So I conclude this little collection of posts about getting away by describing a long weekend in Prague with my friend Sarah.
This is indeed a beautiful city. World War II didn’t touch it, despite (or actually because of) its being in the heart of Hitler’s empire, so a thousand years of history remains layered everywhere. The buildings are beautiful, and so is the setting among steep hills with the river flowing through, and there is an abundance of things to see. It’s all very walkable but the public transport is also cheap and efficient. I’m less excited by Czech food and beer, I confess, but that’s a minor point (once the food gets grim there are plenty of Italian and other foreign cuisines to be had).
|Prague Panorama 1: from the Castle|
|Prague Panorama 2: from Letna Park|
|Prague Panorama 3: from Zizkov Tower|
We spent our first day visiting the obvious sites: the Old Town Square, the Tyn Church, the Old Town Hall with its famous astronomical clock and caught the procession of figures striking the hour, the Charles Bridge and the Castle complex on the hill.
|Beautiful buildings everywhere you look|
|So much decoration on so many buildings|
|Castle, churches, statues|
The next day, in contrast, we ventured out to what has been described as the “World’s Second Ugliest Building” (I couldn’t tell you what the first is) – a futuristic Soviet-era tower built to jam West German TV, but opened just as the Iron Curtain collapsed so its only function now is to provide a view of the whole city. Its most bizarre feature is the giant babies crawling up it, artworks that were taken away for repair just a few days after we visited. Don’t ask me their significance!
We also wanted to visit the nearby Military Museum to see the V2 rocket and other stuff (Sarah is a rocket scientist) but it was closed for a major refit so instead we tramped up the steep hill to the National Monument which contains the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
We then went to the National Technological Museum. Bohemia, later Czechoslovakia, later the Czech Republic, has always been a major mining and manufacturing area and the Czech-built planes, trains and automobiles were interesting, as were the galleries of mining equipment and astronomical instruments (we both like astronomy). Mining is in the lowest basement, astronomy on the top floor. Seems appropriate! The gallery of illusions was great – rooms that appear to make you shrink or so steep-floored that you have to lean to appear upright... Pretend you’re Alice in Wonderland! An excellent museum.
Day III and we went to the Museum of Communism. Not many exhibits as such, mainly information boards, but the message was clear: communism was a dirty fraud and the Czechs with their mineral resources and highly industrialised were thoroughly exploited to the benefit of the Soviet Union and other less productive parts of Comecon. The social ills, material shortages and bullying culture were pretty bad. Of course, Czechoslovakia rebelled in 1968, an uprising that was crushed by Soviet tanks. A grim chapter in history indeed. To look at the city now, with its shops and restaurants, you would hardly know it had been part of the Warsaw Pact. Mind you, the downside to that is that city centres all now have exactly the same shops!
I wanted to take a river boat and on the way to the landing stage we stumbled across something I had very much wanted to see but hadn’t yet planned, which was the crypt of the small orthodox cathedral where the agents of the Czech resistance were holed up after their assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, arguably the very nastiest of Nazis, head of the Gestapo, Hitler’s Man in Prague where he was known as the Butcher and the Hangman, and very much the driver of the Holocaust. It’s a national shrine and the history of Operation Anthropoid, the only successful assassination of a leading Nazi, is told in the anteroom. The German reprisals on the Czechs were horrific but that finally convinced the rest of the world that the Nazi regime was deranged and evil. I intend to come back to describing this emotionally moving location in another post as contemporary politics are throwing too many shadows of this sort of horror onto life today.
Our boat trip was a pleasant break from this history of oppression and evil. I was especially delighted by the famous, brooding Vysehrad rock with its fortress and monastery, immortalised as a symphonic poem by local composer Smetana. I’m sure there was a legend of a ship-swallowing monster connected with it, too, but our boat chugged by unmolested.
|River Vltava from the Charles Bridge|
|Prague Castle from the river|
On Day IV, our last, we paid a brief visit to the Jewish Quarter. This area, full of synagogues survived the Nazis, even though the inhabitants didn’t. Perversely, Hitler wanted to keep the area intact as a sick museum to an exterminated race.
And then we went on to the remains of the giant pedestal of the Stalin Monument, the biggest ever Soviet-era statue – 17,000 tons depicting blissed-out workers admiringly following Uncle Joe Stalin. The wretched artist and his wife committed suicide before its unveiling in 1955, a year before Kruschev came out and condemned Stalin. The whole thing was blown up in 1962 – a process that took two weeks. There was an film of an interview with one of the masons who worked on it in the Museum of Communism explained that the Czech women on the left hand side appears to be to be laying a hand on the Soviet soldier’s gun for protection. She’s actually reaching for his genitals, a symbol of Czechoslovakia’s rape. There don't seem to be any free photos online but you can read about it here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalin_Monument_(Prague) There’s now a giant working metronome on the site (I don’t get its significance) and we were pleased to see that the plinth is now an unofficial skateboard park, a deconstructed monument to a trivial activity but one so symbolic of freedom and personal skill.
So apart from history grim and gorgeous we also enjoyed some good meals. I’m not so thrilled by Czech beer, I must confess, and dumplings are something that really do stick too severely to the ribs, but we fed ourselves well on the whole. Particularly outstanding were this rolled rabbit loin with stuffing with barley risotto. I also had a classic goulash at the Cubist building, the Black Madonna. The best dinner was at the Cafe Imperial a few yards from our apartment. Sarah says her tuna was amazing (my salmon was pretty good) and the local white wine was pleasant. The tiled décor was extraordinary.
|Rabbit loin roll|
As for trans life, I didn’t go out in full female mode. It’s partly because I’m a little distressed about my loss of trans freedom and I get the blues when I have to go back to male mode (most TGirls will recognise that feeling). But I was also a little uncertain how the locals might take it. Besides, Sarah has been living full-time female for a while and now needs to exist as an independent woman without me inadvertently outing her. So no full femme, although my shoes, bag and so forth remain female. One day I will travel abroad as a woman, I have promised myself.
|Photogenic Sarah - lovely lady and good friend|
Do go to Prague, it's beautiful.