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Out and About, Travel

Discovering the magic of Prague, part 3: Malá Strana

Of all the areas of Prague I visited, Malá Strana (The Lesser Town) is the one I liked the most.

There was a particular vibe in the narrow, uphill streets that surround Prague Castle and Petrin Hill, which I hadn’t experienced elsewhere in the city. Simply by exploring them, I felt as if I was catching a glimpse of the day to day life of Praguers: the life of working professionals having coffee and sandwiches for breakfast at their local bakery; the life of people catching the tram to get to work, or running their daily errands around town. I felt I learnt more about the city and its people by walking around Malá Strana, than by visiting any of the key landmarks in the Old Town.

(Read the previous post of the Prague series, about Old Town Square and its surroundings)

Prague - Tram in Mala Strana

Praguers waiting for the tram in Malostranské Náměstí

The array of set-menu restaurants along Nerudova and the flocks of tourists heading up to Prague Castle didn’t diminish this sensation. Even souvenir shops seemed to cater to an entirely different taste than the Old Town’s outlets: it’s only in Malá Strana that I came across some more peculiar objects, looking more like unique pieces than mass-produced holiday souvenirs – and inspired, perhaps, by a much cheekier humour than the usual fridge magnet or keyring.

Czech Matrioskas

Traditional Czech Matrioskas…with a cheeky twist

At the south end of Malá Strana stands Petřín Hill, entirely covered with parks and walking paths. For those who take the funicular railway from Ujezd Street, reaching its summit is a matter of five minutes; my partner and I, however, decided to walk our way up from Kinsky Square. I was glad we resisted the temptation to go for the “easy” option: although we found ourselves short of breath from time to time, the sights and panoramic views all made up for the hike!

Prague - Petrin Hill

Petřín Hill – View of the pond in Kinsky Garden

At the end of our climb, we reached Petřín Hill’s main attractions: the Mirror Maze and the Observation Tower, remains of the former Prague Exhibition Grounds from 1891.

We were slightly disappointed by the Mirror Maze: our guide promised belly laughs at the sight of our reflection in its distorting mirrors, but that wasn’t quite what we found. Its “Hall of Laughter” is a quite small room, which tends to get packed easily, making the experience slightly uncomfortable. Nevertheless, if you’re up for a less grown-up kind of fun than the usual landmark visits, the Maze’s small entrance fee won’t feel like a rip-off. We all need to unleash our ten-year-old self from time to time, so why not be silly for a little while!

Prague - The Mirror Maze

Playing with mirror reflections. Sorry, what’s my age again?

The Observation Tower, built in resemblance of the Eiffel Tower, is one of Prague’s many panoramic points. If its height of 60m doesn’t sound particularly impressive, consider that it sits on top of a hill which overlooks the whole city!

While the Old Town Hall tower made me discover Prague’s rooftops and hidden terraces, the Observation Tower let my gaze wander completely free. My eyes followed the course of the Vltava river, overlooked Prague Castle in its entirety, and really appreciated why it’s considered the largest castle complex in the world. While visiting it “from below”, I hadn’t quite realised how big it was…

Prague - Observation Tower

Views from the Observation Tower: Prague and the Vltava river

Prague Castle

Views from the Observation Tower: Prague Castle

On our way back to the Old Town, we stopped by Kampa Island, a five-minute walk away from Petřín Hill. The afternoon was so sunny and joyous, that many Praguers were out on the green, lying in the sun, walking their dogs, or strolling along the Vltava.

Kampa Island - Vaclav Havel Mural

“Life is mystery, his life is history”: Vaclav Havel portrayed on a wall in Kampa Island

Our destination was the most popular attraction on Kampa: the Lennon Wall, in the nearby Grand Priory Square.

Prior to 1989 when communism ruled, western pop songs were banned by Communist authorities, and especially John Lennon´s songs, because it was praising freedom that didn’t exist here.When John Lennon was murdered in 1980 he became a sort of hero to some of the young and his picture was painted on this wall, along with graffiti defying the authorities. By doing this, those young activists risked prison for what authorities called ‘subversive activities against the state‘”.
(Quote from Prague.net)

Once covered in anti-Communist graffiti, the Wall is now home to messages of love and peace, Lennon-inspired pictures, and random tourist doodles. Mementos of holidays, school trips and life-changing friendships, pandering to the desire of every human: leaving a trace in the world, no matter where or how.

Prague - John Lennon Wall - John Lennon PortraitThe Wall inspired me the same feeling I had when I moved to London in 2010, and found that the murals I had photographed in Brick Lane in 2007 had been erased by Tower Hamlets Council. Even though the Lennon Wall murals aren’t illegal, they will all fade, eventually, replaced by new art and new scribbles. I may come back to Prague, one day, only to find that the Wall I remembered no longer exists; and the pictures I have now will become memories of something unique.

I used to think that immortalising life was the prerogative of gifted artists, but now I realise there’s no need for such sense of entitlement. Sometimes, passionate curiosity and a camera are more than enough.

Prague - Lennon WallPrague - Lennon WallPrague - Lennon Wall(Coming up: Part 4 – Eating in Prague)

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