Perspectives on Prague: My first impressions

BY AMANDA HEMMINGS

I’m staying in accommodation on the outskirts of Prague; in the more industrial sector. But we’re just a tram, metro, or even bus journey away from the vibrant, characteristic atmosphere that makes Prague, well, Prague.

For those who are yet to visit this beautiful historical landscape, let me tell you my initial observations within my first few days here, and some of the noticeable contrasts to wandering the streets of Britain. Note that these observations will not focus particularly on museums or other sightseeing trips I have been on.

Firstly, food. In the centre where the tourists are bursting at the seams of this compact city, there are not only restaurants and cafes of all sorts, but pop-up stalls everywhere. There are a lot of hot dog stands, but what appears on each and every corner is the seeming speciality of the area, the ‘chimney cake’ – a sugary funnel dessert that is either filled with chocolate sauce, Nutella or ice cream. There are also some potatoes on sticks – a large skewer with a potato spiral, sort of like a salty helter skelter.

My personal favourite observation about the food in Prague is the fact that there is a surprising amount of vegan and vegetarian restaurants; which is such a relief for me; I was expecting to live off fruit and veggies but Prague has proved itself to be very progressive and caters to all lifestyle choices and diets. From Asian cuisine and buffets, to vegan ice cream and cakes, to raw vegan food. I am going to write more about vegan eateries in a separate post, but one thing I will add is that I definitely feel so much more comfortable eating here than in mainstream restaurants back in Leicester.

Secondly, here comes the inevitable mention of the tourism industry here. I have mostly been in and around the Old Town Square so far – which is jam-packed with selfie sticks, segways and souvenir stands. It made me think a lot; mostly to how quickly after the fall of communism, that the Western world has taken over. Next to cathedrals and monuments which date back to the 14th century, a large sign for the nearest McDonalds will probably catch your eye. It saddens me that the authenticity of Prague has been painted over by mass consumerism.

20160804_111121

Tourists gather to watch the popular bubble man in Old Town Square

But what about the locals…where are they? They seem to have been filtered out by the thousands of strangers to the country. They can be found in supermarkets, on public transport, or just typically doing their jobs. I assume they probably try to avoid the busier streets, although that’s probably not entirely possible. I have noticed a lot of local etiquette; the way in which people give up their seats for the elderly, disabled or pregnant, without hesitation. I admire that a lot.

 

I don’t know about anyone else, or whether I’m just incredibly observant, but there seems to be a lot of romance in the air. Every time I take the underground, I see couples of all ages sharing a loving moment and being completely unaware of their surroundings. I guess Prague is hailed the sex tourism capital of Europe for a reason.

Overall, the factor that has contributed to my adoring of this city is its atmosphere. It is a vibrant city full of noise, and whilst I usually prefer the peace and quiet of my hometown in Rutland, both the daytime and the nightlife have so much to offer, and cater to anyone’s taste. The music ranges from jazz to techno, and the clubs and bars are never stuck for customers. Notably, the Cross Club bar, which hosts live events both day and night, which Czech people and international visitors love to dance to.

I have still so much to see of Prague, but so far, despite the rustle and bustle along the cobbled streets, and the frequent views of umbrellas being held in the air for ‘free tours’, Prague is an old city with a million stories to tell and with a history too vast to completely explore; whilst at the same time rapidly adapting to the inescapable needs of the modern world. It’s a mixture and it has the best of both worlds; tourism and tradition go hand in hand here.

20160802_125418

Ancient buildings surrounding the masses, now made into galleries, souvenir shops and restaurants

A chilling history in the Prague Museum of Communism

IMG_4384

By Alice Gibbs

The Czech Republic has a vast history when it comes to politics, but perhaps most noteworthy is the time that the country – then of course the wider state of Czechoslovakia – spent under communist rule. The museum of communism in Prague represents a haunting and vivid account of this.

It is the first and only museum in Prague to dedicate itself to the system established in the former Soviet Union. Opened in 2001, it is situated between a McDonalds and a casino (the irony of this is not lost as you pass this and many other chain stores to enter the museum, Marx must be rolling in his grave).

Three main rooms of the museum contain multiple original items and installations of authentic artifacts. Empty shops, corruption, fear and propaganda that represents Czechoslovakia’s time behind the iron curtain are presented in a concise and understandable way. Rare photos of the Stalin monument that once stood in Letná terrace and its spectacular destruction.

For just 150CK as a student (about £5), seeing the alternative to the western capitalist history we are so familiar with is unmissable during time in Prague. The immersive rooms focus on the totalitarian regime of Communism from its military coup in the beginning of 1948 to its eventual collapse in November of 1989 – and everything in between. The museum claims to offer a theme of “Communism – the dream, the reality and the nightmare”, and it certainly delivers.

IMG_4414

Be sure to spend some time checking out the piece of Berlin Wall at the end of the museum. But most interesting was the small outdoor exhibition highlighting the realities of North Korea’s communist reign from recent history to the present. While it is one thing to see the communist reality of the history of Czechoslovakia, it is quite another to see the haunting picture of North Korea’s current situation.

While Prague is filled with fun and uplifting experiences, beautiful history and architecture, it is important to remember the journey this city has taken to become the fabulous tourist hub it currently is. The museum of communism is the perfect tribute to a time of pain and fear for the people of this city and is truly unmissable for those wishing to really appreciate the story behind this amazing city.

Address: Na Příkopě 10, Praha 1 , www.muzeumkomunismu.cz