This was the question I asked my self at breakfast in Prague before Christmas 2012, as I was grappling with how I really felt about the place! Having only spent half a day there, I was very unsure if I liked it or not. Let me explain.
We landed at about 11am having left at 7am from London. To the excitement of nearly every child and female passenger on the plane, including my fiancée Debbie, we landed into snow which made everything seem surreal and pleasant. Passage through the airport was slick and enjoyable, even the surly border guard smiled and wished us a nice stay (it may have been "day" and I was just being hopeful that the Americanism's hadn't arrived!) after he'd checked our credentials. Our driver (yes my younger days of hopping on a bus and seeing where it takes me are long gone!) was a well dressed young man who spoke impeccable English and whisked us off to his pristine Mercedes and on into the city via the scenic "past the castle" route.
So far so good, expectation and reality were matching up. We checked in to the hotel, had a quick freshen up then headed out into the cold to have a quick look at the Christmas markets and then some lunch. This is when my expectations came crashing down! The markets were underwhelming, while pretty, the stalls all seemed to be selling similar stuff possibly from china and certainly from the same supplier who had also kindly provided the same A4 laminated price and marketing flyers! I'd expected quaint "made on site" stalls with locals from the surrounding area making stuff while the aroma of mulled wine and freshly cut ham wafted around. Ahh, do not get me started on the ham! 800CZK (£26 $40 €31) for two pieces of ham, a sausage and some bread! Don't get me wrong, they didn't rip me off but they did see me coming! The price was per weight and they gave the two of us enough to feed a family of eight looking to stock up for the winter! A lesson well learned.
So we headed back to the hotel via Starbucks for a tea and some carrot cake, and resolved to try again the next day when we were a little less tired. However, dinner that night at the Bellvue restaurant was outstanding. Everything from the view of Charles Bridge, the food, the service and the wine were impeccable. The waiter was exceptionally attentive and gave us a little history of the restaurant and the wine we had ordered. The food was exquisite, the quality was on par with top London or Parisian restaurants. In fact everyone from the taxi driver there and back to the lady at the front desk were all friendly, polite and went out of their way to make us feel welcome.
So the next morning, having been warned it would be busy, we trooped off to breakfast to be squashed into a table by a pillar blocked in both sides by rugby players on one side and a rather rotund family the other. The waitress was clearly struggling with the sheer volume of people who had arrived so wasn't quite as attentive as she could have been and her smile faded a bit too quickly after she'd served our tea. This is where we come to the point I began this blog post......there I sat, feeling some what despondent about Prague but with 2 days still to go in the city. Therefore I asked myself the question, "what is making you feel this way? Is it the place, the people or the perception?" My conclusion was the latter, my perception of what Prague should be like was along way off from the reality, so I resolved to look for the good in the place and the people.
We headed out that morning with a renewed vigour and an expectation that we would shop and sightsee rather than entertain ourselves in quaint Christmas markets. So that's what we did, we walked around the city all day looking at the magnificent buildings, popped in and out of a few shops, bought some shoes (for my step daughter surprisingly not for Debbie!) and then jumped on a boat trip down the river. We had another amazing dinner that night overlooking the castle, food, service views and wine were equally impeccable as the night before! The only "down side" was I didn't check the price of the champagne we ordered at the beginning of the meal, so my credit card took a bashing when the bill came The next day we spent the morning doing the same before heading back to the airport much the same way we had arrived.
Overall, once I'd reset my perception, it was a fantastic trip in a place that is full of wonderful people and sights, the architecture is stunning if you take the time to look. In future, I'm going to go to places with an open mind and just accept them as they are with no preconceived ideas of what a "perfect place" is, everywhere can be perfect, you just need to open your eyes and see what is really there!