SatNav lady and I are not on the best of terms. She still talks to me, but the trust is gone, too many road works, too many twisty nausea-inducing mountain trails. Secretly I’ve been trying to usurp her authority at any opportunity. To say she took us off the beaten track this morning is just too cliched, yet somehow, against all hope and expectation it’s worked out quite well.
The winding forest roads and sleepy hamlets have given way to rolling Bohemian wheat fields and beautiful vistas, so much so that we have got a wonderful insight into rural Czech life. At the end of the day isn’t this what travel is supposed to be about? So, by default my rebelliousness combined with Mrs Satnav’s condescending tones have given us a lovely morning drive to Prague. Normality resumes when the young travellers view the golden arches of McDonalds at Pisek (the driver would have loved an Espresso it must be said) but it was on the other side of the dual carriage way and by then we had crossed a bridge and the moment was gone. Phew!
Approaching Prague from the South you are almost on top of the city before you realise it. One of the first things you see is the Žižkov Television Tower which dominates the skyline. Monday Mid-day traffic is relatively benign compared to some cities and we find our apartment building easy enough. It is in the district of Smíchov in Prague 5. It is on the west bank of the Vltava river close to the fashionable shopping district of Andel. Our host Monika is on time and shows us to a sleek modern apartment on the second floor. The building is quite old with a beautiful spiral staircase – we take the lift. The apartment is spotless and previous emails from Monika were very helpful with lots of travel and eating out tips.
Parking can be tricky in Prague if you arrive by car, but we used a Mr-Parkit website which has lots of sites around town and we paid €31 for two days. Our car park is quite a bit from the apartment – nearer ones had all sold out. We drive over to the parking lot which is near Újezd. Once we negotiated crossing the tram lines and getting through the narrow entrance alley we are in a back yard and find our allotted space is taken up. A handwritten note on another car advises their spot was also occupied when they arrived. We phone the company and they quickly re-assign us another spot.
As soon as we turn the corner the young-uns spot a candy store which we dare not pass. Not what I had planned as our first stop on a walking tour of this beautiful city. A few minutes later we emerge from the cornucopia of food colourings and sugar with a small bag each of everything form giant cola bottles to Chernobyl green gobstoppers.
Mala Strana has changed considerably since I first visited Prague 20 years ago. The city was much quieter then and a bit shabbier. Now these streets can rival Paris or Milan for chic. Our plans are thrown awry a few minutes later when we discover the funicular up to the Petřín Gardens and Tower is closed. With limbs still aching from the Tour de Lipno Lake last Saturday we decided to walk instead through the more horizontal streets of Malá Strana. We had a late lunch al fresco at a restaurant at the corner of Karmelitska and Tržiště. The fare was simple, a Caesar Salad, Margherita Pizza, two grilled chicken breasts with fries, three cokes and a small glass of chardonnay – €86 – which frankly speaking was taking the proverbial. A quick look at TripAdvisor (always after the event I find) confirmed I’m not the only sucker who fell for this place.
Undeterred we continued up the hill to Prague Castle which as always delivers panoramic views of the city below. One delightful place I had never been to before was the House of Wallenstein. I’m always intrigued by the famous general who was assassinated by Irish and Scots Wild Geese serving the Austrian emperor. The baroque palace is complimented by formal gardens with imposing statues, koi filled ponds and of course a few peacocks. The best part is its all free (except for access to those buildings that house the Czech Senate). I couldn’t but think of the builder of this beautiful palace, the man whose life was ended by one Walter Deveraux from Wexford. How different the geography of Europe and how more united the German states might have been had the Generalissimo, who favoured a more ecumenical empire, had lived.
I’m already well over the rip off restaurant. We get the No. 20 tram back to Andel and stroll around the shops before settling back in for the night at our lovely apartment (ice cream and pastries in hand). I haven’t thought of SatNav Lady all day until now, perhaps this break will both do us good.
Fellow travellers’ initial observations on Prague – compact, easy to walk around city, amazing architecture, beautiful views, great tram system, good shopping (and we haven’t even crossed the Vltava yet)