“On her way up, she paused several times to look back: below her she saw the towers and bridges, the saints were shaking their fists and lifting their stone eyes to the clouds. It was the most beautiful city in the world.” – Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
Morning in Prague offers a rare moment of serenity on a summer day. There are precious few hours between a night of vices and a morning of teeming tourism. Keen to avoid crowds, I scurried across the wide cobbled avenues and twisting lanes, making my way towards the Old Town along the Vltava River (or, as it is known in German-speaking countries, the Moldau). It is a cloudy August morning, and my first in Prague.
People visit Prague for all reasons. The city remains a crucible of centuries of history, an amalgam of medieval times, the Luxembourg and Habsburg reigns, the tumultuous Second World War, and the Iron Curtain era. Prague’s history is inescapable; the castle literally looms over the Vltava and the city, a watchful eye reminding the citizens of the authority du siècle.
Then there are the nihilistic, attracted by the vices of Prague. Prague has long been a choice destination for partygoers from abroad, attracted to the city by the cheap alcohol and buzzing nightlife. As I wandered the city on this overcast Saturday morning, it did not escape my notice that the Old Town was dotted with drunkards collapsed on patches of grass, cans of stale beer acting as the sole reminder of the prior night.
Another vice, without a doubt, is the famous trdelník, or “chimney cake”. Trdelníks are fashioned from rolled dough (sometimes caked with cinnamon powder) which is then wrapped around a spit and baked. Its origins are disputed – various towns and cities joust for the claim of the originating place of the wildly popular pastry. While the most authentic way of enjoying a trdelník is on its own, it is today frequently stuffed with ice cream and whipped cream. This has made it a particular delicacy for wasps, which swarm bins and cake stands for their sugary delights.
And oh, the beer. The world-famous Pilsner was first brewed in Plzeň, just 90 km from Prague. Of course, the Czech Republic consumes the most beer per capita – and little wonder, as a pint costs just ₤1.50/€1.80, even in the city centre. Beer has been made in modern day Czech Republic since pre-medieval times, aided by the favourable agricultural conditions for hops cultivation. Today, various microbreweries and pubs serving craft beers dot Prague, and beer festivals permeate the calendar year.
Then there is also the budding café and modern art scene. Districts away from the traditional city centre are increasingly gentrified, leading to sprouting galleries and cafes. The DOX Centre of Contemporary Art in Holesovice was a much-welcomed breath of fresh artistic air to this historical city, and we found the Vršovice region near Prague 10 to be particularly rich in independent coffee shops. It was in EMA where I first tasted Buchty (a sweet roll often filled with plum jam, poppy seeds, or cream – a staple dessert in Bohemain cuisine), and of course, a much-needed morning coffee.