My first impression of Prague was an overwhelming sense of deja vu. Not because I’ve seen Prague in the background of a thousand movies, standing in for every european city from Vienna to Paris. But, because I’ve already been to Budapest, which I’ve come to realize is sort of “Prague Lite”. Both cities are built across two sides of a river; both have an “old town” mountainous side topped with a castle. Both also have a flatter, more cosmopolitan side with tree-lined shopping boulevards. Both have a signature bridge across the river; both have a grand fin de siecle train station. Both have a metro system with three lines that meet in the center of town.
Prague is bigger, grander than Budapest. But, it also feels a little more impersonal as a result. Budapest has a mix of stunning Art Nouveau and post-modern architecture, palatial thermal baths, and amazing Hungarian cuisine, all packed into a fairly walkable area. By contrast, Prague felt a little lacking on all counts. Make no mistake, it’s still a beautiful city, but for me it occupied an awkward middle-ground, too large to be intimate, not large enough to be grand. Prague also has a bit of an edge to it, a little grimy, a little dark (Dare I mention Kafka here?), and way too touristy.
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