Letter from Prague
I haven't been underground for around five weeks, and I miss it. One of the wonders of Prague - its metro system - has been largely closed since the floods, and as the old saying goes, you don't miss your metro until you have to walk everywhere or take overcrowded trams. Not that Prague's metro system, which has three lines and couldn't be easier to navigate, is to be admired from the functional point of view only; I remember how much I loved the design of the stations on my first visit to the city, especially the ones which look like some 1970s vision of the future.
I'd venture to say that almost all visitors to Prague are taken with the city's metro system, and those who stay here longer grow to have a favourite line. My own favourite is the green, or A, line. It's the shortest for one thing, and takes you to some of the prettier parts of town, such as Mala Strana and the Old Town. By the way, the escalator at Staromestska metro - very near the river - has to be the coolest place in Prague in the summer (and the coldest in winter). The red, or C, line goes from one ugly part of the city to another, from the industrial district of Holesovice to the concrete jungle of Haje. The Czech saying "jdi do haje" translates as something like go to hell (though it's not as strong) and I must say Haje, with its miles upon miles of ugly prefabricated 'panelak' flats, is my idea of a hellish place to live. As for the yellow line, the B line, it goes from one out-of-town gigantic shopping centre to another, and a load of boring places like Palmovka and Suchdol in between.
Oddly enough, most foreigners, myself included, tend to think of the metro lines in terms of colour, and will say 'he lives way out on the yellow line'. Czechs, on the other hand, will refer to the three lines by letter.
The trains in the Prague metro system - and Prague is the only Czech city with underground transport - were built by the Russians, though the Soviet comrades could have done a better job of it. Basically, the Russian-built trains were too heavy for the Czech-built lines, causing problems; for instance, repairs had to be done a couple of years ago to Nusle bridge, which leads out to the largest district of Prague, Prague 4. In a further example of Communist brotherhood, the trains in Moscow's famous underground were made in Czechoslovakia.
Getting back to comparisons with the London Underground, you do find that people are a lot more relaxed, sometimes even friendly, on the Prague metro. People don't all bury their heads in their papers, and some - believe it or not - even look at each other. Czechs eat the fish carp for Christmas, and I remember one year sitting on a near-empty metro in the early afternoon, and noticing an odd slapping noise. It was a live carp which had somehow escaped from its owner's plastic bag. It took a few attempts to get the fish back in the bag, and the whole tram was smiling broadly. Let's hope the metro is running again normally by Christmas this year.