The Dreaming Arm is pleased to announce its third ever guest writer. Phil lives in Belfast and coincidentally (or not as the case may be) was also in Prague at the same time as the present author. Phil takes a more aesthetic look at the city, reflecting on an experience he's unlikely to forget (despite the absinthe).
So czech it out...
An enchanting song in one of the Irish operas is entitled "I dreamed I dwelled in marble halls." In my case, however, during four days in Prague, I felt that I came close to living out that dream. Some cities in the world so surpass all the normal boundaries of aesthetic beauty that they require some description. Prague is one such city. This was my second visit, and I am determined to return again. This second visit, made with Ciaran, John, and Aiden, has reinforced my belief that even though the Austro-Hungarian empire may not have been the most powerful that the world has ever seen, it certainly possessed the finest cities in Europe, beating even the splendours of Paris, Berlin, and Madrid. Prague, is the jewel in the crown of the old Austro-Hungarian empire, a firmly held opinion of mine that has not been dented by my latest visit.
It is no exaggeration to say that most of our four days (or three and a half days, to be pedantic) were taken up simply wandering around the Old Town Square and the Old Town gawping in wonder at the sheer magnificence of the architecture, which ranged from Gothic Cathedrals to the baroque castle at the epicentre of the Old Town. Owing to the visit of President Bush on the 4th and 5th of this month, the castle and the nearby art gallery were, somewhat disappointingly, closed to the public. Still, it provides us with a good excuse to return again, and, it could be that the visit of George Bush will be of benefit to the Czech Republic if the US decides to place one of the new missile defence warning systems in that country. I believe firmly that never again should the Czechs (or Slovaks, Poles, Hungarians, Ukranians and Bulgarians, for that matter) be at the mercy of the much greater military power and possible imperialist aspirations of a belligerent Russia, no matter how much Vladimir Putin may protest about the creation of a missile defence shield in Europe. One sad moment for me came when I saw the statue of Edvard Benes, last democratically elected President of pre-Soviet Czechoslovakia, who after seeing his country overrun by the NAZIs, was to die a lonely figure in exile due to the totalitarian designs that Stalin and the communists had on Czechoslovakia in the aftermath of World War II. It should perhaps serve as a lesson against being complacent about the democratic freedoms enjoyed by ourselves in the West and now happily shared by the Czechs themselves.
Aiden, a photo junkie, literally found new wonders around each corner to feed his addiction, some of which have hopefully found their way onto the blog by now. It is easy to see the secret of Czech success in Prague - top quality education in celestial surroundings, and cultural experiences readily available to all. One cannot walk 100 feet during the day in the city centre without someone planting a flyer in your hand advertising some classical concert in the majestic opera houses or cathedrals in the city. One thing which differentiates the Czechs from the more folksy Poles, however, is their attitude to religion, which borders on the sceptical - evidenced by the fact that it is very difficult to actually gain access to the interiorof a church or cathedral in Prague - a great pity.
Okay, so we didn't reside in a baroque marble palace during our visit there, but our hostel did provide a very good substitute - comfortable (if basic) rooms and a first rate continental breakfast for the equivalent of around £10 per night. I had stayed there on my first trip to Prague three years ago. It also had the merit of being within ten minutes walking distance from the Old Town Square. It also contained two good bars, a pizza/pasta restaurant, and a bowling alley. There is no need to frequent five star hotels or expensive restaurants to find delicious Czech food - just have a look at the photo of the meal which we bought in a Prague pub just off the city centre at a very reasonable price.
Czech service is efficient and scrupulously polite.
To those reading this blog who have not yet visited Prague, I would ask "what are you waiting for!?" The next time I return, I would like to see more of the rest of the Czech Republic as well.
Pictures by Aiden Fitzsimons