A chance conversation with another tourist alerted us to the fact that there is a regular bus service between Cesky Krumlov and Prague. Much as we wanted to repeat the ‘country experience’ of inhaling fresh manure odour as we rode the train to Cesky Budejovice (not!), we came down on the side of convenience and decided on the bus.
What luxury! Leather seats, on board hostess, free coffee, and most importantly: free wi-fi.
Arriving in Prague was an assault to the senses. The bus station was drab and uninspiring, with no connecting taxi rank. We stumbled across a lone taxi parked in a nearby street, and the driver did an outstanding job to negotiate us into the narrow, tourist crowded streets of the old town. True to form, Waddy had booked us accommodation right in the centre of the action, a few steps away from the old town square and the mechanised astronomical clock.
The streets are lined with tourist shops, selling anything from cheap t-shirts to high quality crystal, and handmade toys. Restaurants are full, the place is teeming with tourists, elbowing and bumping their way around the top sites, and a multitude of languages abound, with Australian accents having a good representation.
Wherever there are tourists, there are beggars. They crouch in the street on all fours, their heads dropped into their hands in an outstretched pleading stance. A cap is grasped in their hands, but the face is hidden looking down to the footpath. Some hug a dog close to their body. It is impossible to tell if they are ailing or drug addicts. I have never seen anything like it before.
We stayed five nights in a two bedroom apartment. Unfortunately, I had an attack of laziness, and although I made notes for blog posts, I didn’t actually write anything worthwhile. Now we have arrived in Warsaw on the night train from Prague, and I am left trying to reconstruct the Prague experience before a new one overlays my memory. So I have decided to refer to my hundreds of photos, and make entries based on a theme. Watch this space.
Prague, I believe, was the largest city of our tour so far, and I found it a city of contrasts. It is, as everyone says, a most beautiful city. However, it did fall into neglect during the communist era, and remnants of that are still evident, if you care to look around. I did spend an hour or two at the Museum of Communism, which was an interesting look back on that period. It was obvious that the curators of the museum held the era in contempt. One of the items that caught my attention was the system of regulating wages and costs so that everybody could earn a similar pittance and yet still afford to eat and be housed. Waddy came across a quote elsewhere: “They pretended to pay us, and we pretended to work.”
A poster in the foyer gave me a chuckle ( referring to the era of women’s liberation): “Our women would have burnt their bras – if only there were any in the shops to buy.”
And therein lies the conundrum. I was in Prague – only for a couple of days – in 1978. In my diary I wrote about the difficulty to find any stores selling anything we wanted. Tourists were obliged to spend a certain amount of hard (western) currency, or forfeit it in cash at the border, and many of us intended to spend our on Czech crystal. No such luck.
Now the opposite is true. The place is wall to wall commerce in every possible form. When I mentioned to a mature-aged Czech shopkeeper that I was on my way to the Communism Museum, he snorted. “Next it will be a Museum of Capitalism”. Too true.
For now though, my abiding memory of Prague will be as the city of spires. And there is another conundrum. The city is awash with churches and cathedrals, and yet 70% of the population declared themselves as atheists in the last census. We saw brides every day of our stay, but never near a church. All those we saw were civil marriages.
Well, after all, we are only tourists, and it is impossible to understand a place unless you live and immerse yourself there. All I can offer is a collection of impressions in the following posts.
Saturday 20th – Thursday 25th July 2013, Garrulous Gwendoline in Prague