Prague, A city I wanted to love
After backpacking for the first time in Europe some years ago, I’ve met alot of travellers from Budapest coming and going to a few cities: Prague being one of them, and the other Split. Hearing their tales of gothic and medieval adventures, it had been on the list of places to visit. Vicki had pushed me to travel with a good friend, Manish, since we haven’t really travelled anywhere together. He had suggested that we visit Prague in between Munich.. Which I thought wasn’t too bad of an idea.
Our train ride from Munich was tiring. The first few hours were a bit slow but, we had shared a coach with a few friendly Americans who made the ride more pleasant and bearable. I couldn’t help but think that this car is mainly full of tourists from Oktoberfest hopping around from city to city though Ive quickly dismissed it since we were doing exactly the same. Getting out of the train station, we didn’t really have that much difficulties finding our way towards our hostel since the flow of tourists just headed towards the same general direction. Hotels and hostels were in the same areas that you can’t really miss it (unless, of course, your hostel is inside an arcade with a sign as big as an 8×10 piece of paper!)
After settling in, we wandered around to get our bearings and get to know the city. Coming out of the hostel, it was easy to get lost in the river of people heading towards the same direction – there was nowhere to go but follow the flow of traffic. A cluster of carts selling trdlnik, smoked pork, chip stands and a fast-food shop can be found every 100m or so. The stream is disrupted when reach the Powder gate, where the flow veers into the main artery heading towards the Old Town Square. From here, the scenery changes from food cart stands to storefronts selling every single souvenir you could ever imagine. Continuing that street, past the Old Town Square and the Astronomical Clock, it then changes to rows and rows and rows of restaurants (with trdlnik and souvenir shops in between). You won’t really be able to find solace following this tourist route because it continues on to the Charles Bridge all the way to Prague Castle. The bridge is jam packed with buskers, bubble guys, panhandlers, sketchers and souvenir sellers oh and of course, tourists by the bus loads. The path??? is usually disrupted by a group gathered in front of each rubbing and then moving on to yes, rub again. Nose, boob, foot, whatever. Each baroque bronze statue always have a shiny spot to them since people just rub really random parts of it – not sure if their guidebook says so, but they just know. There’s always shiny bronze part in each statue.
The first couple hours of sensory overload were ok but it gets old really quickly. I couldn’t deal with the fact that everything is just for tourists. What happened to the real Prague? How is it possible that the entire District 1 (of 5) just caters only to tourists? I get that the main attractions are within this area but allowing the souvenir shops, black-light shows, really random so-called “museums”, etc cheapen the scene is crazy.
The tipping point for me though (aside from all the other things) was at the St. Vitus Cathedral, where I thought would be slightly peaceful and quiet, was just as loud as it was outside. Tourists taking heaps of photos with their extended selfie sticks, or these geared-up “photographers” with their popup flash going off inside the cathedral while each tour leader / guide are talking over each other. The guides should know better by educating everyone inside, outside. The workers or the city should be enforcing all the things prohibited inside instead of funneling everyone in an orderly fashion to let them run amok right after.
Guidebooks and blogs only mention of certain places being busy but disregard the fact that this idyllic part of the city (I can only speak about District 1) has been tainted by really tacky things. Similarly to Niagara falls but on a larger scale. As grand as the sights, they’re dwarfed by all the lights, cheap junk and crappy restaurants. I was told that the other districts were totally different and I don’t doubt that. So if I were to give someone tips about Prague here they are:
- Keep expectations low
- It is not cheap
- Best views are above someone’s head.
- Early morning or really late is the best time to see and appreciate the city.
Maybe it’s just me. I wanted to love it but I couldn’t get past the tackiness.