We’re on a quest. We’re strolling around Prague’s Old Town (Staré Mesto), mouths agape at the Gothic arches, and we can’t seem to leave.
We walk as far as the glorious medieval Charles Bridge, with the castle lit up behind it. We slip down a cobbled path studded with handmade-jewellery stalls and we’re back at the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square, which tells us the current zodiac sign.
Czech kings were a superstitious bunch, and I begin to think that there really is a mystical force pulling us towards the synagogues, spires and bars.
The clock tells us firstly, that we are in Gemini and secondly, that it’s dinner time, so we can break free.
Explore Prague’s old town
Getting lost is a pleasure in Prague. We venture away from the Old Town and stumble upon local pubs, with barely a tourist in sight, though most menus are in English.
Czech pubs can be bustling, many-roomed catacombs full of families eating Bohemian-style roasted pheasant, duck, boar and, for vegetarians, dumplings.
And it wouldn’t be Czech without a helping of purple sauerkraut (zeli) on the side and a mug of beer at hand.
We respond to the bill with: “It only cost that much?” (thanks, non-Eurozone), even if at a fancy restaurant.
Marvel at the ancient buildings
We see all of the sights in Prague on foot, and ditch any itinerary, which is fine because ancient churches and galleries tower above us at every turn.
The country gave in to the Nazis with barely a fight, sparing the ancient buildings. Some are in beautiful decay; others are oversized gingerbread houses in pastel colours on the Disney side of fairytale.
We find hidden cafés that are cooler and cheaper than anywhere in western Europe.
That’s the mystery of Prague – cafés elsewhere with ample empty tables and avant-garde stuffed animals would go bust in a month, but in the Czech capital it works.
Ride the funicular up Petran Hill
We hop on an old red-and-white tram just for fun – public transport is government subsidised and very cheap.
The tram feels communist in its rumbling determination towards Petrin Hill.
We ride the funicular up the slope with the same tram ticket and can’t stop uttering “wow” – Prague looks like a toy-town kingdom.
We dash through the free rose gardens to get to our goal, Petrin Tower.
It’s an Eiffel Tower lookalike, though cuter and much cheaper.
Czechs visited the Paris World Expo in 1889 and were inspired to build their own mini-Eiffel, and the city is bewitching from the observation deck.
Sample Czech Republic food
We pass food stalls and hand over our change for boar on a spit. We smell cinnamon – it’s staroceske trdlo, a corkscrew pastry baked in front of us.
Then a bell tolls and a mystical power summons us back to the Old Town.
It could be emanating from the surreal Kafka statue … or perhaps that delicious, cheap beer.
What you need to know about Prague
When to go Eerie and magical under snow; storybook in summer.
Getting there Czech Airlines and EasyJet
Getting around A timed transport ticket is cheap and covers everything, but can’t be bought on trams, so carry an unvalidated one.
Visas South Africans need a Schengen visa.
Currency Czech Crown. 1 GBP = 28 czk.
Going out A pint of beer costs 20 czk (about 70p).
Accommodation Dorms cost from £13, while private rooms cost from £75.