It really does dominate the city, I thought as I stepped onto street level from inside the Malostranska subway station and began the uphill trek to Prague Castle.
However, it wasn't so much the castle as the St Vitus Cathedral inside that made the structure the city's focal point.
On a sunny, yet chilly December 30th there were four different approaches to Prague Castle. My way, through the Old Castle Staircase, wasn't the easiest with its constant slope, but there were longer variants. It also meant the first main area I saw was Golden Lane, considered the most romantic in the castle.
Travelling solo, I wasn't as interested in the loving atmosphere as much as I gravitated to the Prague Toy Museum. You won't often see this attraction in Prague Castle brochures, reviews or other such literature, but it's worth remembering when walking along Golden Lane.
Nostalgia instantly filled me as I wandered through the exhibits. I was surprised to find my own childhood reminiscent in the toys on display considering I was oceans away from where those memories originated.
While my inner child was temporarily freed from its usual confinement, I turned on a more mature sightseeing eye for Prague Castle. Despite my first impression, there was more to the complex than the cathedral, with the castle's interesting history (dating back to the year 880) detailed in the displays and various buildings.
One night out from New Year's Eve and with the rest of my travelling troupe now in the city, we decided to gather some insider knowledge on where to party in Prague before the big event. We dove deep, beginning at the fluorescent-pink bricks of Roxy and finishing at the five-story club Karlovy Lazne with the riverside Lavka Bar & Club and the cellar bar Double Trouble in between.
Karlovy Lazne was definitely not the place for local hangouts. As arguably the biggest club in Prague it attracted a dominating international crowd. Fortunately it wasn't five identical levels of doof-doof music and strobe lights. There was the Discotheque level for gyrating and fist pumping, the chilled-out Music Cafe with foosball tables and the retro Kaleidoskop floor. I don't recall making it to the other two levels, but we left having unanimously decided on Karlovy Lazne as our New Year's Eve club.
I battled through a hazy-head the next morning, wanting to knock off a few more city sights before almost everywhere shut down on the 1st.
Old Town Square was brimming with tourists and free city walking tours. On a different day I might've joined one, but I was sidetracked by another unexpected museum: the Sex Machines Museum.
Having never thought of sex machines as anything worth documenting historically or otherwise, I purchased a ticket and entered. I emerged slightly more than one hour later with a far different perspective on the history of sexual instruments.
The past was a weird and sometimes brutal world of voyeuristic chamber pots, chastity belts (males included) and 18th-Century 'toys'. These were some of the smaller exhibits, but the entire collection revealed the innovative spirit of the open-minded and creative.
Most visitors, I noticed, treated it like any other museum, moving from one display to the other as engrossed subjects under the tutelage of the curator. The only moment of awkwardness was had in the Old Erotic Cinema, watching vintage adult films in the company of strangers.
Almost everyone sat through a decent segment, perhaps for art's sake or maybe because they knew there would never be another experience like this in a socially acceptable setting. For me it was a little of a and b helped by a sudden infatuation for the surrealism of it all.
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I sought out more traditional sightseeing avenues next, making my way to Charles Bridge. During the day it was a marketplace built over water, with caricature artists, artisan sellers or musicians every ten metres. I was still able to appreciate the bridge's historic architecture, most evident in the baroque statues of saints along the sides.
On the other end of Charles Bridge, in the Lesser Quarter, I crossed a smaller bridge, its sides adorned with padlocks of all sizes and styles. Having already seen a similar sight in Paris along the Pont des Arts, I knew these had been attached by couples to symbolise everlasting love.
This year 'love locks' had become such an epidemic in Paris to the point where locals were concerned for the preservation of the bridges. A campaign to remove all the love locks and ban the practice was started. Perhaps my ex-girlfriend and I were just looking after the bridges by not partaking when we visited Paris.
The love-locked bridge in Prague wasn't overburdened by padlocks when I crossed and seemed to be the most appropriate bridge for the tradition, as it carried me over to the Lennon Wall.
The first paintings on the Lennon Wall were done in the 80s, now long covered by thousands of other artistic contributions. It's still a tribute to Beatles member John Lennon, drawing from his dreams of peace and love.
The messages left behind by visitors were heart-warming and quite personal. I must've spent a good thirty minutes walking the wall, taking in the stories, quotes and paintings. I wrote a few words before leaving, but I can't remember what they were and they've surely been covered by now.
When overseas I have so much more faith in New Year's Eve (the night that's always overhyped) being worthy of the occasion. The trick I've found is to embrace the words of Robert Burns: "The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry", and to appreciate the wonder of ending the year in a foreign country instead of my local pub.
Our 'best-laid' New Years plan was to join a pub crawl culminating in Karlovy Lazne. I was more than happy to abandon this upon discovering a party being held in a former palace. It would be a first for me, and what's better at ensuring a memorable night than having a few firsts to look back on?
Of course we had the information slightly wrong. The party was taking place inside an exhibition building called Industrial Palace, not a former palace. Still, the place was enormous and with a magnificence deserving of the 'palace' in its name. The main area, with a sky-high ceiling, was awash with sweaty revellers dancing in the choreographed green and red glow of lasers as DJs and dancers performed on stage.
We arrived twenty minutes before countdown, which seemed to be right around the time the party kicked into no-tomorrow mode. Confetti fell from the ceiling, cheers rang out for the new year and within a few minutes I had been told being from Australia was 'gross' (another first).
Throughout the night I moved from the dance floor to the balconies above and into side rooms where more bars and food vendors awaited. The place had been transformed into its own nightlife district rivalling that of Caxton Street, Kings Cross or Smith Street.
The everlasting trait of New Years Eve feels more apparent in Prague, where the parties begin later and finish closer to sunrise.
I stumbled out close to five in the morning, nursing the remnants of a buzz while fighting off building exhaustion. I was staying in a different hostel to the others, so we parted ways in the subway station close to Old Town Square, where I began my walk back.
My final first of the night was to come.
I had just reached street level from the subway and clearly the two women approaching me didn't realise I was a gross Aussie, because one of them asked, "Want to share?" before proceeding to grope me.
I was stunned and backed away, using polite manners my parents would be proud of to decline their offer. I found myself chuckling about it a few minutes later, greedily chomping down on a Big Mac, feeling thoroughly content with a night I rarely find cause to remember.