If there is one place in Europe that shows a bizarre sequence of progress, it is the Charles Bridge in Prague. This beautiful behemoth has seen it all.
In 1969, approximately 100,000 people protested along the bridge on the first anniversary of the crushing of Prague Spring. The movement briefly brought some form of democracy behind the iron curtain. In 1989, protests erupted again along the bridge, with demands for democracy and independence. Less than a month later, the Velvet Revolution would sweep through Slovakia and the Czech Republic, putting an end to communism in both countries.
In 2015, Hundreds of tourists line the bridge 12 hours a day, stepping around beggars and taking selfies in what can only be described as displays of unapologetic vanity. People speed by on segways while tailing their tour hosts with such regularity that it would seemingly make Steve Jobs’ initial prophecy of the device appear to be a reality. I often thought of what Czech people must think of all this this. I didn’t get to find out. They are pretty rare in the old town of Prague.
12 Months ago, I was unfamiliar with the term ‘selfie stick’, having never seen one in my life. It would appear to have only taken that length of time for the device to take over the traveling world. The ridiculousness of it apparently lost on the owners. Instead of looking at the beauty that surrounds them, they are taking a picture of themselves. An ever telling indictment on why some people travel in the 21st social media connected century. If there were ever a city to see all of this in action, it is Prague.
Without a doubt, it is one of the most beautiful big cities in Europe. Coble stone roads weave in between old buildings in a nonsensical fashion, making the old town appear to be far bigger than it actually is. In the colder months, mist covers the bridges at night espousing an eerie feel. Its aesthetic would be undeniably charming if not for one small detail. It literally feels like you are in an amusement park for visitors.
Every corner you turn. An Irish pub. An American dinner. A souvenir store. You climb up to the Prague castle. Starbucks. Climb back down. Hard rock Café. There is no escape. It is a tourist’s playground. Every whim has been catered for. And at times it is almost comical to realise this is an actual city. Not an amusement park.
However that is often how Prague is treated. It is renowned for its alcohol and stag party tourism. The effect this has had on Prague as a destination has not gone unnoticed. Prague is often said to have a bohemian culture, however I found this to be overshadowed by some of the absurdities that mass tourism brings.
All of this is something that is hard to escape from as a visitor. Whether it is clubbing, eating out or viewing the sights, someone will inevitably be there, spinning around in circles with a GoPro attached to a little rod. Capturing a meaningless memory so they can later show there family and friends how great their time was. This phenomenon I found to be more prevalent in Prague than any other city I have ever visited.
Travel has always been used by young people as a way for self-discovery. To see other parts of the world with different cultures and philosophies. But this dynamic is changing. Being connected 24/7 with friends and family has enabled people to share their experiences immediately. People seemingly appear more preoccupied with capturing their experience to show the world, rather than enjoying the experience for themselves.
So please, next time you see your besties face on social media with beautiful Prague in the background, hold off on the unrepentant travel envy. They have probably been spending the last hour sipping away on a dark mocha frappichno at a Starbucks roof top, soaking in the view with hundreds of their traveling compadres, who are all also taking selfies right by their side.