I was reading Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being some years ago, and decided that I must visit Prague one day.
The characters and their circumstances, their decisions and way of thinking certainly came from a distant point of view, quite different from my own. Besides, the book put me on a certain mood of being, like awakening one’s muse and putting meaning to things, no matter how insignificant.
Experiencing Prague made me understand why that book has that specific charm, and why those characters acted the way they did. Prague somehow explained it all – amidst the crowd of tourists buzzing to see more and more of the city’s glory.
Finding the quiet
I got to know Prague by the quiet spaces and corners, by the roads with less crowd, by areas where one can hear the charm of the city
Contrary to the many tourists going after as many popular spots as possible, I got to know Prague by the quiet spaces and corners, by the roads with less crowd, by areas where one can hear the charm of the city. The reason was, by the time we reached the Old Town Square, I knew right away that we needed to get away. The crowd was crazily going in every direction, in every corner possible, that it was difficult to fully appreciate the wonder of the place.
Don’t get me wrong, I knew that Prague is one of the most visited places in Europe, I just didn’t expect that it would be that MANY. It reminded me of the Beijing Great Wall during October national holidays where everywhere you go, you have to share your space with someone else.
So drop the touristy places (which is somewhat difficult to do, given that the whole place is picturesque in itself), we decided to go where our feet and mood took us, away from the maddening crowd. Away from the tourist buzz.
The hill with the view
Elegant buildings – yes! Prague old cars – aha! Astronomical clock- check. Pretty coffee shops – got it. Thai massage place with a lady giving her widest smile – ah, yeah?! (Why is that even there?) Hordes? – yah. Souvenir shops, small shops, whatever kind of shops – lots! That’s the Old Town Square and its vicinity for you.
After aimless walking at the Old Town Square, we had reached Vltava, Czech Republic’s largest river, and crossed it to climb Letna Hill, where I read, has a pretty beer garden overlooking the river.
Here, the view of Prague, with its hundred spires and Gothic buildings, Baroque churches, trees, bridges, and water puts one in a historical bubble
It was sunny and summer at 21 degrees celsius, there was a cool breeze from the Vltava and the surrounding trees the higher we made our way. A sort of calm sank in. Around a dozen tourists were there, taking photos, taking in the beauty of the Prague skyline, and to some, just standing there, captured by the magic that is Prague.
A while after, we got us a table right in the middle of the Letna Beer Garden, overlooking the Vltava and its many bridges, overlooking buildings and trees and tourists boats loaded with excited travelers. Here, the view of Prague, with its hundred spires and Gothic buildings, Baroque churches, trees, bridges, and water puts one in a historical bubble. The serenity and calm provided by this wonderful sight made me believe that history must be treasured and appreciated. I feel like it is not enough to see popular spots, the essential lies in how the city speaks to the traveler.
I feel like it is not enough to see popular spots, the essential lies in how the city speaks to the traveler
Pivo and Basilico
From Letna Beer Garden, we wandered through some parks and reached the garden of the Prague Castle, in which we took a break for several minutes, before we continued our journey wandering through the backstreets of Mala Strana. This pretty backstreeet is housed with abundant shops, pubs and restaurants are settled in the midst of fine and well-preserved Baroque buildings.
Then, by sheer luck, we settled in Pivo and Basilico, an Italian bar and restaurant located in one of the corners of Mala Strana. Here we tasted some local snacks, drinks and food and spent an abundant time just enjoying its ambiance. After a while, some guests started coming and the big screen television was switched on. Football. World Cup third placer match between England and Belgium. The mood is fun and friendly, although some were disappointed that their team lost. Sorry, England.
“Are you sure you don’t want anything else?” the waiter asked when I paid the bill. He had been giving us great suggestions on food and drinks to try, and we tried whatever he suggested. I have to say, it was a wonderful adventure tasting the different small eats and drinks available in Prague, er, in Pivo and Basilico, I meant.
Charles Bridge and beyond
the abundant statues, sculptures plus the towering buildings, speak of the city’s power and grandiose
I understand why many would love to walk through Charles Bridge over and over again (the hordes are there all day through). Entering the bridge, no matter which side one was from, will most probably remind one of the prosperous cities of the past and how they are depicted in movies. It definitely reminded me of scenes from the Game of Thrones (big fan here), when one enters Westeros and the abundant statues, sculptures plus the towering buildings, speak of the city’s power and grandiose. I felt like I was time-warped, entering a different space in time, and felt the magic, the mystery, the tragedy and the power of what is today one of Europe’s most beloved and visited city.
I felt like I was time-warped, entering a different space in time, and felt the magic, the mystery, the tragedy and the power of what is today one of Europe’s most beloved and visited city.
Beyond the city center, Prague houses hundreds of places to eat and shop. While many visit Prague for historical or artistic finds, it is also important to note, that Prague is a modern city housing hundreds of international brands and companies.
Prague teaches me that beauty is not enough. It’s the history and the story that matters
Our travel in Prague wasn’t what we expected but I guess we got more. Instead of busily going from one tourist spot to another, we decided to go to places at our own pace, and enjoyed the city as much. The light and calmness it fills the heart traveling this way is precious and valuable.
I also learned that it is essential to find a good travel buddy. I found one, luckily. And this one is not only for short trips, but also in the long haul of traveling through life. With the right one, traveling becomes an adventure not only in experiencing a new city, but also in getting to know each other more in a different environment and crowd.
Lastly, Prague teaches me that beauty is not enough. It’s the history and the story that matters. There are so many beautiful places in the world. Yet, Prague stands out because of its story and history, and the overwhelming strength it showed throughout its many changes.
Text and photos by Cathy Perez
July 24, 2018