So, this summer I went abroad for the first time. When people find out I have never departed our little island, they are always surprised and with me being 21, I was starting to surprise myself.
Don’t get me wrong, I think our country is beautiful and there are many places I have visited and still plan to go. From Wales, down to Cornwall and right up to Scotland and many points in between, it is not like I have not travelled, or not seen plenty of sights – it is no lie that Britain is full of places to explore and I am thankful that I have seen many of these. I actually flew up to Scotland twice, so I had been on a plane, but I had never actually left the UK.
So I got my passport and my boyfriend and booked us a holiday. I am so glad Prague became my first destination. It was an easy choice. With so much history and beautiful architecture, I couldn’t think of anywhere better.
Once we landed, I immediately felt comfortable, nothing seemed out of the ordinary and I took it all in my stride. Well, actually I lie a little there. As soon as we left the airport, our taxi driver took us to his car and that was when I remembered that it was left hand drive and we would be driving on the other side of the road. So at 2am after a long night of travelling, I was now wide awake and enjoying a ride through the city with a driver blasting out Coldplay in a car that was just all wrong, I loved it – and so the holiday began.
Being a student, I was on a budget. I stressed out about booking the hotel way too much. It was cheap and looked so lovely, which to me, was too good to be true. I scrolled through pages of TripAdvisor and Google reviews and couldn’t find anything remotely bad about the place. I think the worst review I saw was coming from someone who complained about the tea at breakfast. There were plenty of photos online that made it look stunning, but with my interest in photography I knew that a good photographer can easily make something appear different in an image, whether it be, lighter, bigger or at an angle that can deceive. I was not reassured until I actually got there and saw it for myself.
Thankfully, I was not let down. The hotel (Pure White Hotel, Prague) which had its reception and bar underground, was beautiful. The modern interior was a change from Prague’s traditional streets, but one that works well. We were upgraded to a room with a balcony on arrival which was a lovely touch and once up the spiral staircase, we immediately made ourselves at home.
The “city of one hundred spires” certainly lives up to its name, with pointy towers dotted about all over town. The pastel coloured buildings are warming and the intricate detailing and care that has gone into creating each of these makes them even more beautiful.
Walking along the cobbled narrow streets there is so much to take in. Once you get to Old Town, you can almost feel that tug taking you back in time. To me, it was all quite overwhelming with endless amounts to see and do, I didn’t know where to start. As I began to notice the grand churches and cathedrals brimming with stories and the castle standing proud on the hill, it was everything I expected it to be.
One morning we decided to get up early and walk along Charles Bridge before the herds of tourists woke up and got in the way of all the nice photos I wanted to take – I am serious here. Although the weather was a little murky, I was not disappointed. Statues dotted along the bridge show you just how old it really is and the police presence really confirms its status.
I am pretty sure that I chose the most complicated currency to exchange my money with. Although Prague is now part of Europe, most places haven’t yet converted to the Euro and are still using Czech Koruna. At the moment, 1 Pound English Sterling converts to roughly 31 Czech Korunas and so paying for a meal means you have to be pretty good at maths to work out how much you are actually forking out for (or quick at checking on your currency converter app).
Public transport is another thing to get your head around, but once you know what you are doing, it is pretty simple. With taxi drivers known to not be trustworthy with prices and me being a complete tourist novice, I didn’t want to take my chances and looked towards the trams. However, just jumping on a tram and buying a ticket is not how it is done in the Czech Republic. This is what we discovered after we had hopped on and found the driver completely blocked off from the carriage and nowhere in sight to get a ticket from. With the majority of the other passengers being locals, I knew that asking for assistance would require much sign language and confused looks, so Dan (my boyfriend) and I sat there and looked like lemons for the entire free trip. Fortunately, after quite a tense and guilty ride into town, Google saved the day and we manged to get a tram home after buying a ticket at the Metro station beforehand and then validating it on a machine once we had got on.
As for the alcohol, you’ll be pleased to know we discovered that a pint of beer averages at 40Kc which is about £1.28 and cider is the same. Cocktails also were only about £4, so as you can imagine, we took advantage of this.
If you are a vegetarian then Czech cuisine certainly is not for you. They do love their meat, with most menus consisting of various dishes involving beef and pork. Guláš (Goulash), which involves beef, dumplings and a flavoursome gravy sometimes served with bread, is a common find or Rajská is also quite popular. I was more interested in the strange sweet snacks that I kept noticing being sold in a bakery (Good Food Bakery, Prague) and also nearby stalls around Old Town. It turned out that this new food trend is a combination of ice cream and a doughnut and is rather tasty. The “Chimneys”, as they are named, come either as tunnel shaped doughnuts with your choice of chocolate around the inside or ice cream cone shaped doughnuts filled with dessert favourites such as ice cream or strawberries and cream. Genius!
Top places to check out:
Letná Park, which offers you great views of the city (after a bit of a climb up there first) and a few good beer gardens, lets you relax in a quiet area of town whilst watching the bustle of Prague down below.
Cafés cafés cafés, there is no end of niche spots, especially in the Malá Strana area. Take a book, order a homemade lemonade and you’ll be sorted for the whole afternoon. (I saw signs for a cat café somewhere?!)
The narrowest street in Prague, is so narrow that it needs a traffic light. This is probably only something you would visit if you were nearby as there is not much to see, but it is fun all the same.
The John Lennon Wall, I was not expecting this to be so big, or so interesting. We had our picture taken in front of it by a student and got a free copy which was an unexpected bonus.
The Kafka statues that can be found around town are innovative modernised designs created to celebrate the life of Franz Kafka and are worth trying to find and be mesmerised by.
Prague Castle, is a photographer’s paradise. I stopped at the huge cathedral and stared at just how remarkable its exterior was for a good 10 minutes. You don’t even have to pay to walk around a lot of it.
The Dancing House, we did not actually go in here but the contrast of this building compared to most around town takes you aback. It is worth seeing how striking and unique it is.
As you can see, we crammed a lot of stuff in and that is not everything. I warn you that there is a lot of walking involved and we found it very easy to get lost, so you will absolutely need a map.
The one thing that I definitely noticed about walking around is how happy and welcoming everyone is. It is hard to believe that this is everyday life for people, they walk past the Astronomical Clock to get their shopping and catch the tram over the Vltava River to get to work. Even in the rush hour, everything seems calm and content. The city is loved and very well looked after and as you walk its streets, you can tell that it has pride for what it is.
If you want somewhere to totally open your eyes, Prague should be your next stop.
Words by Jordan Burnish