Things You Do Not Want To Know About Eastern Europe (#1) – Problems With Prague

In the spirit of the present times where the reading public is assaulted with endless lists of top travel destinations, of the top five things you did not know and top ten lists of the things you did, I thought it was only right that I create my own lists. This is the beginning of a series that like its author will come and go with astonishing unpredictability Here is the first of a list of things you didn’t want to know about Eastern Europe, but I am going to tell you anyway.

The Vltava River with the Charles Bridge in the distance

The Vltava River with the Charles Bridge in the distance – the bridge is famous, the river less so

A Fairy Tale of Agitation
It is irritating to hear people say they have been to Eastern Europe because they visited Prague. It is a little bit like saying you have been to the ocean because you walked the boardwalk in Atlantic City. I have heard people say “Prague is like a fairy tale.” It is more like a maze that you can never find your way out of. This may seem enchanting, but after a day or two of getting lost for the umpteenth time in the old town it becomes quite maddening, after a week it is positively tiresome. The famed Charles Bridge is not grand or quaint, but it is historic. Unfortunately, like a lot of history it is hard to remember. There was something about all those statues that seemed a little too much for me. They are neat at first, but after the first five or so they all run together, familiarity breeds indifference. The only thing I can remember about the statues is that there sure were a lot of them. And what was the name of that river the bridge stood over? I cannot remember and that really, really bothers me. Any river that helped spawn such a famous city should at least have a memorable name. Budapest, Vienna and Bratislava have the Danube, Krakow and Warsaw the Vistula, Kiev the Dnieper, Dresden the Elbe and Prague the…Vltava. Oh well.

The Castle area is spectacular, but it seems to aspire to something even greater. A small, quiet and prosperous nation like the Czech Republic should have something a bit more humble. I know Bohemia was once a great and powerful Kingdom, but that was so long ago that it seems like ancient history in a country loaded with more recent and important historical events. Franz Kafka, now there is name often heard in Prague. All the Kafka history is interesting, but any honest person knows that they: a) never read him; or b) only made it through a page or two before being  overcome with a feeling of weird boredom.  Admittedly, I am my own worst enemy with Prague. I went there expecting greatness and all I found was charm. The fact that it has become the cause célèbre of Eastern European travel has made Prague try to out charm its charm. There is something eerie and decadent about fantasies.

The Good Soldier Svejk in Prague

The Good Soldier Svejk in Prague – No Escape

Beauty & History At Above Average Prices
All the renovation has caused prices to be amped up to western standards. This is good for the locals, but I felt like I was constantly on the verge of being gouged. How many Good Soldier Svejk themed restaurants can the average person suffer? Not to mention those Hostels that can be had for hotel prices. At least the beer is cheap. Perhaps that is Prague’s trick. To get everyone sloshed so they will not notice the gaping hole that has been seared in their travel budget. Czechs are so intellectual and clever. They can sell you beauty and history at above average prices. Why they even use words like defenestration on public tours. By the way, those free tours are not so free. They are so damn informative and well-presented that you end up shoveling a fistful of crowns into the hands of a grinning guide.  These guides always tell you how horrible World War II was for the city, but Prague got off relatively unscathed compared to Vienna, Budapest, Warsaw or (gasp) Minsk. Everything looks old in Prague, because it really is old, except for all those post-Cold War coats of shiny paint.

Prague evokes passion

Like it or not – Prague evokes passion

The Essence of Impossibility
Oh and by the way, Prague is further east than Vienna. That fact used to impress me, now I find it irritating. Just admit it Prague, you are in Central Europe, but as soon as everyone discovers that, the tourists will have trouble getting past the glitter and marble of Vienna, the beer halls of Munich and the zeitgeist spirit of modern Berlin. The beaten path will forget about you.  Prague your worst fear is to be treated with indifference. I can hear you laughing and saying that will never happen. How do you know? Because you tricked me into writing a post filled with curmudgeonly passion. I am anything, but indifferent about Prague. It has left me wanting, not more of its fabulousness, but a lot less of its medieval fantasia and rustic gleam. I want Prague to stop being cute. I want it to stop being a dream imposed upon reality. I want it to stop being the essence of impossibility.

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