Praha Hvalni Nadrazi – 217 miles into the trip
Day 2 of my round-Europe summer train trip and it’s Prague, capital of the Czech Republic – half of what used to be Czechoslovakia if you’re reading this in black and white and smoking Soviet-era roll-ups, also Stag Party capital of Europe and purveyor of devilishly strong and cheap beer (more of which, much more, later).
It takes a shade under four and a half hours to get here by train from Berlin – which fine city I tell you all about here – and what I would like to say about the train is that it is a marvellous example of European engineering and punctuality but that some quirk of timetabling means that it only bloody goes and
leaves at 6.59am. Not even 7am. Note that zealous punctuality.
Which means getting up 6am, which is not the sort of time anyone wants to get up on a holiday. However, again, ’tis done and we are where we are, and I didn’t get where I am today (Prague) by not getting the blisteringly early 6.59 from Berlin.
I may have dozed. There may have been open-mouthed dribbling. I remember at least three cement factories en route, and a sprawling expanse of unkempt towers, trailing cables, spouting funnels and cracked containers that shouted ‘chemical plant, warning, detonation is in T-minus 48, 47…’ and then, suddenly, there we were in Prague at an entirely more reasonable time – though not, it should be said, at a more reasonable temperature, it now being about 34 degrees Celsius, which is about 150 degrees in old money. Feckin’ hot is the technical term the meteorologists use.
Do & see
I was going to go the Charles Bridge because – you know, famous and all that – but I have been there before and, despite its attractiveness, what most people don’t tell you is, it’s A) packed shoulder to shoulder with people and tour groups, B) quite annoying because of that and C) very, very hot because there’s no shade. But Prague has lots of bridges and walking down the shady riverside from the Cech Bridge to the National Theatre means you steer clear of the madness and still get the great views – of the castle on the heights opposite, of the Neoclassical riverfront buildings, of the cruising riverboats and scudding pedaloes, and of the crocodiles of tourists snaking across the Charles Bridge muttering ‘sorry, scuse me, sorry, feck it’s hot, sorry, scuse me…’.
It’s pretty hard to find good food at budget prices anywhere around the Old Town Hall Clock square, because it’s choc-full of tourist restaurants, but here’s a great tip. Even fancy restaurants – especially fancy restaurants – offer a daily lunch menu that’s often half the price of their regular dishes, which is why I found myself eating homemade spaghetti aglio olio with pancetta and rocket leaves for €6 in the blessedly cool vaulted cellar of Pasta Fresca. It’s a top-notch Italian, and you can wade into grilled sea bream and lobster ravioli if you have the cash, but at lunch we are all equal under the blazing Prague sun and Pasta Fresca’s daily lunch deal is one of the best.
So, you know how artisan beer halls offer nine types of IPA brewed from sun-kissed hops grown in micro-climes in the Americas and hand-picked by hipsters? Well, in Prague, in the tree-shaded beer garden of U Fleku – an artisan brew house in business for over 500 years – they say ‘erm, nah’ and proffer a menu that says simply ‘pivo’ (beer). You say ‘oh go on then’ and the roving waiters, laden with groaning trays, bring you the only beer they have, which is a dark malty lager. They keep bringing the trays round, and you keep saying ‘go on then’, and some time later, perhaps the same day, it’s hard to tell, you get a bill that looks like it was for one tiny hipster IPA in a London bar. Ah pivo, let me count the ways.
And that’s it from Prague – it’s a hard city to like in summer, which is not Prague’s fault at all, but ours, because we clog its streets and dilute its special qualities, but I’ve enjoyed this short visit and hope I’ve provided a pointer or two for the next time you come.
I am out of here, next stop Vienna, see you there!