain artistic “bohemian” imaginings. Most apartments are pastel colors like blue, green and tangerine. Randomly placed are great gargoyles and impressive Michelangelo inspired carvings.
And ever on the horizon are great gothic “skyscrapers” in the form of the city’s cathedrals and the Prague castle area itself.
The best adjective that I can use to describe Prague is epic. I was very impressed by the Westminster Abbey area of London, but Prague is even more magnificent. And, you’d be happy to know, it is significantly cheaper than other major European cities. Undoubtedly this is what brings many of the city’s endless thralls of tourists. Living in Prague did not hurt my bank account, at all. I would regularly buy 3 course meals at nearby bistros for US. $5.00.
And just as beautiful as the city itself is the nature around it. The parks are lush and green, to put it mildly. I swear there were shades of green here I’d never seen before.
Prague is ultimately a party city. This can be a good thing, or a bad thing. In some ways, the breathtaking historic essence of the city is disrupted by rowdy bachelor parties and guys in red coats trying to convince you to visit their overpriced strip club (I love strip clubs as much as the next guy, but I hate the clubs designed to exploit gullible foreigners in droves. Why waste my life savings for a naked girl to sit on my lap?)
Another drawback to the city is the coldness of the city’s waitstaff and employees. I am told this is less indicative of Czech people as it is indicative of a city that deals with so many tourists that employees are ultimately underpaid, overworked, and the businesses themselves only see you as yet another of the thousands pouring through their doors every week. In other words, expect to deal with impersonal, rude people.
The cuisine of Prague is not bad. It’s far better than Croatia. However, don’t expect many green things or vegetables; it’s mostly lots of goulash and white pasta dumplings. And beer. Lots of beer. You can drink on the street in most places, too. Prague is a very laid back city without the stuck up laws and regulations that dominate your life in the United States.
However, you could also argue that the cuisine is a bit immature (perhaps as immature as the roving bands of drunken ruffians). I was told once by a local how “Czech people can get very stuck in their ways, and Czech guys especially hate vegetables”. Sounds like a generalization to me, but it seems kind of true–I had to go to the supermarket and boil broccoli frequently just to get my recommended dosages of folic acid and other vitamins. If people persist entirely on a diet of meat, dumplings, and beer–I imagine diagnoses of gout must be frequent. Aside from missing any type of healthy ingredients, you won’t find subtle favors in Czech cuisine, either. When you get tired of different variations of beef stew, you’ll probably find yourself spending more time at ethnic restaurants versus local ones.
Some of these complaints aside, Prague is a beautiful place, to put it mildly. The invisible “vibe” of the city is one that’s very fun, positive and artistic. There’s plenty of artists, backpackers, and travelers throughout the ancient streets. Not to mention street musicians, jesters, and every other variety of, well, bohemian.
My final verdict is that if there’s one European city to visit, I’d make it Prague. However, the mobs of tourists during the high season may not be your cup of tea. If you don’t mind the bitter cold, you may even find fall or early Spring (March) is a good chance to experience the city without feeling like just another annoying tourist.
Now it’s time to move onward. As of writing this, I’ve already left Prague behind and returned to Zagreb; a very different city in the days before summer hits. From here, I’ll be traveling deeper into the Balkans, resettling into the historically tragic city of Sarajevo. Until then…