Prague in winter with an 11-month-old baby
Federico F - Father and avid traveller,
February 23, 2014
We took off heading to Prague with a big question in my mind: was it a good idea to take my 11 month-old son to a business trip turned into a city break over the weekend? Bear in mind it was November. Bear in mind, too, it was an unusual cold winter.
We stayed at the Hilton Prague Old Town, which has as many facilities for babies and toddlers as my house has for building space ships. The rooms were comfortable for a couple; not for a couple and a baby. The hotel location was not bad for excursions by foot to popular places in the city.
While I was attending my meetings, my wife and son went for a stroll and visited the Christmas market in the Old Town Square. We all went again -and again- after my business trip was over and the weekend started. The Christmas market is worth a trip to Prague in its own right. Even under very cold temperatures, the buzz is virtually palpable. Christmas carols sang by kids shyly standing on stage, bakers selling fresh (but very hot!) produce, wood toys one would have thought long disappeared from the twenty first century still being displayed for sale, and people with relaxed faces instead of the stern ones you see when commuting, it all gives you the feeling of being in an old city (you actually are in the Old Town, founded in 1230 A.D.) breathing and leaving the life of times past.
We also walked through a medieval and narrow street, with shops on each side selling all sort of things but most especially puppets and marionettes, leading to the most beautiful bridge I have seen across Europe. The Charles Bridge that crosses the Vltava river which took around two centuries to be built (between 1357 and finished in the early 15th century). With its statues standing on both sides, the light posts and the snow on top leaving a white veil over them, the bridge, which nowadays is only for pedestrians even though it is wide enough (but probably not strong enough anymore) for big SUVs to cross it, gives the impression one is walking through the passage of time. Tourists of all nationalities and cultures cross this bridge almost all day long. Painters of all sorts and artists from other arts (or simply clowns) do their magic in pursue of a benevolent -and wealthy- tourist that will buy their paintings or souvenirs. At times, this spoils the view. But generally, and with an open heart in ones eyes, the walk through the bridge is splendid and joyful. Mind you, it is not easy for those of us that must also push a push-chair through stone-roads covered in snow and sometimes even ice, with temperatures reaching minus five or minus ten. But it does bring the couple's hearts together as it is a romantic place to be in winter and there are not many choices other than hold hands, stay warmly together, drink some glüe-wine and look at the little thing fully wrapped up laying inside the push-chair, asleep and with a whole world yet to be discovered.
We enjoyed the trip to Prague as we spent quality time together, walking, stopping at cafes to have something warm to drink, taking pictures of the astronomical clock (also known as Prague orloj, put in place in 1410 and seemingly the oldest one still working) and enjoying the representations on stage at the Christmas market. The return was however very bad. A snow storm left airplanes stranded, flights cancelled and airports shut. We spent four hours inside a small plane of British Airways, struggling to have its wings de-iced. We finally made it back to London but not to Gatwick Airport where our car was parked but to Heathrow. Then, the journey from Heathrow to Gatwick, by an adventurous taxi driver who accepted the challenge of taking us there, was the scene of a science-fiction movie, with the M25 and the M23 empty, save for ourselves and, literally, three other cars I saw along the journey, plus an enormous number of cars left there, on the road, on the highways themselves, empty, everybody gone, it resembled a cemetery of metal corpses. The highways were unrecognisable, newly painted in white as if they never existed before. The snow looked aggressive -by contrast to the soft, cushy, carpet experienced on the stone-streets of Prague- hitting the windscreen like little bullets. Once in the car park of Gatwick Airport (I still cannot understand how we made it) it took me a long time to identify our car as they were all white and of a similar shape. Ultimately, zig-zagging dead cars throughout the whole journey, we made it and reached home safely. Having had a happy ending, the trip was worth it.