Getting the Best Out of Prague: Don’t bother with Starbucks, Just Look Up

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I’ve been living in Prague for around four months now.  I like it here.  My life is falling into a routine which is good because it helps me to feel more comfortable and settled but bad because I am in danger of losing the magic of being in a new place.

In ‘Talking it Over’, a novel by Julian Barnes, Stuart knows that he is in love because his walk to work is mysteriously transformed.  He starts noticing things, little details – decorations on buildings, a plaque commemorating a Zepplin raid – that he had somehow previously managed to overlook for years.  Things are looking up for him: that makes him look up, literally.

I try to do the same as much as possible here in Prague.  The results are rewarding.  Every building seems to have its own little appealing quirk whether its a pretty mosaic mural in an Art-Nouveau style, a muscle-bound Greek god hoisting up a windowledge on his huge shoulders or a frieze of the great proletariat engaging in some industrious activity.

I was standing outside Starbucks on Wencelsas Square waiting for someone. Just in case you think I’m being all spoilt and western again, I’d just like to make it clear that we were just using it as a rendez-vous point –  even I think 90Kc is steep for a vanilla moccafrotthacappolatte.

A little bored, I craned my head back and had a good look up at the building on the corner.

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Look at these queer jade faces: they look as though they could have been stolen from an Aztec temple or mystical totem pole.  Wander around the corner into Stepanska and look even further up (the zoom on my camera wouldn’t reach that far) and you’ll be rewarded by seeing a row of lions’ heads with golden teeth jutting out from the wall.  Seeing them gets me thinking.  Who put them there?  Why lions?  Thinking in this way is good: it means I’m engaging with my surroundings not just sleepwalking along in a routine-induced daze.

If you’re scared of getting lost, walking out in front of a car or bumping into people, then you can engage in active noticing more safely from the window of a tram.  Try jumping on the 9 at Jindrisska.  Fight your way to a seat – not the ones for invalids by the doors as you’ll soon have to leap up again for a senior citizen or someone on crutches.  However much you love people-watching,  ignore the people inside the tram, tilt your head back and look out of the window.  Don’t move until you get to Andel.

Now experiment.  Try other tram routes.  Stare up to examine the buildings around you while you’re waiting for the bus or tram in the first place.  You could even try taking things a step further.  Disappear down side streets just to see what’s there.  I know you know this already but sometimes it’s easy to forget.   You might find something worth seeing or you might end up nowhere.  Don’t worry.  We know the world isn’t flat: there’s no risk of falling off the edge into a void.  Except here of course.

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12 Comments

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12 Responses to Getting the Best Out of Prague: Don’t bother with Starbucks, Just Look Up

  1. A good post, and there are so many things to see in Prague. My favorite is on one of the streets running from Jindrisska towards Hlavni Nadrazi, where there is a beautiful ornate Jewish Synagogue….

    On the doors to either side of the main doors, which I guess lead up to the balconies, the writing is in German….

    I went by on a Friday once, which is the only day they seem to be open, and asked the guys sitting outside why there was German writing on a Jewish building….

    They had no idea about it until I pointed it out to them….

    Perhaps because their heads were bowed in prayer whenever they went in the place….

    Spawny

  2. girlinczechland

    Hi Spawny,

    This is exactly the kind of thing I mean! I was really hoping that other people would add their own examples of those little tiny often overlooked details which can tell you so much.

    I’m definitely going to check this one out so thanks. 🙂

    GIC

  3. This was a great post. Every day I find something new in my surroundings in Brno. When I’m at a tram stop and look up to see the fine details of a random building or even just look out and see the cathedral, I have to wonder if the Czechs even notice these things any more? Growing up here I guess you can just take the amazing scenery for granted. What a shame. And from your post it sounds like I’ll really be able to see some cool things when I visit Prague.

  4. M

    the opening photo made me laugh a lot 🙂 why on earth of all the pics you postred this one 🙂 do you know what it means and all these symbols on it? 🙂

  5. Marek

    Brno elevated-sights-seeing report: there is a Statue of Liberty (kind of) on top of the roof corner at the Silingrovo namesti/Pekarska tram stop. Also a huge statue of a bee at Malinovskeho namesti. (Lions on a house I can accept, but a BEE SCULPTURE ????!!!!) 😀

    • Marek

      Ok, here we go … http://www.mojebrno.wz.cz/inka–brno-namesti-malinovskeho-namesti.html You can sort of see it if you enlarge the “Bienenhaus” photo.
      Reasons for placing a bee on top of a house here are as follows (HW for non-Czech speakers) 🙂 Na věži jednoho z domů na náměstí, postaveného ke konci 19. stol., je umístěna velká včela. Podle ní se budově říkalo “Včelín”, německy “Bienenhaus”. Protože včela symbolizuje pracovitost, vytrvalost a střádavost, není se co divit, že dnes památkově chráněný obyvatelný dům byl původně družstevní záložnou.

      • girlinczechland

        Thanks for posting this link Marek: just had a quick look at the pics of Brno in times past: they’re really interesting. Still haven’t made it to the Moravian capital yet but I’m looking forward to doing so even more now 🙂

        GIC

  6. The first image of the Beehive is a reference to the Masonic lodge who built that building. The other image is Suspich Houses which was designed by two very famous people… Emil Kralicek and Matej Blecha whose work is all over the New Town.

  7. Aidan Moss

    Old Jokes’ Home (because only you (may) appreciate it!)

    Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin and Vaclav Klaus are each given a message by God.

    The next day, Obama announces:
    – The good news is, God exists;
    – and the world is going to end tomorrow.

    Putin announces:
    – The bad news is, God exists;
    – and the world is going to end tomorrow

    Klaus announces:
    – I am one of the three most important people in the world;
    – And the good news is, the Lisbon Treaty is definitely not going through!

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