Monday, 26 June 2017

Prague Moments #10 - Náměstí Míru

For the majority of people visiting Prague, their time is pretty limited; maybe a weekend or at best four or five nights. Not surprisingly, especially if you haven't been here before, you're going to stick to 'classic Prague' and see the castle, the Charles Bridge and Karlova, Wenceslas Square, the Old Town Square and astronomical clock, the Jewish Quarter, and probably have a wander around the backstreets of Malá Strana. If you're a bit more adventurous, you may additionally take in the Žižkov TV tower, the National monument at Vítkov or to the tower on Petřín Hill. All great places to go, but you're still pretty much surrounded by tourists.

Náměstí Míru panorama in winter
One of my favourite places, a little bit more off the tourist track is the area around Náměstí Míru in Prague 2, or more specifically Vinorhady. Náměstí Míru translates as 'Peace Square', and it is dominated by the twin 60m high towers of the church of St. Ludmilla, a neo-Gothic Roman Catholic church, built in the late 1890s.

The Church of St Ludmilla
Náměstí Míru is also a metro station on the Green Line (Line A) which is not only the deepest metro station in both Prague and the European Union (the platform is 53m below ground), but also boasts the longest escalator in the EU - an 87m monster (43m vertical span), with 533 steps that takes 2m 15s to ascend or decend without walking. It also acts as a wind tunnel!

The top of the escalator at Náměstí Míru metro
The little park in front of St Ludmilla's is a great place to sit and people watch, and has a lovely little market at key times of the year, especially Christmas and Easter. These events are smaller but far less crowded than the markets in the Old Town Square.

In my first year I lived off the square on Francouska and I used to love walking through the park on my way to and from the metro at IP Pavlova (named for the man of Plavlov's dogs fame, not the gateaux). Especially during the winter, it was pretty much impossible not to stop off for a quick tot of Medovina (honey mead wine) to keep the cold at bay until getting home.

Mel enjoying a glass of hot medovina
Vinorhady has traditionally been home to a large ex-pat community in the city, and Náměstí Míru is a bustling square with numeous restaurants, bars and cafes including the original Prague Beer Museum,  Vinohradský Parlament Restaurant,  Bruxx, and the place I had my first beer as an ex-pat, 2KK

Peace, a nice park, good food and drink, what more do you need from a place?








Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Hidden Prague #6 - Troja Palace

Strictly speaking, this is another post that crosses my arbitrary categories. The Troja Palace isn't hidden in the same way that some of the other parks and gardens I've written about are. But you're unlikely to come across it by accident as it's a good couple of miles from the old town, to the north of the city.

Its location doesn't make it inaccessible - jump on a number 17 tram from Staroměstské to Trojský and then either walk to the palace or hop on the 112 bus - and you'll be there in 30-45 minutes. If you find yourself at Prague Zoo, you've slightly overshot!


There are several times in the year when the municipal authorities in Prague join forces with the custodians of certain landmarks to allow free entry to those attractions. Last weekend was one such occasion, and on Saturday night, a lot of museums waived their entry fee. On Sunday it was the turn of a number of public and privately owned gardens to do the same thing, and one of the places on the list was the Troja palace.


The Troja palace was built between 1679 and 1691 for the Count of Sternberg, although it is now owned by the city of Prague. It was primarily designed by the French architect Jean-Baptiste Mathey, who also designed the building which now houses the French embassy in Prague (opposite the Lennon Wall).

But the purpose of my trip was to see the gardens and in particular the stunning staircase at the back of the building.  Designed and sculpted by two artists from Dresden, Johann Georg and Paul Heermann, the staircase is adorned with statues representing the fight between Olympian Gods and the Titans.

Heading up the sweeping oval staircase (1685-1703)
From the top of the staircase, looking out between the sons of Mother Earth
What lies beneath?

Although I didn't venture into the palace itself, it houses a collection of 19th century art and boasts some very impressive interiors by all accounts. 

I have also discovered that the gardens have been used to host the occasional Pétanque competition. As a player myself, I can honestly say it's a bit more up-market than some of the venues we're used to in the East Midlands - although it's a long walk to the bar!







Friday, 9 June 2017

Hidden Prague #5 - A Fly On The Wall and other Oddities

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you may remember my post in February this year about the Hanging Man (strictly Man Hanging Out). In that post, I urged people to not only look around them at the wonders of the city but also to look upwards.

Here are some more strange things you can get a glimpse of if you're looking in the right places. 

First up are the human figures which are part of Michal Trpàk's "Slight Uncertainty" installation. These were originally part of a much larger group of figures displayed in the EBC office building in Prague, but some have made their way to other parts of town.


These two can be found at the intersection of Na Zbořenci and Odborů. Although they look like cement, they are actually made of polyester and are meant to represent "the people belonging to the working middle-class society who have taken the biggest hit in the recession. The airborne figures portray an expression of sadness, despair and an apparent instability". Each figure took about six months to create from initial drawing and is about 160cm tall.

While you're there, check out the giant fly on the building behind the man with the umbrella. Most people miss it, and quite honestly, it is pretty gross. Interestingly I can't find any information about the creator or intent behind this monster, but then this is Prague!


Next are the mysterious figures sitting atop the building (Deymův Palace) on Voršilská which runs between Národní and Ostrovní (where I'm currently staying and writing this post!). Once again, I can't find any provenance associated with the three figures, but my research indicates they were installed sometime after 2005.


Finally, in this group, it would seem appropriate to mention the figure of King Wenceslas riding on an upside down horse which is hanging from the atrium roof in the Lucerna Palace. It's another David Černý sculpture...



The figure is either called "Horse", "Dead Horse" or "Saint Wenceslas" depending on which source you use and was created in 1999, but, as usual, Černý makes little comment about his work. However, I'm sure that the location of the statue, just a few hundred metres away from the more conventional monument to King Wenceslas in Václavské náměstí is no coincidence! I leave you to speculate on the meaning.

Remember - in Prague, it's often 'onwards and upwards'! If you know of any other upwardly mobile oddities, please leave a comment or drop me a note.








Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Hidden Prague #4 - Palace Gardens (Under Prague Castle)

Despite having lived in Prague, on and off, for nearly three years and done all the classic tourist sights, I'm constantly finding new and wonderful things to do and see. Yesterday I was on a mission to find one specific place (a task that I completed successfully) and ended up somewhere that I knew about but had never really managed to put particularly high up on my priority list.

There are numerous gardens all around the castle complex. Some of them are directly associated with the castle, others belong to some of the ‘palaces’ which lie underneath the castle hill.

Yesterday, I stumbled on 'Zahrady Pod Pražskym Hradem' (which translates to 'Palace Gardens under Prague Castle'). These started out as a set of individual gardens but have now been merged into a single attraction. The original gardens, the Ledeburg, Small and Large Pálffy, Kolovrat and Small Fürstenburg gardens, and are situated on the southern slopes of the castle. Originally the site was covered in vineyards. For a full description of each of the component gardens, let me refer you to this site.

These are Prague's very own ‘hanging gardens’ which literally hang off the slopes underneath Prague Castle. They are a series of terraces, which climb up from Valdštejnská in Malá Strana to a level where you can just about bang your head on the castle wall.


Each terrace is reached by a set of steep stone stairways, and it appears that, at every level, the span of the terrace gets wider. The viewpoints over the city get more and more stunning as you climb above the rooftops.


You could argue that these are the same views that you get from the top of Nerudova from the castle parapets but you'd be wrong. For one thing, despite this being the start of the busy summer tourist season, I was almost alone in the gardens. From my vantage point, I could see the throngs above me clambering over each other to take photos and get a fleeting glimpse of the panorama. I was able to take my time, compose my shots (and myself) and quite literally, smell the roses.


Coming down from the terraces (you used to be able to get into the castle from the top, but this is no longer possible with the most recent security crackdown), you should find your way down to the Ledeburg Garden, near street level, with its grand staircase, statue of Hercules fighting the hydra, a fountain and a fresco covered 'sala terrena' or gallery. This whole area is used for concerts and theatrical performances.


Adult entrance to the gardens is 100 CZK and it's worth every penny to escape the madness and marvel at the views of the city and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

I mentioned the hydra, the mythical creature, which grew additional heads every time one got chopped off. My Prague bucket list is a bit like that. For every sight on my list I get to tick off, two or three more take its place!








Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Prague Moments #9 - Apple Museum

I often say that Prague is a city of contrasts, and none more so than the juxtaposition of the hi-tech Apple Museum with the medieval buildings in the backstreets of the old town. Situated at the intersection of Karlova and Husova in the Old Town, the Apple Museum is the largest private collection of Apple products.

Apple Computers timeline 1976-2012
There are 472 exhibits, housed across 767 square metre of exhibition space, and covers Apple products and memorabilia going back as far as 1976. Among the products represented in the museum are an Apple Lisa, Apple II, numerous iMacs, PowerBooks and iBooks as well as more modern incarnations of iPhones, iPods, iPads and MacBooks. The Macintosh family is especially well covered.

PowerMacs 1994 - 2006
Macintosh computers 1984 - 1991
                  

In addition, in a celebration of all things Steve Jobs related, there are NeXT cubes and Pixar paraphernalia from Jobs' time away from Apple.

There are bucket loads of other Apple accessories, including printers, cameras, networking devices and i/o devices.

Some people may argue that the museum exhibits don't reflect the latest and shiniest kit to originate from Cupertino, but this was an intentional decision because the museum curators wanted to focus on products created during Jobs' lifetime, so there is no representation of items after 2012.

Tickets cost €9 for adults (a little under £8 at today's rates) and all profits go to charity.

As an Apple user myself for the last ten years, and someone with a real interest in the history of IT, I found it a fascinating way to spend a (very) wet afternoon. Although quite a lot of the exhibits also appear to exist in my spare bedroom, they aren't anywhere nearly as well presented as they are in the museum, which could almost have been designed by Apple itself.

Please note - photography is not allowed in the museum (oops!)







Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Prague Moments #8 - Lucerna Music Bar

It shouldn't come as any great surprise that there is an abundant music, art, and theatre scene in Prague. After all, we often associate the term "Bohemian" with a kind of artistic lifestyle, conjuring up images of impoverished painters, composers and writers hidden away in their garrets, living on cheap wine and opium!

Manfred Mann's Earth Band
What may surprise you is the diversity of live music available to people in Prague and particularly the prevalence of popular bands and singers from the UK, US and Australia who now regularly include Prague on their tours.

Over the course of the last three years, I've seen some great acts in some interesting venues. But my favourite to date is still the Lucerna* Music Bar. The original venue, the Palace Lucerna was built at the beginning of the 20th century. By 1909 the club was being used as a theatre and later as a cabaret. After 1948 the whole Lucerna palace was nationalised. During the Communist era, the club was used as a nightclub without any real focus, but 20 years ago, on October 25th, 1995 the Lucerna Music Bar opened for the first time.

Hooverphonic
Located on Vodičkova, just off Václavské náměstí (Wenceslas Square),  the Lucerna Palace comprises shops, galleries, the Lucerna Theatre and the downstairs Music Bar, which has a capacity of 800, mainly standing. Wherever you stand on the main floor, you are never far from the wide stage and this allows an exceptional intimacy with the performers.

Like other venues in Prague, tickets prices are generally lower than you'd pay in the UK in a similar venue, and even more surprising, drinks are not much more than you'd pay in a bar in the same vicinity. A half litre of Pilsner Urquell (in an obligatory plastic glass) will cost about 50CZK or £1.50 and you'll pay about double that for a cocktail.

Newton Faulkner


Last time I was there, was to see Amy MacDonald, supported by Newton Faulkner (I couldn't even get tickets for her gig in Nottingham but here I was less than ten metres from the front of the stage!). In the past I've seen Hooverphonic, Band of Horses and Manfred Mann's Earth Band.


While I'm naming dropping, I've also enjoyed seeing Blackmores Night, Marina and the Diamonds, and the Australian band The Paper Kites, but in different venues around the city.




If you do find a act you want to see you'll be sure of a great night, but make certain you get there on time. The tickets will always tell you what time the show begins and venue websites will tell you when each act is due on the stage. Unlike in the UK, acts in Prague start with military precision. This is because local by-laws prevent most concerts from continuing after 22:30 in the evening (sadly this doesn't apply to drunks singing in the street!).

Amy MacDonald
Later this year Sparks (remember them?) and Anathema are due to perform at Lucerna and I'm hoping to be around to see them as well.

* Lucerna is the Czech word for lantern.



Saturday, 6 May 2017

Prague Moments #7 - Navalis (May 15th)

On May 15th the people of Prague celebrate Navalis, in honour of Saint John of Nepomuk (1345-1393). This is a tradition that dates back some 300 years to the his beatification in 1715. 

St John on the Charles Bridge
St John of Nepomuk is the patron saint of bridges, communication, good reputation and of all people of the water. I've mentioned him previously and you cannot walk far in Prague without seeing a statue, engraving or some other representation of him. He is instantly recognisable by his five star halo, which represent the stars that hovered over the river Vltava in which he was drowned on the orders of King Wenceslas IV. The legend has it that the king was convinced that his queen had taken a lover and demanded that St John, as the queen's confessor, reveal her secrets. When he refused to break the seal of confession, the king ordered him to be thrown into the Vltava from the Charles Bridge, hence gaining his martyrdom. 

The first account of this was some sixty years after his death and further chronicles go on to embellish the legend. The more likely historical truth is that St John refused to confirm the king's choice of a new abbott as part of a papal power struggle between the pope in Rome and a rival Avignon papacy supported by the Wenceslas, who was himself embattled with his own nobles.  But why let history get in the way of a good yarn? The first story is much more romantic!

The Navalis celebrations are heavy duty even by Prague standards. There's a procession, a holy mass at St Vitus Cathedral, another religious service St Francis of Assisi by the Charles Bridge, a regatta, skydiving and a riverside concert, rounded off by Baroque fireworks on the Vltava. All in the space of about five hours!

Last year, the procession from the castle to the statue of St John on the Charles Bridge was the real highlight of the evening for me. It was an incredibly moving and spiritual experience. Prague dignitaries, churchmen, children,  representatives of numerous local groups, and other pilgrims, along with horses and riders, follow a statue of the saint and hold a brief service on the bridge. 

Make way for the Hat
As the sun set, the sky turned an amazing yellowy-brown and I felt goosebumps on the back of my neck. The only disappointing aspect of the experience was the attitude of some of the tourists on the bridge, who seemed extremely put out that they were being impeded by the procession.

Incredible skies after the procession
We listened to some of the concert which was performed from a floating stage by the riverbank with lots of people watching from little boats on the river. The Charles Bridge also was illuminated with little white stars representing the stars on the saint's halo.

Concert on the Vltava and the stars illuminating the bridge
Unfortunately the place we'd chosen to watch the fireworks failed to take into account that Baroque fireworks don't go very high into the sky (at least not that night) and we didn't see a thing, but by that time it was getting pretty chilly.

If you're in Prague on the 15th May this year, I highly recommend you get along to at least some of the events in the programme. It all kicks off at 16:00 (local time) in Hradčany Square but you can find the detailed information on the official website here. And if last year is anything to go by, wrap up well!











Thursday, 4 May 2017

Prague in Print - Some of My Favourite Books; Part 1 - Factual

There is no shortage of guidebooks about Prague; a quick search on Amazon (UK) lists 1579 in the book department (including Kindle versions). Most of them cover the same old familiar sights and places and provide little more than a cursory introduction to the city, its people and its customs. Some of them are superb, and my personal favourite is the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Prague (last updated in October 2016).

But if you want to find out a bit more about Prague you have to dig a bit deeper. There are some excellent books available, covering: history, architecture, hidden or secret Prague, cuisine and culture. There's a fair bit of fiction as well, from both traditional Czech writers and more modern authors who have used the city as a backdrop to their novels and stories.


This post covers just a few of my favourites in each category. If it proves popular, I may expand it in the future.

Culture and customs

If you're going to be moving to Prague, there are three must-read books in my opinion.

The first is Czech Republic (Culture Shock!) by Tim Nollen. It's a bit short of 300 pages, but I personally think it should be mandatory reading for ALL travellers to the Czech Republic.

The next two are books by Rachael Weiss, an Australian with Czech parents, who came to Prague to find herself and her roots...twice. "Me, Myself and Prague" and its sequel, "The Thing About Prague..." are witty, easy to read books which give you a great idea of what to expect when you start to live here, although to be fair, life has got a bit easier (most of the time!).

Travellers' Tales

Some of the best insights into the city, both past and present, factual and fictional, can be found in books like "Prague: A Traveler's Literary Companion", edited by Paul Wilson, "Travelers' Tales Prague and the Czech Republic: True Stories", edited by David Farley,  and "Time's Magpie: A Walk in Prague" by Myla Goldberg, who lived in Prague for three years, but this is more a collection of essays and fits nicely with the other books mentioned in this section.

Coffee Table Books

There are a few 'coffee table' books in my library. Big hardbacks with lots of glossy photos. Im particularly fond of Prague: Architecture, History, Art by Stephen Brook, The Prague Book: Highlights Of A Fascinating City (Monaco Books), and Prague: Past and Present by Claudia Sugliano. My favourite in this category is probably Prague Then and Now by Jenni Meili Lau. Whilst all the photos are black and white, each double page spread contains a recent shot contrasted with a photo from a bygone age, and it's fascinating to see how the city has changed over the years (and since the book was published in 2007, how it has continued to change).

That should be enough to keep you going for a few days! In a future post, I'll share a few fictional books I've collected.




Monday, 1 May 2017

Prague Moments #6 - Břevnov Monastery May Day Beer Festival

The May Day bank holiday in Prague marks the date for the first Beer Festival in the city - První Pivní Máj (literally First Beer May). It is currently held at the Břevnov Monastery in Prague 6 and last year I arranged to meet there with my Polish friends, Slawomir and Renata.


It was a lovely spring day and rather than take the tram, I decided to walk from my flat on Smetanovo nábřeží, across the Charles Bridge, up to the castle and onto Pohořelec, before heading down Bělohorská and finally arriving at the monastery grounds for the opening at around 10:30. It was a two and three-quarter mile walk but not uneventful. On the steep climb up Nerudova towards the castle, there was quite a commotion caused by a young and very pretty lady quite happily striding along the street without a care in the world and without a stitch of clothing (sorry, no photos, you'll have to take my word for it!). Most of the noise seemed to be from the tut-tuts of the older, disapproving shopkeepers and the wives and girlfriends of the male tourists busy taking photos and getting in the way of the 'official' photographer.

I also found this rather eerie place near Diskařská which I decided must be where old trams go to die.


By the time Slavo and Renata arrived about half an hour later, the party was in full swing. I've been to a lot of beer festivals over the years, and some in strange places like a covered over swimming pool and an old converted railway roundhouse, but a monastery was a first, and it was also the first truly outdoor festival I'd been to.
Beer Festival in the shadow of Brevnov Monastery
The festival is fairly small in terms of the number of breweries, usually about 20 microbreweries, but with each of them having three or four different beers, there's no shortage of different tipples catering for most tastes. Along with the beers, there are a few Moriavian wines, ciders and a selection of typcial Czech sauages and other nibbly bits to choose from.

Having spent a good few hours sampling the delights and trying very hard not to get roped into the drinking contests (one of which involved drinking a litre of beer through a very long straw) we made our way back into town before winding down with a few cocktails at the bar underneath my flat.

Beer festivals are a Czech family affair!
The first of many beer festivals had been a great day out. Perfect weather, wonderful Czech hospitality, and truly wonderful friends. You'll hear more about them I'm sure!








Friday, 28 April 2017

Hidden Prague #3 - Franciscan Gardens

Continuing with the theme of hidden Prague, there are few substantial places more hidden in plain sight than the Franciscan Garden (Františkánská zahrada) which sits betweenWenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí) and Jungmannovo náměstí, in the shadow of the Church of the Virgin Mary of the Snow.
Franciscan Gardens and Church of the Virgin Mary of the Snow
It was originally a much larger medieval garden of the Carmelite Monastery established around 1348 at the time of the main development of the New Town (Nové Město). After 1604 it became the property of the Franciscans Order. The garden was opened to the public when the Franciscans were expelled by the communists in 1950.

Between 1989 and 1992, the garden was reconstructed by the architects Josef Kuča and Ivana Tichá, and new sculptures were added by Stanislav Hanzík and Josef Klimeš. The monastery and gardens were returned to the Franciscans as part of the restitution of property following the Velvet Revolution.




What strikes you on entering the garden is the peace and quiet compared to the hustle and bustle of one of the busiest parts of the city. In the spring and summer especially there is a blaze of colour, subtle smells of blossom, herbs and spices, and the gentle buzzing of bees. It's a great place to rest your feet, have a bite of lunch and sit and ponder or meditate for a moment or two before setting off on the next part of your adventure and hitting the busy streets once again.


Sunday, 23 April 2017

Prague Moments #5 - Klementinum Tour

I first moved to Prague in mid-October 2014 to start a new contract as a member of a small team of IT quality management specialists. I was the third member of the recently formed team and the first Brit, but a few weeks later I was joined by a second compatriot. Alec is a Glaswegian and we hit it off from the very start and went on to have a number of adventures in Prague over the course of the next two years.

Our first (and last) cultural experience together was a trip to the Klementinum, for a night tour of the building followed by a classical concert*.

Situated in Mariánské náměstí, the Klementinum is a huge complex founded by the Jesuits in 1556. Initially, the inhabitant lived in the old Dominican monastery on the site, but expanded this over the next 270 years and the site is now spread over more than two hectares, making it one of the most largest building complexes in Europe.

In 1622 part of the site that started off as a Jesuit college was promoted to university status, and this merged with the Charles University in 1654. In 1930, the last part of the university moved out of the complex, and it was taken over by the National Library.

The main features of the complex today are the Astronomical Tower, the Mirror Chapel and the Baroque library.

I'd ordered tickets on-line for the event, and these were delivered to my phone well before the night of the tour. Our first challenge was finding the right entrance to the building, which we finally managed, only to find that on arrival at the ticket office I couldn't get a signal on the phone and couldn't retrieve the tickets. After some prolonged discussions, we eventually managed to prove that we had indeed got valid tickets and we were who we claimed to be, we were eventually allowed on the tour.

We started in the Mirror Chapel, where Mozart used to play the organ, and where the concert was due to take place an hour or so later. Next was the Baroque library which was looking rather depleted as 90% of the books had been transported to Germany for extensive restoration. Like the other classic library in Prague, at the Strahov Monastery, you're only allowed to look in through the doorway and photography is completely out of the question (our charming guide told us that she had to run a quick errand and that she wouldn't know if we took any photos as long as we didn't use flash!).

Baroque Library in the Klementinum
The highlight of the tour was the highly gymnastic (and health and safety free) trip up the astronomical tower, stopping on the way to marvel at some of the earliest astronomical instruments still in existence (and some of which are still being used). These were the hallowed grounds where astronomers like Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, or Thadeus Hájek may once have worked.

The night time vista of Prague viewed from the top of the 68 metre tall tower is magnificent, and we were fortunate enough to have timed it such that the Christmas markets and lights were fully ablaze. This is undoubtedly one of the best viewpoints in Prague. Sadly, my photos don't do it justice.


Reluctantly we left the tower and Alec and I returned to the Mirror Chapel for the concert. Not only had our tickets been validated, we'd been upgraded to VIP status and had front row seats. Listening to Baroque music, in the same place where some of the composers had performed the very same music over 200 years previously was quite a profound experience. The musicians clearly enjoyed themselves, especially as one of them stood up for the final round of applause a few bars too early - oh those pesky false endings!

Organ in the Mirror Chapel
A great night out, one of many we shared as the 'bromance' blossomed over the next few months and years. Thanks buddy!




* Classical concerts are two a penny in Prague, and the churches and assembly halls clamber over each other to try and get your attendance and your money! The musicians are extremely competent, but they perform the same pieces night after night (sometimes rushing from one venue to another) and get paid a pittance so don't expect an evening of virtuoso performances for a few quid! I'd suggest you choose music that you're familiar with (extracts from the Four Seasons are usually on the 'menu') and find a venue which grabs your imagination. The Klementinum experience we did was fantastic and highly recommended, but there is currently a legal dispute going on which means that the tours can't be guaranteed.


Monday, 17 April 2017

Prague Moments #4 - Vojanův dvůr

With over 5400 local restaurants and bars mentioned in Trip Advisor, Prague is not short of places to eat and drink. The world doesn't need another set of restaurant reviews and I'm certainly not in the mood to become a food and drink critic. So, rather than start another theme in this blog dedicated to matters epicurean, I've decided to write about my favourite places under the mantle of my Prague Moments.

Vojanův dvůr is located on the West Bank of the Vlatava on U Lužického semináře. Cross the river via Mánesův Most, turn left and cross over the road and you can't miss the huge iron gates which lead into the courtyard.



The place has undergone a huge transformation since I first went there. My very first visit was with some Scottish friends who were in Prague for a friendly football match with the Czechs; it was during the winter and I remember us being the only people in the bar - outside the bar to be precise - and  even the hardy Scots were wrapped up in yellow blankets.

Some months later, in the middle of spring, I found myself back in the courtyard on a glorious spring Saturday morning. I sat at the same table as before (but with no need for a blanket) and had a few beers while people watching. I got talking to one of the waitresses and ended up staying a bit longer than I'd intended. I returned the following day, and ended up waiting a while for somewhere to sit, but  my patience paid off and I spent another happy afternoon there.


It didn't take long for Vojanův dvůr to become my favourite watering hole - much to the amusement of the staff. This is basically a tourist pub, and it's certainly not the cheapest place in the city - but compared to the UK it's still a bargain! This is my 'Cheers' pub, where everybody knows my name. I've spent many happy hours there and whenever I walk in I know I feel welcome.

For most of 2016, the courtyard housed a temporary kitchen. Even with this constraint, Tomáš the chef and his team were able to knock out first rate food at reasonable prices. The main building was cloaked by fencing and scaffolding, but these finally came down later in the year, and the new kitchen, bar and inside restaurant were open to all. With the new facilities, the menu has got more diverse, catering for both traditional Czech and international cuisine.


The Pilsner Urquell is as good as any you'll get in the city, and I enjoy sitting at the bar chatting with the staff, and continue to be amazed at how some people behave in public, usually without realising it!

Vojanův dvůr continues to be one of my first (and most regular) ports of call when I'm in town. Pop in one day if you're in the neighbourhood, and tell them Ally sent you! Maybe I'll be there myself and I'll be happy to buy you a beer (offer not valid for stag and hen parties or groups of more than two!).


Monday, 10 April 2017

Prague - My City of Romance

If you've read any of my previous posts in this blog you'll already be aware of my special connection to Prague, and my passion for being in the city. My most recent visit has completely sealed that bond and has catapulted Prague to the top of my list of the most romantic cities in the world.

In an article in the independent newspaper last year, Prague came in at number ten of the top twenty five most romantic cities in the world (Paris came in top, but that was hardly a revelation!). It has also featured in a similar poll and in a similar position this year and in 2014, Prague was third in the list of most romantic cities in Europe.

If you've visited Prague, you'll understand why people fall in love with the city. If you're lucky you may even have fallen in love with someone while you've been there. Even in the depths of winter, I've seen couples having wedding photographs taken on the Charles Bridge. A former colleague from Romania got married in her embassy in the city (best of both worlds - get married on your home soil in a different country!).

On my second trip to the city, some twelve years ago, I have a feeling that something sparked between me and another former colleague, although I can't be entirely sure - I was a bit less worldly than I am now!

We started seeing each other some years later after that, and have now been together for over ten years. Mel has been to stay with me on a number of occasions while I've lived in Prague, and she shares my love of the place. And on her birthday this year, as the climax to a great weekend shared with some old university friends of mine, we sealed the deal and got engaged (much to my surprise!).

Just after the big event - outside the first hotel we stayed in
Prague is truly My City of Romance! And Mel has a beautiful Bohemian white gold and diamond ring on her finger to prove it!






Friday, 7 April 2017

Hidden Prague #2 - Kafka's Head

I wasn't entirely sure whether this should be a 'Hidden Prague' post, or merely a 'Prague Landmark'. In the end, I decided on the former because when my neighbour from the UK came to stay with me last month, he spent two hours fruitlessly searching for it to no avail. Eventually I managed to point him in the right direction, and he went home a happy bunny, having seen everything on his list. When I first discovered it, it was only because I'd come out of the shopping mall the wrong way in my early days - and it had only been recently been unveiled, is it wasn't in any of the tourist guides.

Kafka's Head is another David Černý sculpture but on a massive scale. It stands 10.2 metres tall and is made up of 42 independent rotating tiers, held together by a kilometre of cable, driven by a motor and series of relay motors, and weighing in at 39 tonnes.





The whole assembly was erected in late 2014 above Národní třída metro station at the back of the Quadrio shopping mall and business centre (or here on Google maps).

Have a look at the video...(which seems not to show up in Safari. If you can't see the embedded video, trying clicking here)

video


For more technical information on the sculpture have a look at this page.