Our journey (Spring 2011) started as a school trip, intending to learn about the business culture, norms and workings of corporations of post-communist Eastern Europe. Coming from a city which has always idealistically called itself socialist, Prague haunted me in more than one way. It came across as a teenager uncomfortable with his new body but not quite able to catch up to the rest of the world. Preservation, old town culture, history—symbols of Western Europe magnificence were marred hand in hand with communist style match box apartments. The offices were shanties. The work culture tired, work environment dismal. People—grim, sighing and for the most part unhappy. Not speaking Czech had its drawbacks and I learned soon enough not to smile and greet people. But then there were those moments, you wanted to absorb and assimilate in your brain forever, the time, the place, the smells and if I may, the tastes.
We lived in Centrum, walking distance from everywhere nice and touristy and between 2 metro stops. Also being in the Centrum meant you kind of had to walk everywhere. The National Museum stood as the welcoming levee from where started the series of shops from grocery stores and American megabrands to your everyday fast food. Almost like platform # 9¾, the storefronts hid the winding narrow cobblestone alleys that led to Old Town.
The square stood standing like it has for hundreds of years, only sprouting coffee shops and barbeque joints hosting to the thick of tourists visiting every hour. Sticker shocked by the ‘local’ coffee shops, we fled into the closest Starbucks which consequently had the longest ever lines. We walked further onto the Charles Bridge, strolled around the snaky backstreets, some of which were thick with tourist traps and souvenir stores while some entirely desolate. The statues on Charles Bridge were very interesting and I wished I knew the stories they depicted.
A beautiful panoramic view of the city could be seen at the Prague castle or the Hrad. While I didn’t go inside the grounds were beautiful with strolling peacocks amidst other non-royals like pigeons and ducks. My friends who did go inside said it was beautiful.
On quite the other side, I visited the Museum of Communism which was ironically enough located right atop a McDonald’s. While they probably could have done better, I think the Berlin wall simulation, the video of the Velvet Revolution and the communist era archival was interesting and worth the 8 dollars.
The Jewish Ghetto was a beautiful and impressive walk, especially if you have a knowledgeable guide. I am so thankful to ours. Kafka and Mozart’s houses, Giovanni’s premiere site, the libraries, the squares the stories will be in my memory for some time to come.
If you do go to Prague, try the black light theatre and the marionette theatre both of which I read lots of good reviews of, but did not get a chance to visit. Enjoy some goulash and a pig’s knee/ knuckle if you get a chance, buy a sausage sandwich from the street vendors. If literature interests you, the museum of Kafka is right near Charles Bridge. If music is your thing, look out for the jazz clubs and cruises as well as classical performances. If history, culture and old world mystery interest you and you want something less expensive than Western Europe, Prague just might be your next destination.
More pictures on my Flickr album