I used to live in Paris. Czechman tells me that I should be careful about starting conversations with a sentence like this. It’s true that the Czechs as a rule are a modest bunch. According to Czechman though, this means that even so much as mentioning the fact that I once lived in France risks making me look like a big head. The same goes for bringing up where I went to university. I can’t disclose that information here, because again, I risk looking like a big head but suffice to say, it’s old and famous and full of tourists taking pictures of it. Again, according to Czechman the only excuse for giving up this sensitive information is if someone asks me directly where I did my studies.
Anyway, I used to live in Paris. I’ve heard it said that Prague is ‘the Paris of the East’ so I decided it was time for a whimsical investigation into this claim.
Five reasons why Prague may be the new (old) Paris
1) Literary haunts
Prague has plenty of great places to sip a coffee, smoke a cigarette (you can still do that indoors here!) and scribble down ideas in your Moleskine for your next novel. Like Paris, many of these cafes can boast literary creditials: apparently Max Brod and Kafka used to hang out in Cafe Louvre and of course the now somewhat touristy Cafe Slavia was frequented by Havel and Co during their dissident days. And there’s the absinthe of course…
2) The Eiffel Tower
Prague has its own, Petrin, which is a 1:5 scale replica of the original, trivia fans. Of course you can climb up it and admire Prague from either of the viewing galleries on the first floor or right at the top. the top. There’s also a lift too if you don’t fancy traipsing up all those stairs. When you go don’t forget to check out the Jára Cimrman museum in the basement. Jara Cimrman is the great Czech hero who never actually existed; I thought the museum could have been cooked up by the Monty Pythons as a side project. I’m not going into detail here as Cimrman really deserves a post of his own…
When I told people back home that I was moving to Prague, one of the most common reactions was not in fact ‘Wow, isn’t the beer less than one pound a pint?’ but ”Oh, it’s such a romantic city!’ Perhaps that says something about who I hang around with. Anyway, no-one can deny Prague is an extremely beautiful city. Admittedly, the most famous landmarks are packed with the Easyjet brigade but if you’re determined to experience walking through a deserted Old Town one way of doing it is to get up at 6am, take your pictures in peace and then find a nice place to have breakfast. The Obecni Dum has a great selection and a lovely Art Nouveau interior.
On a personal level though, I find it hard to associate Prague with ‘Romance’ as Czechman just isn’t very good at it. Poor Czechman. Let’s put his hatred of Valentines Day and his reluctance to celebrate our anniversary down to the Czech dislike of pretense I talked about in my tram-spotting post, shall we?
4 Haussmann-style apartment buildings
Not sure if this is the right term exactly but you know the kind I mean: those 19th century buildings that are usually five or six storeys high and decorated with swirls and cherubs. Like the one you can see behind the ‘Girl in Czechland’ title. They scream France to me but I’m prepared to stand corrected. Anyway, go and take a walk around Vinohrady with its tree-lined avenues and old-style apartment buildings and you’ll see it owes more than a little something to fin-de-siecle Paris. The graffitti that you sometimes see on them (maybe I’m thinking more of Zizkov when I say this) gives the place a grungy, down-at-heel flavour that I find appealing. Go on, laugh at me but I used to live in a very grotty part of East London so that kind of thing makes me feel at home.
5 Le Centre vs La Banlieue
Paris may not have built any panelacs (the concrete tower blocks dating from the Communist era) but there is a real divide between the historic centre of the city and the outskirts or suburbs (‘la banlieue’), must of which has effectively become a dumping ground for the socially undesirable. Remember the riots in Paris a couple of years back? Not a very lighthearted or whimsical observation to end on I’m afraid. Sorry.
I haven’t had much first hand experience of panelacs yet – apart from being unable to urinate at Czechman’s parents’ place because I realised every little sound from the toilet travelled through the paper thin wall to their kitchen – but that could all soon change. Czechman wants to use his savings to get on the property ladder and it’s doubtful he’ll be able to afford anything in the old apartment buildings in Vinohrady (cue spoilt and Western sigh…).