MORE THAN PRAGUE ON THE CZECHLIST?
which is worthwhile noting is that almost all waiting staff in Prague
go out of their way to be rude.'
Pics: Charles Bridge and Prague Rooftops
When most people are asked
about the Czech Republic, they tend to chatter excitedly about the Czech
obsession with Skoda cars, pivo (beer), prostitutes and their prowess
at football (although not necessarily in that order). Unfortunately,
the country appears to have fallen prey to the misguided notion which
tends to dog all major tourist destinations that the capital
city is the only place worth visiting.
The ancient prince of middle European cities, Prague is indeed something
of a gem. Although much of its grandeur faded under communist rule,
it has recently been rather dubiously rescued by a huge
upsurge in foreign interest, mainly in the form of tourists. However,
with the hordes of Germans and British, come the inevitable purveyors
of western schmaltz, the likes of which one would normally expect to
find in Blackpool or the Costa del Sol.
At least this was my initial and rather vague impression of Prague.
The reason being our insanely grinning taxi driver, who insisted on
whizzing us through town at such a pace that it was impossible to discern
much from the blur of shapes and colours which zipped past my window.
If there are traffic lights in Prague then they are obviously routinely
As it turned out, this was all rather a blessing in disguise as it curtailed
our epic voyage from London Stansted to _esk_ Krumlov, via Prague International
Airport, by about an hour and a half. We had begun the day at a groggy
4am and enjoyed the surreal experience of being smoothly whisked across
central London in fifteen minutes flat. By the time that 2pm rolled
around, we were to be found lounging in a bar by the river Vltava, enjoying
our first taste of the devoutly carnivorous Czech cuisine and gulping
down the best Budvar on the planet. Bliss! Who says that Prague is the
be all and end all of the Czech Republic?
It was around this moment that one of our party was taken by the effortless
grace with which the passing kayaks and rafts drifted down the river.
It was this moment of inspiration that sealed our fate and the following
morning found us on a wheezing old dingy, floating helplessly towards
a fast-flowing weir. Our naivety and lack of a change of clothes or
even towels, left us soaked through and shivering for most of the two
and a half hour raft trip. What had seemed like a fantastic plan, turned
swiftly into some sort of nightmare, as the previously sunny morning
turned into a cascading downpour of freezing cold rain. The cheery Czech
chap who had gleefully pocketed our 900Kc (£18) and launched us
on our way with the cry of "You dont need jacket!",
was roundly cursed for his sadism. I swear I heard him chuckling to
himself as he headed for the nearest bar.
If there was a bright side to our aquatic efforts, it was that we were
even more appreciative of the cavernous Satlava Restaurace on _atlavaská
and its ample supplies of beer, with which our waiter seemed only too
happy to ply us. Good man he obviously understood that we needed
reminding why it was that we came to _esk_ Krumlov in the first place.
Following an excellent meat platter (160Kc £3.20) and several
litres of Budvar, we made our unsteady way to the Musik Cocktail Bar,
just off the main square Nám_stí Svornosti. True to its
word, the place hit us with a barrage of awful east European tunes and
loads of gloopy cocktails to soothe the pain of the truly terrible musik.
The following morning we contrived to miss our continental breakfasts
and instead opted to recover in the Kájovská Hosp_aka
u Josefu, which served up the best Goulash and dumplings of the holiday
(and even they werent that great) washed down with lashings of
the ubiquitous Budvar. If there is a heaven, I would be quite happy
for it to be this bar in _esk_ Krumlov!
There is, of course, much more to _esk_ Krumlov than simply its hostelries.
Due to the rich fertility of the surrounding land, there has been a
settlement at this point of the Vltava since the 13th century. The town
has benefited from the rule of a succession of wealthy families, who
have left behind a stunning architectural legacy. The number of awe-inspiring
structures which jostle for your attention is quite astounding for a
town of this size.
The most impressive is the Plá_tov_ bridge which connects
the two parts of the castle and palace. Its many arches are seven storeys
high and span an ancient quarry, which was hewn from the cliff-face
several centuries ago. There is also the Tower (Hrádek), which
dominates the towns skyline with its bright pink and gold murals.
The view from its summit is quite superb, as the red-tiled houses cluster
below and the Vltava slides into the distant hills. To climb the Tower
costs 30Kc for adults, 20Kc for students and is free for under 15s.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about _esk_ Krumlov is the fact that
it remains to be enjoyed at all. For much of its history this strategically
important market town has been fought over by the Germans and Czechs
and yet has survived almost unharmed. The town came through the Second
World War unscathed and an extensive programme of renovation has been
underway since 1992 when UNESCO included _esk_ Krumlov in its register
of monuments of world significance. The most striking of the benefits
of the restoration work are the murals which adorn many of the old buildings
in the town, detailing the deeds of local dignitaries and craftsmen.
This is a tradition which would appear to have survived to the present
day, given that much of the available wall space in _esk_ has been coated
with the work of the old artists contemporaries.
We spent our last day in _esk_ Krumlov wandering around the old castle
and palace. The murals and architecture are superb, although the most
incredible aspect of the day was the fact that the moat contained no
water, only Bears. Although this sounds like the height of cruelty,
these Grizzlies seemed quite contented in their sizeable pit. Their
ancestors have apparently paced around in a similarly menacing manner
for several centuries, protecting the castle. These days, however, the
only people who would appear to be in any real danger from these magnificent
beasts are the workmen who clamber around on flimsy gantries high above.
As a tourist attraction, I would have to say that it ranks up there
alongside those deranged individuals who swim around with sharks, in
terms of sheer will he or wont he entertainment value.
We were able to snooze off any lingering effects of the previous nights
excesses in the taxi ride back to Prague that afternoon. Given our drivers
fancy for courting the grave, this seemed like the best way to deal
with the hair-raising journey. Thankfully, the number of near-death
experiences was limited to single figures and we arrived at our accommodation
with plenty of time to explore the main spots of Prague.
Having dumped our bags, we hopped on the wonderfully efficient underground
system at Namestí Miru, to the north east of the city centre
and were soon alighting at Staromeska, near the Old Town Square in the
heart of the city. The public transport system in Prague really is impressive
and is the principal (if not sole) benefit of decades of Communist rule.
However, what would certainly not appeal to Ken Livingstone, but would
be a sure fire hit with the general public, is the Praguers steadfast
refusal to ever pay a single penny for using public transport. We of
course, played it strictly by the rules.
a late lunch, we ended up falling victim to low levels of blood
sugar all round and ate at one of the ludicrously expensive restaurants
in the Old Town Square. Although the service is bad and the food
even more so, the experience is worthwhile if only for the bizarre
views of the Cathedral and Astronomical clock at the opposite end.
I say bizarre, because in their infinite wisdom, the Czechs have
seen fit to reduce the size of an already crowded town square by
building another block of grand buildings smack in front of the
Cathedral. This process of destroying the dominance of some fine
buildings seems to have been de rigueur in Prague at some point,
because precisely the same skewed thinking has gone into the construction
of an army barracks in front of the Palace and Cathedral which glower
over the town.
Pic: The Old Town Square
In an effort to escape the maddening crowds of sweaty Germans and screaming
hordes of American school children, we decided to trek up the hill to
the impressive Palace. The afternoon was scorching hot, yet we foolishly
pushed on up the hill on and on and on and on
. We pushed
so far on in fact, that we managed to walk right around them. Brilliant
the most prominent landmarks in the whole of Prague and we somehow
contrived to miss them.
Once we finally arrived at the magnificent decorative wrought iron gates
of the Palace, the sun was low in the sky and we discovered that the
gates were due to close in ten minutes. However, we were able to have
a brief scout around inside the impressive complex and had our frustration
somewhat eased by the fact that the famous gothic Cathedral was undergoing
massive restoration work. In a superb piece of timing by the Czechs,
they had closed one of their star attractions at the height of the tourist
My misery for the day was not yet complete, however, as having bought
a much needed pair of sunglasses, they promptly broke. It had been commented
upon that they bore a striking resemblance to a pair of welding glasses
shame they werent quite as tough.
For dinner that evening, we eventually settled upon Na Kampa, which
is situated on the banks of the Vltava and was given an excellent review
by our Time Out Guidebook. The reality, however, was somewhat different,
as we were met by waiting staff of such astounding surliness that we
became instantly wary of what may arrive concealed in our food. We left
without ordering and found somewhere infinitely more appealing in the
Staré M_sto district of town. The food was honest at Zlatá
Uli_ka, if not spectacular, but the warmth of the proprietor put the
more expensive Na Kampa firmly in the shade.
Something which is worthwhile noting at this point is that almost all
waiting staff in Prague go out of their way to be rude. In fact, they
have it down to such a fine art that all foreign visitors are made acutely
aware of the fact that they are only there on sufferance. If you want
some help setting up a table for five, forget it. Maybe something less
demanding, such as a menu each not a chance. I came to the conclusion
however, that if my country had been occupied and fought over as much
as the Czech Republic, I would probably treat all visitors with similar
contempt so as to ensure they not only left as quickly as possible,
but never ever considered coming back.
If this is truly the Praguers goal, then they had better do something
about the utterly sublime quality of their beer. In my normal existence,
I am known amongst friends for my sobriety. In the Czech Republic, however,
such sentiments are not only frowned upon, but are taken as a sign that
perhaps you are a couple of cans short of a six-pack. In the face of
such pressure I could only do my best to blend in and the great thing
is that the good people of Prague are there to guide you every step
of the way. I say this because it seems that one of the latest (and
possibly most important) English phrases to hit Prague is non-stop.
This appears to apply to every possible walk of life; from grocery stores
and buses, to bars and intriguingly, to prostitutes.
From Zlatá Uli_ka, we found a remarkably quiet little bar in
the heart of the bustling old town, called Bar U Krále Vi_iho.
It served reasonably priced beer and thankfully the rowdier crowds of
Germans were drawn to the brash and irritating James Joyce bar next
door, allowing us to get down to some serious card playing. Later, we
discovered that the Czechs have yet to fully appreciate the meaning
of their new favourite phrase, as Bar Non Stop, which was adjacent to
our hostel, had well and truly ground to a halt. It was only three in
the morning lightweights!
The following morning arrived and mercifully forgot once again to bring
along its good pal, pounding hangover. I am certain that this is to
do with the purity of the Czech Beer and remain convinced of its strong
medicinal qualities. The weather was the finest yet so we caught the
funicular railway (12K_) to the summit of the huge park on the ridge,
next to the Palace. I continued to be enchanted by Philip Pullmans
His Dark Materials trilogy and the time spent relaxing on a bench in
the orderly decoration of the rose gardens simply flew past. The park
is spacious enough to be able to lose yourself for a few hours and in
the heart of the madness which is Prague in summer, this is sheer bliss.
We ate lunch at the superb Canzone Pizzeria, which is in Marla Strana
on the western side of Karl_v Most (Charles Bridge). The portions were
huge and for around 100Kc for a mushroom pizza or just 75Kc for a margherita,
we tucked indulgently in. The spell in the garden had put some of us
in a positively reflective mode and so we resolved to visit the Czech
National Gallery. It is famed for its Cubist works as well as housing
a rich variety of work by Czech and other central European artists throughout
the twentieth century. Much to our frustration, the gallery seemed as
skilled in the art of concealment as the Palace and so roughly two hours
passed before we were able to walk through its sliding doors.
At first glance, one can see where the inspiration for Londons
Tate Modern may have originated, as the gallery looks like an old manufacturing
plant. Once inside, however, the use of light and space is clever and
many of the pictures, particularly the Cubist works of Picasso, are
rewarding. It was a shame, therefore, that we felt constantly obliged
to move quickly along, lest we incur the wrath of one of the legion
of old ladies who zealously stalk the gallery. It is almost as though
they are daring you to grab one of the paintings and attempt to stick
it up your jumper and run, just so that they can have the pleasure of
tearing you limb from limb.
At one point, I had the audacity to touch what I foolishly thought was
an interactive piece unfortunately it turned out to be the power
switch. To this day, I still shudder when I think of the withering stares
and eruption of finger wagging which this precipitated. If you ever
wondered where they found the Rosa Kleb character in the Bond film From
Russia With Love, I am certain that she came from within the ranks of
these formidable ladies.
We were thoroughly exhausted after what had become a hot and sticky
day and so retired to the hostel for some rest, before tackling the
Prague nightlife. This was to be our last night in the Czech Republic
after all and so it would only be fitting to depart with a bang. After
our fourth Absinthe each, the wisdom of this strategy appeared as shaky
as our grip on reality. We had found a bar in the old town and although
we must have been there for a couple of hours, it rather concerningly
felt like no time at all. I would love to be able to tell you the name
of this establishment, but it has disappeared into the nether regions
of my memory, alongside the latter stages of weddings and heavy Saturday
Our next stop was thankfully hard to miss, given that it laid claim
to the rather grand title of the biggest club in middle Europe. I am
unsure as to precisely what constitutes middle Europe, but the owners
of Karlovy Lázn_ seem convinced that, whatever it is, they run
the best club. It has to be said that it is hard to argue with this
in terms of sheer scale, although what the place really amounts to is
a grandiose attempt to corner the market in various forms of popular
music. It sprawls over four floors, each of which caters to a different
genre of contemporary music, with the top floor being converted from
a huge old swimming pool in which it is possible to drown in acid jazz
and deep funk. Unfortunately, Karlovy Lázn_ suffers from attempting
to spread itself too thinly, as there are many other excellent specialist
clubs in Prague (which sadly we did not have the time to explore).
Gripes aside, we did have a fantastic night, alongside most of the other
young (and some not so young) tourists in town and eventually staggered
home at about five in the morning. I should also at this point, mention
the wonderful tolerance which was displayed towards us by our host at
the Pension B-Klub. He patiently waited up for us night after night
in order to let us in and then was up again at the crack of dawn to
produce a rather strange breakfast of satsumas and eggs. Perhaps the
late nights were getting to him.
Remarkably, most of our number actually made it in time for this bizarre
morning offering and we were also (more or less) packed and ready to
go by checking out time at ten oclock. It is more than likely,
however, that we were still functioning on the fuel of the previous
night. This point was proven when we were caught in an almighty downpour
en route to the left luggage office at the train station (50K_ per item).
The deluge of rain served to swiftly haul us back into sobriety and
from this point onwards until late afternoon, our final day in the Czech
Republic meandered along at a similarly slow pace to the grey Vltava.
We split up for a few hours and I took the time to tramp around the
old town, attempting to find some sort of gift for my girlfriend. Given
that Prague is famed for its art and vibrant creative spirit, I had
hoped that it would furnish me with something which showed both wit
and my tender, loving side. Sadly, I was faced with a barrage of overpriced
tat, which would not have looked out of place in a jumble sale. A flicker
of hope did come at one of Pragues many upmarket clothes shops,
but was instantly snuffed out by the audacious size of the price tags.
Shopping in Prague is not for the faint hearted, or the light of wallet.
We reconvened at Charles Bridge and spent an hour perusing the massed
ranks of stalls and performing artists, virtually all of which is shoddy
tourist fodder. There were, however, two reasons to be cheerful. The
first was provided by the only original artist on the bridge, who had
refreshingly interpreted some of Pragues various attractions in
a bold Cubist style. The second came from another artist, although this
time a chap who exhibited an interesting line in extreme self-portraiture.
Essentially, his style involved holding up a mirror and pulling the
most ridiculous faces, which he then sincerely attempted to recreate
on canvas. As an added bonus, he was utterly drunk and only a little
bit sane and so provided some enlightening banter whilst plying his
Following a quick dinner of the obligatory goulash and dumplings, coupled
to a final few beers, we headed for the station to collect our bags.
From here we caught the underground to Djeli_k. This is stop marks the
termination of the north western branch of the green line and buses
run every twenty minutes from here to the airport. It was roughly at
this time that my travelling companions finally decided that they had
had enough of me.
We emerged from the underground station, utterly bemused as to where
we were to catch the aforementioned bus. My suspicions should have been
aroused when I was sent to find a non-existent bus stop, whilst everyone
else legged it in the opposite direction. Once I realised their cunning
ploy, the bus had already gone and I was left to fend for myself.
When I look back on this incident from grubby environs of London, I
cant help wondering what on earth possessed me to follow the rest
of them so readily to the airport. I could have quite easily lost myself
for the next few months in the heady haze of living which is the Czech
Republic. Whether in Prague, _esk_ Krumlov or any other of the countrys
fascinating towns, I have had a brief sip of the Czech amber nectar
and cannot wait for the next round. © Stuart Macdonald 2001
This charming town is located roughly three hours drive south from Prague.
It is fast cottoning onto the fact that it is a tourist magnet and so
is bristling with affordable accommodation.
For further up to date information, try the tourist information centre:
email: - firstname.lastname@example.org
tel: - 00420/3370704 621-3
- As far as budget beds go, this was perfect. For the measly price of
£14 per person per night, they also throw in a fantastic breakfast.
We had three doubles, although other combinations are available.
- Slightly deceptive to find a vegetarian restaurant in the Czech Republic
almost everywhere else is devoutly carnivorous. A great place to
relax next to the river and to indulge in their exquisite Budvar.
- This place feels as though you are burrowing deep into the hillside,
such is its surprising size. The meat platter is excellent value.
Papas Living Restaurace
- claims to be some sort of revolution in creative cooking its
not. Disappointing and expensive fare.
- Fantastic cocktail menu, although a tad pricey. Easy to stay in here
Musik and Cocktail Bar
- Another excellent choice of cocktails, open late if you can stand
the music and the sleazy locals.
Kajovska Hospuaka u Josefu
- fantastic Budvar for 20Kc a pint. Nuff said.
You know where it is! We got there with surprisingly cheap flights from
Go for £50 return (including taxes!) from Stansted. You are best
advised to book accommodation ahead, as this place is a perennial tourist
hotspot. The guidebook we used to plan our jaunts around Prague was the
Time Out version. It could not be faulted on in depth history and contemporary
culture, although some of its reviews were a tad suspect.
Nearest metro: - Namesti Miru
- Distinctly dingier than the place in Cesky, although it was not too
far from the action in the city centre and was definitely secure. Again,
costs £14 per person per night and breakfast is included.
There are so many of these that you are best to go by word of mouth, or
your guidebook. The following are the ones which we visited: -
Tel: - 232 0884
Metro: - Namesti Republiky
- Welcome relief from the majority of surly places in town. The food was
nothing spectacular, but for once we left on speaking terms with the waiting
staff, so it cant be all bad.
- Excellent pizzeria. If you are fed up eating half a cow at every meal,
then you could do much worse than come here.
Bar u Krale Viriho
Metro: - Sarometska
- Relative oasis in the madness of the old town. It serves decent beer,
although sadly no Budvar.
Bar Non Stop
- Apparently never stops, although we appear to have caught it on the
bosss one night off. There is another tiny place just across the
road, whose name I cannot recall, but whose beer was astoundingly cheap.
Metro: - Starometska
- This place is simply immense. Do not drink it's Absinthe or you may
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