Prague: a city for looking at and playing the piano in

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It has been a long while since my last post.

The thing is, I haven’t been feeling very well.

This isn’t an unusual occurrence in my life: if languishing on the sofa listening to Radio 4 were an Olympic sport, I’d be in with a fighting chance of winning gold.

I did get out on Sunday though. I’m glad as I fear that first day of September might well have been the last day of summer. I had a little stroll along Naplavka: Prague’s hip and happening waterside walkway. Back when I first moved to the Czech capital, this part of town was far sleepier than it is now: you might remember a post I wrote long ago about this Not-Charles (Railway) Bridge.

Now’s there a floating art gallery cafe almost underneath the iron river crossing point where once there were only swans. I’m not complaining: as you know, I’m rather partial to a nice sit down on my wanderings so I felt it was my duty to give the boat-cafe a whirl. The coffee wasn’t up to much and it was windy out on deck but there was a view of the Castle – and lots of those swans.

See?

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The boat you can see on the right is another super-cool-trendy floating art gallery music bar thing. I tried to get a drink there too – it was the strange Tetris like formation on deck that attracted me – but despite wandering around repeatedly I couldn’t seem to work out how I was supposed to get a drink. Was there table service or should I go to the bar? Failing to work out this riddle, I left – but not before taking some shots of that weird multicoloured sculpture.

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Spot the hipsters admiring the installation…

If other readers find that these floating boat-cafes might float their boats, head for the tram stop Vyton and take the stairs down to the river. This water tower, which I’ve always liked, is nearby too. I wish there was a plaque explaining when it was built and what it was for. Perhaps some of my readers can enlighten me?DSC_0331

Anyway, now comes this post’s Important Point (drumroll, please…).

Naplavka has always been a nice public space but not many people were making use of it. In order for public space to be profited from, there needs to be something to attract people there: an event. Thanks to the floating cafes and farmers markets and other miscellaneous happenings, Naplavka isn’t just the habitat of swans and eccentric English bloggers.

This Important Point has been shamelessly stolen from the architect and social commentator, Adam Gebrian. It was one of the points he gave in a talk as part of the Creative Mornings monthly breakfast lecture series. It’s no good artificially creating somewhere in an urban environment for people to go. There must be a reason for them to go there – and to hang around.

Like unexpectedly stumbling upon a man playing a piano in the street, for example. I took a picture of one of the rogue pianos which are currently dotted around Prague waiting for passers-by to tinkle their ivories outside the Faculty of Arts near Staromestska tram stop.

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Fun, isn’t it?

I must end here as it’s taken me several hours just to write this and I must lie down on that sofa again. I’ll leave you with this to ponder though.

Adam Gebrian also claims that Prague is a city for looking at, not for living in – a comment which I’m shamelessly taking out of context and asking you to respond to.

What do you think?

 

45 Comments

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45 Responses to Prague: a city for looking at and playing the piano in

  1. Paul Oxenham

    I hear this regularly from people who live outside Prague. For me, Prague is a place to visit once a year (normally Xmas) and to admire, but it’s always nice to come back to my mountain hideaway. I could say much the same for London. Prague isn’t a working city like Glasgow or Frankfurt, and the chances of finding someone who wants to speak Czech with you are remote! Also, the chances of finding a beer for less than 30czk are ‘nejremotejsi’!! Prague is beautiful, even stunning, but give me the mountains any day 🙂

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Paul,

      I do love Prague as regular readers will know but I know exactly what you mean about trying to find people to talk to you in Czech. 🙁

      I should have expanded on what Adam G meant by that comment in the post but he did draw some interesting comparisons between Veletrzni Palac (Prague’s main modern art museum) and the Tate Modern. He thinks that the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall is a great public space which could be perhaps emulated by the Veletrzni Palac – like him I’ve been creeped out by the way the gallery assistants there follow you around!

      He also says that Prague has some great public spaces but that there aren’t always enough facilities to make you want to linger there and enjoy them: why are there so few public toilets at Prague Castle’s Deer Moat or in Stromovka Park for example?

      While I do envy those expats who’ve decided to settle in the real Czechland beyond Prague sometimes – but I think ultimately I’d miss the advantages that go along with living in a new capital city, like arty cafes for example. Shame the ones in the post didn’t offer any cake though 🙁

      GIC

      • If you can see my e-mail, feel free to write me sometimes, I will like to speak Czech 🙂
        (Or write, I am not into meeting people:-)

      • girlinczechland

        Hello Marketa and Dru,

        Wow. I’ve read both all your comments with much interest — and am glad that despite the fact you obviously hold very different views, that you’ve managed to have a civilised conversation about them.

        I’m not going to add much to what I’ve already said, and to what has been said here, except to say that whatever we call the taxi driver’s views (prejudice, racism), they are wrong and if I/we just sit there and let him express them, the snowflake effect that Dru describes is a real danger. However, being in a more politically correct society, like the UK, might not stopping him feeling the way he does, merely from expressing them to the clients in the back of his cab.

        Or not. It is a truth universally acknowledged that taxi drivers the world over are usually nutters, whatever their nationality.

        Apologies, of course, to any taxi drivers reading this who happen to be open-minded, very nice people. 🙂

        I’m glad a post about what seemed a rather light subject (my spoilt and western dilemma as to whether I should get a taxi back from the airport or not) has generated such thought provoking discussion. 🙂

        GIC

  2. Prague is a city for looking at, not for living in? He’s obviously never been to Sidliště Bohnice 🙂

  3. Pav

    The weird clock on Vyton is a (water) level recorder — or limnigraph, if you fancy exotic words — built 1907, restored 2002.

  4. Michael

    I consider myself well traveled. When I visit a new area I try to get away from the tourist sites and to where the people live as quickly as possible. For instance…I had spent months in Ostrava over several visits before I finally made my way to Stoldoni. That being said I’ve only seen Prague from the perspective of a tourist…and I don’t think I would enjoy living there…but I really need to see it from the perspective of a resident before I make that call. But as Paul points out…a beer for less than 30CK is hard to find in Prague…when you’re used to 15 to 25….30 is expensive.

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Michael,

      Ooh, Ostrava! Now that is somewhere that I’m really curious about. I’m sure it isn’t all that hard to avoid the tourist ‘hotspots’ though if you can call them that.

      Perhaps the reason for my interest partly stems from an English class I taught not long after I moved to the Czech Republic during which I asked my students to pick a dream mini-break destination. ‘Ostrava,’ someone called out. Everyone else laughed.

      Poor Ostrava. One day I will do you the honour of paying you a visit – I’m sure there would be tons of material for a blog post…

      GIC

  5. Peter, Kosice, Slovakia (formerly Prague)

    Oh, Prague definitely is a city to live in, at least if living in a city is your thing.

    I have had some bad personal times in there… but I would recommend.

    Also, there is a lot of beer under 30. You just need to look for it. And maybe be willing to try.. a little different atmosphere.

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Peter of Kosice,

      I’m willing to try a different atmosphere — so long as ‘different’ doesn’t mean ‘scary’.

      What I want to know is, what’s it like living in one of this year’s European Cities of Culture? Has Kosice been completely transformed? Have you managed to attend many of the events?

      Big love from little Prague,

      GIC

      • Peter, Kosice, Slovakia (formerly Prague)

        Hello Ms. Girlova, sorry I did not reply – I did not notice this message.

        Different does not neccessarily mean scary – although it can be that as well. A good starting point for looking for a cheaper beer with an OK atmosphere would be to look where students go – all kinds of hospody around dorms or schools go under 30 – because students will make up in volume 🙂 One I can definitely recommend is frequented by students from University of Economics, my former-Alma-Mater-to-be (yes, it reads horribly, doesn’t it?) and is called Krakora.
        Although they do carry the obligatory expensive Pilsner, you will usually find a quality example of a smaller brewery such as Svijany (grown a fair bit recently), Samson, Jezek or so. Oh, and a mountain lion. yeah, the big cat one.

        Another place you could look for is a local hospoda in a random sidliste, of course the better the sidliste, the better the hospoda – don’t go to Palmovka or Liben expecting a nice place… But on the odd chance I found myself in Libus, there was an OK spot there…

        Oh, and one more place I just thought of… Restaurace Baba Jaga on Slezska, not far from Namesti Miru. The have Radegast. One of the best beers, ever.

        Yeah, so the interesting part is covered – now, about the European Capital of Culture… It is nice, but it could have been better. There is a fair bit of events and a fair bit of life in the city, which is nice, but I think it was possible to make a bit more of it. As for the events – I have attended some, but not nearly as much as I would have liked to… But what I have seen – that was just great.

  6. Stepan

    I can’t do anything but agree. Prague is good place to visit during weekend once per few months but that’s it. (I live near southern border of Prague and work near eastern border of Prague but visiting center? Mostly with people visiting us who wants to see bridge, castle or whatever 🙂 )

  7. do not call me ishmael

    What a great (photo)post, thank you!

    Prague is absolutely a city to live in. I wouldn’t live anywhere else in the Czech Rep. for the world. The closer to the centre the better. The sidliste on the other hand are a nightmare, mainly because of the panelak cancer (which is still going strong!).

    I grew up in a timeless post-Communist Prague neighbourhood and took the metro to Prague 1, 2 , 3 etc. every day as a teen in order to keep my sanity and sense of beauty. Now that I have finally moved there I am trying to help people understand how beautiful it is. That they don’t have to leave it for the suburbs when(ever) they have children (and so help Prague become a dead tourist-infested open-air museum). Prague residents who think the city centre equals Wenceslas Square/ the Charles Bridge / the Castle, and only see these through their side window as they drive to Kaufland, must be really unhappy here.

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Mr Not Ishmael,

      I wonder how Prague could be prevented from becoming a dead open-air museum as you describe.

      One idea I had was that one Sunday a month, only people with a Czech passport would be allowed in the tourist zone so that native Czechs could truly enjoy their capital city without a bunch of foreigners like my good self getting in the way — but perhaps that’s going too far.

      Any other ideas? Or perhaps I should just ask Adam Gebrian…

      GIC

      • Queequeg

        Well I think it doesn’t necessarily boil down to having a Czech passport (I’m now waiting for mine, hoping to make it to the elections; I am a foreigner by birth but a Czech woman by the rest). I prefer the term “Prague citizen” — meaning a person who lives in Prague and enjoys it. You can be a foreigner and yet know more about Prague than a Mala Strana native.
        My dream would be to get rid of all the cars… Fresher air. Clean façades. Safety. And so on. Keep the public transport and only allow cars for people who really need them, and for supplies. Like in all those 1920s films. Radical and unfeasible, I know. Gebrian’d give me the numbers. But just imagine…

      • girlinczechland

        Hello Queenqueg,

        I’m with you! Revolution! And you give me hope that one day I’ll be able to call myself a true Prague citizen 🙂

        GIC

  8. Gabriela

    I used to say, that if you want to understand Prague, you have to live there… Prague is a very deep, dark but paradoxically enlightening and connecting experience, which you have no chance to ‘catch’, when you are ‘just visiting’.
    On the other hand I don’t live there anymore (I’m living in smaller but also capital Copenhagen) and getting older and having kids calls for some ‘easier’ places to live 🙂
    But it is still The Lady the Mother of all cities… Oh I’m sentimental 😀
    Have fun
    and P.S. I have no idea how much beer costs now, but 5 years ago there were very charming pubs with beers for 12 or 15, it’s the part of knowing the city…;-)

    • girlinczechland

      Hi Gabriela,

      I’ve heard lots of people say that Prague has a dark side but I’m not really sure what that means in practice. Okay, yes, those cobbled streets look atmospheric in a black and white photograph, but is there more to it than that?

      Answers on a postcard please…

      GIC

  9. Hi GIC,

    Sorry to hear that once again, you’ve not been well. And I do appreciate the amount of effort involved, just to write a coherent blogpost.

    In answer to your question, IMHO Prague is a city for both looking at and living in. I do both, and have done for the last five years 🙂 Yes, in certain areas which I don’t frequent very often, my wife & I both sometimes think we need to wear T-shirts that declare, ‘I’m not a tourist, I live here!’ As I’ve previously written on my own blog, ‘Prague only has a population of about 1.3 million people. Therefore, as cities go, it is relatively small meaning that the nearby countryside can be easily reached. Yet because it is the capital of the Czech Republic, (10.5 million population), it has all the assets and facilities of a capital city’.

    Regarding the price of beer, at three of our four favourite local bar-restaurants in Praha 6 where we live – a fairly wealthy area with many expats, diplomats, etc., – a large beer is under CZK 30. At the fourth establishment it is CZK 32.

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Ricky,

      Thanks for your message. As I think you already know, I agree with you completely: one of the nice things about Prague is that it’s relatively compact but still has all the advantages of living in a capital city.

      As for the price of a beer, I’d be happy to go up to 39CZK for a litre. How spoilt and western is that? 😉

      GIC

      • Richardinprague

        Sorry – reading the UK’s “Private Eye” encourages my pedant streak, but surely a large beer is generally a HALF litre! 🙂
        R+?

      • girlinczechland

        Hello Richard,

        Wow, that’s clearly why I’ve been feeling that bit worse for wear recently! Must stick to those half measures in future…

        GIC

  10. John Smith

    Don’t want to intrude in your business, but if you keep feeling unwell you MUST seek a second opinion and/or see a specialist. I keep being reminded of this fact as my friends get older (unfortunately). The NHS still works so don’t give up on that, if necessary.

    If you have already done all this and understand the problem fully, then apologies for ranting on.

    Good luck with it anyway.

    • girlinczechland

      Hello John,

      Thanks so much for your concern – it’s oddly touching to have strangers such as your good self urging me to get the right medical attention! I wouldn’t say I know what’s going on, but let’s just say I’ve already embarked on the path that you suggest. Fingers crossed they fix me up good and proper this time, eh?

      GIC

  11. katherina

    I like the things you write. I´ve just found your blog and I feel related to your words and feelings. I´m sorry if living here, away from home and between these people, makes you feel strage sometimes…
    For me, as a southamerican, living in the Czech world is a huge change. It was never easy. But it keeps getting better :), that´s for sure.
    Držím ti palce!

    • girlinczechland

      Hello again Katherina,

      Glad you like the blog – it’s always pleasing to get positive feedback from new readers. Just to clarify though, it’s not the Czechs who are making me feel unwell – in fact I’m pretty sure that their (largely) excellent healthcare system is stopping me from falling apart!

      Papa,

      GIC

    • Looking across the sea of domes, sipers and red roofs towards the graceful towers of the St. Vitus cathedral, I think I’ve just fallen hopelessly in love with . In the short time since the Velvet Revolution and the fall of Communism, Prague has become one of the premiere destinations in Europe. What stands out most here is the , so diverse, so beautiful, and so concentrated in one place that you can easily be overwhelmed. But unlike other top cities in Europe, Prague doesn’t strike you as shrewd, calculating, or out to get your money, food and are still cheap and at good value. There is still certain innocence, something that does much to relieve the occasional annoyance. Of course Prague is overrun with tourists, who like you are eager to explore its charms. But there are ways to beat the crowds or avoid them altogether, and there are still many places off the beaten paths awaiting discovery.

  12. J

    Ta stará budova s velkým budíkem na věžičce je limnigrafická stanice na Výtoni (http://cs.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limnigraf_na_V%C3%BDtoni), jinak také hezky česky vodočet.

    Pivo za výrazně méně než 30,- většinou znamená přijmout nevalné prostředí hospody čtvrté cenové skupiny, hutný cigaretový kouř, divné pohledy místních štamgastů 🙂

    Komentář je sice česky, ale doufám, že to nevadí, neboť jak by jistě souhlasil Guth-Jarkovský, cvičit se prostě musí 🙂

    • girlinczechland

      Hello J,

      I’m afraid I’m going to reply in English, because I’m a lazy and bad person. However, I am grateful for all the information – I didn’t previously know of Guth Jarkovsky’s existence so you’ve educated me!

      GIC

  13. Sarka

    I’m happy you produced a post again 🙂 and hope your problem is just temporary and nothing really serious… I’m wishing you well 🙂

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Sarka,

      Thanks so much for your warm wishes – and for sticking with GIC’s blog for so long. 66 comments – I wonder if that’s some sort of record?

      Take care,

      GIC

  14. Richardinprague

    Glad to have you back, GIC! Sorry to hear you’re poorly, and wish you well for your recovery.

    I too enjoyed the piano outside the Faculty of Arts – I don’t play, but enjoyed listening for a few minutes until the tram arrived.

    Although I have lived here for 11 years, these days I don’t often go into the city in the evenings – just the occasional concert or exhibition opening, perhaps. I went in on Saturday evening to support my wife on the 10km run through the streets, and enjoyed seeing the setting sun over the castle – it certainly is a beautiful city! Some parts of the city are much brighter in the evenings than when I first arrived …. Namesti Republiky for example seems to be much safer now, or at least while the shops and restaurants are open.

    I live out in the suburbs, and have never regretted moving here for one minute. Although we have our country cottage, Prague is a great place to live (if you don’t live here, “Country cottage” is not as grand as it sounds, but that’s fun, too … read GIC’s “Village People” blogs!)

    A large beer is certainly available for less than 30Kc, but you have to avoid the bright shining lights – around the old Town Square I have known people pay more than 100Kc! You also need to watch the glass sizes – sometimes you get a 400ml glass looking very much like a full half litre!

    Take care!

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Richard,

      Thanks for the warm wishes. You’ll be glad to hear that Czechman now has wheels which is bound to mean an increase in our visits to the Village People — and their appearances on this blog!

      I tend to always order a male pivo, so I’ll keep my eye on the size of the serving in future: no-one wants to end up with a smaller than small beer 🙁

      GIC

  15. Richardinprague

    By the way – I don’t know why, but all your pictures are long and thin on my computer … anyone else having the same problem??
    (I’ve discovered that if I “click on” them, I see the normal picture, but usually they look ok in the run of text.)

    • girlinczechland

      Is this happening to anyone else? I’m no techie but perhaps it could be the browser you’re using? Any suggestions, readers?

      GIC

  16. Katka

    Hello,

    thanks for another nice post.

    I live in Prague for 30 years and I learned one thing. She is a Lady and how she treats you depends on you. If you are rough and impolite to her, she will give you tourist traps, crowded Kauflands, expensive beer and all the mess. But if you really pay attention, you discover beautiful places all around, she will peel the layers and show her magic. And then you sometimes feel like fall in another dimension of the town.

    I don’t want to live anywhere else. There are many quarters, every one of them has its unique atmosphere, you just have to pick the one that suits you. And did you noticed all the trees? They are growing everywhere, sometimes on impossible places. I guess I’m in love with my city. 😀

    Get well soon. 🙂

  17. poool

    Border between West and East is there: if you are not member of clan, nobody will talk with you. If you become member of clan, nobody will talk with you, because you are new. If you are long time member of clan, nobody will talk with you, because you now everything, so what talk about. Slavs?

  18. Morrigan

    Personally I can’t imagine living in another Czech town than Prague. I’ve been living in Prague my whole life. It is the centre of the Czech Republic. In some points I agree that Prague has its unpractical side (terrible sidewalks, high-heels’ nightmare) but on the other hand the public transport is better than in many cities (Paris, London etc) though it may be given by the fact that Prague isn’t that large. I think that the quote you used is more likely to be said by someone who visits Prague once in a while and cannot imagine living in it. But people who actually live here are completely used to this city…and I think they love it.

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