With the honourable exception to Russia, Prague was not only my first introduction to the Czech Republic, but my first taste of Eastern Europe in general.
It wasn’t on my list of places to go in Europe on my trip of 1999, however it was always a possibility. I made some good friends as I travelled around Europe and one of them was living in Prague teaching English, and he told me I had to go to Prague, mostly because there was an awesome Retro night club that always played ‘The Final Countdown’ at the end of the night. Which in itself is reason enough isn’t it?
My stop beforehand was Amsterdam. Look at a map, they are not exactly next to each other. I had a Eurail pass that was good for five countries, I would need to supplement it for any travel in the Czech Republic. So I took the overnight sleeper train from Amsterdam to Dresden in Germany, and from there I paid a supplement and continued on to Prague which was a few more hours eastward.
Prague station was big, and interesting. I vaguely remember the concourse being wide and a bit dark. It was easy to change money there though and the rate was good, I was in Eastern Europe! Would I love Prague as much as my friend had? We would see!
I’d made friends on the train, an Aussie and an American. Prague seemed functional with its trams and so forth and we parted ways. Well, I had am idea fpr a hostel to stay in and the American friend, Pete, followed me. Somehow we alighted our tram and found ourselves pretty lost. We certainly couldn’t find our hostel – but we did find the Aussie girl – and I apologise but it’s been 17 years and I don’t remember her name. She found a hostel and we all ended up there.
It was kitsch and retro itself, reminded me of a summer camp almost with low beds but it was homely and less than 10 bucks a night and it was a winner. Prague as a first taste, I should warn you, is very different today as compared with 1999. Purely and simply it’s because tourist numbers have exploded. Accommodation is more plentiful, but not as cheap as it once was (although still cheaper than Western Europe).
Prague is based on the Vltava River. It has a main central square where most of the activity of the place is centred around. The bridges are a tourist attraction in their own right – especially the Charles Bridge which I found absolutely packed in when I returned to Prague a few years later. Both times there was a great little brass/Dixie – style band playing the tunes.
On the first foray to the centre we found ourselves a nice little restaurant and ate for much less than we’d pay today in Prague, and more to the point it was quite empty in 1999 which is far less likely today.
My friend came and found us after a phone call which was nice and he showed us around the centre and we saw statues and the Atomic Clock, which honestly despite being a nice photo is not the major tourist attraction that it is supposed to be. We saw a couple of churches and other places, we took a day trip to spa town Kalory Vary, but we didn’t do a lot of site seeing in Prague. That I remember at least. I certainly got to see a lot more on my next visit.
However, we did go out, meet plenty of expats and I tried Absinth which certainly did knock my socks off. And yes, we went to the nightclub Mike had told me about. It was an awesome night and I DO remember that. The club was huge with several dance floors and it was packed. I don’t remember how we got back to the hostel but I do remember the last song was, as promised, ‘The Final Countdown’.
Today, Prague is perhaps not the greatest place to start a Czech of Eastern Europe adventure solely because of the tourist factor. It’s like Paris or Rome or any other big city in Western Europe, but with less to see and do. There are several great day trips and it’s a very attractive city though. And it’s one not to miss. I prefer a ‘gentler’ start in my old age these days!
Thanks for reading – and May the Journey Never End.