Before leaving for any new trip I do an exercise to try to immerse myself in the atmosphere of the place to visit. What is this exercise? I sit down, take a sheet of paper and write down all the memories, be they historical, artistic or even simply sporting or topical, which the selected destination evokes for me.
For Prague the first was of a literary type: Kafka with “metamorphoses” and his allegory of the alienation of modern man within the family and society, which translates into the isolation of the “different” and the incommunicability with their own kind, Kundera with “the unbearable lightness of being” and the awareness that the choices a person makes in one’s life appear to be completely irrelevant when compared with life itself, and again Chatwin and his Prague Utz ceramic collector.
The second is linked to the Prague spring, to Ian Palak who is set on fire to protest against Soviet absolutism, to that peaceful revolt suffocated in blood by the regime in 68.
The third is a football memory, Sparta, Slavia and Dukla, respectively the team of workers, the bourgeoisie and the army that embody the different souls of Prague, the beehive quarters, the artistic beauties of the center and the mittle-culture European, communist influences still perceptible.
And then free-wheeling Dvorak with the symphony from the new world, Charles IV, the Habsburgs, Havel and the velvet revolution, Czechoslovakia, Nedved and Zeman.
Well. What is this exercise for? I need to create a kind of fil rouge that will lead me during the new journey. So walking through Prague, from its mysterious alleys, I would not be surprised to bump into a huge Kafkaesque beetle or find the same Utz rummaging in an antique store’s warehouse or even a horse emperor crossing the Vltava with the result of obtaining an absolutely subjective version and unique of the place to visit.
Prague is well described by millions of books and guides so I could not add anything new. I will limit myself to drawing up my personal ranking of things seen.
What to see in Prague?
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Karl IV Bridge
Whether you look at it from the shore, from above, from the river, from the hill, from the castle, this is the real heart of Prague. Guarded by the severe statues, a myriad of street artists, painters, portraitists, salesmen alternate with tourists and locals in a noisy bedlam. Particularly suggestive is a walk at sunset when the lights and shadows seem to give movement and life to the severe statues that have guarded the bridge for hundreds of years, unique witnesses of the past and the present.
Petrin viewing tower
This small Eiffel Tower from the late 1800s is easily accessible by a funicular from Ujezd to the Mala Strana side (just take the tram ticket). Once you have climbed its 299 steps (but there is also an elevator), you certainly have the most beautiful view of Prague, the Vltava, the San Vito castle, and Stare Mesto to embrace the ghostly barracks of the Soviet era in the distance. Nearby there is also a small labyrinth of mirrors, not unforgettable but fun.
Church of San Nicola
From the outside, it looks like one of dozens of anonymous churches. Once inside, however, one is surprised by the richness and refinement of the decorations rather than the baroque, I would say rococo for the general lightness they emanate.
White, gold, rose of marbles, a splendid dome and a sinuous balustrade just above the entrance. Contrasts of light. Fairy atmosphere.
If you could also attend a concert … would be the Top.
The trdelnik and the breweries
Omnipresent, the trdelnik unpronounceable are the typical sweets of Prague, conical in shape and cables are cooked on charcoal using the trdlo a kind of spit similar to a rolling pin. Inside you can put chocolate, nutella, ice cream and so on and so on. The experience is unmissable, hoping each time to survive (they are a heavy thread …)
Another “must do” is a dinner in a typical brewery (we tried U Fleku in Nove Mesto one of the most famous and large, but it will not be difficult to find a similar one, given the size) by sharing wooden planks with other diners to enjoy abundant goulash dishes, pork or the typical Prague ham.
The dancing houses
What are Ginger and Fred doing in Prague? They dance. This is the effect created by the houses of Frank Gehry who with his very personal style managed to set these two houses with their sinuous shapes among the classic buildings along the Vltava.
Do not miss the climb to the terrace where you can enjoy a beautiful view of the river and the Karl bridge.
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The castle and San Vito
Certainly you will end up and therefore I will not elaborate. San Vito is one of the most important Gothic cathedrals in Europe and can easily rival a Milan Cathedral or Notre Dame de Paris. Only a few sparse annotations: the sloping zoomorphic figures from the Gothic building, the sarcophagus tomb of St. John of Nepomuk with angels, the hall of Vladislaus in the royal palace with a very particular curved vaulted ceiling, the golden alley with the his multicolored houses.
The clock and the central square
The other mandatory stop in Prague. The astronomical clock is one of the symbols of Prague. The gear and the four depictions of death, vanity, avarice and lust are indeed fascinating, minus the apostles who pass every hour. The passage is too short, the figures too small, too many applauding people.
The buildings of the square are instead a melting pot of styles from the Gothic to the Romanesque one, to the Baroque one dominated by the two imposing gothic bell towers of the church of Santa Maria di Tyn.
The Jewish cemetery
It was one of the few memories of my first visit (around 12 years). I was absolutely impressed by the Jewish cemetery with its gloomy and disorderly stems and by the drawings of the children of the Terezin concentration camp so natural in their drama. Today as then, I relive the same feelings in front of such touching testimonies.
John Lennon’s wall
John Lennon has never visited Prague and never played there. So why a wall dedicated to the Beatles singer?
The answer is simple and fits into the actions of the 80s in opposition to the regime that forbade playing and listening to pop music. On this wall of Mala Strana, a mural appeared with the face of John Lennon and lyrics of Beatles songs, considered hymns of universal brotherhood. Despite the authorities’ efforts to cancel it, this was continually covered with new graffiti.
Today this wall is a symbol of peace, love and freedom.
To finish a trip out of town to recommend is that to the castle of Karl. Easily accessible by train from Prague station (45 minute journey with trains every 40 minutes), it offers a taste of Bohemia.
The castle and the landscape in which it is inserted are spectacular. The visit inside is less interesting (moreover, the guided tour is mandatory).