The happy co-mingling of nature and city life
When we lived in Prague’s Žižkov district, I took the children regularly to the neighborhood’s Parukářka Park or the nearby Vítkov hill with its representative statue of Jan Žižka on horseback. We’d spend an hour or two at the playground most mornings and often return in the afternoon for a stroll. On warmer evenings Radek would meet us after work in one of the parks. We’d take turns running or rollerblading while the children played. Afterward, we’d grab a quick dinner at our neighborhood pizzeria. Sometimes we’d venture a bit farther to the popular Vinohrady park of Riegrovy sady. There we’d meet friends in the large outdoor beer garden or watch the children play in the park’s renovated play area.
Now though, it’s been years since we’ve frequented any of Prague’s bountiful park options on a regular basis. For the most part, we haven’t felt the need. Living in a village on the outskirts of Prague, we have plenty of outdoor space for garden parties, barbeques and walks through the woods to the nearby lakes. My children expend their energy racing from garden to garden or riding their bikes and scooters up and down our dead-end road. For us adults, there are always flower beds to be weeded, grass to be mowed or a neighbor’s birthday to be celebrated with a barbeque.
Minutes from our front door we have access to kilometers of wooded biking paths, hiking and walking trails. When I go for a run, I don’t have to worry about wearing out my legs pounding asphalt. There’s nothing citified here. No one dresses up to traipse through the woods to the Únětický pivovar. When we gather with neighbors in the evenings, people come in their gardening clothes and sandals. For the most part, I am very satisfied with our laid-back, village outdoor life. However, two recent visits to Prague city parks made me remember what I initially liked most about living in the city.
A few weeks ago when Anna Lee had an extra Saturday morning dance practice, I decided to take advantage of the free hour and go for a jog in the park. Having left the boys at home to work in the garden with Radek, I headed along the river toward Stromovka, where plenty of running trails awaited me.
Known to locals as Prague’s “Central Park,” Stromovka has multiple duck ponds, large shady grassy spaces, fountains, climbing structures, paved paths for running, biking and rollerblading and benches for picnicking. The park’s vast acreage is an ideal place to spend a weekend outdoors. From the park, you can walk or bike across the river to the Prague zoo, Troja Chateau or the botanical gardens. We’ve spent a few nice afternoons in Stromovka, usually on rollerblades or at a children’s event.
Due to its size, the park rarely feels crowded. That is until you pass the recently renovated Vozovna restaurant on a pretty weekend afternoon. On nice days, the nearby playground is packed and Vozovna doesn’t begin to accommodate the crowds waiting for a table while the line for beverages and ice cream runs out the door. Surprisingly, Stromovka seems to have fewer food or beverage services than many of Prague’s smaller parks, but it is common to see picnic blankets dotting the grassy spots.
As I jogged my way through a portion of the park, I passed a variety of people relaxing in different fashions. From young families pushing strollers to older children strapping on rollerblades, children on horseback and grandparents walking slowly with canes; the park was alive with Prague residents and visitor enjoying the spring morning. I heard a smattering of international languages and saw people dressed in their city best. There was a race going through the park and another race along the river near the Sparta tennis courts and the railroad tracks. After an hour, I reluctantly left the park and headed to pick up Anna. It was a taste of a city dweller’s typical Saturday morning, and in the moment, strolling through the park seemed preferable to weeding the strawberry patch at home.
A few days later, on the 1 May national holiday, I got my wish to hang out with my family like city dwellers in Prague’s Letná Park. Radek’s friends decided to celebrate the Wednesday holiday by meeting up in Letna for an afternoon of boche ball, rollerblading and catching up. Both Radek and I agreed it would be a fun change of pace for our family. Back in the days before children, Letná’s beer garden was one of the places Radek and I spent summer evenings. With its expansive views of the Vltava and Prague’s historic downtown, Letná was a romantic spot for our early dates. In recent years, I’ve taken the children to Letná’s playground for play dates and each summer we spend an afternoon or two enjoying the park during the annual Letní Letná festival.
As we approached our agreed-upon meeting point at the merry-go-round, Anna Lee and Oliver recognized some of their friends and ran ahead. I noted several other informal groups like ours. Nearby, a musician played on a portable piano while another group of men dressed in sailor hats sported with their children in the grass beside us. Dogs chased balls and Frisbee players sweated, while members of Prague’s older generation strolled along the path that overlooked the river. With the children engaged in chasing each other from playground to playground, we spent a few hours happily catching up with Radek’s group of friends who live scattered throughout the city and its suburbs. The outdoor pub had a constant line of customers, despite the chilly afternoon. As evening approached, we had to drag the children reluctantly from the group. The park had provided a perfect place to people watch and relive some of the aspects of city life that had first attracted me to Prague.
In accordance with Czech May Day tradition, upon our return home, Radek and I made a beeline for the young cherry tree behind our garage. We exchanged a kiss for good luck, and then headed inside to prepare a late dinner and get the children to bed. I’d enjoyed our afternoon in the park and a break from our suburban routine. Regardless of where we live, Prague’s city parks will always hold a special appeal for me. I’m looking forward to strapping on my rollerblades and revisiting a few more Prague parks as spring gets underway.