Visit Prague from Birmingham Airport With Czech Airlines
Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, has gone from the back packers’ Best Kept Secret to the stag and hen capital of the old eastern block. Or so we were lead to believe. With Czech Airlines now flying direct from Birmingham Airport, SIXTYNINE Degrees Jonathan Fraser decided to see if there was truth in the rumour that the stags had finally rutted off from the capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia…
People think I can be a little weird. Take Christmas a few years back for example. I was presented with a dream gift: a vintage and (admittedly) sinister ventriloquist’s dummy (since called Uncle David, don’t ask). He now sits in the corner of the living room, unnerving the more sensitive visitors to my home. It’s fair to say my tastes are left of centre, shall we say. So, killing time on the (actually very quick: 1hr 40mins!) flight from Birmingham to Prague I was thrilled to discover, when leafing through the guide book, a coach trip to a church made entirely from skulls and bones. Just my bag and from that point forward, I knew that Prague and I were going to get on.
Like most major European cities, Prague is built either side of a large river, the Vltava, and the name of Prague actually originates from the Czech word for ford or river crossing. Settlements here date back to the 9th Century AD with many of the city’s most spectacular architecture still standing from the 14th Century and reign of Charles IV. It’s this monarch that the main bridge connecting the two halves of the city is named after. The Charles Bridge deserves more than a passing comment: not only is it probably the most important and easiest-to-find tourist landmark in the city and with its myriad of craft stalls, beatnik musicians and gothic statues, it’s a must-see.
Stroll across the Bridge to the North side and up the hill to the beautiful Prague Castle and gothic Saint Vitus Cathedral, which look menacingly over into the main old town on the opposite bank. Beware: it’s a steep walk, although well worth doing if you can, as the view is quite breathtaking (in both senses of the word).
If all that sounds like too much legwork, stay on the South side and follow the bustling crowds through winding streets filled with tiny theatres, marionette shops (they’re obsessed), restaurants and quirky coffee houses and bars which invariably lead you towards the main Old Town square and the medieval Astronomical clock whose moving sculptures perform the ‘Walk of The Apostles’ with each hour chime performed by a statue of the grim reaper himself, pulling on the bell pull. Touristy but fabulous!
Another way to see the city is by boat. The evening river cruise by Prague Boats offers spectacular views but we’d recommend the shorter two hour trip rather than the dining experience- get back earlier and enjoy a long dinner in the city!
Wherever you go in Prague, skeletons, devils and witches abound – everything is slightly gothic and ‘dark’, but when mentioning this to our guide from Eating Prague, who organise amazing food and drink trips around the city, any sinister interpretations of this nightmare figures were dispelled; “No, no, the witches are all for good luck. We have them in our kitchens to keep the bad spirits out.” Ok. Why bad spirits would lurk in a kitchen I’m not sure perhaps from the traditional Christmas Day Carp, kept in the bathtub during advent, killed on Christmas Eve and eaten on the big day itself.
Speaking of food (and we always are as my other half is food-obsessed), Cuisine and the Czech Republic go surprisingly hand in hand with a vast selection of restaurants for all budgets and tastes. We heartily recommend the Eating Prague tour – mentioned above- as a great way to sample menus, try traditional dishes and discover some great restaurants to visit later in your trip.
Back on the streets and with daylight dimming, the gothic architecture of the city comes into its own: with cobbled streets lit by dim gas lamps and brooding statues. It’s all very the Brothers Grimm but not in the least foreboding. Add to this the pools of light spilling from the doorways and windows of the (many) small and quirky bars and you’ll be under its spell yet further.
We were enchanted, that’s for sure.
The Czech Republic has a fine reputation for the quality of its beers and you’ll find plenty to choose from in the city’s bars, some of which have their own micro breweries within. Beer is incredibly cheap to buy – the average per capita beer consumption is about 160 litres per year, meaning that Czechs drink more beer than anyone on the planet. If beer’s not your thing then why not try a little of ‘la fee verte’ or Absinthe, which is still made in the Czech Republic – perfect before a moonlit stroll amongst the streets, although it might make the statues come to life if you have too much!
You can fly from Birmingham Airport to Prague with Czech Airlines up to 5 times weekly. Operated on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays on an Airbus A319 with a total of 144 seats – 12 business and 126 economy. Book flights at www.czechairlines.com
We stayed at the ParkHotel Praha, a few minutes tram ride from the centre of Prague and designed with a distinctly sixties feel. Rates vary depending on season – visit www. parkhotel-praha.cz to find out more.