It is difficult to take photographs from trains, and it is difficult to really get to know a place when you stay for five days and do not meet anyone who lives there. We are very tourists, and there is definitely a pane of glass between us and the cities we are visiting.
But Prague is a city made for tourists. On the far bank of the river there is a flock of maybe fifty swans, all crowding around the shore for bread. The streets are pale yellows and greens and pinks. Berlin is shit at colour, all angles and straight lines and heavy masses of shape. Prague is powder coated.
The only exception is my favourite building of this whole trip.
The Zizkov tower is a short walk from our hotel. At night you can see it from the window, lit from the bottom in blue, white and red. It was voted the second ugliest building in Europe by TripAdvisor. It was one of the last Communist building projects. Now at the top there is a single room, 5 star hotel.
There were campaigns against its contruction, and nearby there was a small shop selling Fuck Zizkov T-shirts with the figure of the tower replacing a middle finger. But there is something amazing about building this in the middle of Prague. It doesn’t detract, it just doesn’t relate. It looks like it landed itself there. It looks like it is about to take off again, and one morning you would wake up and the Zizkov tower would be leaving, the occupant of the single room hotel pressed against the bed, face rippling, eyes watering as it escapes the atmosphere, watching incredulously from the window as the moon passes by.
Anyway our hotel was also very whimsical.
We were on the sixth floor, reachable by a lift that looked as if it was a converted dumb waiter. You couldn’t call it until it had reached whatever destination it was heading to, but you didn’t know where or when that was. You just had to keep pressing the button until it came. There was a wooden door in front of the elevator door and no light inside, so sometimes it had been there the whole time. There was a large hole in the wall outside our room, which seemed to have an electricity meter in it. The bar fridge was clad in oak. The beds were on a mezzanine.
Our trip from the train station to the hotel was one of the most enjoyable taxi rides I have ever been in. A 1994 yellow Skoda Rapid covered in a layer of fine dust was unoccupied in the taxi rank. A bearded man showed us a list of oddly specific prices. Our driver had a smoker’s cough and hacked up his lungs with the windows down, freezing air streaming in, as he pulled out into oncoming traffic and nudged the shins of pedestrians on crossings. The radio played a Czech cover band doing Queen, and the whole thing cost about $60 which was four times what it cost for the same trip on the way back. It was brilliant.