By George! Have you seen Karlín?

January 29, 2019

This post is a part of the Excess Baggage series

Picture: Fernando Monte da Silva

The Lyčkovo Náměsti Square, which hosts this beautiful square with a park

 

 

There isn’t much not to love about Prague. From the always visible cascade of scarlet tiles from roofs that constantly seem to tumble into the calm yet deep, winding Vltava River, to the city’s Gothic history, to the postcard worthy Old Town Square, there’s always something for everyone. That seems to be a thought that is common in the minds of tourists from across the world, and the city is now in the top 15 most-visited cities in the world, year on year. Clearly, the secret of Prague being stunning for tourists is out, as Chinese tourists conducting pre-wedding shoots on the Charles Bridge at the crack of dawn will attest to. However, that being said, if you’re a fan of travelling along the path less-trodden, as my wife and I are, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a great time in Prague. Spare a day or two on some of the main attractions, but beyond that, take time out to take a look at what I honestly believe is Prague’s hippest and prettiest neighbourhood: the Karlín District.

 

Having woken up at the crack of dawn, we set out to a local supermarket at the crack of dawn (yes, they are open at that unearthly hour) and stocked up on a series of supplies for the day, including fabulous Czech pastries that are ridiculously good (and available at throwaway prices) as well as grapefruit-flavoured sparkling water. I’m sure that all of this sounds rather pretentious, however, it is considered very much par for the course when in Prague, and is a great way to cut back on spending, if you’re travelling on a shoestring budget. With the shopping all having been conducted, we began our long trek to Karlín.

 

Lyčkovo Náměsti Square

Standing imposingly at the head of the Karlín district, is the Lyčkovo Náměsti Square, which hosts a beautiful park and a primary school, the latter of which is covered in Art Nouveau murals. The school was recognized as the most beautiful school in the entire Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was our introduction to Karlín, and we immediately sank into the vibe of the laid back nature of the district that was significantly quieter than what we had become accustomed to in Prague.

 

 

Picture: Fernando Monte da Silva

Kaizlovy Sady Park – a testament to the gentrification of Prague's Karlín District

 

 

Kaizlovy Sady Park
A little while later, having taken in our fair share of both art and culture, we rounded the corner to see what awaited us next, which was the Kaizlovy Sady Park – a testament to the gentrification of Prague's Karlín District. Having walked all the way from Praha 1 to Karlín, which is in Praha 8, we needed to rest for a while, and the park provided us with the perfect respite. Once a fairly rough neighbourhood, this locality, today, is far calmer, and this park in particular, which was established in the 19th century is a place to soothe the senses. The park houses replicas of old street lights and benches that scream Prague even if seen ins standalone fashion; and at one end, over a smallish pond quietly rests a seated bronze statue of a nude girl entitled ‘Memories’.

 

 

Picture: Fernando Monte da Silva

The Vitkov National Memorial commemorates the Czechoslovak soldiers who died in World War I

 

 

The Vitkov National Memorial

A lot of people told us about the Vitkov National Memorial, long before we knew it made up part of the Karlín District. As a matter of fact, the attendant at the O2 store where we purchased our SIM cards told us that it was the foremost attraction in Prague, if we wanted to see the side of Prague that most of the tourist hordes didn’t bother about (and we do love travelling like that). However, what nobody prepared us for was the mammoth hike to the top of the hill which houses the memorial. However, once we made it to the top, busted lung and all, it was a sight to behold. The memorial dates back to the 1930s and commemorates the Czechoslovak soldiers who died in World War I. The premises also used to house the embalmed body of the first Communist president of Czechoslovakia, but after his body began to decay six years post his demise, his remains were eventually buried. The view from the top is spectacular I’ve been told, however, it is only accessible during a short window between November and March, ruling out a possible visit when we were in the area.

 

 

Picture: Fernando Monte da Silva

St Cyril and Methodius Church was opened in 1863 as one of the biggest churches in the Czech Republic

 

 

The St Cyril and Methodius Church

As someone who has a penchant for religious history, I would rapidly find myself disagreeing with the attendant at the O2 store though. The St Cyril and Methodius Church was one of my favourite sights in Karlín. Opened in 1863, it was one of the biggest churches in the Czech Republic. Located along the Karlinske Namesti square, this church seems unassuming from afar. However, upon closer inspection, it's absolutely stunning, and what's on the inside is even better...The interior detailing of the Church of St Cyril and Methodius is ornate, to say the very least. However, it is also solemn, given its history. In 1942, during World War II, the cathedral was the scene of the last stand of a number of Czech and Slovak patriots who, in Operation Anthropoid, had assassinated Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi SS Obergruppenführer and General of Police. Soon after, troops stormed the church to capture the people who had committed what was considered an act of treason. After a fierce gun battle, the patriots committed suicide to avoid capture. There is a museum in the church crypt which recognises them as national heroes.

 

 

Picture: Fernando Monte da Silva 

Garage - True Canadian Deli is a tiny establishment which serves just ONE dish – Poutine...and it is fabulous

 

 

Garage - True Canadian Deli

At the end of a massive walk through the picturesque district, we were absolutely famished, and the supplies we’d bought at a department store at the crack of dawn had been all but depleted, so I decided to refer to my notes about where to grab a quick bite. Make no mistake, this was a massive call to make, as we had no dearth of options to choose from. There are plenty of fabulous eateries in Karlín that people rave about, including the likes of Proti Proudu Bistro, Eska and Nejen Bistro, but one absolute gem that had our attention from the word ‘go’ in the Karlín District is Garage - True Canadian Deli. The tiny establishment serves just ONE dish – Poutine (albeit in various forms). To be honest, it really lives up to its name. The space is about the size of one’s garage, including the prep area, leaving room for approximately six seats…and there are people left clamouring for those seats, because the food is that good. At Garage, the poutine is served in a paper takeaway box, with a disposable fork, so that if you can’t get one of those aforementioned six seats, you can mill about the gorgeous neighbourhood, with your meal in hand. I went with the recommendation I came across online, the Mississippi, which has French fries, cheese curd, gravy, pulled pork and fried onions…and it was delicious, though there’s every possibility of it being accompanied with a side order of cardiac arrest. There's a reason the dish translates to 'hot mess' - it's virtually impossible to get a decent picture of it, and for that I do apologise.

 

The walk home was a very long one, and to be honest, a challenge, given that we were stuffed with poutine, but even more so with the massive amount of food for thought that the day out had left me with. It is quite evident that Karlín has seen the best and worst of times, but in 2019 it is evident that the district that is quickly finding its footing in a growing city for the tourism industry. It has everything to offer, from major household brands, as well as characteristic little family businesses. This is clearly a place where the local culture (which the natives take ever so much pride in) can take off in an organic fashion. Often missed out by visitors, this should be earmarked as an area that is not to be missed by travelers — or should it? Too often we see the places that are untouched by tourism retain their authenticity, while those that are ravaged by the industry lose touch with what they originally were, and were meant to be. I’m a little conflicted on this front, but can definitely say this much – that those who take the time to incorporate Karlín into their itinerary will not be disappointed; especially not on a belly-full of poutine.

 

 

Fernando's Findings

#1
Karlín is an adventure that requires an open mind. It isn't like the rest of Prague. You will not find people bustling to greet you, offer you a 'tourist experience' or find much 'international cuisine'. What you do get, however, is an experience that is as close to old-school Czech hospitality as possible.

#2
Prague has a lot to see, and a large chunk of that can and should be explored on foot, especially Karlín. The metro can be a little tricky for first-time users to handle. However, unless one is really lazy, it's completely unnecessary, as walks through Prague are the best part of the exploration of the city.

#3
If you're only going to the more touristy places, then English works just fine; else it's best to have a ready-reckoner of things you want to see/like to eat/need to access, in the local language.

#4
Buy a SIM card when you get into the city. It helps immensely with mapping your route out, and it also helps to have Google Translate at the ready.

 

 

 

My love for travel is second only to my love of food. Excess Baggage is a series of posts that delves into my experiences with the places that I’ve been to, why they are special to me and my sharing of my own insight that may lead you to take the path I have, which is quite often the path less travelled.

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#1 

 

The views here are completely my own, and may not reflect those of any other members of the human population, which is why it is 'my blog'.

 

 

 

#2

 

I will always do my best to not be offensive, but sometimes, just sometimes, there are things that annoy me. So if I'm writing about one of them (and if anyone involved is reading this), I apologise for any hurt sentiments in advance.

 

 

 

#3

 

Try not to be overly sensitive and take offense to things like beef, bikinis, sex scenes in movies, Donald Trump's inability to be an effective president and so on. The world is happier with unicorns in it.

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© 2015 by Fernando Monte da Silva