Brian Monteith: Prague's lessons for Edinburgh on views and booze

How can we make visiting Edinburgh better? My wife and I are just back from a weekend in Prague where we had a great time.

Wednesday, 16th May 2018, 7:00 am
Prague has several similarities to Edinburgh, including a castle (Picture: Getty)
Prague has several similarities to Edinburgh, including a castle (Picture: Getty)

While Prague is known for attracting stag and hen parties, it’s large and culturally diverse enough to welcome far more than those looking to make fools of themselves by drinking to excess.

It is three times the size of Edinburgh, but the two cities are similar in having UN World Heritage status, a central castle, an old town, lots of cobbled streets and a more modern city centre.

The first thing I noticed was how easily I passed through Vaclav Havel Airport. The bridge from the aircraft to the terminal was used – too rare an experience at Edinburgh – and there were elevators, not steps, all the way to the front door. I even walked up to a taxi right next to the main door.

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Edinburgh Airport has too few elevators, steps at odd places and relatively narrow corridors of travel. I know it is undergoing change that should improve a traveller’s experience, but its management has to remember flying is not all about shopping, it’s about the ease of moving from A to B.

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The journey into Prague city centre was about 45 minutes by car due to the rush hour, but was advertised as quicker than other competing modes. Thankfully our airport bus service is quick and easy to use.

The journey allowed me to see the blight of graffiti across Prague, truly spoiling many lovely buildings and even benches and bins in parks. I have mentioned before how graffiti in Edinburgh is growing, but it is far, far worse in Prague. We need to deal with it before it overwhelms us like it has there.

Globalisation through greater trade and travel has made English the second language for the majority of people in the world and most Czech people spoke decent English. We could do far more to encourage foreign language teaching in Edinburgh schools, it is lazy to believe a second language is redundant just because many visitors speak English. If we can have Gaelic medium primary schools, why can’t we have Spanish or French ones? It would open up so many doors to our kids in the future and serve Edinburgh well.

I struggled to find potholes in Prague; the roads were in good order, while our roads and pavements are a disgraceful embarrassment.

There is no minimum pricing of alcohol in the Czech Republic, beer is especially cheap but other alcoholic drinks are easily available in shops and cheaper than Scotland – without any rowdiness that I could see or learn of. I think visitors to Edinburgh are in for a shock when they find out whisky is cheaper in their homeland than in Scotland. Some will think us mad, and they would be right.

Beyond Prague Castle, the city is relatively flat and many of the taller buildings take advantage of their height by providing rooftop bars and terraces, giving great views and also a home for smokers. Edinburgh could certainly provide more rooftop bars with stunning views thanks to the height of our many hills.

One thing that was very noticeable was the lack of beggars in the city centre, and it made for a far less intimidating and enjoyable visit.

Given Prague’s size and the huge numbers it attracts, this surprised me – but the city must be doing something right and we could certainly learn what it is. I expect Praguers may be less tolerant of begging for a start.

Prague survived Nazi occupation and Communist rule to flourish under freedom, while Edinburgh has deteriorated under collectivist councils for 35 years.

We will definitely be going back to Prague within the year. The good news is we met some Praguers who had been to Edinburgh and raved about our city.

Let’s hope our shared experiences are not isolated ones.