For generations, people from all over the wold have flocked to Charles Bridge in Prague, often for a romantic moment with their partner, or perhaps a portrait by one of the local artists. And even in the largest crowds, you can take a quiet moment to reflect on the history and beauty of this great city.
Or you could just be obsessed with getting your own mug in the picture.
The Selfie Stick has become the latest “must have” gadget for any tourist wanting to generally make an arse of themselves and simultaneously annoy everyone within clicking distance. Apart from negating the art of communicating with a friendly passer by to take the snap for you, it’s completely ignoring the reason you went travelling in the first place. To see the sights.
Without a doubt, some of the best views can be seen from the Castle walls. The best thing about this is the view is free. Many of the local church towers and tall buildings will charge, but wherever you choose to do it, be prepared to jostle with the rest of the crowd. The approach to the Castle itself is steeped in history, and indeed, many steps. But thanks to the location of my hotel – behind the Castle – I’m able to walk downhill to get this far. This place has got so much international protection, there’s no chance of anything being knocked down or developed, though that doesn’t stop the greedy head of corporate business showing itself.
In fairness to Starbucks, everyone around this part of town will charge you top whack for a cup of coffee, and compared with many European capitals, you don’t feel ripped off. Back on the Charles Bridge, the humdrum of fleecing the tourists is broken by a harsh sounding announcement on loudspeakers resonating across both banks of the river, followed by a minute of continuous sirens at precisely midday. It’s clearly some kind of drill, though what for is a mystery. Either way, nobody panics.
Prague has dozens of museums to cater for almost every type of history, but none does it quite so well as the Museum of Communism. Ironically, it’s located in one of the classiest shopping areas of the New Town, and if you find yourself with a last minute change of heart,,you can always take the right hand stairwell.
The exhibits are presented in an appropriately dusty, battered state – yet the interior of the building retains a real sense of faded grandeur. The story itself ends with the independence revolution of 1989, though visitors are left to judge for themselves as to whether things really are better now.
On the street near the museum, an angry man is exercising his freedom of speech, with a Segway rider who’s just whizzed past him. His gestures and voice leave everyone else stopping for a good look. But I think he has a point. These silent little scooters have become part and parcel of most major cities these days, with those riding them often having no more than a couple of minutes of instructions. They’re then seemingly allowed to weave through crowds, across roads and through parks with minimal supervision. And in a place like Prague, it’s a wonder how nobody has yet collided with a tram.
Wires cross streets everywhere, and the tram always has the right of way. A rush hour ride is a great way of seeing how the system works in practice – basically, the tram drivers just ring their bell moments before threatening to drive straight into the back of your vehicles. They’re by far the best way of getting around – along with the Metro. Thin beard – plain clothes inspectors regularly patrol to ensure that people have time stamped their ticket. Failure to do so means a hefty fine.
The rain is still with us, accompanied by occasional sleet showers, so it’s a good opportunity to explore some of the local shopping malls. Many are teasingly hidden inside ornate buildings, creating a network of corridors and great design. Along with a horse hanging upside down. As you do.