No jetting off to New York this year, but a trip to the Czech Republic instead. And what a refreshing trip it was. Not only were easyJet and Gatwick airport surprisingly pleasant experiences (wonders will never cease), but the Czech Republic delivered snow, invigoratingly clean air and lots of Christmas inspiration.
It had been 24 years since I last visited Prague, back in the summer of 1991 when I was just 17. Then a pint of beer cost 10 pence and we dined daily on ropey cheese and tomato pizza. I don’t recall a lot from that trip, except that a bottle of vodka was vastly cheaper than a can of Coca Cola. There was a large rectangular square and an ancient astronomical clock that people clamoured to see. There is still a big square (Wenceslas Square to be precise, now lined with smart shops and hotels) and the 605 year old ‘Orloj’ is drawing bigger crowds than ever. As for the price of vodka I didn’t investigate; my taste for gin developed over the intervening years and now I rarely drink the stuff.
Somehow we completely overlooked the existence of Charles Bridge on that first visit – I am guessing my 17 year old self had other interests (mainly bottled) in those days. It was a good opportunity to right that wrong this weekend, accompanied by several thousand other sightseers. I took the photograph above a short distance away from Charles Bridge at a spot where locals were feeding the swans. The scene, framed by naked willows, looked like something Constable might have painted, although the sky was opaque and filled with snow rather than blue and dotted with fluffy clouds.
Finding any kind of solitude in the city is almost impossible, but on this narrow street leading away from bustling Melantrichova there were only two solitary souls.
The Christmas markets, always a slight disappointment I find, yielded up a few nice things, including hand-crafted straw angels, lushious meads, sausages laced with fiery paprika and heavy Bohemian glass baubles. The best of the markets was also the newest, situated in the shadow of St Vitus Cathedral within the walls of Prague Castle. Fittingly the cathedral is the final resting place of Good King Wenceslas who died in 935AD. A brass band played the famous carol celebrating the saint’s life as the snow started to fall on the cobbles. My festive season had begun.