Central Europe Adventures 2016 – Part Nine: Culture Shocked in Prague

I spent the second weekend of my Central Europe Adventure visiting Prague. Prague was on my to see list because I’ve had friends visit it before and loved it. I did not know what to expect, I knew nothing about the city, other than it was old and they didn’t speak German and I’ve never met anyone who was Czech before.

The train from Vienna to Prague took four hours and I used this time to write up some of my trip notes and read a guide book on Prague. I was still in culture shock from my visit to Bratislava the day before and instead of being excited I had built up a little bit of anxiety about the unknown language and culture.

Arriving at Praha hlavní nádraží (Prague central station) felt like stepping into a different world. The train to Prague had stopped at Brno along the way and that had looked similar to Bratislava’s train station, and when we got off at Prague we didn’t have to cross the tracks but instead had the standard underground walkway between platforms and the main concourse. The main concourse of Prague’s central station was then like arriving into the middle of a shopping mall in London, New York or Singapore. I was hit by the modernist design and colour from the shops and the interior architecture. This was not what I was expecting.

We then walked from the train station to our hotel which was on the other side of Wenceslas Square. More culture shock hit me at we crossed Wenceslas Square, here I saw Marks & Spencer, Zara, McDonalds, Burger King and many more western shops and brands, including those that I haven’t even seen in Germany. Where Bratislava had been overwhelming because of the difference in culture in Prague I was overwhelmed by the familiarity of the culture.

After dropping our bags at our hotel we headed back out to grab a late lunch and explore the city. We quickly realised Prague is huge, as we managed to get lost a few times heading down side streets with creative art works and other interesting and random sights. Our exploration of Prague began by walking down Wenceslas Square (avoiding all the western shops) and across into Nové Město (new town) where we walked through to the Frank Gehry and Vlado Milunić designed Dancing House. From here we walked along the bank of the Vltava River to the Astronomical Clock in the heart of the Old Town Square.

The old town square area around the Astronomical Clock was filled with more tourists than I have seen anywhere else in Europe. Given this was the middle of the February low season, I would not want to visit in the height of summer. After watching the clock tick over the hour we got a little lost walking around the streets of the old city. While lost down an alleyway we bought a Trdelnik (rolled jam pastry), got very confused by the Czech currency and then found our way through the hoards of tourists and segway tour peddlers to the Charles Bridge.

The sun was setting as we walked across the Charles Bridge. After crossing the bridge I realised that I had lost my friend somewhere in the crush of people. Thinking I could find him I crossed back and forward across the bridge three times before giving up. We found each other again almost two hours later back at the hotel. I then walked slowly back through the old city in the dark and once reunited with my friend we headed out to get goulash and dumplings for dinner at the fantastic Ferdinanda restaurant.

Old Town Square at night

By this time we were both exhausted. Prague was totally different to what I had experienced elsewhere in Europe and at first I didn’t like it. The number of tourists, the huge western brand name shops and scammers rubbed some of the charm off the city. Fortunately, most of this view softened as I explore Prague Castle the following day…