What to say about Prague? I was excited and amped up to see Prague, and it was beautiful, but unfortunately I became unwell early in our stay – which did put a dampener on our travel here. My brief experience is that Prague is a well oiled tourism machine. Even in the off season, the coldest month of the year, and the number of visitors drawn to Prague’s legendary sights is still a steady stream. The good Czechs of this historic town are ready with their attraction lists, English language menus, audio guides, entry prices and souvenir stands. This doesn’t detract at all from the genuine warmth of the people you talk to, and it rests comfortably on the surface of a town which outdoes itself with piles and piles of stunning architecture, intriguing mementos from a complex history, and a proud sense of place in the world.
Through my fever-addled sightseeing haze, I do recall the stunning high baroque interior of the St Nicholas basilica, the pleasantly heavy metal soundtrack of the Prague Beer Museum with the charming if slightly absent minded bar service.
When visiting the tourist mainstay of Prague Castle I did think to download a walking tour app. Unfortunately, nearly the first part of the gardens we needed to walk through was closed for the winter, so we gave up on that backtracked and joined a large tour group entering the grounds. That lead to us all being funnelled through a security checkpoint with bag search and metal detectors for 10-15 minutes. Once inside though, the gothic cathedral was spectacular, and the ever-present Christmas Market plied us with sausages and hot wine.
This was the last Christmas Market we got to enjoy. The following day, after making our way back towards the famous Charles Bridge via the ageing but fairly reliable tram system, my body riven with hot and cold spells, through chattering teeth and trembling eyes we spotted what looked like a group of camels positioned beyond a crowd in the old medieval square.
Now thoroughly used to Nativity scenes from our Christmas travels, this was not in itself surprising. However, the previous days experience from the Prague Old Town Christmas Markets should have given a little insight: the usual cauldrons of hot wine, sticks of TrdelnIk roasting over coals and stalls of handcrafted ornaments, in Czechia seem to also feature live nativities. Not with an actual human christkindl in the crib, but with manger scenes featuring real donkeys, ponies, goats and sheep.
While these camels were highly realistic, with bright eyes and shaggy coats perfectly if a little roughly crafted, the chewing jaw action and foaming drool quickly revealed them as being more than just stage props. As it was the Epiphany, aluminium steps ladders were fetched, magi in flowing robes mounted the somewhat bored looking beasts, and as all the surrounding church bells began to peal, the crowds cheered the ceremonial bactrian procession into the city!
The bizarre and often intentionally controversial public sculpture of David Cerny proved to be one of the most memorable counterpoints to the history of Prague. We only saw a few, but they add a real contemporary charm to this unique city.
(Special thanks to my Ghost writer for this instalment, as you can potentially derive from this post – I was too weak and sick to formulate enough sentences to get this post out in a timely manner!)