Love at first sight
The “Golden City” is conquering my heart by storm, because on my very first stay it shows itself in its most beautiful light and its most charming side. When I arrive on an October weekend, the sun is shining, it is pleasantly warm, good-humored tourists from all over the world are bustling everywhere, and everything seems to be pimped with a warm color filter. So the city lies at my feet and I fall into a conglomerate of people, foreign languages, merchandise and amusement options – it seems like this city would never sleep. Why should it?
For breakfast, I recommend La Bohème Café (Sázavská 32), a mix of cozy hipster café and opulent opera scenery. The wall decoration reminds a little of an enchanted flowering grove and the red velvety sofa invites you to linger … and to help yourself. The coffees and pastries taste delicious and are clearly worth a sin or later extra hours in the sports club. Just around the corner I discover a nice little decoration and accessory shop, Living Art (Vinohradská 36), which apart from interior decor objects also offers cool jewelry and small glittering evening bags. Go inside and have a look! Those who are looking for a wider selection of breakfasts in a cool Art Deco setting must visit Cerna Madona (www.cernamadona.com), which is located in the same building as the Grand Café Orient. The first-class service, the wide range of diverse food, the cake display and the extraordinary interior design are for sure convincing. Conveniently, it is also located in the historic center and you can start your expedition from there.
You have to see the Charles Bridge, of course, but you should choose the right time (rather early in the morning when the majority of tourists are still asleep). Spiked with souvenir stalls, portraiture painters and live bands, the 14th-century monumental bridge resembles a traditional tourist attraction, albeit, if you stand on it and observe the dark and somewhat scary statues while you look at the Vltava River, you feel very small and a feeling of nostalgia and awe creeps in on you. The nearby Prague Castle, glistening in the sunshine over the city, promises a fabulous view and a touch of royal magic. But first of all, I decide to have lunch in the garden of a quaint inn (Restaurant Gotika), which is located directly under the bridge on the banks of the Vltava River, where I can enjoy the view of the river and the bridge. Here they serve typical Czech home cooking and of course beer. Because everyone drinks beer here – except me ;-).
Climbing up to the castle via a long staircase I pass a lot that makes Instagramers’ hearts beat faster. So, I need to bash my way through various groups and influencers who are busy taking pictures, to sooner or later reach my destination. The high plateau offers classic tourist goodies, including a photo with a likely scrappy knight, but if you move on, away from the crowd queuing for the castle tour, it becomes very quiet and almost lonely. You can pass other mansions such as the Schwarzenberg Palace and find small bars and shops more authentic than what they want to sell to you in the center as being “original”. I discover From Prague With Love, a shop that offers handmade, stylish Prague souvenirs that are far away from traditional souvenir kitsch. There are also small nice hotels and the view over the city is unique. The wild wine, which decorates the antique facades with various fall colors, provides a special atmosphere and you can just sit in front of one of the beautiful church portals, without being pushed away by various other curious watchers.
The John Lennon Wall is nowadays one of the Instagram highlights of Prague. The colorful graffiti wall does not derive its name from the fact that perhaps John Lennon or even the Beatles were here, but because since the 1980s it has been decorated with John Lennon-inspired graffiti and song lyrics of the Beatles. Today, it is visited by people from all over the world, because everyone wants to take a selfie in front of the colorful background that stands for love and peace. Or maybe just for a lot of Instagram likes. It’s definitely worth a try.
In terms of design shops, Prague has a lot to offer, but you have to know where to find it. I took a quick look at The Chemistry Design Store (U Luzického Semináre 11 – just below the Charles Bridge) and discovered some things that I liked spontaneously. This mix of art gallery and shop shows offbeat, colorful things that bring variety into a purist living environment. For those who are more interested in design and art, please visit HardDe Core (www.harddecore.cz), Delivee Design Store (www.deelive.cz) or Fox Gallery (Karlova 2). I also recommend Debut Gallery (www.debutgallery.cz), where you can find everything from jewelry to clothing, eyewear, shoes and decorative items that are not necessarily mainstream.
The Dancing House is touted as an architectural must-see, so I go and see it. It was designed by the Czech architect Vlado Milunic in cooperation with the Canadian architect Frank Gehry and is considered one of the best buildings in the Czech Republic. If you ask me, it reminds me of a Pixar animated character in pause mode and does not really fit in with the fantastic classic architecture of the city. In fact, Prague has its historic buildings, monuments, bridges and cemeteries that are well-preserved, giving the city an elegant, majestic touch without looking old-fashioned. On the contrary, modernity comes in the form of new shop concepts with interesting merchandise and chic cafes and bars, so that everything mutates into a perfect whole and the feeling of the former Eastern bloc actually never arises.
The Jewish Quarter and the ancient cemetery symbolize history and exude awe; their morbid charm immediately captivates you. The Synagogue with its impressive wall captions puts visitors to silence and one moves in slow motion through these rooms, which serve as witnesses and monuments. Words are superfluous and thoughts circle in the head. One wants to undo things not caused by yourself and wonders why there have always been more things dividing than connecting peoples. I tell myself once again how important it is that all of us are worth the same – no matter what culture, race or gender we descend from. Anything that gets destroyed for the wrong reasons leaves a hole that can never be filled. I feel pity about the potential that has been lost.
The classic shopping streets can also be found in Prague – Narodni trida and Na prikope. As it is now common in almost all major cities, one should not expect individual, nice, small boutiques, but chains such as H & M, Mango and Zara, because they are the ones who can afford the high rents. Nevertheless, you should look in one or the other store, such as Benetton, because the gilded staircase, which is more reminiscent of a palace staircase, is definitely worth a visit or at least a photo.
Culinary, Prague offers everything your heart desires: from the classic Bohemian, which is rather heavy, to Asian, Italian, American or even Austrian cuisine. I can recommend the Italian restaurant Pizzaria Giovanni (www.giovanni-praha.cz), because they offer so much more than just fabulous pizza. Everything is convincing: the quality, the ambience and the price. I especially enjoyed the Spaghetti with Seafood. For meat and barbecue lovers, there is a great place called Bad Jeff’s Barbecue (www.badjeffs.cz) – unique steaks, ribs and Co. Service is top and the meet melts in your mouth. Czech Republic: 12 points! Be sure to book ahead though!
In the evening, Prague becomes a party town and the mood is clearly contagious. Since there is a true absinthe hype in Prague – at least you get the feeling that you see the drink at every corner – you have to check out the Absintherie (www.absintherie.cz), where absinthe drinking is truly celebrated. You feel a bit like Hemingway, Van Gogh or Baudelaire, who poured the green brew down their throats for inspiration and actually believed that it had a destructive effect. The truth is that absinthe is not poisonous, even if it looks that way, nor bad, unless you drink it in huge quantities. In fact, I’ve googled the effect of absinthe to make sure it would not harm me in any way. So, I consumed a strange creation of various ingredients and swallowed the unappetizing-looking drink in a gulp. I have to say: there are better options to fight grief or sorrows – it does not have to be something that is green. But the place is still really cool. Then I walk to the GastroBar 1402 (Michalska 20), where everything is green too, but the drinks taste better. This evening there is a live concert by David Bryan (and band), a native Englishman who started for Bulgaria at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2011. The rousing music and the songs clearly catch the audience, all sing along to classic earwigs and later even dance on the counter, chairs and tables. At a late hour everybody hugs each other and ends the day in a happy mood. The atmosphere is contagious and one would like to stay here forever. My conclusion: Prague is worth not just one but several trips. I’ll be back.