Europe | Czech Republic
July 17, 2008
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Video Diary: Prague - May 08

You're never far from a bar.
Prague was a revelation. For some years I'd been avoiding a visit. No very good reason, just a combination of vague prejudices: Central European weather, Central European food, Skoda cars, grey Communist-era regimes and seemed a good start.

All blown away in 48 hours of spring sunshine, and, wow, what a town.

‘Chocolate box’ is the only way to describe the old city centre. Winding streets and stuccoed houses, cobble stones and tall church towers, they’re all straight out of the Sound of Music, or at least will be if they ever get round to a re-make: a combination of (relatively) low wages and eyefuls of prettiness make the city Hollywood's favourite version of anywhere vaguely Central European (or even wartime Paris if you believed the film-set I stumbled upon).

And I needn't have worried about the food either. Czech beer, of course, has always been legendary. But near two decades of capitalism and visitors by the million have ensured an approach to other affairs of the palate every bit as sophisticated as metropolitan centres further west. Or east for that matter - in a minimalist dining room at the rear of an art gallery I enjoyed the most refined Thai food I've eaten since my last trip to Bangkok.

There were a couple of wrinkles, of course. Even in May, the old centre was deluged in tourists. In truth, so quaint is the setting and so totally given over to tourism are the businesses there, that it's at times hard to remember that you're in a real place with real people having real lives. I'm not certain what the answer is except perhaps to treat it all as theatre and go with the flow. (I guess if you're desperate it would be easy enough to visit a gritty suburb somewhere, or, worse, stay up late and enjoy the company of's clientele.) And the second wrinkle? The Central European weather, naturally. Shortly before I left for the airport, blue skies turned to lead and the rain started to fall (hard). All good things come to an end, which was how I felt about my short stay as well. But, rain or shine, I'll be back - and soon.

Video diary entry: Prague Sights in 60 Seconds.

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