Summer brings emptiness into Prague

La place Venceslas, photo: Archives de Radio Prague

The start of the summer holidays has a profound effect on life in the Czech capital. Students go backpacking in the Middle East, families head for a seaside vacation in Croatia and children get dumped at their grandparents’ in the village. Prague dwellers evacuate the city in droves in favour of their country houses and holiday huts.

The summer getaway sometimes has a sleepy start, with children finishing school in the middle of the week and having to wait for their parents to end their work week. But this year, the two days off in early July put the start of the summer into higher gear. The two public holidays – anniversaries of religious figures Saints Cyril and Methodius, and Jan Hus – created an extended four-day weekend during which the city rapidly emptied out.

While these holidays today have little relevance for the atheist Czechs, they do unleash a frenzy on Czech roads. 26 people died in the course of those four days through a deadly mix of “alcohol, heat, and stupidity”. Although the number of fatal road accidents has been declining over the last decade or so, the prolonged weekend upset the improving record.

But what Praguers left behind in such haste is not bad at all. Every day now feels like Sunday – fewer people, less traffic, no lines in shops. All you need to do is to avoid the city’s tourist areas which I imagine are as packed as ever.

The traffic in our street, which is usually quite heavy even late at night, ceases almost completely, and the apartment feels airy, leafy and summery. With many of the neighbours gone, the building is quiet and the whole neighbourhood of Vinohrady seems to have recaptured the atmosphere from a century ago, when it was first built.

We first moved there this time last year in the middle of a construction frenzy that penetrated the flat from all sides. But that has long been forgotten. Although some building work is still going on a street or two away from where we live, it’s nothing compared to the hammer and drill hell of last summer.

On the down side, many bars closed over the long weekend. As a result, those bars that actually opened up were mostly crammed full. After my friends and I walked around Žižkov for a good while on Saturday night, we finally found a bar, albeit with a grumpy waiter. He must have rued the day for not being able to leave Prague, just like everyone else.

Also, public transport regularly turns into a nightmare this time of year – with trams and buses all suddenly changing their standard routes, leaving the locals confused and tourists completely at a loss. The transport company uses the summer months for all kinds of track repair and maintenance which often stretches well into the autumn.

But who wants to think of autumn. The summer’s just begun, and Prague is so nice when it’s empty.