This summer, I finally got to go to Prague – and so had the fairly unusual experience (for me) of being a first-time visitor in a new city.
As a longtime guidebook writer, I tend to go back to a lot of places to see if anything has changed. Empire State Building? Yup, still there. The Eiffel Tower? Check…
But brand spanking new places? Well, I don’t get to do that anywhere near as much as I’d like.
So, it was first-time Prague for me, and obviously I made a video about it – why not check it out while you’re reading the blog?
1 trip, 4 countries, no plans
We discussed this, you and I, in 1 trip, 4 countries, no plans, and it was pretty exciting to be turning up in a city with no real plans, and no real idea of what we were going to do. I’d heard of the Charles Bridge, sure, but otherwise the city was a blank canvas for us – all manner of experiences awaited.
And don’t get me wrong – Prague was every bit as beautiful as people had said, and I urge you to visit too if you have the chance. The sun setting over the Charles Bridge is as romantic as it gets, and the pastel-coloured buildings and harmonious squares form one of Europe’s most charming backdrops.
But I have one word of warning for you. Segway.
Segway? No way
Let’s face it, Prague is packed at the best of times. The main old-town streets are filled shoulder-to-shoulder with tourists for much of the day, and while you can escape the crowds if you try, much of your time is spent with jostling for space with far too many people.
Which would just about be OK, if far too many people hadn’t also got up that morning and thought, ‘You know what, I’m going to make it much easier for myself to get around today by renting a Segway’.
Because densely packed, shoulder-to-shoulder, old-town streets are the ideal venue for swarms of self-balancing, two-wheeled electric scooters, right?
Driven – and I hesitate to point the finger, I really do, at those fine young half-naked men on their Stag weekends – by people whose co-ordination skills deserted them somewhere after the 7th pint of Staropramen lager.
The curse of the new
It’s not just Prague that suffers from a surfeit of Segways. I’ve noticed the phenomenon in other citites too, from Barcelona to Budapest. It’s as if sightseeing has to be made cool, edgy and fun to engage anyone under the age of 25 – whereas, as we know, sightseeing is entirely about being dragged around endless churches by your companions until the point at which you would, literally, rather build a church from your nail clippings than see another one.
It’s the curse of the new. Take old and church-filled Prague, add a new, shiny thing – shiny thing, lads, look shiny thing! – and bingo, Prague is now hip and happening.
Hip, happening, and full to the brim of suicidally driven Segways.
The local town council have cottoned on to the fact that it’s hacking off both locals and many visitors, and is making moves to control numbers – and restrict the places that Segways can go. (“Lads, lads! Look – wheelie on the Charles Bridge parape…….t”. “Erm, anyone seen Dave?”)
Up the tower
We did the traditional thing – strolled around, enjoyed the view, watched the 600-year-old astronomical clock, and picked out a rooftop terrace for a coffee later on. It’s all in the video, which of course you have now watched, enjoyed and subscribed to.
Meanwhile, down below, Segways circled, scattering citizens like skittles, while bemused visitors soaked up all the other apparent must-have trappings of any modern European tourist city – human statues, snake-handlers, boom-box rappers and Minion balloon-sellers.