Here it had come : our very last day in Prague. Our flight would be taking us back home in the late evening, meaning we still had quite a few hours to soak in the atmosphere of the city. Yet, we didn’t want to go back to the tourist-packed city center, nor to any place crawling with so many people that we’d have to wait in line to go anywhere. Long story short, this was a tough task.
Our stay in the Czech capital had begun, just like everybody else it seemed, with a visit to the Prague castle. Gullible as ever, we had gotten up early to visit the castle first thing in the morning but when we got there, we soon realized that it wasn’t early enough. Of course, the castle was fantastic. But fantastic wasn’t the first word that came to our mind when we had to queue within the Saint Vitus Cathedral, unable to walk past massive groups of chatty tourists.
On the way back, a welcome detour through a lovely park, in between almond trees and vineyards, had come as a breath of fresh air, as if Prague was telling us that it still had some hidden gems in store. For one over-crowded place would come one lesser-known treasure, if we dared look for it.
We therefore decided to get away from the main sights on our last day and go further south to what seemed like the edge of the city, on the lookout for a fortress called Vysehrad. When we got off the tramway though, all we could see was a gigantic highway over the top of our heads and very few tourists, who looked as lost as we were nonetheless.
All there was in front of us was a somewhat gloomy park, which had to lead somewhere, we thought. Unlike segways, which were specifically banned from entering, pedestrians were welcome to explore the park, from its many sports facilities to its odd-looking statues, so we took our chance. After a few minutes’ walk, the like of a thick fortress wall appeared. We had finally found our way, although the couple tourists we had seen before had disappeared from sight and wouldn’t be so lucky.
A tunnel marked the entrance to the fortress park, as if we were about to leave the city. As we climbed the steep stairs taking us to a vantage point, it did occur to us that we had entered an area of peace and quiet.
We walked past the Rotunda of St Martin, to the edge of the fortress wall. So far, we had only looked at the city from within but this time, we were contemplating it from above. Red roofs and bell towers were lining up on the horizon and we recognized each church, each building we had visited the days before, and especially the St Vitus Cathedral in all its glory. Yet, instead of being cramped inside the Prague castle walls, we were now embracing it from a different perspective.
The spires of an unknown church had been looming in the background ever since we had arrived and it was therefore no surprise to discover its massive gothic figure in the bend of an alley. As impressive as the building looked, we had seen bigger and grander in the last couple days. Still, there was something intriguing, something of a look we had not seen before.
In the middle of all this bare gothic majesty was a door whose coloured mosaics looked as bright as those of a stained-glass window. Such an unusual yet inviting door could only mean that good things were waiting ahead so we pushed it.
We were struck by the limitless shades of colours all around us. However, the Basilica of St Peter and St Paul had nothing to do with the gaudy interiors of many Baroque churches within the city, with their marble extravagance. It had nothing to do either with the rather unadorned looks of Roman and Gothic churches. Here was a surprising blend of 19th Art Nouveau paintings on the walls and Art Nouveau stained-glass windows, expressive classic statues and Neo Gothic elements. It could have looked all over the place. Instead, it was riveting.
On our final hour before heading to the airport, we took one last detour to see the much talked about Dancing House of Prague. The images we took back home were those of a city with such unparalleled architectural diversity that it was no wonder why so many tourists came flocking its streets each year and no wonder why we had joined the flock too. Sure, it was a pain at times but a change in perspective could always turn the tables around.