Prague, Czech Republic
Thursday, July 28, 2016
This city of a thousand spires took my breath away as we wandered through its cobbled lanes and found ourselves in the elegant Old Town Square where I am transported back in time – the mid tenth-century to be exact. The enormous square is flanked by tall buildings as colourful as the buskers and entertainers in each corner, their facades trimmed with gothic architecture, frescos and snarling gargoyles perched high above the arches. There is an astronomical clock which was installed in the 14th century that still works today, we are almost crushed by the anticipating crowd as we await the countdown. On the hour, the bells toll and 12 apostles form a conga line and pirouette by to cheers and applause. Amazing that it is still fully functional given it was made hundreds of years ago. But it is the towers that stop me in my tracks, soaring high above the square, I half expect to see witches and winged monkeys gazing down from its windows.
It is summer, all of Europe is on holiday, and they all seem to be here.
Our hotel is fully booked and we are greeted one morning in the hotel lobby by a congregation of German folk dancers and an Oompah band dressed in lederhosen and dirndls. They march out enthusiastically singing and cheering, by the time we reach Old Town the entire square is covered by folk dancers from all over Europe, curiously there is even a group that looks like they’re from Indonesia? Perhaps Dutch-Indonesians I assume. The air is festive and colourful as poles festooned with ribbons wave about declaring the country of each group. Spontaneous bursts of singing and dancing erupt in each corner – it’s like the battle of the band’s type thing, but with very polite and well-dressed people.
We decide to make a break for it and head out to Charles Bridge while the crowds are gathered around the square. The cobbled lanes while insanely charming are complete murder on the wheels of the pram, it is only a month old but the wheels are already starting to fray. We cross under the giant arches of the tower and onto the loveliest bridge I have ever seen. It is decorated with 30 statues most of them in baroque-style, originally erected in the 1700s but while most of them are now replaced by replicas, it doesn’t detract. Even though the bridge is packed with wall to wall tourists, the impact of crossing over into the Lesser Quarter with Prague Castle looming in the background is nothing short of spectacular.
Our American friends Kent and Eric fly in from London to join us as we explore this most romantic of cities, as Kent rightly says – it is absurdly beautiful. After a month on the road with the kids, it is a welcome respite to have an adult conversation again, even Sofia is thrilled with new people to hang with. Having company made the hike up to the castle much easier with more hands to help carry prams and bags. A huge workout especially for Peter who is carrying Joaquin in the backpack and additional camera lenses. We are Sherpas carting around the kids and the paraphernalia that accompanies young children.
The view from the top of the castle is superlative as we take in the views of the tiled terracotta rooftops, the multiple spires reaching up to the skyline, ancient towers – their roofs darkened with age looming over the city and the ribbon of bridges spanning the Vltava river. I want to drink in the sight of this city, sit here at these castle walls, warmed by the afternoon sun but it is impossible with the wave of tourists lapping at my ankles along with the cries of impatient children.
On our second day, we wake to grey skies and wet weather but we are grateful for the cool change after the blistering heat of Spain. We take to take in a river cruise and see the city from a different angle, taking in the colourful buildings and watch swans swimming alongside the shore. But alas, more selfie taking is happening up front the boat – and we roll our eyes at the antics of two women in the mid-forties prance around the boat like girls half their age as they toss and fluff up their hair, pout and squeeze their cleavage together.
After four days filled with history, museums, and castles we decide to give the kids a break and we find a park close to Frank Gehry’s famous dancing building overlooking the river. There are people paddle boating while others get busy demolishing ice creams on this swelteringly hot day as children clambered all over the well-equipped park. Thank goodness for parks, that and the proliferation of Asian restaurants all around the city – Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese and Indian. While Barcelona like Italy is more monocultural in terms of their cuisine, Prague has so much variety. So we give thanks every night as we slurp our noodle soups and empty bowls of rice into grateful stomachs.
One observation of Prague that I have to mention is the customer service. While I can’t fault their professionalism we do notice that they are not the warmest of people, but despite this Prague, is still the most enchanting city we’ve seen yet.