PRAGUE, Czech Reublic 

  Debra's Diary ~ Date:  July 2007          Where Budapest had been too hot, Prague turned out to be a wee bit chilly, and a bit on the rainy side which posed a bit of a challenge to make it look good in the small measure of sunshine we did get.  The hardest part though was obtaining our filming permits; remember, we don't go into museums or parliament buildings, we film in the street like any other tourist (with a slightly larger camera and radio mikes and tripod admittedly) and getting permission to do this was like pulling teeth.  When we finally did obtain them - all official with stamps all over them - they turned out to be police permits for the centre of Prague, in case our filming caused a stir.  We should be so lucky.  It was all a bit OTT, and some of the fees for filming were definitely unrealistic - haven't they heard there's no money in TV?  

Filming in Prague is a challenge - so many beautiful buildings, how do you show them all?  We'd worked out a walking trail through the city, as we do in all our destinations, but Prague was difficult.  Whereas there were wide streets in both Budapest, Barcelona and Krakow, Prague was very gothic - which meant narrow streets that made it hard to get a proper perspective on these wonderful buildings.  My favourite, without a doubt, was Ginger and Fred, the Dancing House.  I loved it, which is unusual for me as I don't generally like modern buildings.  And not many people know that we did the piece to camera for it huddled behind a bus shelter, trying to keep out of the cold wind and dodge the rain showers!  

Prague has a great atmosphere, and we stayed in a hotel on Wenceslas Square, which gave us instant access to the centre of town.  We met Vaclav Vitek in the Petrin Park during a sudden hot spell, and discovered the really charming restaurant at Nebozizek, where we decided to spend our last afternoon as well, before going to the airport.  Prague seemed cosy and almost hunched in comparison with the grandness of Budapest, and it has to be said that the Vltava river is no match for the Danube.  The Charles bridge is venerable, but the city burghers don't celebrate their bridges as much the Budapest ones do. The trams were easy to use, and got us up to our starting point at the top of Petrin Park both dry and relatively comfortable, temperature wise, but I found the endless cobbles were hard-going for my hips - not my feet which were well-shod - the unevenness of surface tended to cause some nerve-trapping that was unhelpful.

Our visit to Ufleku brewery was very entertaining, especially at night when they offer communal dining, basic but good food, and their special brew whilst being serenaded by various musicians with accordions and tubas.  And the beer was really good, we tried several in our never-ending quest to bring you true representation...although I kept a tight rein on the sausage-eating, tasty as they were.

There were few reminders of their Communist past; but the ones that were there were particularly arresting - at the foot of Petrin Hill, the memorial to the 'victims of Communism' (by which they mean anyone who suffered during this regime) is shocking in its depiction in bronze of parts of a man becoming whole again after the fall of Communism.  I had a long-standing desire to see the memorial to Jan Palach; as a young teenager I had been profoundly shocked at his self-immolation in protest in 1969, and his name had stayed in my memory since then.  On the spot where he burned to death there is a flattened bronze cross that undulates across two humps cobbled in white - one for Palach, and the other for another young man, Jan Zajic, who also chose this shocking way to protest a few weeks later - they were both 19.  Further down the square is a little shrine with a marble stone, etched with the likeness of both young men.  Very moving and surprisingly hard-hitting in its simplicity.  The Jewish cemetery was also a poignant visit, the Pinkas Synagogue no less so.  There are side-trips available to the Nazi concentration camp at Terezin for those with a deeper interest.

We took a boat trip on the Vltava which was pleasant and gave us a broader perspective of the riverside buildings, and we also visited the old castle, although it was a bit of a tortuous route with tram lines up and road works which made it a bit of an unattractive road walk.  We walked down through the gardens from Prague Castle, which ended rather abruptly with closed iron gates and a rather worrying set of narrow foot bridges that side-stepped the gates and brought you out onto the road opposite some rather spectacular graffiti - either that or we obviously took a wrong turn.

Prague doesn't dwell on its past dark decades - it's full of life and foreigners, and if some of them are a bit too rowdy on a Saturday night and have instantly recognisable UK regional accents, it doesn't detract from its easy-going vibrancy.  Food was patchy; in the tourist areas it is expensive and not necessarily good, but step away into a side-street or down into a cellar restaurant and it instantly improves in both quality and price, and the beer is very, very good.


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