Central Europe consists only of the Czech Republic. They don’t want to be muddled in with Eastern Europe, still a raw Communist wound reflecting Russian rule. And they’re just not close enough to be lumped together with Western Europe. Thus, they are already trailblazers in creating their own geography.
Her capital, Prague, has become synonymous with pointy, medieval castles, stunning architecture all round (as left untouched by WWII), and boozy weekends. Since beer costs mere pennies – or hellers, the tiny denomination of the Czech crown – stag dos regularly take over the Old Square, bands of keen participants to taste the beverage which Czechs have been brewing since 9th century.
We arrived in the city on a late-October Thursday afternoon, expecting a climate not far different from London’s. I blame the mis-guiding Central Europe tag. Thus, freezing cold, we would end up – by Saturday afternoon – buying extra undergarmets to keep the frost bite at bay. Cold or not, we taxied to our hostel, Prague Plus, which could’ve been a Czech version of Byker Grove. The place was friendly, heaving, huge, brightly-painted, neighboured by a tacky bar, and out in Praha 7 – a district about 20 minutes on the tram from the city centre. Never fear though, it seems you can travel by trams for free at any time, as often as you like, since ticket inspectors never board the transport.
The free walking tours that you now find in almost every European capital city are a grand way to get exploring. Lasting around three hours, they work on a tips-only basis. Thusly, the guide makes the tour as engaging as possible, and the traveller pays whatever they think it is worth to discover the Jewish Quarter, the Old Square, the Astronomical Clock, and plenty a peculiar story about Czech history.
As a guide, you imagine, the only issue with these free walking tours is that you put in all your efforts to divulge an exciting historical journey, and retain little from the stingy tourists, right? This is where the alcohol comes in. Throughout the tour, they will plug an evening pub crawl. Only the equivalent of five Euros, they say, and free drinks for an hour, plus free shots in each of the five bars you go to. A traveller’s dream, right?
Probably not a dream for the Prague citizens, however, who have to deal with drunken hooligans, drooling on the street, tapping a respectable beer-brewing resident on the shoulder to slur “D’ya know where the pub crawl is? I lost all my friends.” Which is why citizens respond to any foreigners’ direction questions with the curt reply “Left, then left again.”
Ask any resident, any time of day, for guidance on how to get to the tram/shop/pub/restaurant, and they will respond with ‘Left, then left again’. Perhaps it’s a nod to the hearsay of when, during Prague Spring in 1968, Russia invaded Czechoslovakia asking where Dubcek was, and every Czech national responded with ‘This is Dubcek!’ Three days the Russians apparently wasted. Good going when the country’s just 30,500 square miles…
For anyone suffering from mild to severe Travel Bug, Prague is a medical requirement. Whether it’s history, architecture or booze you’re looking to experience, Praha ticks all those boxes and more. Just remember to wrap up warm and don’t ask for directions.