Updated: Jan 27
I. Don't. Like. Cities. As I dig deeper into my fifties, I've finally become better able to distinguish between what I'm supposed to like and what I actually like. I know, it's taken me a while, but I'm getting there. As is Sharon, and the great news is that we're 98% on the same page, which is brilliant. We don't like opera, hate wandering around endless galleries and dislike most cities. But we love Prague. Especially in the winter.
Our history with the Golden City is thirty-years old. On an icy day in January 1993 - the shores of the Vltava were partially frozen - we arrived in Prague by train for our honeymoon. We stayed in a cozy hotel on Wenceslas Square and spent two days exploring the city, nipping into cafes and bars every couple of hours to warm up, before breaking out to visit Karlstejn castle. But the connection is more than just a romantic memory associated with a particular location. Prague is fascinating and deep and layered and wonderfully photogenic. It's also quite three-dimensional, by which I mean that it's got hills and escarpments and isn't just flat and boring.
Some of the best photo locations in Old Prague (click on  to open in a new tab)
Day 1: Jewish Quarter (2), Old Town (3), Christmas Markets (3) & Charles Bridge (1)
Thirty years later - to the day - we arrived - again by train - to find a familiar yet revamped city and have fallen in love with it all over again. On our first visit, the Iron Curtain had only just fallen and my lasting memory was of a grimy city with lots of scaffolding where a few German shop chains were beginning to manifest. Although there are a few of the usual high-street suspects up and down Wenceslas Square, the old city has been pretty much preserved - and cleaned up. The result is a beautiful medieval city centre that is a photographer's (and beer-lover's ) delight!
Prague is a city full of obscure legends, from the famous Golem in the Jewish quarter, to the builder of the 1410 Astrological Clock, who was allegedly blinded on the order of the city councillors to prevent him building clocks for other cities. Or the fable that St. Wenceslas will awaken and storm across the Charles Bridge, golden sword in hand, when the lands of Bohemia need him most.
We started on our first morning wending our way to the Jewish quarter to revisit the ancient Jewish cemetery, dating back to the 15th century. The higgledy-piggledy graves here are stacked one on top of another due to constraints caused by lack of land. The result is a beautifully confused jumble of stones engraved with Hebrew characters. Achieving a narrow depth of field with a micro 4/3rds camera is notoriously difficult. Even with my 25 mm f/1.8 lens I was pushing it to get the background sufficiently out of focus in order to keep the viewer's eye on the subject.
The 20th Century Jewish writer Franz Kafka is revered in Prague and has a bizarre statue commemorating him in not far from the cemetery.
Walking from the Jewish Quarter along the west bank of the river (the 'Little Side' or 'Lesser Town of Prague') gave us some great opportunities for a bit of classical city and street photography, as does Karlův most. On the edges of the old town you get some glimpses of the real Prague rather than just tourist Prague.
The Christmas markets in Prague run until the 6th January - whether due to their proximity to the Eastern Orthodox church - who celebrate Christmas on the 6th - or to keep the tourists happy was unclear. My Better-Half was delighted though to have an extra day - and evening - browsing the stalls and lights of yet another Christmas market. It was actually fun to see a fresh set of artisanal offerings rather than the same old tired Munich stalls. The Charles Bridge also never looses its charm and is cleverly illuminated by dark.
Day 2: Prague Castle, St. Vitus Cathedral (5), Golden Lane (6) & Charles Bridge (1)
Day two saw us headed up the hill to Pražský hrad or Prague Castle - the fortification dominated by St. Vitus Cathedral. The weather in the morning was tricky; a bland white sky even lead me to my first attempts at sky replacement in ON1. Although they worked, they're not worth sharing here. Up at the castle, the Cathedral and Golden Lane are must-see attractions for anyone with a photographic eye. The ticket for Golden Lane includes a round tour of the cathedral anyway, so if you buy a ticket, get your money's worth. Golden Lane is an open museum with a few shops but offers some good photo opportunities.
Some of the beautiful stained glass windows in St. Vitus Cathedral
Somewhere in our archives we have an old photo of the rooftops along Golden Lane up at the castle. We couldn't find the exact spot it was taken but this was pretty close. In the meantime, the lane is an open museum with lots of little shops and some dioramas of an armoury, an alchemists (very Witcher) and some other treats.
We wanted to visit Strahov Monastery after lunch to view the library, but were dissuaded by the long queue, so we put that off until the following morning. Instead we headed up the hill to Petrin Tower (4), where you can pay to ascend the 299 steps to get great views of the city, castle and monastery. The tower was inspired by Paris' Eiffel Tower, but is nowhere near as tall. The vantage point on Petrin Hill does give wonderful views of the castle, monastery and Charles Bridge though.
One of the new sights to see in Prague is the delightful Dancing House (7). Finally the clouds were beginning to break at this point and we got some proper light to work with. It was amazing what a difference it made to the images!
After lunch the clouds were beginning to finally break up, giving us great light for the afternoon and sunset as we made our way along from Jirasek Bridge back to Charles Bridge via Legions Bridge (8), where I took this lovely black and white:
We got to Charles Bridge just as the sun was going down behind Petrin Hill and dashed up the eastern tower to catch the sunset. We set up with the tripod balanced on the parapet and waited for the show to begin. It's difficult to take an original photo in Prague, but I was quite pleased with this one of the gulls dancing above one of the statues.
I'd hoped that the sun would illuminate the clouds from beneath as it sunk below the western horizon. Unfortunately it didn't, but we still got this view of the bridge and castle with some colour in the sky.
Heading back to the hotel via the Old Town Square we just had to capture the Astrological Clock Tower and gothic church again. It would have been rude not to...
Day 3: Charles Bridge (1) at Dawn and Strahov Monastery (9)
Sharon let me go on my own to capture dawn at Charles Bridge. We'd actually been promised some fog - which failed to materialise. Between the dark and true dawn there was a brief window of blue hour on the bridge. It was also nice to bump tripods with other photographers at this crazy hour (hi Markus and friend!).
Wending my way back to the hotel I came across another interesting piece of graffiti. Not far from here is the Banksy Exhibition, where we called in on Saturday afternoon. Well worth a visit.
Strengthened by a hearty hotel breakfast, we decided to make use our last morning to check out the Strahov Monastery library. Whilst we'd explored most of our city on foot, we decided to let the tram take the strain. I love trams. It dates back a year in Basel as a student where they were the public transport number one. They're so much more fun than the underground or metropolitan rail; the former runs underground whilst the latter run on train lines. Trams go through the city streets and let you see where you are and where you're going. Mastering the ticket system is relatively easy, and, compared to Munich public transport, eminently payable.
The Catholic monastery is well worth a visit, though we were surprised how small the library was considering the hype. Nevertheless, even though you can only view the two chambers from behind a security band, they are worth the visit. Try to avoid the post-lunch rush on the tickets, there was a very long queue on the Saturday afternoon. Sunday morning was a lot more civilised.
It had been 30 years between visits. We'd forgotten how much we'd liked the city the first time round and it certainly won't be 30 years before we return again. We were very pleasantly surprised how clean and yet how authentic - Praha 1 - the centre of town was. Good food and excellent beer were easy to come by, and nowhere near as heavy as three decades ago.
If you're visiting the city as a photographer, a travel tripod is a must; some of the best views of Prague can be had at sunset or in the blue hour. Although I've only ever been here in the winter, it works photographically. Ideally a little bit of snow and/or fog would have been ideal, as would some spectacular sunsets, but we were more than happy with our crop of photos.
So, what do you think? Are you a Prague veteran? Have we missed anything obvious? Have we been able to point you to a photo location that you didn't know about? Let us know.