Monday, July 4, 2016

Our Prague Commute in 2016

In a blogpost I wrote five years ago for the Irreal Cafe, I attempted to describe Prague as I experienced it when Greg and I first lived here for an extended period of time in 1995. We were staying in Braník that year, and because I didn’t want to take a bus ride to the subway every time I wanted to go to the city center to an art galerie or café, I learned the rather circuitous route to the nearest tram stop. On the way home I would walk “past the brewery, over the tracks, up the hill, up the steep steps, up another hill, around the bend, past the barking dogs, and so on,” and of course the way to the tram stop when I was on my way out was the reverse of that. In 1995 the trams I relied on went only a little ways past the Braník stop, but in the intervening years, the tram lines have been extended out to Sídliště Modřany. It is this tram stop that we have used extensively during our Prague stay this year, and my way to the city center has had its own flavor and specific landmarks, just as it did in 1995. Of course my choice is more complex than it needs to be, and most people choose to use the subway because it's much faster. But I like to see as much of the world around me as I can when I travel, and trams (and walks) are the best way to do that.

Because it’s nearly three kilometers to the tram stop from our panelák in Libuš, I usually take a bus to Sídliště Libuš, then walk about 1.5 kilometers from there to the tram.
View of the bus from the bus stop at Sídliště Libuš;
photo by G.S. Evans
My almost daily walk has made it possible for me to see what's happening in the natural world. There are always wildflowers growing along the way (though mowers cut them down every few weeks, which makes way for the new crop), and though traffic goes by on the road at a pretty fast clip, I can still hear birdsong and see land snails on a rainy day.
Bumblebee on blueweed
Nearby there is also the Modřanská rokle nature preserve where we have gone for a few walks. It's interesting to note that, though the nature preserve here is well kept, the variety of birds and butterflies I see is less diverse than my sightings on Petrin Hill.
At Modřanská rokle nature preserve
There are also a few interesting sights along the way like the tower from an old weather observatory and the fire station where we sometimes see trucks heading out on emergency calls.
Weather observatory tower; photo by G.S. Evans
Once I get to the tram stop, I'm lucky that I always get a seat because I get on at the beginning of the line. Prague public transit is clean and efficient, but it's especially nice to have your pick of seats.
Lots of tram seats at the beginning of the line;
photo by G.S. Evans
From the tram windows we see the many panelaks and other features of Sídliště Modřany. Then we begin to see the Vltava and all the people who use the riverbank as a place to ride bicycles, to push baby carriages, to walk dogs, or just to stroll. At the Přístaviště stop you can get off and take a walk in the Branické Skály preserve with its rock outcrops and small playground.
Branické Skály rock outcrop behind the Církev 
Českobratrská Evangelická; photo by G.S. Evans

Well-used bouncing horse at the
Branické Skály play area
Another place to get off and see small pleasant sights is the Výtoň stop with its squat clock tower and river views.
Clock tower at the Výtoň stop
A river view near the Výtoň stop
I've posted frequently on this blog about areas in Prague that are heavily touristed. My time in Libuš this year has given me a chance to see parts of the city I haven't seen for a long time -- or have never had a chance to see. I also think our lifestyle here, with its small flat in a panelák and heavy reliance on public transit, has helped me get in touch with how so many people live in Prague.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Our Authentic Libuš Lifestyle in Prague

For the three months that Greg and I have been in Prague this year, we’ve been living in a panelák in Libuš. It's been a very different experience from our recent Malá Strana and Vinohrady stays, but we lived in Lužiny for nearly two years in the 1990s, so we're very familiar with the lifestyle. The term panelák refers to a building constructed from pre-fabricated concrete panels, and many such structures were built in Communist Czechoslovakia. According to the Wikipedia entry, "Between 1959 and 1995, paneláks containing 1.17 million flats were built in what is now the Czech Republic. They house about 3.5 million people, or about one-third of the country's population." According to the Czech newspaper MF Dnes, half a million people in Prague live in sídlištěs, which are housing estates composed of paneláks. Though many guidebooks make deprecating comments about “Communist block housing” and “grey tower blocks,” the panelák lifestyle is efficient and cozy. And our recently renovated two-room flat is pleasant and clean. (See Ryan Scott's "Cemented In: Prague's Panelak Estates" for more on the panelák's image problem.)

Apparently, there is something very authentic and true-to-period about the courtyard we can see from the windows of our flat and the buildings that enclose it, including the one in which we live. Recently, this enclosure was chosen as the location for the shooting of a TV series set in Communist Czechoslovia during the 1970s and 1980s. And all this week a crew from Česká televise has been in the courtyard, first constructing a few playground items to add to the children's play area, and then shooting the program. I have been hearing calls of “Kamera!” and “Stop!” from the director all day. Vintage Škodas roar through the scene from time to time, and the actors and actresses are wearing polyester clothes that call to mind those days of the Cold War and the time known here as Normalization.

Even before we learned that our neighborhood was going to be on TV, Greg started to take some fairly abstract photos from our 6th floor window, designed to give the flavor of the place without violating anyone’s privacy by showing a particular family dwelling or any person’s windows or balcony. Here are a few:

Colorful paneláks in Libuš; photo by G.S. Evans
Another view of paneláks in Libuš;
photo by G.S. Evans

Paneláks in Libuš during long solstice evening;
photo by G.S. Evans
Not-so-recently-painted paneláks in Libuš
photo by G.S. Evans

Children's play area in May of 2016;
photo by G.S. Evans

 Children's play area in July of 2016 with added
sandbox as cast members stand by;
photo by G.S. Evans

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