When I was in Prague there were two companies, City Bike and Praha Bikes, which offered guided bicycle tours of the city. Both companies made a friendly and competent impression when I visited them. Their tours sounded quite similar. The tours at City Bike were a tick more expensive but included a ‘free’ drink, which evened things out.
My original intention was to take tours from both shops so I could compare, but I scrapped that idea because there was so much else I wanted to see and do in Prague. In the end, I took the ‘classic’ tour from Praha Bikes mainly because their departure time was more convenient for me.
There were nine of us on the tour: four Dutch women, an American couple with two children, and me. Our guide was Franscesco, an Italian living in Prague who spoke good English.
After getting our bikes we started out in the Old Town, which is where Praha Bikes is located, stopping every few blocks for explanations from Franscesco.
From the Old Town we went down the right bank of the river for a few blocks — on the sidewalk, which is tolerated in Prague though it would be illegal in Germany. After passing the National Theater, we crossed the short bridge onto Slovanský Island. Here the Dutch ladies let on that they had tickets for Carmen at the State Opera the next evening, but not for the National Theater.
Franscesco then led us past the Dancing House, also known as the Fred and Ginger House because it represents a man and a woman dancing, such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. This building was designed by the architect Frank Gehry and was built from 1994 to 1996. It was controversial, but was supported by the former Czech president Václav Havel, who lived next door from his childhood until the 1990s.
From the Dancing House, Franscesco led us across the Jiráskův Bridge to the left bank of the river, where among other things he showed us the John Lennon Wall.
After John Lennon was murdered in New York in 1980, graffiti about him started appearing on this wall as a thinly veiled protest against the Communist regime that still ruled Czechoslovakia, because Western music was not allowed, particularly songs by suspicious singers such as Lennon who propagated peace and freedom.
Láska in Czech means love, as in Donizetti’s opera Nápoj lásky, better known in Italian as L’elisir d’amore and in English as The elixir of love.
(To be more precise, láska means “love” and lásky means “of love”.)
At two of our stops on the left bank of the river, in the district known as Malá Strana, Franscesco showed us some contemporary art works by the Czech sculptor David Černý (born 1967 in Prague).
The first of these stops was on Kampa Island, where we looked at the Bronze Babies or Bar Code Babies on the lawn of the Modern Art Museum (Kampa Museum).
A while later we also stopped at Cihelná, in front of the Franz Kafka Museum, to look at Černý’s two peeing statues. According to the artist’s website, the two figures “move realistically” while they are peeing. “An electric mechanism driven by a couple of microprocessors swivels the upper part of the body, while the penis goes up and down. The stream of water writes quotes from famous Prague residents.” Theoretically visitors can interrupt them by sending a text message from a mobile phone to a number displayed next to the sculptures. “The living statue then ‘writes’ the text of the message, before carrying on as before.” This feature was not working, however, when we were there.
On the left bank of the river we also stopped to have a look at one of Prague’s best-known landmarks, the Charles Bridge. While we were there, Franscesco explained something I had been wondering about, namely the strange wooden constructions in the river in front of the abutments that hold up the bridge. These are ice-guards, to prevent the bridge from being damaged by ice flows during the winter. He said that lately with global warming there hasn’t been much ice on the river, but high water is still a problem, so the ice-guards are kept there to prevent the bridge from being damaged by any objects that might be swept downstream in a flood.
Towards the end of our bicycle tour we crossed the Mánesův Bridge to get back to the right bank of the river, where we had our next-to-last stop in front of the Rudolfinium, which is a concert and exhibition hall and home of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.
Unfortunately I was not able to attend a concert of Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, because they were not playing on any of the evenings that I had free. (Operas have priority, of course.)
The 1880s must have been a decade of intense construction activity in Prague. The National Theater, the State Opera and the National Museum were all built mainly in that decade, and so was the Rudolfinium, a neo-Renaissance building that was opened in 1885. It was named after the ill-fated crown prince Rudolf (1858-1889), who committed suicide four years later. Rudolf was the son and heir of Franz Joseph I, the inexplicably popular emperor of Austria, Hungary and Bohemia, known in Czech as Císař Frantisek Josef I. As I mentioned in my story The ten thousand nine hundred and fifty ninth day, my Czech uncle on his deathbed at age 82 still had kind words for Franz Joseph I, for reasons known only to himself.
The last stop on our bicycle tour, before returning to Praha Bikes on Dlouha Street, was in the Jewish District, where we had a look at the Hebrew Clock and the Old Synagogue.
The hands of the Hebrew Clock move “counter-clockwise”, as we would say in America, or “anti-clockwise” as the British say.
In addition to their guided bicycle tours, the same company used to run “Pub Crawl” tours in the evenings, starting at their own “Pub Crawl” bar adjoining the bike shop. I have never taken one of these, obviously, but they used to have a video on their website explaining how it worked. You meet at their bar to start drinking, then went out together to four different pubs and a club. (I don’t know if they are still doing this.)
Their video was in English but was apparently intended to appeal to Ballermann-type Germans, i.e. it made the tour sound like a drunken brawl. But later I ran into one of their Pub Crawl groups in town one evening and it looked very pleasant. The group consisted of four or five perky college girls from various countries with a big, friendly, muscular young man in a “pub crawl” T-shirt to look after them.
This is my 600th blog post here on operasandcycling.com.
My photos in this post are from 2011. I revised the text in 2019.
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