A Giant Alien Ray Gun and Some Camels: Commuting in Prague

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That giant alien ray gun: Zizkov TV Tower

commute

1. travel to and from one’s daily work, usually in a city, especially by car or train

2. change (a judicial sentence etc) to another less severe.

According to Joe Moran’s wonderfully entertaining piece of pop-sociology, Queuing for Beginners, the bored commuter has become a symbol of the drudgery of daily life.  If, like me, you have braved the perils of London’s public transport system with its frequent hiccups and full-scale breakdowns, you’ll understand why.

Scientific studies have shown that the humble commuter undergoes more stress than a fighter pilot despite being in no imminent danger – only the wrath of an irate boss should they turn up late. The reason? Unlike the fighter pilot, the urban traveller has no control over what happens to him.  He is powerless.

Now I live in Prague, my journey to work has ceased to be a chore and has instead become one of the minor highlights of my day.  For a start, it’s much shorter. As I’ve said before, Prague is far more compact city than London: there’s none of that “I must allow an hour to get anywhere, even if it’s ten minutes down the road as the crow flies” or “Whipps Cross? No problem. I’ll just get a bus, train, hop on the DLR then flag down a camel.”

My last post may have had a (metaphorical) elephant in it but I was joking about the camel. However, I did spot four camels grazing on the outskirts of Letna from the window of the tram the other day.

No, Ms Girlova hasn’t been dropping acid. They belong to the circus.

I don’t have to venture underground for my commute but I love the metro tunnels with their metallic tiles that seem to belong in a science-fiction film. Before you get down to the platform, those endless escalators have to be negotiated. They do offer male passengers certain delights which have not escaped the attention of  a certain Ricky and Richard – see the comments on my last post to discover what I mean…

I travel by tram. As many Czechs still operate on Austro-Hungarian time and are at their desks (or company-sponsored English lessons) by 7:30am, I usually get a seat. Now I can stare out of the window and watch Prague strobe past the glass. Man cannot live on architecture alone but I delight in those pretty little details – a couple of svelte caryatids or a gilt decorative swirl –  at eight in the morning.

My tram ride takes me along the river. On the other side I can see a tiny stone General Zizkov sitting on his horse; he looks like he belongs on a girl’s charm bracelet. Then there’s the TV Tower, a giant alien ray gun left behind by fleeing UFOs where vineyards once were.  Soon afterwards there’s the Art Wall where a few months ago they had giant photos of men hanging themselves or perhaps they were being hung? It was a bit too provocatively disturbing for first thing in the morning.

We fly across the Vltava. There’s that king of the Castles looking picture-postcard perfect as always. I’m doing what all commuters do: daydreaming of escape, worrying about work, wasting energy reflecting on unsolvable difficulties but as I look about of the window, I feel soothed.

As a one-time Londoner now living in Prague, my journey to work is a daily reminder that my sentence has been commuted to a less harsh one.

This last sentence doesn’t communicate anything except my desire to end with a stylistic flourish.

A couple of male carytids holding up a balcony

20 Comments

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20 Responses to A Giant Alien Ray Gun and Some Camels: Commuting in Prague

  1. choroba

    Žižkov is the quarter, Žižka was the guy.

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Choroba,

      Oops. I think I was so pleased with my charm bracelet metaphor that I overlooked that little error…

      GIC

  2. I thought that I was going to be the first to comment but I see you’ve already had a Czech correcting your Czech – what a surprise :-)

    I couldn’t agree with you more about the delights of traveling around Prague by tram. There is so much to see and enjoy as you travel along. The Metro is quick but there is little to see except those interesting metallic tiles you describe. I have no intention of saying anything more about the sights on escalators ;-)

    Brilliant play on words with your last comment – I liked it!

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Ricky,

      I’m happy to be corrected by my readers: I’ve been making a super big effort recently to avoid silly typos so that you have less to do in your role as unoffical GIC proofreader!

      I’m a real sucker for the trams as my old post about them attests. I think it’s partly a sense of nostalgia related to childhood trips to Blackpool and Fleetwood: no illuminations in Prague of course but perhaps that’s a good thing! I’d much rather have some mulled wine on Old Town Square once the festive season arrives – can’t wait!

      GIC

  3. Mike in Bohemia

    Hi GIC,
    I too have commuted in London, from Surbiton to Camden. It took 2 hours by car to travel 30 km. At some junctions I read the paper for 5 or 10 mins, the traffic was so bad in Hammersmith :-)
    I dont miss that at all.
    Now I drive 10 mins by car at 50 km/hr,much nicer.
    My only bugbear is the snow in winter, but that’s a small price to pay.
    Great article GIC
    BW, Majk

    • girlinczechland

      Hi Mike,

      I don’t own a driving license so I’m particularly grateful that Prague has decent public transport. Still, one day I do plan to get behind the wheel: when that day arrives I’m sure they’ll be plenty of entertaining blog material about hitting the road in Czechland (let’s hope I remember to stay on the right side of the white line!)

      GIC

  4. Neil

    A caryatid is by definition female, your male carytids would individually each be a telamon, collectively in the plural they are telamones.

    But sorry for the nitpicking yours is a brilliant blog, and I love reading it even if it does everytime increase my regret that I never did move to Prague and live another life in another country.

    I’m intrigued my your statement that people often begin work at 07:30, what is the the normal work day schedule in Czechland?

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Neil,

      Don’t worry about the nitpicking: I’m something of a closet pedant and love learning obscure vocabulary so thanks :)

      As for the Czechs daily start time, I can’t comment on this with great authority but back in my days as a humble TEFL teacher it did seem surprising to me that people would be prepared to come to work 90 minutes early twice a week for English lessons and that an alarming amount of workers were already at their desks if not by 7.30 then definitely by 8am… Czechman says 9am is a late start in an office job. Can my Czech readers shed more light on this?

      GIC

      • Sarka

        I’m neither a great expert at this, but I guess it goes like this:

        Morning shifts for blue-collar workers start usually at 6 am.
        People in civil service start most often at 8 am.
        People working in private sector should be at their desks no later than 9 am.
        School starts most often at 8 am. It’s a bit later at universities. But seminars at 7 am are not rare :-/.

        It’s said that these quite early starts of the day comes from the time of the government of Franz Joseph I of Austria who used to get up very early and start working at 6 am.

        But it has it’s positives. You have quite a lot of time in the afternoons. But for me it’s usually so hard to get to bed before midnight.

      • girlinczechland

        Thanks for this Sarka. I’ve heard the rumour that this all originates from Franz Joseph being an early riser and expecting everyone else to be just as dedicated: I wonder if it’s true? (not that I doubt your authority! :) )

        GIC

      • Mike in Bohemia

        My office hours in a Czech private company in Jablonec are 8 AM to 4 PM with 30 mins of lunch break. This is typical among my CZ friends too.
        Mike

    • Lucy

      Hello,
      I wanted to comment on the caryatids, too. Caryatids are only female. If it’s a male, it’s an atlas (both in English and in Czech). I’ve never heard of it being a “telamon”, so I looked it up and found out that it’s the Roman term. So… thank you for that, I like new information. And I’m glad I’m not the only one who had the urge to comment on that topic. :D

  5. Neil

    So if people start at that time, when do they usually finish. I’m an early riser myself so this seems like another reason I’d love to live in the Czech Republic.

    • Sarka

      After 8 hours of work usually (if they don’t have to work overtime, of course, which is usual in the private sector; blue-collar workers can have 12 hours shifts).

  6. Janica

    I also love watching the world from behind the windows. How do you like the Czech trains? This is such a great way to do it – sitting in an empty compartment, reading for a while, than look out and remain doing it for the rest of the way… I really love the oldschool Czech trains, hope it will take a long time yet to replace them with the boring modern ones. (I think, for the financial management of České dráhy, I am safe at this.)

    • girlinczechland

      Hey Janica,

      I know what you mean about Czech trains: those old carriages certainly are atmospheric although one English friend was disappointed not to find anywhere to plug in her laptop the first time she travelled on one!

      I should add ‘a post about Czech trains and train stations’ to my long list of blog ideas – watch this space as always…

      GIC

      • Please, do! I love trains, what with being the daughter of a Czech railways enthusiast :-) , and I think travelling by train is quite an important part of the life in the Czech Republic – definitely compared to America, though I don’t know about Britain…
        Commuting from a town near Prague to the opposite side of Prague, as I did for a while, was less fun, but the journey from Holešovice to the centre is certainly a very picturesque and enjoyable one!

  7. “Czechs still operate on Austro-Hungarian time” – that’s exactly the expression I’ve been looking for recently! But no matter how well said it is, who has never been confronted with this will never really understand. I mean, I am SO HAPPY there’s nothing going on before 10 in Berlin, I still feel unwell when I remember the times I had to be at school at 7.

    Anyway, let’s praise the Internet! It’s actually quite fun to read about the country I left, although not so long time ago, but so to say at the first opportunity and probably forever.

    Keep it going & pozdravuj Čechy

    N.

  8. richardinprague

    Lovely blog again, Ms Girlova – and nice photo of the city in an unusual light, too.

    Working at a university here, we start teaching at 7am, and shut the doors again at 9pm. Today I started teaching at 7.50 until midday, then I came home to “see to my dog”, and am back at the uni from 5.30 until 9pm. Twice a week I start the day with a swim (at Holesovice) which means I have to be in the water at 7am for an hour. I always was a “morning person” though, so it doesn’t hurt too much.

    I also tried the commuting between Coventry and London game. Virgin rail at it’s most tiresome (and expensive)! Glad to be in Prague with a 15 or 20 minute car journey door to door.

    I promise not to mention the delights of the escalators again – unless I am led into temptation :-)

    papa!

  9. Nice post. Yeah, I can relate – I’m not a morning person, and was surprised too when I first arrived in Prague to see people paying money to learn English at 7:30 in the morning, twice a week!

    I can remember one ‘early riser’ story. I had a friend looking after her father’s stationery shop one summer. It opened at 7am. “Who’s going to buy a pen at 7 in the morning?!” I said, incredulous.

    I was there the next morning, and they came. In fact 7-9 and lunch were the busiest times of the day.

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