We arrived in Prague early on Tuesday morning and walked to our hotel, the Grand Hotel Europa. Stepping into the hotel was like being in a time warp - the elegant art nouveau facade led to a lobby where all the fixtures and fittings seemed to be the same as a hundred years ago (scenes from Tom Cruise's Mission Impossible were filmed in the hotel). The hotel was also conveniently located ...... next to all the hookers, drug dealers, lapdancing clubs, and general lowlife of Prague.
An independent Czech and Slovak state was realised after WWI, the Czechoslovak Republic. The post-WWII years were those of Communist repression. In 1989, following Gorbachev's perestroika and the fall of the Berlin Wall, a series of demonstrations and strikes (the Velvet Revolution) led to the resignation of the Communist government. A few years later in 1993, the country split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
After dumping our bags, Manuel took us out for an all-day orientation walk. We visited the Old Town Square, dominated by the two Gothic steeples of Tyn Church, built in 1365. The ornate astronomical clock was built in 1410 and on the hour, springs into life with assorted apostles and a bell-ringing skeleton. Not worth waiting for according to Manuel, so we didn't. No visit to Prague is complete without crossing Charles Bridge (building started in 1357), decorated by a continuous alley of 30 statues. Prague Castle is the biggest castle complex in the world, more resembling a small town. We only had a short time to walk round, but the highlight was the magnificent Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral, superb architecture and freaky gargoyles adorned the exterior.
In the evening, for some reason, we decided to visit that cultural icon found in every tourist city in the world, the Irish Bar, in this case, Rocky O'Reilly's. I did approve of the waitresses uniform though - miniskirt and white top with a couple of green handprints on the boobs. A wander around the surrounding streets for another bar led us to the Beer Factory, and what a find it was! There are four draught lager pumps on each table, with glass cleaning water jets, and an electronic volume counter on the top with a running total in litres and table number. On some of the big screens, there are leaderboards of total volume so you can have a drinking contest with other tables! We eventually got to the top of the leaderboard which was a bloody good effort considering we only had five on our table whereas some tables had up to 10 people round their pumps.
Well oiled, we left the Beer Factory at 2am and were accosted by multitudes of seedy African touts for various establishments of ill-repute, which of course, we all refused to go in. In desperation, one of the touts offered us each a free banana to go into his establishment, I think he needs a bit more work on his selling technique. By making enquiries with certain of the dubious characters, I found out the name of the club where the midget lapdancer performed, but she only worked Friday's and Saturday's! How disappointing! Why couldn't they get some more midgets to perform, they could do rotas, more jobs for midgets I say!
We had a free day on Wednesday so whilst Manuel nursed a massive hangover from the previous night's drinking extravaganza and made an excuse that he had some paperwork to catch up on, I donned my Tour Leader's hat and led a group of us on a day trip to the nearby town of Kutna Hora, one of the most historically important Czech towns with beautiful buildings from many eras. The centre of town is UNESCO World Heritage-listed as are St. Barbara's Cathedral and the Cathedral of the Assumption in Sedlec. All well and good, and maybe worth visiting another day, but what we had come to see was the Sedlec Ossuary, a small chapel which had been decorated with the bones of ~40,000 people, hence, it's more popular name, the Bone Church. In the 13th century, the cemetery was sprinkled with holy earth, leading to many people wanting to be buried there when they passed away. As parts of the cemetery were abolished, the bones were piled in the chapel, with the present appearance comprising belltowers of bones, chandeliers and coats of arms originating from 1870. All very strange and creepy! The chandelier is stated to contain all the bones from an entire human skeleton.
Obviously feeling guilty for his non-show yesterday, on Thursday Manuel took us to visit the ancient clifftop fortress Vysehrad, perched above the Vltava River and offering superb views of the river and surrounding areas. The fortress is dominated by the Saints Peter and Paul Church. The adjacent Slavin Cemetery contains many beautifully artistic graves of locals, including the grave of composer Dvorak. After an evening meal at a local Thai Noodle Bar (I had an excellent Thai Green Chicken curry), it was soon time to don our backpacks and head to the train station for our overnight train to Slovakia and the High Tatras Mountains.
I loved Prague, and even though we had nearly three days there, I barely scratched the surface of things I wanted to see. There are many beautiful buildings, a massive tourist infrastructure, and multitudes of museums and concerts (I regretted passing up the opportunity of attending a classical concert, and an exhibition of award-winning wildlife photography which I knew I would have loved was closed on the day I visited). The nightlife was great too, with entertainment that caters to all tastes. I'll definitely be coming back at some point.
The beautiful city of Prague in the Czech Republic. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed centre boasts a fairytale castle along with a profusion of golden spires, Gothic churches, and historic buildings contrasting with modern architecture from the post-Cold War era. There are hundreds of museums, concert halls, galleries and movie theatres, along with the usual glut of tourist shops, cafes, restaurants, bars and clubs. And then there is the midget lapdancer. Was it just a rumour passed down from tourist to tourist or was it the Holy Grail of the weird and unusual, the Abominable Snowman of Prague's lapdancing scene? It would be my mission in the two and a bit days we had in Prague to find out.