prague after dark

How do you get to know a city? A tricky question.

A city is more than the sum of its numbers; population, crime rate, area, and so on. It is more than what merely lays on the surface, apparent in the light of day to the casual observer. The onset of night, in particular, brings a different character; a change simple and routine, yet profound. The shadows that crept across the narrow alleyways of Prague turned the city into a moon- and neon-lit playground, one echoing not only with the half-hourly bells from the Týn church but with a sense of movement and electricity, even during the hours of the night.

night trams

kino svetozor

Margaret and I headed for U Sudu, a legendary Prague watering hole. I’d been told that it’s a hidden bar built out of old beer caves, tunnels and the like. Sounds right up my alley. We headed out among the denizens of the night, the sounds of tram cars clinking down the tracks and voices bouncing off the buildings acting as our soundtrack as we ventured through the medieval streets. Gone were the swarming hordes in Wenceslas Square, the tourists from all over the world who now slumbered in in their hotel rooms. The city at night seems to belong more to its residents, coming out from behind desks and out of apartments to enjoy the Bohemian night.

bohemian nights

night falls

U Sudu was indeed a cave, a concealed bar made up of dozens of interconnected underground rooms, mostly made from rough-hewn brick arches that once may have been used to store beer and wine, sausages, maybe even secret prisoners during the Soviet régime. The dark chambers narrowed farther back, much like the medieval sewers farther beneath the city. We found our way into the last chamber for a well-earned pint, the smoke from cigarettes and spliffs wafting through the air, the patrons speaking in hushed tones as if it were the Czech version of a Prohibition-era Chicago speakeasy. Classy.

self-portrait, u sudu

Three A.M. came all too swiftly. After another ‘hidden’ bar: an art loft on the second floor of a nondescript office block, and yet another in the north of the city known for both its artwork (done completely in feverish twists of wire) as its drinks (ice cold shots of a local liquor called Becherovka), we found ourselves hopping off a night tram after crisscrossing the city. Before long, the sun would be rising over Žižkov hill to the east of the city, but we would be soon be sound asleep, exhausted after the hours of darkness.

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running for the border, or, how to get across Europe during the worst airline shutdown since WWII

Sooooooo…I’m in Prague at the moment, the largest city in the Czech Republic, and home to one of the dozens of airports in Europe shut down due to Iceland’s giant plume of ash. At the moment, there are three truths I have to contend with.

1. I have a flight to Amsterdam tomorrow that will not fly.
2. Amsterdam is close to the Hook of Holland to Harwich ferry, which will bring me back to the UK.
3. I (maybe) have a flight from London Heathrow back to the States (via Toronto) on the 27th.

My goal, then, is to get across Europe and back to the UK before my flight leaves. This is what brings me to Hlavní Nádraží; the giant European coach and rail networks are my key to making it back in time. I’ll be making for Amsterdam, with the intention of getting a sailing across the North Sea to England. If I can’t get there immediately, my second choice is Frankfurt, where the huge interchange of Euro coaches and packed German trains might yield some results. Stay tuned.