Billed as the land of stories, the capital of the Czech Republic surely features in a variety of tales, and now it stars in a few of mine.
Prague is pretty, delightfully so and it certainly is a tourist hotspot. At times, I felt a tad bit like a salmon swimming upstream. Old Town is steeped in history, the buildings magnificent – of course, set in Europe.
I snuck in for the 2017 FIBA European Women Basketball Championships; my days were filled with exploring the delights of Old Town and surrounds, and my evenings filled with cheering for Les Bleus in the early stages of the tournament.
Home for the duration was a wonderful, comfortable, friendly spot; Parkhotel was a fab tram ride away from all the main touristy action but a short stroll to the arena. In my hood, attractions included the Planetarium, the home of ice hockey team HC Sparta Praha, the Výstaviště exhibition grounds, Křižíkova amphitheatre which boasts a dancing water fountain and the giant glass pyramid of the Goja Music Hall.
My first morning I got wondrously lost. Discovering, that my map reading skills had a slight flaw when weary from all the travel. In my aimless wanderings, I stumbled upon the 2017 ICF Canoe Slalom World Cup, on display a multitude of talents surfing rapids alongside the Vltava River. Having only ever seen this on the box during the Olympics, I watched with sheer admiration as these paddlers challenged the torrent of water, zigzaggedly navigating their way around a hanging course.
I strolled beyond the impressive Troja Castle, snuggly set away from the road. Passing the massive expanse of the Prague Zoo, all the way to a dead-end: a dock entitled Podhoří. Deciding that perhaps now was either a good time to turn around, or ask for directions, as there wasn’t anyone to question I did a U-turn and made my way back to the Zoo entrance. Here, I hopped on the first public bus, not knowing which direction it was going but sure I would get somewhere more central, and I wasn’t wrong.
Apart from basketball, I had one reservation on my itinerary that I was eager not to miss at a craft brewery, Výtopna. I discovered this place through social media and was keen to try it due to its quirkiness. Set on the top floor in a massive upmarket shopping centre called the Palladium, I went and had lunch there, not once but twice. The menu offered traditional, hearty, affordable, simple food with a small but interesting choice of beers on-tap.
What sets Výtopna apart is the fact that my ‘waiters’ Erik, Marcel and Nela dropping off my liquid refreshments, were in actual fact gorgeous model trains. The ‘waitrons’ travel over 10kms of tracks every day, having served, astonishingly, over 6 million patrons in the three Výtopna restaurants in the Czech Republic since 2009. The Palladium Výtopna has over 400m of tracks cleverly laid around booths, where the trains can chug into your section, allow you to grab your drinks and then expertly reverse out.
As with most first world cities, getting around Prague to see the sights, everything imaginable is on offer. If you fancied a horse-drawn carriage; running tours; guided electric bikes; the Hop On – Hop Off bus; river cruises, or even handsome vintage cars, you could comfortably get around. Chatting to Durban’s Chef, Andrew Draper on his return from Prague, he mentioned a fabulous outing around deserted buildings and communist areas on a Segway. He said the abandoned, ruined stadium, especially stood out for him!
Prague, mostly, is flat so I opted for trams to get central and then ND 10 toes to get around. The trams were easy to navigate, sprouting off in all directions.
Years ago, after a trip to Paris, I posted a pic of a bridge in Paris, Annie – a Finnish mate of mine commented that she liked my shot of Charles Bridge. Admittedly this was the first time I had ever heard of Charles Bridge. Since then I have seen numerous gorgeous shots: a famous capture has mist swirling around, or a haunting sunrise shot. In these dreamy, inviting images there is hardly a soul around. In real life, in summer – this was far from the case.
Connecting Old Town and the Lesser Quarter, the pedestrian crossing known as Charles Bridge is gorgeously ancient. Lined with traders peddling souvenirs, the 500m of historic bridge is a throng of weaving people. An alley of 30 guardian angels look down on you as you stroll across the Vltava River, these mostly baroque statues are all replicas with the priceless originals being housed in the National Museum.
Climbing up to the largest ancient castle in the world, Prague Castle sits proudly overlooking the Lesser Quarter and beyond, I discovered a gem of a tourist trap hidden down a short passage. Tucked away, a cave-like shop stocked with beautiful handmade delicate wooden wares. Christmas shopping for the family was easily done, including collecting some gorgeous wooden postcards.
Something that fascinates me in Europe is how each country cleverly introduces modern architecture around century old structures. In Prague, The Dancing House is a statement of how the city is embracing and entwining old and new. This quirky, shiny building rose out of a vacant riverfront plot a couple of decades ago, it rejoices in its surroundings.
A ritual in each new location is to spend quiet time in religious spaces. Before I flew north, Gloria Hoff from the KZNSA Gallery urged me to visit the Jewish Quarter, saying how vibrant, and historic the area was. I strolled around admiring the compact area, housing six synagogues and a 15th century cemetery. Admittedly, everything was closed at the time I visited and peering through the iron gates of the cemetery, it looked sadly run down! Headstones crumbling or knocked over and long over grown grass added to the sorry state.
Hanging out in the square around Town Hall, I admired the Astronomical Clock. A mate of mine, Vishal Ramphal posted an image of the third oldest medieval clock in all its glory. When I was there majority of it was under wraps getting a well-deserved make over. Gratefully, the intricate clock face was on show, while the rest of the building was gently being restored.
I stopped in at the exquisite St Nicholas Church trailing along with fellow passionate French supporter Melanie Gallais. The frescoes donning the high domed ceilings were of Michelangelo quality, the halo of subtle lights equal to those from the Blue Mosque and I loved the door knocker type handles on the massive, bold red doors. I sampled a chimney cake or a Trdelníks, a Czech cinnamon-flavoured pastry watching excited tourists jump into buggies with bored looking horses ready to take them on a sightseeing loop. The home-made ice cream was dreamy, the sugar-coated doughnut cone, not so much!
A poignant moment in the heatwave that Prague was experiencing, a chef from a popular pavement café stood with his hosepipe with a refreshing mist being sprayed on passing tourists.
The whole city is incredible, Prague has a lot to offer. There is a lot to do off the tourist track. Little hidden treasures like the Hanging Man – remember to look up, or the modern-day, public art splattered around the city, listening to funky buskers at the foot of Charles Bridge. Or dining out in one of the best spots around, sitting on a public bench overlooking the Vltava, enjoying Turkish take out, watching yoga while concert goers dressed up in ballgowns head into the Rudolfinum Concert Hall as the sun sets on yet another magnificent day in the Czech Republic.
PS – Wear comfortable shoes – nobody told me this and I learnt it the hard way!

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