In the “Golden Prague”

Last May, I was in Prague to participate to a meeting organized by my company. I seized the occasion to have my wife and daughter fly with me to the “Golden Prague” or the “golden city” as the Czech capital is known, occasion of seeing one of the most beautiful cities in Central Europe.

Reaching Prague

There are many ways to reach Prague from Asia, but we took Finnair, as it was the most convenient way of reaching the city. My wife and daughter enjoyed the business class on board the Finnair flight to Prague.

Business class of finnair
Mitchy and Maria-Sophia in the business class of Finnair

It was an excellent flight, with the habitual excellent food of Finnair. Mitch and Maria-Sophia both enjoyed this short but agreeable trip.

Meal on finnair business class
Meal on Finnair business class

The landing was smooth with the lovely Czech countryside developing for miles before the landing.

Landing in Prague of flight AY 1224

The “golden city”

Prague has often had the nickname of being the “golden city”, for its sheer beauty and baroque rooftops. Upon our arrival, we set out thus, to go and see for ourselves the beautiful city. My hotel was at the King’s Court, a very centrally located hotel in the old city of Prague. It allowed us to take a stroll immediately in the pedestrian center of the city.

Pretty Czech girls
A snapshot of a couple of pretty Czech girls in Prague’s historic center

We dropped our luggage and set off exploring the beautiful city of Prague right away

The Prague Castle

The obligatory passage of any visit in Prague is the Prague castle, of course. After meandering through the streets of Prague, we came across this magnificent IXth century castle, which is also the official seat of the President of the Czech Republic.

Maria-sophia before St. George basilica
Maria-Sophia before the St. George basilica in the inner courtyard of Prague Castle

While the IXth century St. Vitus cathedral presents undoubtedly gothic features, the surroundings of the cathedral have been heavily influenced over the centuries by various constructions and particularly in the baroque style, such as the St. George basilica featured above.

View over rooftops of Prague
This gorgeous view over the rooftops of Prague is available inside Prague castle

The best part in Prague castle is probably the magnificent view over the rooftops. To get this view, you must enter a little coffee shop which offers an excellent package of coffee + strudel for about 5 €. Unbeatable for the magnificent views.

Photo ops

Most people decide to take pictures on the ramparts of the castle, and that’s what we did with Maria-Sophia too.

Maria-Sophia over the ramparts
Maria-Sophia posing over the ramparts of Prague castle

We eventually came back to Prague castle on our last day for more photos. It is worth pointing out that Asian tourists (and particularly Korean couples) seem to affection Prague, both at the castle and the Charles bridge for prenuptial pictorials.

Asian prenup pictorials at Prague castle
Asian couples often come for prenuptial pictures at Prague castle

Besides couples, you have also a lot of Asian tourists visiting this historical city.

Two Asian tourists in Prague castle
Two Asian tourists in Prague castle

Heading to the Moldau

You have two ways to go back to the Moldau. The first is to climb through the Wenceslas vineyards, which offer also a magnificent photo backdrop.

Wenceslas vineyards
Maria-Sophia on the path of the Wenceslas vineyards

The other part involves exiting the castle at the opposite point of entrance and going down stairs in the old city. Many Asian tourists chose to take this route, just as these two Chinese tourists.

Chinese tourists climbing stairs to Prague castle
Two Chinese tourists climb the stairs to the Prague castle

Of course, we also had our own photo sessions on these stairs.

Maria-Sophia before the Prague castle stairs
Maria-Sophia poses on the stairs climbing to the Prague castle

Once we came back down to the historical center, we meandered again to the Charles bridge. This place is an absolute nightmare filled with tourists at any time of the day. The best moment to visit it is probably during early mornings, where fewer tourists are around.


The Charles Bridge

The Charles bridge is also famous for the saint who reportedly was executed on this bridge in the Middle Ages, namely Saint John of Nepomuk. Executed because, allegedly, he refused to betray the secret of the confession, it seems rather this execution was orbiting around the Western Schism. Saint John of Nepomuk supported a candidate wanted by the Roman Pope against the wishes of King Wenceslas for the attribution of a very rich abbey. This might be more of a motive than the romantic legend of refusing to violate the secrecy of confession.

As a reminder, the Western Schism was between the supporters of the Pope in Avignon, infeodated to the King of France and the Pope in Rome, who maintained the supremacy of the Church over earthly sovereigns. In short, the short-lived fight around theocracy, which came to an end under Pope Boniface VIII. This schism ended dividing European kingdoms across support for one or the other Pope, and sometimes even ran lines of divide within some nations, such as in present-day Czechia.

Today, a statue is erected on the Charles Bridge, at the place where the saint was thrown in the river.

Maria-Sophia at the statue of Saint John of Nepomuk
Maria-Sophia pays respect to the statue of Saint John Nepomuk

The Charles Bridge, in itself was closed to circulation after WWII, as its age and multiple damages from flooding had weakened its structure. Its modern-day restoration which ended in 2010 is strongly criticized for failing to respect the ancient character of the bridge and mixing older and newer materials.

The Charles Bridge in Prague
The Charles Bridge in Prague

Along the Moldau

I guess that when you come to Prague, you suddenly understand the famous “Moldau” symphonic poem by the Czech composer, Bedřich Smetana. The river and its flow do really evoke the powerful and peaceful music of Smetana, and for a classical music lover, it is quite an emotional moment.

“The Moldau”, by Smetana
Maria-Sophia on the banks of the Moldau
Maria-Sophia on the banks of the Moldau

Prague is also the birth city of another great Czech composer, Anton Dvorak.

A golden city… with disagreeable people

After our travel to Prague, we came to the conclusion that while the city is magnificent, Czech people instead are mostly disagreeable and lack common customer service sense. The general attitude was rather rough and rude in shops or cafes, not to mention there is none of the friendliness we encountered for example in Finland or Spain.

Barefoot running in Prague

I was recently for business purposes in Prague, in Czech Republic (after transiting through Helsinki). As you may already know, I did some barefoot running while in Barcelona, and now try to keep running barefoot anytime I am abroad. While Prague certainly leads in the category of the most beautiful cities of the world, it is also a tough terrain for barefoot running. Barefoot running in Prague’s old city involves indeed running on disjointed pavements most of the time.

Barefoot acclimatizing

As you may know, I regularly run barefoot in Hong Kong and I also do hike barefoot. I also often do some quick runs to the mall barefoot, which gives me a quick exercise and the occasion of both, facing social awkwardness and using my bare feet in different contexts.

It is thus that while not being a full-time barefooter (work and social conditions do not allow it), I do try to do barefoot exercise as much as possible. This reinforces my leg muscles and my feet, and of course, also my social comfort being barefoot. But more importantly, it allows my feet to experience a variety of terrain, thus reinforcing skin and muscular structure of the feet.

The Old city

The old city of Prague is replete with historic buildings, and mainly old huge pavements. The sidewalks are filled with smaller cobbles, but are thus also an irregular surface for running. On my first run, I had the lovely surprise of encountering a barefooted statue of “harmony” on the banks of the Moldau. This was probably the best part, as running on the banks of the Moldau (or Vlatava as it is called in Czech), and the small gravel and sand did not cause any discomfort.

 

During the day, running in the old town is difficult due to the great number of tourists in the month of May. I thus started my runs generally towards 6 AM.

An idea of the tourists on Prague’s Charles bridge…

Prague's Charles bridge
Prague’s Charles bridge at tourist rush hour (Photo Anthony DELANOIX, from www.unsplash.com)

Anthony DELANOIX

 

If running in the morning took care of the tourists, the surface remained harsh to run upon. My first run took me right up to the Prague castle, which at 6.30 AM was deserted. Running that early allows you to use the warm morning light and it gave my picture quite a flavour of Tuscany. And no, I did not use any filter!

barefoot running to Prague Castle
Barefoot running until Prague Castle

Running in the city

For people who are paranoid about glass on the floor, I did not encounter any while running in Prague. Whether at the castle or in the city, there was no glass to harm my feet, nor other dangerous items. While I would not say Prague is as clean as Helsinki, it is reasonably clean.

However, running barefoot on disjointed pavement or huge coblestones requires some care, but I surprised myself by running about normally on that terrain. It did not cause any discomfort (testifying to months of barefooting and acclimatization of my feet).

Afterwards, however, my footpads were a bit sensitive, but I trust a few weeks of running on that terrain would have taken care of that too.

Social look on barefooting in Prague

With regards to the acceptation of barefooting, I saw a Czech lady barefooting in the park (and apparently, she did not carry any shoes with her), and a few English people also barefooting in the old city. However, despite encountering a number of runners, I did not see any who were running barefoot.

While I got some weird looks, just two openly negative reactions… A group of guys who saw me walking back to my hotel barefoot and started laughing loudly and openly after I passed them. And finally, the receptionist of the 5-star hotel where I was residing who told a customer : “yes, there are strange people”, after they saw me coming back barefoot.

Pushing back the comfort zone

When running barefoot, you must be ready to push back your comfort zone. Part of this implies being ready for and being unfazed with such reactions. I made the choice of a certain lifestyle and a given way of life and I am ready to accept the constraints that come with it. I also don’t mind being considered as weird or strange or “poor”. It is actually quite a luxury of having a decent lifestyle and being able to be careless about how you look.

Nevertheless, being a barefooter does not entail any philosophical or ethical consideration for me (not doing it because of “earthing” or whatever “hippie” feelings). It just is a lifestyle which helped me to overcome a physical issue and which has provided me a lot of satisfaction in various manners since I started it. I have the necessary self-confidence to put up with the abuse or curiosity. Running barefoot in various countries around the world allows us this comfort zone to be pushed back.

I would say however, that being shoeless and being able to run shoeless means that I need less things. In a way, this encourages minimalism and a more zen approach to life. It also increases tremendously self-confidence (ok, it must already be quite high to be able to do it).

Barefoot running anywhere

Contrary to popular fears, barefoot running in the city is not a solution for injuries provided you watch where you run and provided you take the time to condition your feet. Taking it slow initially is an essential requirement. Beyond the fear of injury, the most obvious issue you may be facing, would be the social awkwardness when running barefoot. People will stare or even comment or laugh at you. This is inevitable. For some reason, in Hong Kong, a lot of people run shirtless, but elicit no comment at all. Run barefoot and everybody stares or is uneasy. There is an almost freudian paradox in this aspect of society.

 

The Statue of Harmony

Statue of Harmony in Prague
The barefooted statue of “Harmony” in Prague.

This statue on the banks of the Moldau, actually refers to Sri Chinmoy, an Indian sect leader who was active in the USA in the 1960’s. While you may wonder why such a statue was placed in Prague, it made for an interesting encounter in the morning.

Nevertheless, as a matter of fact, that particular day, I felt that running barefoot also allowed me to reach my own personal harmony.