Driving into the Czech Republic from Bavaria is like entering a bar full of cowboys after attending a science conference. One minute you’re in the sensible, well-presented and law-abiding haven that is this rich German state. Then you’re in Czech. “You can really tell we’re in a different country,” said my nervous-looking German boyfriend as we drove into the former communist state. Picturesque Bavarian towns had given way to what looked like nuclear power plants. And instead of Germany’s ubiquitous onion-domed churches stood roadside gambling dens shrouded in clouds of cigarette smoke. “Isn’t Czech part of the European Union?” I asked, confused as to why people were – shock horror – still allowed to smoke in a public place. “And what’s with all these roadside banners with half-naked women on them?” Markus diligently observed. “Adverts have been banned on the German autobahns for years!” One of the major plus points about living in Bavaria is that so many intriguing countries – with very different cultures – are just a relatively short car journey away. I have lived in the Ammersee region of Bavaria for over a year now, but because I was kind of busy having a baby, I haven’t had the chance to go exploring. Now the sleepless nights are becoming less regular, the world is almost my oyster again. Travelling has also been a great education for me and I hope to pass that on to my son Max – now 9-months-old – as much as possible. As the child of two avid travellers, he really doesn’t have much of a choice.
Prague has been on my travel wish-list for 15 years, since a colleague of mine went there for the weekend and came back gushing about how magical it is. Then everyone seemed to be going to the Czech capital, including almost every stag (bachelor) desperate to party away his last few days of ‘freedom’ in a world of cheap beer and girls. And that put me off. How wrong I was. After a quick internet check revealed Prague is just a 4.5 hour drive from our little part of Germany, we (Markus, our son and I) spun off in our trusty albeit rusty Ford Escort. The quickest journey took us north up the autobahn past endless hop fields to Regensburg, east over the unmonitored German/Czech border then along the D5 motorway to Prague. Five hours and three stops after leaving our home (one breastfeed, one nappy change, and one petrol top-up) we were in the heart of Prague’s stunning Old Town. And what a beauty it is.
From the moment we arrived I fell in love with this jaw-droppingly pretty, pulsating and stylish city. Yes it is extremely touristy, but the hordes can’t bring you down when you have fairytale-like architecture everywhere you turn, happy, welcoming locals and such an overall cool vibe.
The day before setting off we booked an apartment through Prague Residences for a snip of the price it would have cost to stay in a hotel. With a baby in tow we decided that with two days to explore the city it would be less time-consuming to stay in the centre. That turned out to be a great decision. We then spent our time rambling around the charming city pushing the pram from sight to sight, dodging or at times running over the millions of other tourists who seemed to be in town. As the centre of Prague is small and best explored on foot, we managed to cram most of the sights – spanning over 1,000 years of history – into our short trip. But we merely scratched the surface. I would definitely recommend an extra day or two at the very minimum. Sadly we couldn’t spare more time, but for a trip up the road, we didn’t do too badly at all.
And just so you know, the Czech Republic is part of the EU. But at the time of writing this hasn’t stopped smoking in restaurants/gambling dens just yet.
Where to stay: We went for a one-bedroom apartment just off the beautiful Old Town Square for 110 Euros for two nights. See http://www.pragueresidences.com for their entire portfolio.
What to see: Hit the cobblestones by day then again at night for two very different takes on this pretty city. Areas such as the Old Town with its famous Astronomical Clock, the Jewish quarter, Prague Castle and the laid back studenty streets of Mala Strana via a stroll over the Charles Bridge were our highlights.
Where to eat: For breakfast, bagels, amazing coffees and the best hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted (70% cocoa of course) head to Cafe Ebel on Retezova 9, Praha 1. For traditional Czech food at reasonable prices (think meat, meat, meat and any other bits of animal) we loved Restaurace Blatnice, tucked away in the cosy Old Town on Michalska 511. Be willing to embrace the tacky decor and smoky reception.
Don’t miss: Czechs love their beer. Their first brewery is said to date back to 1118. Don’t forget to try some in one of the city’s many boltholes. For other local goods, like wooden toys, scary-looking porcelain dolls and absinthe, head to Prague’s Havelske Trziste market on Havelska Street, Prague 1.
Top tip: Even in low season the streets of Prague are swarming with tourists. Re-visit Old Town Square, its warren of romantic back-passages, and the breath-taking Charles Bridge late at night when there are less people about. The city looks even better lit up in the dark.