As Christmas is fast approaching, I find that my thoughts, instead of thinking about all the food and fun I am going to have over the next few weeks, turn to the next big event in the calendar. The one that has become almost as big as Christmas itself – the celebrations welcoming the New Year.
I have got into a habit of going abroad for these exciting festivities to experience how our European friends from across the channel welcome the first of January. Time Out magazine recommends heading to mainland Europe for New Year celebrations as people travel from all over the globe to party in the streets with cheap alcohol and cheerful company. Places like Berlin, Paris, Madrid and Amsterdam are all high on the list of top places to go, with Edinburgh almost reaching the top spot – (Hogmenay is one of the homes of New Year). However, if you want the best experiences, a city steeped in history and beauty as well as a little bit of risk thrown into the mix then Prague (in the Czech Republic) is definitely the place for you! And this is where I headed last winter.
I was not only excited for the occasion of seeing in the New Year itself, but most of all for the architecture which is a slightly odd admission to make I realise. When it comes to buildings I am a total nerd – not that I know a great deal on the subject, but there is something very exciting about a beautifully carved stone, or a spire that reaches so high up into the sky that you can’t see its tip. And it didn’t disappoint, the architecture was visually spectacular! I particularly enjoyed finding shops which looked like churches. At one point we walked past H&M, that was not only ornately decorated but also, to my fascination, pink! In fact, the majority of my explorations around Prague were spent walking around the city and visiting the main tourist attractions, purely from the outside – student budget! However, we saw a good many of the sites this way. Although that might not seem that exciting it was enough!
From the oldest bridge in Prague, Charles Bridge with its beautiful representations of its saints; to the Old Town Hall with its elaborate clock (make sure you see it chime the hour! It’s a show worth seeing); to the magnificent Prague Castle and all the sites within its confines (we saw it all in a matter of days).When we had a free day, we took a short journey out to Kutna Hora which is only a couple of hours by train. Away from the bustling, tourist-filled city we spent our first day of 2013 wandering around this provincial town. It was an interesting insight into what life was really like in the Czech Republic! Without the protection of all those fantastic buildings it was bitterly cold and walking through the cobbled streets became tougher and tougher as the day wore on. The main reason we went there was to visit the Sedlec Ossuary, more commonly known to tourists as ‘The Bone Church’. This little chapel on the edge of Kutna Hora is delightfully gothic and filled with skeletons of around 40,000 – 70,000 people. Great piles of skulls welcome you into the church and the bones form all the decorations within it, including a gigantic chandelier that is comprised of, at least, one of every bone that you could find in the human body!
New Year itself was quite spectacular. We started off the party at our hostel, attempting to cook pasta, only later did we realise that we hadn’t actually turned on the hob! At the same time, we began drinking some very suspicious wine from a carton. We found some “buddies” from our hostel floor to party with. This led us to become quite merry so much so that we were constantly being told off by our hostel manager who complained that we were “no allowed to dancey in kitchen!” So we took our “dancey” elsewhere, right into the centre of Prague. Here there were street-sellers selling cheap but tasty champagne. The locals set fireworks off nearby as we walked past them. This made walking down the street similar to a game of “trying not to die!” There was also a huge free concert which attracted visitors from all around the world. At various points in the night we spoke to an array of different people from all different nationalities such as Germans, Austrians, English, Americans and more. I felt this brought us all together in this beautiful place and we collectively dodged the homemade fireworks that went off metres from us. Despite (slightly) fearing for our lives, it was an awesome experience and one not to be missed!