I MISS THE OLD PRAGUE

I MISS THE OLD PRAGUE

Prague has changed, it’s no longer the quiet city I remember. Then as now, it was bitterly cold but it didn’t seem to matter as we explored the city. We had each other and we were in love. We battled the blustery wind as we crossed the Charles Bridge admiring theblackened 17th and 18th century statues of the saints, who sit on the balustrade guarding the bridge.

Fast forward 30 years, and the saints still sit there.Thirty in all, but this timeI’m here alone. Not by choice but by circumstance and it saddens me. I’ve watched couples holding onto each other as they wander the streets of the Old Town. I’ve seen couples holding hands over a table in a café. I’ve heard laughter from couples as I’ve passed by. In case you have doubts, this is not a city to visit if you’re single around Christmas time, plus it’s freezing cold.

The Old Town square at 10am was jammed packed with tourists, locals, stalls, Xmas trees and a heavy police presence. For my book ‘Your Game’ Nikki Sinclair is followed by Czech secret police through the Square. I needed to see the buildings and look at the famous astronomical clock. I vaguely recall watching it all those years ago with ten people. Today I probablywatched it with a thousand strike the hour. 

I hopped on a tram and headed to the Hotel International. Previously in Communism times it was named Hotel Druzba (friendship). This word had various meanings in different Eastern Bloc countries. It’s the only surviving Stalinist building in Prague. When I saw the photo, it reminded me of the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw so I had to see it. It’s outside the main centre, by the side of a four-line boulevard and it’s impressive. It stands 88 metres high, with two large wings on either side of the main building. A black marble staircase leads to the first floor. Here were paintings depicting Czech citizens enjoying an idealised life, eg. Smiling as they are digging, carrying a heavy load, dancing with white doves flying in the sky (very Soviet). The guests from Eastern Bloc countries would have enjoyed the splendour while across the square citizens were living in ‘panelaks’. These were pre-fab homes cheaply constructed of concrete usually around ten to thirteen stories high. These pre-fabs are common in all the old Eastern Bloc countries.

I needed a residential location for my book ‘Your Game.’ I checked out an area called Ujezd on Google maps, but I couldn’t find any information about it on Google. The streets and buildings remind me of Budapest but with a softer edge and it’s next to the Vistula river. Renovation is the name of the game in this neighbourhood as it’s in a terrific location.  My mouth dropped open as I walked with my head up gazing at the incredible statues, frescos, paintings on the roofs, sides and fronts of the buildings. According to a café owner, tourists don’t often visit Ujezdwhich is probably good, otherwise it will lose its charm.

Tripadvisor reviewers gave the Museum of Communism four stars and I thought twice about going, but so pleased I did. The small museum takes about two hours to visit. It charts the rise of Communism, the Prague Spring to the Velvet revolution from an ordinary person’s (citizen’s) point of view. The economy was centred on mining and heavy industry. Life centred around meeting Five Year Plans and quotas. Coal surface mining caused huge areas of fertile fields to become like a moonscape landscape. Power plants powered by coal created acid rain killing forests. Rivers became heavily polluted because heavy fertilisers and liquid manure were pumped onto the soil.

Did you hear of two ‘accidents’ at the Bohunice Nuclear Power Plant in 1975 and 1977? No, I hadn’t either. Thesedisasters had the potential to rival Chernobyl but the Communist Government concealed them from their own population and the West.

My visit to Prague concludes my six month European adventure. Have I enjoyed it? Yes. I’ve loved the history, culture, museums, the cities I’ve visited and the people I’ve met.

Would I do it again? No, and NOT even with a friend. Most of the time it’s been enjoyable and interesting.  I’ve coped with challengingsituations in different countries alone and lived to tell the tale!

More next time from Bristol and Bath!

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