The word that best describes our trip to Prague is a favourite of mine: effortless. From the moment we boarded our Czech Airlines flight in Paris, everything went smoothly. And everything was simple: catching the airport bus, taking the metro, finding our hotel, even exchanging euros for the local currency, Czech crowns. We did not get lost during our stay, despite taking an occasional wrong turn – and despite barely using a map. We never struggled to communicate, even though we speak exactly no words of the Czech language. Part of me absolutely loved that about the city; there was no confusion, no missteps, not even a single struggle to find a good restaurant. But another part of me felt like tourism in Prague has become so prevalent, and so much of the economy dependent on it, that the most beautiful parts of the city have become the exclusive domain of travelers. Perhaps I am wrong – I hope that I am – but I got the impression that if I lived in Prague, I would avoid the Old Town entirely. (Much the same way I avoided Stanley Park when we lived in Vancouver.)
As tourists, we spent most of our time in the Old Town. And it is exactly as I had imagined, a paradise of dreamy pastel buildings. If I remember correctly, I spent practically all day every day looking up from the wide cobbled boulevards to admire the intricate architecture. The array of paint colours – from blush pink to turquoise to white and peach – is simply too delightful. But aside from the fairytale setting, the city felt just like home in many ways. There are adorable (and, ahem, instagrammable) coffee shops, burger bars and bakeries on every corner. Dress is casual, though most women favour dresses over jeans. Pariszka street is lined with luxury shops – from Hermes to Gucci to Tiffany, the gang is all there. Prague is modern, even trendy.
It wasn’t always that way, of course. The iron curtain hung until 1989. The last vestiges of the communist era still remain in the city. And nowhere was the recent history of Prague more evident than at local department store Od Kotva. Opened in 1975, there is no doubt it was an incredibly elegant place to shop in its heyday. But time has continued to pass outside of it while inside, Od Kotva has stood still. An immaculate cigarette stand, the kind that hasn’t existed in Canada since my childhood, greets shoppers just inside the front door. But as you ascend the escalator, the collision of past, present and future feels all the more poignant. Od Kotva, built in Brutalist-style, is all concrete and glass. And on the fourth floor, a large window in a now empty department gives a perfectly unobstructed view of the romantic Old Town that is framed by two totally contrasting concrete pillars. By the time we left, I couldn’t decide if Od Kotva made me nostalgic for my childhood, when everything in life didn’t come with a label about health risks, or just glad that architectural styles have changed…!
We loved Prague, but somehow, four days there felt like enough to experience the city fully. Which is to say that I’m not sure when we’ll be back – Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, absolutely stole our hearts in 2009 and we would likely choose to go there again first. But if you haven’t seen Prague at least once, you absolutely must add it to your list of travel destinations. You won’t regret it.