Sticks & Stones

Imagine there's no countries

 

Friday 16th January 2009

We arrived on a very grey mid-afternoon after a much shorter than expected flight from Stanstead. "I can't believe it has only taken us 95 minutes to get here" I said turning to Julie who was bracing herself for a crash landing that never happened.

With a bump and a screech and a heave from my pertrified partner we landed at Ryznue airport.

We had booked an apartment a stone's throw away from the Old Town square with a company called prague-stay.com. We paid extra for a transfer from the airport to our front door.

It was dark by the time we crossed most Legii bridge over the Vltava river and towards the illuminated National Theatre, Ndrodni Divadlo. "That's pretty" I remarked.

I wasn't too sure what to expect of Prague. I've been told it's stunning yet blighted at the weekend by hordes of drunken young men searching for the nearest stag night experience.

Apparently there's more strip clubs in Prague than in Amsterdam!

Prague, Czech Rep

We drove down a few narrow streets that felt as if they should have been for pedestrians only and ended up in a side street called Kozna. Someone from stay-prague.com was there to meet us with the key and to show us to our appartment. He introduced himself as Ljupco and his English was impeccable.

The largest key on our bunch opened the huge heavy doors to the apartment block.

"Don't forget to close it behind you" said Ljupco. Fumbling along pawing the wall he mumbled "There is a light switch here somwhere". Then I'm sure he swore in Czech before the flickering light bulb came alive with a crackle, a buzz and then settling down to a hum. "Aha, we have light."

He apologised for the rough state of the building. It looked terrible, almost like a squat. "They are carrying out renovations." he said trying to explain the run down shabbiness of the inside. I'm sure he meant to say"They need to carry out renovations."

Our first impressions were awful, to the point of being shocked. "What the hell have we let ourselves in for" we thought.

We followed him to the cold and damp stairwell and began our ascent. Halfway between the second and third floor the bloody lights went out. "It's OK" he said. I could almost hear Julie's thoughts screaming out "OK???? how can being stranded halfway up a staircase in the pitch black so dark I can't even see my hand in front of my face with a complete stranger in a damp a squalid squat be possibly remotely OK?"

We heared Ljupco skip up a few steps ahead of us and then slap the wall. Then the lights were on again. "They are on a timer" he explained "You usually have enough time" he added. I suppose we were quite slow making our way up. He was carrying Julie's smaller case but I was struggling with the 25kg of the big trunk case.

We still had a further two and a half flights and another blackout to go before we reached the top floor.

My legs were aching and sweat pouring as we finally made the fifth floor. It was with some relief we saw a very modern looking door through which we entered a small entrance hall shared between two apartments. Ours was no.1 and Ljupco showed us inside.

"This is lovely" said Julie and so it was. Very spacious, clean, contemporary in its design. It was such a complete contrast to the rest of the crumbling building.

apartment,  Prague, Czech Rep

We were given the guided tour.

We had initially booked this apartment to accomodate five of us, the same group that visited Munich last year. Unfortunately Steve not well enough to travel. He was in the midst of having chemotherapy treatement in an attempt to cure this virus that's attacking his lungs. Sonya & Garry couldn't make either.

So we had this lovely three bedroom appartement to our billy-no-mates selves.

We completed the formalities with Ljupco paying the balance owing (in cash - Euros) and arranging our pick up on Monday.

When he left we had a good look around. "Which bed our we going to sleep in?" asked Julie. "All of them!" I answered like a kid in a sweet shop.

The first thing I did was open the roof lights and have a look outside. "Wow, the view's amazing" I shouted down to Julie from the upstairs bedroom.

The apartment was split level with an en-suite bedroom up in the apex of the roof. I was standing on the bed to look out the Velux window whilst Julie was downstairs sitting on the comfy sofas watching CNN on a huge 40" flat screen TV.

There was even wireless internet connection available but we hadn't brought a laptop with us.

They didn't advertise the fact that the apartment had such a great view. So it came as quite a surprise.

To the left was the brightly lit tower of the Old Town Hall and behind it the cupolas of the Church of St. Nicholas. (Was that St.Nick of Father Christmas fame?)

On the other side were the dark imposing spires of the gothic Church of Our Lady before Tyn and in between them were stunning buildings that formed the Old Town Square, Staromestke Namesti.

We didn't stay in the appartment for long, even if leaving meant we had to walk throught the valley of death. Braving the dark stairwell was made some what easier by the good fortune of having a torch in my coat pocket!

It's not the sort of thing I would normally carry about with me on holiday but I usually have one in my raincoat for taking Tyler our dog for a walk. We were so glad we had a torch, it would have been dangerous without one. Twice the lights cut out on us.

We stepped out into the freezing cold evening but before any sightseeing we first needed some supplies. On our way in from the airport we had spotted the familiar sign of a Tesco supermarket not too far away.

Whilst the sign outside was a common sight in the UK inside the store was not like any Tesco we knew. The long supermarket aisles were replaced by a more department store layout. It made for a more interesting experience as we walked around in circles.

Once we stocked up our fridge with essentials such as milk, butter and cheap Czech beer we went back out again. Whilst most visitors head to the quaint Old Town Square or the bars off St. Wenceslas Square tonight there was one place we had to visit first. We had arrived in Prague on a very poignant date in their calendar.

Fourty years ago to the day on the 16th January 1969 a young student by the name of Jan Palach set himself on fire in protest to the Soviet Union's occupation of Czechoslovakia.

A year earlier in 1968 in a movement of political reform known as the Prague spring the country had began to distance itself from the Warsaw pact.

Then the tanks rolled in.

We walked up the long and wide open space that is Wenceslas Square. It was a bit disappointing really, quite drab compared to the stunning architecture you associate with Prague.

Its saving grace was the grand National Museum at the southern end with the statue of King Wenceslas looking down what was known in 1969 as Red Army Square.

We arrived at the Monument to the Victims of Communism where a constant stream of people young and old were arriving to lay flowers or light candles in honour of their national hero Jan Palach.

 

We continued up to the steps of the National Museum where there was a memorial specifically to Jan Palach and another student Jan Zajíc who a month later also set himself on fire in protest.

A mound of wreaths had been laid over the bronze cross memorial.

Standing here in front of the imposing museum looking down the long stretched Wenceslas Square it wasn't difficult to feel the presence of history.

It has always been a focal point for demonstrations and protests.

In 1989 a tide of change swept through the iron curtain, Poland and Hungary had forced their communist leaders to stand down, the Berlin wall was torn down. It was Czechoslovakia's turn and it was here a crowd gathered to overthrow the government in what was later called the Velvet Revolution.

We shuffled our way back down the icy pavements of Wenceslas Square towards our apartment. We were looking for an Italian restaurant recommended in the Time Out guide called Kogo.

It was alongside the lovely little Church of St. Gall on a street called Havelska.

We were impressed by the interior. It was nicely decorated.

I had a tasy antipasto of roasted veg but a rather mediocre pizza.

Julie really enjoyed her meal. She went for a Beef Entrocote, cooked to a perfect rareness and flavoured subtly with rosemary and garlic. With only a glass of wine each we thought the price of 1200Kr (around £40) for the meal was a little on the expensive side.

It was only 10pm but as we had stayed in Cambridge last night and partied hard with all the students into the small hours of the morning we were happy for an early night. We climbed the dark stairwell to our apartment.

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