Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Holiday pics: Prague Cityscape

Prague is an old soul. Strolling through the charming city streets, one gets the feeling of being let into a nostalgic music club, where the resident band only plays music from a bygone era while the patrons lounge in their comfortable wicker chairs sipping iced tea as they watched the world go by.

I am constantly reminded of Prague's communist past everywhere I turn and yet, it's new capitalistic heart beats loudly and proudly as it becomes the new centre of economic growth in Central Europe. Even in the middle of winter, there is a hive of activity everywhere I turn, and tourists seem to be lapping it all up, albeit in subdued numbers due to the fact that Europe is facing its harshest winter in 50 years .

KFC, Pizza Hut and MacDonald's have already made their mark here, it won't be long before Prague sees the likes of Wendy's, Burger King and TGIF. Which is something of a welcome change I guess since local cuisine is rather unimaginative and erm.. bland. Having said that, the city boasts some really good Italian and Tex-mex restaurants. And the pastas were better than the ones I tasted in Rome. I kid you not!

Perhaps the most captivating landmark here is the Charles Bridge. I hear it's extremely crwoded with tourists in summer, which makes me think that perhaps braving the extreme in the dead of winter here may not be that bad an idea after all. There are a few artists here putting up their very own mini gallery while Eastern European migrants approach the tourists if they would like to buy gold watches or really authentic Czech artifacts - whatever that means.

Gothic and Christian statues line the bridge and provides wonderful photo ops - there's even one (St. John of Nepamuk statue) where if you rub your hands on it, you will get good luck and you shall return to Prague. In fact, it's so popular with luck seekers that there is a spot where it's been rubbed till it shines a bright golden yellow.

I ventured up an old clock tower that afforded me some very charming vistas of Prague skyline. You can see a melange of architecture, from Baroque cathedrals to Gothic spirals, and modern mid-rise office buildings juxtaposed with the pre-war train station.

Even the public transportation system is a study of contrasts. On the one hand, there is modern underground that spans the entire city. It's almost always full and is also used by tourists to get around the main sights. The older locals however prefer the Russian built tram system that criss-crosses the city streets and to my horror, does not stop for anyone that gets in its way.

The Czechs are a very artistic bunch of people and also posses a rather peculiar sense of humour. I guess they take pride in the fact that Mozart once called Prague home and Franz Kafka, arguably the nation's most revered author resided here almost all his life. Statues of Kafka are everywhere, although the likeness is subjective. There are busts of the author that are, quite frankly, rather frightening as well as amusing tribute sculptures too.

This year the Czech republic is having a year-long Mozart celebration in conjuction with his 250th birthday. The highlight of this musical extravaganza is a music festival which sadly only kicks off in spring. Sigh.

Did you know that it can get too cold to snow? Well, it was news to me as i had fully expected to see snow fall from the sky since it was so far below 0ºC. Well, according to Michael, it'll only snow if the temperature is between 5ºC and -5ºC. And since it hasn't gone above -10ºC all week, there wouldn't be any snow. Say what??? So, sadly, this poor "katak bawah tempurung" didn't get to see any snow (although ice from melted snow was everywhere onthe sidewalks and streets from the previous week's blizzard)... until the final day, that is. It finally 'warmed' up to about -4ºC and lo and behold! SNOW!!!! Strangely enough, Michael commented that I didn't seem as excited as some of his other Malaysian friends were when they first saw snow. (You know who you are! hehehe). Ah... my mission in Europe is complete.

All in all, it's been a wonderful fortnight in Europe and I'm happy to end it on a high note here in Prague with some of my dearest friends , Chris, Terry and Michael. I shall be back again for sure, but maybe the next time, it'll be in the spring. Or autumm. Definitely not winter.