The beauty of Europe as a continent is the ease with which borders can be crossed, so long as you have the right meaningless piece of paper, and being on a year abroad means you have an obscene amount of free time. Sometimes that means that I spiral into Netflix marathons and don’t leave my flat for three days, but it also means that if I summon up the energy to walk to the bus station, I can be not just in a new city, but in a new country within a few hours. Which is exactly what I did this weekend. Here’s my 24 hours in Prague.
Since I only realised the day before I left that Czechia uses a different currency to euros, my first task in Prague was getting out some Czech koruna, a mission that ended up being the nice kind of satisfying currency exchange that ended up with me having 800 koruna (roughly 35 euros) and feeling richer than I have any hopes to be at this point in my life. Money in hand, bags dropped at the hostel (Hostel Orange – very cheap, great location, friendly staff, highly recommend), we finally found our way into the Old Town and were immediately bowled over by the beauty of the main square.
Despite being called a square, it’s not actually square. Edgy, but does mean that you can literally be surprised by the architecture as you walk further in: a church emerges from behind the town hall; turning away from the mesmerising astronomical clock reveals a huge mural of Czech art.
The most commanding site in the square is undoubtedly the Church of Mother of God before Tyn, which looks as dramatic as it sounds. The black spires spiking into the gorgeously clear blue sky that graced our visit to Prague is one of the most memorable images from the trip.
Making our way through the narrow back streets of perfectly normal blocks of flats but with extravagantly decorative facades that only European cities offer, we found our way to the river and were immediately bowled over by the natural beauty of a winter sunset acting as a backdrop to classic cityscape. The castle on the hill pushed through the dark expanse of trees, and the many bridges on the Vltava, the most arresting of which is undoubtedly Karluv Most, or Charles Bridge.
The rows of black statues, saints and priests leading to the figures of Christ himself in the centre, stood out dramatically against the dusky orange-pink of the sunset, and when standing on the bridge itself, framed the throng of tourists on the bridge with aloof stares that have withstood centuries of war and weather.
Light and warmth fading fast, we hurried past the last few sentinels of Czech religion and painstakingly climbed the hill into the Castle District. Eerily empty streets squirrelled us away from the buzz of the city below, and our hunt for the Golden Lane, a street of tiny houses and doorways, took us deeper into the towering castle turrets until the dim evening light illuminated our first adorably miniature doorway.
Now officially frozen, we practically hurtled back down the hill to warm ourselves on soup, garlic bread, and cider, which compile my ideal trio. Instead of braving the wind of Old Town any further, we bought a hastily cheap bottle of white wine and some biscuits and took refuge in our hostel for a night of happy drinking, proving the worth of booking a hostel with a common area.
Having thoroughly explored Old Town as much as is possible with only 24 hours in a city, the next morning’s task was to venture south and wander through New Town. And what better spot to start a tour of modern Prague than an enormous spinning metal sculpture of Kafka’s face? Modernity in one interlocking piece of artwork.
The other two major culture spots we discovered were St Peter and St Paul’s Church, which, although not modern, was a spot of olden architecture that also offered gorgeous views back towards Old Town itself.
Powering back down the river to make our bus in time, we did take the time to stop off at the Dancing House, a curved building that reminded me of something from a Tim Burton movie, but in real life. An optical illusion on hungover eyes.
My lasting perception of Prague was that it was an even mix of Western and Eastern cities. Old-fashioned trams trundle past spectacular cathedrals, wall murals span between leering gargoyles – everything I expect from an older city in Central Europe. 24 hours was certainly not enough.