Friday, February 1, 2008


Prague seems to be turning into/back into? Vienna writ Czech. A city centre full of cafes harking back to a coffee house tradition now more concerned with the height of the whipped cream than any sort of bohemian dynamism. This does not detract from Prague’s undoubted beauty, vistas of alleyways and illuminated arches, balustrades, columns, breathtaking vistas from the Petrin, the Castle. Yet the city thus looked down upon seems at times strangely lifeless, bustling, but with nowhere to go, just tourists turning the same circles gazing wide-eyed and fresh-faced at a city that itself has become too fresh, too new; brightly painted facades replacing the layered whitewashes and crumbling stucco that made Prague, like Rome, a site of monumental, glorious decay and faded glory. I, for one, prefer my Empires a posteriori—or medium-rare.

These musings apply only to the city centre, searching for cafes and Zion in Zizkov and bits of the Kleinseite are quite a different affair: bohemian, at times gritty, small cafes and real people. Of course it is people like us, looking for the “real,” that lead every last corner of the city to be overrun by lonely-planet clutching backpackers, eager for “authentic” experience.

If Prague is turning into staid Vienna, then Budapest is moving out of the shadows of both. Too big and too alive to be run-over by tourists, it is a bustling, crumbling, grand, cool, ode to joy, where it is possible to wander for hours doing little more than wondering at Gruenderzeit and art nouveau facades, the monstrous, neo-gothic Parliament, the imposing, if slightly jumbled Basilica, the Opera, the castle, the churches, striking statues. Cafes in ruins, minimalist interiors in clubs like underground caverns, dramatic statues, the glorious, steaming baths...

No comments: