From Prague With Love
Prague is bloody cold in December. I mean, seriously cold. You probably knew that, but no piece on Prague could begin without mentioning how cold it is. Because it's mention-how-cold-it-is-every-three-seconds-and-frequently-rub-your-hands-together-whilst-mentioning-how-cold-it-is-again- cold. Consider wearing three pairs of socks cold. That cold. But it's worth it because Prague must be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Every freezing second; every time your open your mouth in slight pain because of cracked lips; every time you wish you'd put on an extra (200) layer(s); every time you stop for a hot drink that seems to have minimal positive warming impact is worth it for just how stunningly beautiful this place is. It is, perhaps, the perfect city for the hopeless romantic in me.
The old square has an adorable Christmas Market with a Christmas tree that somehow is the perfect size. It is not trying too hard to dominate or be big, nor is it swallowed up by the surrounding buildings. The market itself is buzzing with life and wonderful smells and whilst I abstained from any of the treats on offer, they looked quite divine. The Astronomical Clock has a wonderful, if tragic, history and an equally wonderful view from the top. Even the cliché 'XXX and XXX forever' graffiti on the walls on the way up seemed oddly not (entirely) out of place. Clearly those responsible for the attraction's upkeep do not disagree because it has not been cleaned off for a number of years. Even little things like the atmosphere in the Starbucks (yes Starbucks, I wanted needlessly complicated hot chocolate with a tenuous link to Christmas. Sue me) was superior. The Jewish Quarter is simply incredible and the Kosher restaurant serves some of the best hummus and, indeed, one of the best burgers I have ever been lucky enough to indulge in. The John Lennon Wall is worth seeing, if only for the busker who (I assume) regularly plays anything but The Beatles in front of it. The Spanish Synagogue lives up to its billing as the most beautiful synagogue in Europe. I could go on. In fact, I will.
Speaking of the Spanish Synagogue, I was lucky enough to see two concerts there. Wonderful music, ranging from the Overture from the Barber of Seville to a selection of tunes from Gershwin's An American in Paris to Hava Nagila interspersed with a little bit of humour, excellent solo performances all set in a stunning hall. Not sure you could ask for more, even if the discounted student price of approximately £20 was a tad pricey. I should stress it was most certainly worth it. The rest of the Jewish Quarter is a highlight of a stunning old town. There was something about standing in the oldest continually used synagogue in Europe that will stay with me, that you could not help be moved by even as a non-Jew. There is plenty to do and see: a wonderful art gallery spread across the city; short concerts to listen to; bridges to cross; museums to visit. The architecture in general is wonderful, the river an almost perfect bisector of the city. Not a building out of place, it would appear that every single brick was thought about; every wall colour ruminated upon; it just seems as if the entire city is working together. I can only imagine that somewhere there is a conductor standing up high, overseeing the entire process, making sure not a moment goes by that is not perfect. S/he's doing a fantastic job.
Prague, you have quickly become my favourite city. My only regret is that I had but two full days, on this visit, to appreciate your beauty, to wander your streets, to soak up your atmosphere and gaze longingly and lovingly across the river into the distance. I insist we do it all over again.
The boring stuff: my hostel (Post Hostel) was great, pretty much everything you could want from a hostel (clean, well-located, attentive staff, wifi, free breakfast etc). Public transport is fairly cheap (and ticket enforcement is minimal to non-existent). Beer, if you like beer, is cheap. Kosher food, if that's important to you, is good. Plenty of bars and coffee shops.