Prague without the Narcissists – Manila Bulletin

Why you must go to the Czech Republic to one of the best preserved medieval towns in the world

Author’s pictures

It’s a dream, crossing the Charles Bridge when it’s as empty as it was when Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt crossed it just seconds after the character played by Jon Voight plunged into the Vlatava in Impossible mission.

MEET ME IN WENCESLAS SQUARE One of Prague’s most historic squares, where the city’s New Town was founded, where Czechoslovak independence from the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg Empire was declared in 1918, where massive protests took place against Nazi occupation in the late 1930s, and where the Velvet Revolution took place in 1989.

Before the pandemic, it might have seemed like an impossible dream, except perhaps on a particularly cold night, like March 1, 1785, when the temperature dropped to -27.6 degrees Celsius, the lowest historical temperature ever. registered in the Czech Republic. Capital city. Back then, however, budget travel was centuries away. In addition, Prague and the Charles Bridge dusted with snow are magical in winter, even for those who fear the cold.

But if you share this dream, now is the time to go to Prague. Get your travel plans in order when much of the world is still hesitant about whether or not it is now safe to travel.

Prague never gives up…

Francois Kafak

I don’t want to rush you, but as of April 9, 2022, the Czech Republic has lifted all Covid-19 related entry restrictions for travellers. This means that we can travel to Prague more freely. This means that Prague is about to get crowded again.

I bet your friendly Czech hotelier will tell you, as mine has told me over and over, from the Marriott to the Mozart Hotel Prague, that there is no longer a need for masks on the hotel premises, including – horror of horrors! – the breakfast buffet, but play it safe. After all, masks are still mandatory on airplanes and on city transport, such as buses and trams.

STORYBOOK CHARM On Charles Bridge, facing the small town and the Vlatava River

But Prague without the crowds is the most beautiful, as is the 516-meter-long, 9.5-meter-wide medieval stone arch bridge named after Charles IV, the King of Bohemia. Admittedly, it wasn’t as empty as I had hoped when I walked through it twice on my recent trip, but there was room to breathe in all the Baroque and Gothic glory of this Prague gem. There was room to stand in front of St. John of Nepomucene, the oldest of the original statues still standing on the bridge, and touch him to reap the rumored reward of one day returning to Prague. The statue was erected on the bridge in 1683 just at the point where the Bohemian saint, the first martyr of the confessional seal, was thrown into the Vlatava at the behest of Wenceslas IV for refusing to reveal the secrets of the confessions of the wife of the latter. If I woke up early enough to be on the Charles Bridge at dawn, chances are I could have had it all to myself.

EASTER MARKET Klobasy or grilled sausages at open-air markets
popping up in the city squares of Prague on every occasion, such as Christmas and Easter.

I was in the Czech Republic in the spring at the beginning of April, when the winter had not yet completely given way. There were days when the snow still accumulated on the eaves and awnings or the branches of the trees. This was my second trip out of the country since before March 2020. And, although there was a rush to see as much as possible during my week-long stay, I would say the trip freed my soul. I could have spent the whole week in Prague alone, but I also traveled by car to Karlovy Vary, Český Krumlov, Mcely, where the crowds were even smaller. In Český Krumlov, for example, I had a city square completely to myself in the late afternoon when once before, when I was there in 2019, a traffic jam of tourists occupied every square centimeter, a sea of raised hands with smartphones taking pictures of the red brick roofs, clock bells, domes, spiers and towers.

Each of these places has its own story to tell, but for now we return to Prague, as I did after my brief excursions away from the capital. The name Prague or Praha is derived from the Slavic word prah, which means “ford” or “rapids of the river”. It is said that the city was first built at the crossing point of the Vlatava River, but many argue that the name could come from an ancient Slavic word related to Czech. pržitimeaning “forest cleared by burning”.

When we hear the word prague today, one thinks of a magical city steeped in the history of the past millennium, spared as it had been from the bombs of the Second World War as well as from any large-scale urban renewal or massive demolitions, according to UNESCO.

I LOVE YOU TO THE BRICK ROOF AND BACK OF PRAGUE View of the city’s terracotta roofs from the Aria Hotel Prague

Prague is arguably the most beautiful city in Europe. In 1992, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site, in particular its historic center consisting of the Old Town, the Lesser Town and the New Town, each of which is full of neoclassical commercial and residential buildings, hotels of Baroque city, Renaissance theaters and Gothic buildings. churches. Along with Carcasonne in France, Bruges in Belgium, San Marino in Italy, Monsanto in Portugal and Toledo in Spain, Prague is one of the few cities in Europe to have survived the Middle Ages.

And he also survived the pandemic.

If I may repeat myself, before the revenge tourists again arrive in hordes, now is the best time to see the moving views of Prague from the top of the Old Town Hall tower, where the famous Astronomical Clock, or to descend the banks of the Vlatava below the Malá Strana end of the Charles Bridge to commune with the swans or to hear mass in English at 10 a.m. on Sundays at the Church of Our Lady of Victories, where cradled is a 16th-century wax-coated wooden statue of the Christ Child holding the medieval symbol of the orb and the cross.

I like Prague without the narcissists. If I’m being honest, I love it when the only narcissist I am is me and I can have all my selfies against such a beautiful background without hundreds of other narcissists waiting for me to finish looking for the good angle and lighting so they can take their turn.

While the return of tourists is essential for economic recovery, overtourism remains a serious problem, especially for Prague where, unlike neighboring Budapest and Vienna, tourist sites are concentrated in what the city calls the Royal Way, a route of 2 .4 kilometers connecting the most travel-worthy sights on both sides of the Vlatava.

AT THE TOP OF PRAGUE A view of Old Town Square from the top of the Old Town Hall tower

Recognizing the problem, however, Prague City Tourism since before the pandemic has been strategizing on solutions, led by promoting lesser-known pedestrian paths to redirect pedestrian traffic away from the Royal Way as well as focusing more on quality and unique and optimal visits. visitor experiences rather than numbers alone.

For now, however, while the average visitor is still hesitant to step out of their Covid safety nets, overtourism is an issue we can put aside and incentives like cheaper hotel rates and longer waiting lists short await the bold.

IN THE STREETS PAVED WITH HISTORY The author on a walk in the Strahov Monastery

Ah, Prague in the spring, when gardens, like the Baroque Vrtba Garden at the foot of Petřin Hill, reopen, when you can take a cruise down the Vlatava from the Rašinovo nabřeži quay in downtown Prague, through the tunnel Vyšehrad, to Charles Bridge, when pop-up markets come alive in the town squares selling all manner of goods, from klobasy or grilled sausages trdelník, a unique cinnamon sugarpaste, with seasonal products, such as apples and zucchini.

There’s plenty to do in Prague when the weather is mild and you don’t need to spend so much time in a queue.



Berta D. Wells