Sunday, 10 July 2016

Czech Republic – The ultimate A to Z (I-M)

Dobry den!

Here is the third edition of my A-Z of thoughts on living in the Czech Republic for the last three years. Enjoy!

I is for…ice hockey
Honourable mentions: Iconic, international

Sports are very popular in the Czech Republic. I’ve taken part in activities as diverse as beach volleyball and glow-in-the-dark golf. There are two which are wildly popular: football and ice hockey, with the latter simply being known as hockey.

A combination of mini-golf, hockey and snooker

Watching Germany win a football match 3-0. The German fan behind doesn't seem impressed with his team...
The Czechs are also fairly good at hockey, with their team regularly getting to the latter stages of international tournaments. Of the club teams, there is an intense rivalry between the two major Prague sides: Slavia and Sparta. We went to one of these wars and were stationed in the away section – quite an experience.

In Sparta's bear pit: the TipSport Arena

Taking our life into our own hands by supporting the enemy - go Slavia!
We’ve sampled a lot of sporting events whilst in Prague. In football, we’ve watched the Czechs get walloped by the USA, watched the Czech under-21 football team get walloped by England’s equivalent and also been to matches in the under-21 European Championship. Tickets for those three matches were probably cheaper than the least expensive seat in any Premier League ground.

Petr Cech, the most famous currently active Czech footballer

Happier Germans supporting their team in the Under-21 Euro's
The Czechs are also very good at tennis. We’ve seen them win a Davis Cup semi-final with Argentina and watched Lucie Safarova, a top 20 player, win the Prague Open. We’ve also played tennis regularly, particularly in the last three years. One of the courts was hidden away on the island in the Vltava, with views of Narodni Divadlo to one side and of the castle through trees on the other. If only my play could live up to the location…

Watching Berdych and Stepanek in the O2 Arena in Prague

Lucie Safarova, Czech #2, hitting a shot in the Prague Open final
The view of the city from the tennis court. Surprisingly, I didn't hit any balls into the river.

Trampolining was also great fun, though I have a slighter stronger grasp on my mortality than the children we saw somersaulting around!

Bouncing around in the Jump Park

Gymnastics was never my strong point...
Almost every Czech we know loves hiking through the lovely countryside and national parks. I guess you have to be very active if you are drinking as much beer as it’s been suggested the Czechs quaff.

Hiking around Male Amerika, southwest of Prague

J is for…John Lennon
Honourable mentions: Jazz Dock, Jazz Boat

I would say that this is Prague’s hidden gem but, as so many people always seem to be at the wall, I guess the secret is out.

A typically busy day at the John Lennon Wall

The wall used to represent a battle of wills: a group of people inspired by the notion of freedom against an ailing communist regime determined to maintain its power.

A free spirit in front of the wall which has come to represent freedom of expression

The joy of the John Lennon Wall is that it is ever-changing, as it did in the 1980s. Visiting it never got tiring as there would always be something new to look for. We even had the chance to paint on it ourselves, though admittedly without the threat of serious retribution which would have come with that task a few decades earlier.

Legally vandalising the wall

It made a great birthday card for my mum!
Without that threat, the symbolism is lost somewhat but the reminder of its past – and the global influence of the Beatles – is always present in the form of a large, red face of John Lennon staring out at you. Most modern messages on the wall are simple yet inspiring; a place where people join together in positivity. I guess that’s why it’s such a not-so-hidden-anymore gem in Prague.

K is for…Karel IV
Honourable mentions: Krumlov, Kozel

Many people throughout history have left an indelible mark on Prague (thankfully the planned giant statue of Stalin you’ll see later was never constructed) but one man in particular is revered more than anyone else. His name was Karel IV. You may know him as Charles IV, the first King of Bohemia to become Holy Roman Emperor. He has a bridge in Prague named after him.

The statue of Charles IV, found at the eastern gate of the Charles Bridge

Yes, that bridge. The one which is pounded by millions of tourists every year.

Just like the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square, I don’t really understand the hype about the Charles Bridge. I know it is very old, I know that is was very important at the time of its construction, I know that it has some nice statues on it and generally looks lovely and photogenic. I just don’t see what makes it so special and legendary.

Many of the statues get rubbed for good luck or to ensure you return to Prague

This picture was taken from a boat. It is hauntingly beautiful at night, not to mention much quieter.
Actually, I do like the story behind its construction. In 1357, Charles IV said that the first stone needed to be placed on 9th July at 5:31 in the morning. In the morning? Well, old Charlie apparently liked numerology. Year: 1357. Date: 9/7. Time: 5:31. Or if I take the words out… 1 3 5 7 9 7 5 3 1. A palindrome! I’ve been told that the bridge stayed standing, whereas the two previous attempts to unite Prague failed within years, for this very reason.

As well as artists, musicians also entertain visitors to the bridge 

For a long time, this was the main crossing between the two main parts of Prague
It’s the 700th anniversary of Charles’ birth this year. I’m not sure what he would make of the caricature artists doodling whilst sitting on his prized crossing. What I do know is that many more people visit Prague because of the legacy he left the city. Whether you think that’s a good thing or not is your opinion.

Happy Birthday Charlie!

L is for…Lipno
Honourable mentions: Letna, Light festival

One of the most rewarding jobs I’ve undertaken whilst living here is leading two school residential trips to a lake area in the south of the country called Lipno nad Vltavou. Water from this lake will eventually pass through Prague in the form of the Vltava river. The lake itself is definitely worth a visit.

Celebrating the end of the 2016 trip

The lake is stunning in the sunshine - you just have to hope that the sun plays ball when you're there!
Though not worth visiting the bottom of the lake if it’s cold and very windy…

The things I do to make children behave...

It’s a perfect place to take 80 or so 11-year-olds, many of whom live a sheltered and wealthy lifestyle. There’s loads to do in the summer, from losing frisbees on the snowless ski slopes to driving electronic boats on the lake.

An obstacle on the treetop walkway

Driving an electronic boat (max speed: very slow km/h) towards Rabbit Island, in the middle of the lake
My favourite part is their treetop walkway, which soars high above the lake and offers stunning views. You can even see Austria in the distance. The ski resorts in the Austrian Alps are beginning to see Lipno as a threat as its runs are of a similar quality for a fraction of the price.

You get great views on a clear day

I think it's about 900m above sea level so it can get quite windy!
Lipno is a lake of happy memories for me. If things get tough in the future, I’ll just re-watch the video of being pushed in by my class (this was the second time out of four I was shoved in that morning) and remember how much I was shivering after it.

At least I wasn't thrown into the lake in December, when it looks like this...

M is for…museums
Honourable mentions: markets, medovnik

Prague’s history is impressive and depressing at the same time. I read a book recently that said Czechs believe they would have been a major power if it weren’t for the Austro-Hungarians, the Germans, the Soviets…

The aforementioned Stalin statue, thankfully never erected in Letna park

Of all of the countries that came under the ‘Iron Curtain’ umbrella, the Czech Republic – or Prague at least – seems to have recovered and reinvented itself the most impressively. Rather than feeling like I was in a place that was ravaged by communism, Prague to me had more similarities with other central European cities which didn’t suffer the same fate, such as Vienna or Munich.

Prague is in the green section representing higher PPP - the vast majority of eastern Europe is in yellow or red

The dark times under Soviet influence won’t be forgotten, though. The Museum of Communism was a stark reminder of what the country suffered through less than half a century ago.

Prague wasn't always the peaceful place it has been for us these last three years

An example of the very tangible threat from the east if people misbehaved
It makes it all the more incredulous that the Czech president, Milos Zeman, seems to be steering the country back towards Russia rather than towards further EU integration. Though I guess my countrymen and women didn’t exactly agree with the latter, either…

Lenin: not thought to be in favour of the EU

The museum is definitely worth a visit as it shows how far Prague has come since the Velvet Revolution of 1989. Maybe Mr Zeman should visit sometime and remember that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side: particularly the east…

Love you all


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