Returning to St Andrews after what felt like one of the longest holidays of all time, finally free from my claustrophobically small hometown and reunited with friends and flatmates after the long weeks apart, was initially a joyful experience. This elation was quickly supressed by fear brought by the realisation that classes and deadlines were looming. A fear that was quickly overwhelmed by jealousy as my dear friends rattled on about their endlessly exciting holiday experiences. Luckily, this time I had come prepared with my own thrilling tales to tell, having just returned from Prague (with the flu and without several items of warm clothing) as part of the Race2 Safety Team.
In case you haven’t heard already, every single one of our intrepid hitchhiking teams braved on through "the worst winter weather ever” to make it all the way to Prague. Most were then lucky enough to spend a few days in the Czech capital soaking up the culture – and of course, the beer. So, if you’re fed up of hearing about friends who’ve just got back from surfing and instagramming in Morocco or skiing and stripping off in Les Arcs, read on to become equally as envious of those 180 students who had to hitchhike over 1200 miles through the snow to Prague…
Prague is renowned for being one of the most beautiful European capitals, boasting stunning architecture throughout its Old Town and the biggest ancient castle in the world. Unfortunately, the revelation from TripAdvisor that “January is not the best month to see Prague” sent a ripple of tension through the ranks of the safety team as we begrudgingly set off into temperatures of -12 on our first tour of the city. Yet, despite the chill and the somewhat sceptical reviews, once we had negotiated the tram network we were all instantly ooh-ing and ah-ing over the intricately designed buildings, the famous astronomical clock, the romantic Charles Bridge and the sheer scale of the magnificent castle. Yet the cold made us less inclined to stand about for too long admiring these places and our constant quest for warmth led us on an alternative tour of Prague’s best coffee and snack stops. The Europe Safety Team particularly recommends the cubist cafe, the Grand Café Orient, for an Irish coffee pick-me-up or the Strahov Monastery for a traditional goulash and beer lunch.
Due to the plummeting temperatures, we were more likely to be found-sitting drinking Pilsner in cosy beer halls all day than exploring the city's cultural; so we desperately needed an alternative way to take in the city's highlights. The solution Petrin Lookout Tower – aka Prague's answer to the Eiffel Tower. Conveniently situated overlooking the whole city, this huge steel tower provides stunning views of the castle and cathedral and surrounding area. For hitchhikers who arrived late or safety team members who had been too busy, this was an amazing way to take in Prague's beauty. There is even a lift for those who wouldn't cope with the exposed spiral staircase and a lovely café where you can warm up once back on the ground with the world's thickest hot chocolate.
As a recent Overheard Post suggested, many of the Racers were excited at the prospect of going out to a ‘real club’ when in Prague. Indeed, the night-life did not disappoint and those who arrived early enough had the added advantage of sampling a variety of hotspots – from strippers and stag-dos to champagne and marble luxury, we think that between the 200 of us we may have seen it all.
Navigating the city at night was a bit of a challenge sometimes – but thankfully my prized ‘Trip Advisor City Guides’ App successfully resolved this issue. (Anyone who encountered me during the trip will probably have been subjected to me raving about it). In essence, it's a detailed guide to all that your chosen city has to experience. However, its underappreciated hidden gem is that it has not just a map but a handy arrow to direct you exactly to your chosen attraction. Basically, it functions as a compass that points not north, but to your destination of choice – particularly useful when looking for the right club or bar once you’re a few Pilsners/Absinthes down… still, the highlight of our Czech nightlife experience came on the final night.
After the hilarity of the hotly contested Mr Race2 title we threw a cheap-drink-fuelled Racer Party in the hostel bar, and then the Safety Team (who by this time were acting more as holiday reps) directed over a hundred students to Prague’s – and central Europe’s – biggest night club. This 5 floor extravaganza, Karlovy Lazne, supposedly had different music on every level and even an ice bar to explore. Despite all these options however, almost the entire Race2 cohort ended up dancing the night away in a tiny jam-packed, low-ceilinged, student-infested dance floor – so much for ‘Party Like It’s Prague’, St Andrews.
We may not have managed to totally escape the lure of the Lizard, but hopefully friends’ stories of the beautiful sights and/or rowdy nights of Prague will encourage you to add this beautiful city (or at least ’Race2’!) to your travel bucket list.
Photo courtesy of the author, edited by Ruoting Tao.