By Antonio Malara
Although we have known each other since school, my closest friends and I had never taken a trip together. In the summer of 2013, on the occasion of a reunion with two other friends who no longer lived in our city, we were drinking a cocktail in a club on the beach, and one of my friends proposed the idea. He had visited Prague a few years earlier and assured us that the city was not only beautiful but also had the best nightclubs to enjoy. By some strange magic, the proposal was taken seriously by everyone, I don't remember ever having agreed so much on an idea. It was about having a long weekend for that September and the only common problem was to ask for days off from work. We moved quickly and within a week we had all confirmed our presence. It was up to me to make all the reservations, helped by the friend who had the idea, there was a lot of motivation from everyone and this was already a positive thing. I must say that I was a bit skeptical about the wonders my friend told about Prague, but at the same time I trusted him and tried to be positive. We spent that summer waiting for this first trip together, we did nothing but discuss details and imagine situations that still had to happen. Traveling together for the first time also made the various journeys to their destination fun. Between a joke and another we waited for the long waits in the various airports practically always laughing.
As with San Diego this post will be more of a guide than a story, I will describe the places I have found most beautiful and I will explain why. After that first time I went back to Prague two more times, in 2015 it was just me and one of my friends from the first time group, in 2016 it was me plus three others (I tried to recreate the whole group but it wasn't possible).
With Prague it was love at first sight because it is a city on a human scale. What I mean is that you can go around on foot and every corner of the city offers a beautiful view and architecture. The Old Town with its narrow streets full of people, shops and restaurants mixes well with the new part where the streets are wider and host means of transport such as the tram. Moving from one place to another is simple and pleasant, several times I have happened to walk back to my residence from a distant point of the city. The atmosphere in the city is pleasant, with tourists of all ages and nationalities. During the day it is easier to find families and couples while at night the city changes its face, around 23 PM there are only young people who populate the different types of nightclubs. Besides all this, another thing that fascinates me about Prague is the beauty of the girls. If I was sitting at a table outside the restaurant, or standing waiting for the subway and whenever I stopped on the street to do something, eight out of ten girls passing by me were beautiful. Pure beauty without makeup, with smooth facial skin and natural blonde hair. In addition to to this and after my various experiences in Prague and many other places I have seen around the world, I can say that the capital of the Czech Republic is the place with the best nightlife.
Wenceslas Square (Václavské Námestí) is one of the largest squares in Prague, located in the new city. It is rectangular in shape, very wide and slightly uphill, at the end of which stands the stature of St. Wenceslas (the saint departing from Bohemia to whom the square is dedicated) and at the top stands the Narodni Muzeum, a beautiful Museum with a central dome. The square is also popular because here Jan Palach, a twenty-one-year-old student, set himself on fire in the late sixties as a protest against the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact countries that took place months earlier. Today it is a place full of shops, restaurants and different types of night clubs. It is a place that definitely has two faces, if during the day there are many tourists who buy souvenirs, walk to the museum or simply enjoy a drink sitting at a table, at night there it’s another story. In Wenceslas Square there are several discos such as the Lucerna, the Duplex and the beautiful Nebe, plus there is the temple of adult entertainment: the Darling Cabaret and the only FKK in the city: the Sauna Club. This means that if you arrive in the square after a certain time of the night you are approached by many promoters who will try to take you to their club. I must say that there is a constant presence of the police to avoid troubles but it is definitely not a place for couples.
For me the square has a special meaning for at least two reasons. With my friends we stayed in the Křižíkova neighborhood so we used the metro to get to the center. From day one we stopped at the Mustek stop and Wenceslas Square was the first thing I saw and photographed in Prague. The first sight was so impressive that although Prague is full of much more beautiful places than St. Wenceslas, I connect the city to that image. The second reason is that I have practically always ended my Prague nights in this square, leaving the legendary Darling Cabaret always at dawn. Beyond the aesthetic beauty, San Wenceslas is a place where I prefer to go at night, I don't find anything interesting during the day except Na Prikope which is the street full of shops that divides the old city from the new one (therefore San Wenceslas). Whenever I walk there during the day I can only smile when I see young couples on vacation. Especially the boys make me very sorry because they don't know what they are losing at night (assuming they have enough energy).
Prague Astronomical Clock and Old Town Square
The Prague Astronomical Clock (Staroměstský Orloj) was the second place of interest I saw. In fact, always from the usual Mustek metro stop, along the narrow street of Melantrichova you arrive right in front of it. The astronomical clock is a scientific monument that dates back to the Middle Ages, in the beautiful dial, in addition to the time, it represents the position of the sun and moon in the sky, but not only. What attracts tourists the most is the show of the Apostles that is "activated" every hour. Four figures representing the deadly sins come to life when the skeleton statue rings the bell, followed by the Apostles appearing looking out the windows. If you happen to pass by the tower and see a lot of people, it means that the show is ready to begin. To enjoy the representation, I recommend not staying too close to the tower because it would be seen too perpendicularly. It is best to follow the show from a little distance from the tower and people and if you have a binocular or a camera with a zoom, you can use it to see the details. In 2015 I went up to the top of the tower, a central lift (I think recently built) leads up to the penultimate floor. To go up on foot instead you can use a ramp that flanks the walls (I personally used this one). Arrived almost at the top, the last level can be reached only via an iron spiral staircase. The staircase was very nice, this too I think is a more recent design, it probably replaced the original one. At the top there is a small corridor that runs all around the tower and allows you to see the city from every corner. Obviously, the most beautiful view is that of the Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí). This is the main square in the Old Town. Here there are several monuments such as the Church of St. Nicholas, the Kinsky Palace, the Church of the Stone Bell and above all my favorite, that is the Church of St. Mary of Týn. This Gothic-style church attracts me above all for the architecture of the two towers. The large pointed elements that cover the towers give me the impression of two large multi-pointed swords. In addition to this, the church has the particularity of being surrounded by houses that are close to the walls, so it is half covered. This is another detail that makes the church seem to me like some kind of ancient and complex defense weapon. It gives me the impression of a spacecraft with swords pointed high and ready to leave for space.
The square is quite large and very populated, several streets of interest depart from here. “Parizska” is the luxury shopping street that ends on the north side of the Vltava River. “Celetná” is another street that I liked very much, very narrow, straight door under “Prasna Brana” which is a beautiful medieval gate, after which you find yourself near Namesti Republiky, another very busy square, an important hub of the city. “Dlouha” on the other hand, is a road that leads north-east towards the disco pub area. Here along the others, there is the “James Dean Prague” which is my favorite. In addition to the kitchen, these kin of places also offer beautiful evenings, usually in the basements. The term does not convey the idea, these are well-kept places with bars, music and lots of people. Basically these places are touristic but it is nice to spend the evening in places like these because you can meet and interact with so many people from all parts of the world, not only tourists but also students. In the case of the James Dean it is precisely its basic feature that leads to interacting with people even if you don't know each other. In this place I spent some beautiful nights, meeting so many people with a stunning simplicity.
Charles Bridge (Karlův Most) is the most important bridge in Prague, about 500 meters long it crosses the Vltava river connecting the Old Town (Stare Mesto) to the Mala Strana district. It is entirely built in stone and has two beautiful towers on both sides. The bridge is characterized by 30 statues that mostly represent saints but there is also one that represents "Piety", another depicts the “Ordeal” and some also see the Madonna as the protagonist. The bridge being now totally pedestrian is the major tourist attraction of the city, here there are also many portrait painters or people who sell souvenirs. Personally, I love this attraction above all for what it represents as a meeting point. More than the bridge, I especially like the two towers, similar to the Prasna Brana gate, giving the impression of a "Gate", an access to another dimension. I believe that this very personal impression is given to me by the arches on which they are erected. Normally there are a lot of tourists on the bridge, perhaps a little too many if you try to take some nice pictures but give a good sense of community. The bridge is so popular that it is easy to find people even in the late hours after dinner. There is like an unwritten law that brings strangers there to meet and make new acquaintances. Several times I happened to flirt with tourists on the Charles Bridge, certainly an unconventional location for this type of things. If you cross the bridge starting from the old city, just before arriving on the other side, you can see a mill looking out from the left side. This is one of the things I like to do most, for me the mill is such a classic and unusual vision that I am afraid that someone might demolish it to do something else. Every time I go back to Prague I run to see if the mill is still there.
Mala Strana is another beautiful part of the city that still has the same style as the old city but with slightly wider streets. From this district taking a long staircase you arrive at the castle. Precisely for being a point of passage towards it, many times I stopped in Mala Strana to have a beer, here I also tasted for the first time the “Trdelník”, the famous typical dessert of Prague.
Walking down Thunovská street you will come across stairs leading to the large square outside the Praga Castle (Pražský Hrad). It takes a little breath to get to the top but it's absolutely worth it. Once you get up, a very special view of the city of Prague opens up on the left. The landscape is mainly marked by the red roofs of the houses, from here you can't see the main monuments of the city, the one that attracts the most attention is the Television Tower and on the right, the Petrin Hill with the characteristic tower in the center (a miniature Eiffel Tower). Walking in the opposite direction to the viewpoint, you will find the entrance to the Castle, which is represented by the Matthias Gate. Outside the door there are the official guards, this entrance is characterized by large gates and statues but it is above all one that attracts attention. Just to the left of the entrance, a giant man holds a knife in the slashing position against a person kneeling under him. Although this square is full of people and temporary attractions like street food stands, the thing that strikes the most is always that statue, at least for me it is. Through the courtyard you enter a small square and crossing this you arrive at the gothic Cathedral of San Vito. Here I had my first disappointment; the front and the left side of the cathedral are surrounded by very close buildings, making it impossible to fully enjoy its beauty. Even from a photographic point of view, there is no way to take nice photos that represent that place. From this point of view I preferred to focus on the details trying to zoom in on the most particular details of the gothic statues on the Cathedral. The whole area of the Castle is very large and has many buildings such as the Cathedral and gardens but to be honest I didn't spend much time here. I like to come back, to be surrounded by people but I have never found this area particularly beautiful. Except for the Cathedral, the big building which should gives the impression of power is missing, in fact in my opinion the best view of the Castle is from the Charles Bridge. Looking at the Castle from the bridge, you can see the entire length of the building and understand its size, which is what is lost when you visit it.
The Petrin Tower (Petřínská Rozhledna) is located within the large park which, like the tower, takes its name from the hill, namely Petrin. This site compared to other places in Prague needs a couple of transportations to get there. Personally I have only been there once, I arrived by tram to the Újezd stop and from there I easily reached the funicular station of the same name. Through this in a few minutes you get to the top of the hill, if you take a mini pass for public transport (normally I bought the one for the three days) this journey is included in the price. The park is very large but personally I only walked a few steps until I reached a wall, the arched entrance is small but once you pass under it you are at the foot of the tower. This tower is a clear homage to the Eiffel Tower of Paris only it is much smaller. However, I must say that this has its own personality, it is not a copy and has the charm of miniatures. Assuming that you have already visited the Eiffel Tower, when you are in front of Petrin Tower, it’s like when you see the giraffe in the zoo but at the same time you are amazed to see the small ones. The gray color, along with the design of the various floors which is round rather than square, give a personal aspect that is very appreciated. Another thing to do absolutely is to reach the top, an interesting tour for various reasons. I state that it is not a pleasant experience for those who do not like narrow spaces but at the same time it is also nice to see the functionality of the same. A small central lift takes you up to the top and once you get there you are all close to other people trying to look out the windows. I must say that despite the people I managed to look from all sides and also to take many photos. The view from up there is certainly the most beautiful you can have in the city. The most characteristic is the side that overlooks the Old Town and it is possible to admire the entire Charles Bridge as well. Another thing I liked was the continuous and small vibrations. I don't know if these were influenced by the wind of that day or by crowding, but it was possible to notice small oscillations like continuous micro earthquakes. Personally I felt those vibrations as if it were the vital part of the tower. Those micro movements really gave me the impression of being on top of something. Normally in modern towers it is absolutely not possible to perceive vibrations. I liked this experience equally as the panoramic view, obviously someone else will get scared by trying the same thing, it's all personal. As I said before, the hill is a very large area with many paths in the woods, it certainly deserves a more in-depth visit that goes beyond the tower, especially recommended for those who want to be in the midst of nature.
The Dancing House (Tančící Dům) is a beautiful palace designed by the architect Vlado Milunić and the legendary Frank Gehry. If you have read my post about Boston, you will understand how I got to know the Canadian architect's works and why I particularly like it. I don't know in what proportion the two designers worked but Ghery's imprint is very visible. The palace is a stylized representation of two people dancing, the oblique shapes of pillars and windows along with various asymmetries are the unmistakable sign of Gehry. Obviously, like other works by the famous architect, I loved it from the first second I saw it. The figure of the woman is certainly better represented, with transparent windows that widen in the lower part to form a skirt and a balcony that symbolizes the arm around the waist. This site, on the other hand, is a fixed appointment for me, going there and looking and photographing the building from various angles strongly inspires me as well as giving me a relaxing effect. Perhaps the only negative thing is the location of the building. It is in fact located at the corner but close to the intersection with the Jirásküv bridge, from there passes a double lane road also traveled the tram lane. It is not the vehicles themselves that disturb the view of the building but the large electric cables that power the transportation. I must say that I have seen beautiful photos online of long exposures where these details were useful to create particular photos. I’m more realistic and I would have preferred the "cleaning" of the scene but probably next time I return I will try to make some attempts to make the cables protagonists along with the building.
Žižkov Television Tower
At 216 meters high, the Prague TV Tower is the tallest building in the city. The tower is located inside a park in the Zizkov district, east of the city center. The tower is visible from many points such as the Castle or the Clock Tower and its modern design makes a science fiction movie effect. The design, consisting of two cylinders of the same height plus a much higher third, is broken up by modules placed on three levels which are essentially the various floors of the building. When I first saw it from the viewpoint of the Castle, it immediately attracted my attention even though it was very small from there. Here too, as for the dancing house, I went several times and once I even went up to the penultimate floor (the last one was not open to visitors because there was a private ceremony). This tower gives pleasure because it is possible to admire and photograph it from many different points so you can grasp all the details. The characteristic thing is the presence of ten statues of children climbing along the cylinders. It is an original thing that you only notice when you are under the tower and it is another element that breaks the design. The idea is original and personally when I look at them I don't have the impression that they are static but unconsciously I see them as moving in the act of climbing. I don't know if this is the intention that the artist wanted to give when he designed it, but it certainly stimulates the imagination. At night the tower is illuminated with blue, red and white light beams giving a different effect and depth compared to daytime vision. I went up preferring the night view of the panorama. The rooms inside were many but above all, I liked the one which was all illuminated with red light. Unfortunately, I can't say the same about the view from up there at night. As the tower is far from the points of interest, we find ourselves looking at the roofs of residential houses, this combined with the fact that the windows were not clear did not give a particular effect to the panoramic view. Despite this I’ve been able to take a nice pic overlooking the Castle. Certainly I had more fun taking pictures inside where there were various installations. I will probably return but during the day with the intention of going up to the top floor. That day of the visit I remember that with my friend we went back to the residence on foot, it was not very close but I liked the idea of exploring the neighborhoods and getting home from a totally different point.
Maybe I will seem too macho and superficial but I love Prague especially for the magical nights I spent leaving one club and entering another. Surely it would not have been enough if the city had not given photographic ideas for its particular architecture. Or if there hadn't been all those places for lunch or dinner where you feel free to choose given the great variety of restaurants. Nevertheless, I consider Prague a city for singles and I love it for that. I had a lot of intense experiences in the Prague nights that I want to tell in a kind of novel. My nocturnal behaviors have not been politically correct but I have never been a moralist and I have never had to give an account to anyone. Even today, seven years after the first time, I always want to go back there with the same "bad intentions" and I don't care as long as my body allows me. Living for pleasure, this Prague has given me and I will always be grateful. Obviously another challenge will be the photographic one, there are many places that I have not visited yet and the plan is to return as soon as possible, take lots of photos and make a post giving a totally new perspective compared to the one given in this one. Final, considering the beauty of the girls, I'm trying to write some photographic projects to realize with the beautiful female creatures that populate this magnificent city.
Pictures: Antonio Malara
Camera: Nikon D800