Prague is indeed a beautiful place and well loved by tourists visiting this part of Europe. The architecture offers daily surprises, especially if you walk, interspersed with tram journeys to give the legs a break. Row upon row of elegant and ornate six story buildings twist and wind along the roads that make up the vast central district. Public buildings are ornate and grand, with huge over sized doorways, gold ornament catching the late afternoon sun on French Imperial capped buildings, and threatening black church spires spiking the sky. A castle to outdo all others appears on a nearby hill, oxidised green cones and onion domes add a Byzantine element to the skyline. Prague’s site, spreading out from both sides of the banks of the Vltava river, is spanned by a romantic bridge or two. It’s all too much at times. Did Walt Disney steal his fantasy land towers from Prague’s skyline?
In order to enter the Praghesian frame of mind, attending a classical recital is a good way to start. An evening performance is held weekly at the small 1,000 year old church of St Martin in the Wall. The concert began appropriately with a beautiful rendition of Smetana’s ‘Vltava’, a musical poem now synonymous with this city, which became my earworm for the entire visit. I’ll plant it here for you, dear reader, to remind you of this well-known Czech classic.
Ancient churches have wonderful acoustics, the perfect setting for serious listening. St Martins is now a decommissioned Christian church devoid of all iconology, well restored with simple white washed walls. The well-known repertoire, one that would appeal to most visitors, included Dvorak, Czechoslovakia’s other great composer, Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Pachelbel, and Albinoni’s famous Adagio in G minor, a piece that always draws tears when played sensitively. Many of Prague’s Catholic churches and Jewish synagogues are now used as classical music venues in the evening. In this way, the local musicians are supported, church restoration becomes possible, and tourists get a smattering of the culture that still runs deep through this touristy town. Unlike her Catholic neighbour, Poland, Czechoslovakia’s population is largely atheistic/agnostic (70%): with so few parishioners, the churches have been put to good use.
One way to approach the lay of the land in Prague is to take a hop on hop off tour. A 24 hour ticket also offers a one hour boat tour and is well worth the money. After the tour, your can revisit other parts of the town with a day’s tram ticket, costing around 100 CK/AU $6. Walking Prague, however, is the best option if you want to get away from the main tourist areas.
Another activity, which is completely touristy but well worth it, is a sunset trip along the Vltava river. This is included in the price of the Hop on Hop off bus tour. With a glass of wine in hand as the sun sets over this beautiful and famous city, along with Smetana’s musical ode to the river running through your brain, it’s a lovely way to unwind and let go of any ambivalent feelings you might have about this well visited city.
Like a handsome man, Prague is very nice to look at, but the seduction, I feel, lies very much on the surface. This city didn’t steal my heart. I should have attended more recitals or gone to that green glowing Absinthe bar.