Prague : The Musical City – Wenceslas Square
Part 2 of ‘Prague : The Musical City’. Impressions on Prague’s famous commercial and entertainment boulevard; Wenceslas Square.
I stepped out from my hotel; ‘Sonata’ and was abruptly met with the brazenness of a sex-shop in the cold light of day no less. Being resolutely more ‘British’ than ‘European’ I was instantly on the back-foot, turning away my sheepish eyes to my destination: The grand museums and opera houses in the distance. On my way through, every vice imaginable caught my periphery vision, neon-gambling dens hiding a seedy ‘escort’ culture and prostitution, tobacco kiosks, liquor stores, and magazine filth, crammed in one after, almost on top of, the other, before fading away to make way for the ‘respectable’ face of Prague: Wenceslas Square.
Atop the hill was the National Museum Čelakovského sady. A magnificent structure who’s sheer size cast an authoritative shadow over the tacky, grotty undergrowth of the past, aided by Národní muzeum and the Opera House standing proudly close by. The first hint towards Prague’s true passion and the reason for the title ‘The Musical City’ . As the expansive square opened out before me, the modern Prague of animated billboards, designer handbags and global franchises slaps you in the face. Almost overwhelmed, two words caught my attention to my left. Beer and Factory……
Now this was different! The Beer Factory certainly wasn’t a pub or a factory. On entering, my first real interaction with a Prague local. Rather than the discourteously ignorant French, there was always a respectable ‘points for trying’ attitude about the Czech people. ‘Pivo’ was my order, to which I received an empty glass and ushered toward an underground ‘den’ of sorts. Now seated and still looking blankly at said empty glass, the table appeared to be kitted out with some sort of chrome appendage, sprouting from the centre. Some bizarre ordering device perhaps? Is this how they did things on the continent? The joyous answer was a long-held dream come true for this Geordie. Self service taps at your own table no less! Without further ado I got stuck in, marvelling at the digital display keeping track of my spend and consumption so far, like a petrol pump. Glancing over at the other tables I noticed huge displays on the back walls, showing a graphical representation of each tables ‘score’, like an alcoholics betting house watching the live races. I was alone and miles behind the other ‘teams’ but I gave it a damn good go.
Fully paid up and satisfied with my Beer Factory experience. I continued on down Wenceslas Square towards the old town. This was more than your archetypal European high street, it’s rather a vast boulevard including all the comfortingly familiar news stands and food kiosks you only ever seem to see on holiday, but there’s vastness to Prague’s architecture that lends a feeling of spaciousness to wherever you go. Two roads run each side of the central section, lined by every retail outlet and restaurant imaginable, yet still the stoney husk of Prague remains, the shops fit into the beautifully ornate architecture like obedient visitors, not residents, and the theme, the essence, is preserved. Old meets new by design.
Looking back to the monuments high in the distance, you recognise they’re meant to be the only stand-out features, as the traders fade into the scenery. Ancient artistry at work as the swarms of shoppers huddle forth in waves towards their paradise of Na Příkopě and Národní.