The International Writers
Since Christmas was
prohibited for 70 years, its special meaning was transferred silently
to the next holiday along. New Years Eve took on the role of a very
special celebration, when people are not only making resolutions, but
do genuinely hope for miraculous changes in their lives. It is strongly
believed that "the way you meet a New Year - the same way youll
spend the rest of it". Thus we drink champagne rather than wash up
New Year in Prague
Russian experience in Prague
I always wanted to spend a New Years Eve in one of the Western
Catholic countries where the streets are lit up by Christmas lights
and covered with Christmas decorations. Why New Years Eve?
Because this is my favourite holiday of the year, as it is also
for many people born in the former Soviet Union (a country built
on blood for a promised fairytale future, which collapsed like
a lost dream for those who lived through it).
New Years Eve is a holiday of a dream.
So here we are in Prague on 3rd January 2007 (which does not exactly coincide
with my agenda: a central European Protestant capital 2 days after the
But I wanted to visit Prague anyway! This is the most beautiful Gothic
capital of all. Although Czechs are also Slav, the Czech Republic is a
very different place to Russia and differences attract!
We flew over from Bournemouth with Thompsonfly. Easy-peasy lemon squeezy
as my husband sometimes remarks, although I have absolutely no clue what
that means. Prague airport is only 12.5 miles away from the city centre.
No need for a taxi - bus and underground (Metro) services are brilliant
and cost only 20 Kc (50p) for a ticket. Apparently one ticket pays for
both types of transport which we didnt know about, but £2
extra for public transport is not an excessive spending in comparison
to South-West Trains! Checked in at Bournemouth at 11am, and a 2 hours
and £60 return flight fare for two later, we have dumped our regulation
sized hand luggage at the hotel and were strolling along the streets of
Prague at 3 pm.
It got dark shortly after 5 pm, and oh, my goodness!!!! Streets (surprisingly
for the festive season) were dark. There were not as many Christmas lights
as I hoped for. Even the Christmas Tree in Old Town Square was taken down
on the night of 3rd January. (According to recent historic discoveries
the first ever Christmas Tree was recorded as standing on this square
making Prague a proud birthplace of the symbol of Christs birth
celebrations). The restaurant, we found, also didnt sparkle with
lights - mainly candlelight was used. However, the lack of light in public
places (or economic use of it) might be Pragues answer to fighting
global warming and saving the world
or its might be just romantic
(who knows?). But next time well take a torch to map read by, romance
Nevertheless the city looked absolutely magnificent in the daytime. Having
known of how beautiful Old Prague was said to be, it still struck me as
really lovely. A beautiful city with beautiful architecture. Every building
regardless of architectural style and period (Prague can boast a good
mixture of such) may well be a unique work of art. Prague is lucky to
retain its pre-war look having survived World War II mainly unscathed.
And the communist regime obviously didnt have the same penchant
for pulling things down that some co-believers did in neighbouring states.
Seventeen bridges across Riva Vltava (Moldau) connect the two parts of
the city. The most famous bridge is Karlov Most. Built in the 14th century
under Charles IV it remained the only bridge across the river for half
a millenium. Thirty Baroque sculptures, brought together over a period
of time, line the bridge and add charm to it, and each one tells a story.
The bridge is a major tourist route leading to Prague Castle (Prazsky
Hrad). Its sharp black spires are the defining landmark. The castle has
been a centre of spiritual and cultural power of the Czechs since its
foundation, as believed, in 880 by Prince Borivoj, and is the symbol of
the city. One of the best view points over Prague is from the steps that
lead to the castle.
Being Russian in Prague was an interesting experience. The country is
ethnically Slav. I could clearly recognise some "Slavonic" similarities:
- A distinctive "Slav" face shape - many people looked familiar
(and locals also seemed to regard me as Czech and kept trying to ask me
- The same linguistic group language although spelt in Latin not Cyrillic
letters (the Czech language belongs to the Western group of Slav languages,
the same as Serb and Polish). I could understand, to a degree, local speech,
shop names and street directions. (So did my husband because city is also
well sign posted in English: "Tesco in 1.5km") However, I found
some English translations of popular Czech sites confusing. For example,
Charles Bridge for Karlov Most (I cant comprehend
how Charles can be the same name as Karl when Suzanne and Susan are COMPLETELY
two different names).
- Similar cuisine preferences such as pork sausage and sour cabbage. And
(!) "medovik" cake made with real honey delicious!
These are probably the only similarities, as apart from some long years
under Soviet rule, Russia and the Czech Republic share few historic ties.
The Czechs accepted Protestantism in the 13th century, and had been a
part of Austro-Hungarian Empire for ages, closely linked to its neighbours
Austria and Germany.
The city is well geared up for tourism loads of cafes, restaurants
and hotels. Even midweek, one often needs to book in advance for good
and popular restaurants because they, obviously, are also popular with
locals. We liked the Kolkovna pub which also happened to be
of one selected by Robert Anderson of the Financial Times meal
prices from £4.00 per person and the food excellent. Despite a flood
of Russian tourists who seemed all left home for Prague during their 10-day
long winter bank holidays (a new phenomenon of post-communism), we had
a choice of hotels on the internet to book our stay at. There are many
pensions and hostels for budget stays too. Hotel prices are from Euro
40 per night per double room.
Opinion is divided as to how cheap or how expensive - Prague really
is. A friend of mine visited at roughly the same time as us but was shocked
of how expensive it was. However my husband and I found it reasonable.
Its all a mater of attitude. Prepare yourself for "EURO"
prices, even though the country still keeps it own currency Koruna (CZK)
and youll be pleasantly surprised. Its certainly cheaper
than in most other places in Europe.
I felt a little apprehension of locals attitude towards Russian
people following years of resistance (failed in 1968 and successful in
1989). At the same time I was surprised at how many Russian tourists there
were waves and waves of groups when meeting together in small place
combined into a sea of Russians. The only people buying Czech gold and
jewellery out of their expensive range were Russians, as we saw in the
shops. I suppose Russians bring good money into the country, and at the
same time the Czech Republic is one of the nearest (and affordable) Western
destinations for Russian people to travel to.
Many shop assistants, especially in old Prague, speak many languages (definitely
Russian, German and English) which is very impressive and assists them
in persuading you to part with your hard earned dosh. They achieved it
with us too - we came back with loads of little souvenirs and Czech chocolates
to remind us of Prague (very warm and sweet memories). And also with a
new New Year resolution: to spend our next New Years Eve in one
of the "celebratory" European capitals.
© Natalya Popova Jan 2007
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