Thursday, 8 November 2012

Tales of Prague: Art Underground

Public Transport in Prague

The bit about travel that I am not very much fond of is the 'getting there' and regardless of what they say about the journey being as important as the destination, I am still dreaming of the day I will be able to travel Harry-Potter-style using apparition or the floo powder. But as a muggle-born with no talent for magic I have to make do with public transport consoled by the fact that because we live in Europe, it is usually cheap, reliable and efficient.

Our Great Central European Adventure began in the Czech Republic capital of Prague where after breezing out of immigration we confronted the often anxiety-provoking business of getting to the city centre. There is no direct train link from the airport  and asking for directions was a bit tricky. In the end we decided to follow a group of tourists in the hope that they would lead us to the ticket office and to the right bus, which they did. 

When we boarded Bus 119, we made a fascinating discovery that the transport system in this capital (and indeed in some of the cities we have visited afterwards) is based on an honour system. There was no need for the driver to check the tickets which passengers validate themselves using scanners inside the public transport vehicles. Efficiency and honesty personified, what a refreshingly civilised society!

The bus ride took at least 25 minutes and looped through suburban Prague, driving around panel buildings that serve as homes of the local residents. It eventually came to a stop in Ebskovska, the longest street in the city and the last stop of Metro Line A. When we got off, I commented on how I have felt overwhelmed by the shadows of communism that still lurks on a country that is more celebrated for its many cultural attractions and very exciting history. It has the marks of the Beauty and the Beast. And perhaps nothing can embody that better than the Prague Metro, the capital’s underground public transportation network.

panelaks in Prague, communism in Prague

Travelling through a subway is usually a forgettable experience. There’s nothing exciting about walking through a maze of cold and dark underground passageways, its walls often pasted with advertisements languages that you usually don’t understand and occasionally sprayed with graffiti. But this was not the case with Prague.

Dejvicka station where we started our journey was previously called Leninova Station and once housed a giant bust of Lenin before the Velvet Revolution. There was nothing special about its entrances, the underground stations in Prague are seldom mentioned as amongst the most beautiful in the world. But as soon as we descended into the underground tunnel waiting for the old Russian train cars, I thought I was in another world, in Alice's Wonderland perhaps? 

Prague Metro Prague

It was a fascinating experience and certainly thought-provoking. It felt like we were in between two giant keyboards.The straight lines and the deeply-contrasting colours invoked strong feelings, like that which one feels when walking around a museum. Because the subway itself was a form of art expression displaying the truths of its time and place, a project completed during the Soviet-influenced era and its stamps are all over these tunnels. 

The next stations took on different and yet almost identical style: a repetition of convex and concave shapes, consistent in texture but differing in colour schemes making each station look distinct, rather stunning and with a feel of a science fiction movie set. This repetition of structures representing communist ideals of order and conformity was definitely not bland which is more than can be said for some modern structures being built today.

Our experience in the underground stations in Prague was the perfect prelude to the memorable three weeks that we are to spend in that part of Europe.


Prague underground transport

Prague public transport
most beautiful underground station

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