From metropolis to ghost town

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During the week, Prague is increasingly a city clogged full of cars. Certain roads in the centre, such as the horrendous multi-laned artery known as Legerová near Prague’s Muzeum have become little more than noisy, polluted, car-choked hellholes in which pedestrians – that’s human beings not in cars to you and me - are pretty secondary to the endless tooting, speeding and often screaming motorists. There’s been talk of doing something about these traffic levels – perhaps tolls for drivers entering the centre – but before the usual “isn’t that a form of communist era control?” debates are settled, many years will likely pass, with very little done to actually reduce levels of traffic and pollution. Tough luck, I guess.

But come the weekend, something truly amazing happens. The streets are almost completely emptied of cars. A silence permeates the air, which incidentally becomes uncharacteristically breathable. Suddenly, this bustling metropolis becomes almost village-like in its serenity. Of course, tourists still pile along certain streets unabated, but the general question that one can’t help but ask is “Where is everybody?” In summer time, the situation is even more pronounced, with Prague almost feeling deserted for two brief days a week – August is a particularly “quiet” month. The streets are empty, the cars are gone, the sounds of birds singing fills the air – one can’t help but feel that there are better things to be doing then staying in the city, as if everybody with any common sense and time on their hands has headed out for greener, cleaner pastures.

The fact that many Czechs like to leave the capital, visiting their “chatas” (cottages) or going trekking in the countryside is taken as a given. It certainly sounds very romantic, although one wonders how true it really is. Could literally tens of thousands of people be leaving the capital every weekend? And where do all those cars go? Of course, every city enjoys greater calm over the weekends, but the shift in Prague is particularly strong. For anyone that has to put up with the noise and pollution of busy Prague streets, weekends are quite literally, a breath of fresh air.