When she turned 40, Katrine Lundgren changed her career completely. During the last 18 years she has been a travel guide in Prague. Join us for a walk to discover her beloved local hidden gems.
I remember my first meeting and impression of Katrine Lundgren. As posh as it might sound, it was during a private reception held at the residence of the Norwegian Ambassador to the Czech Republic Mr. Robert Kvile during the spring of 2019.
If you have ever been to a reception, you tend to know that the people are there to build connections. So, after a numerous round of greetings, I finally said ‘hello’ to Katrine. Her friend, who also happened to be my colleague and the First Secretary at the Norwegian Embassy, explained to me briefly who she was. There, I got to know that Katrine was not only a regular travel guide, she also carries a very interesting life story which binds her to the Czech Republic’s political history. Taking in consideration my journalistic instincts, I was captivated.
So, in May last year, I asked Katrine for a walk in Prague, both to get some travel inspiration and to learn more about her.
Follow the tips from the travel guide Katrine Lundgren:
1. Starting point: Tram 22
Prague’s tram 22 is a popular tourist attraction because it passes through well-known places; the Old Town, the Prague Castle, 20 minutes walk from the Petřín Lookout Tower (a discount version of the Eiffel Tower), the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs and much more. Therefore, it was not very surprising that the starting point of the walk, kicked off on this magical tram, numbered ’22’.
Yet, we were not, by any means, going to leave the tram on the most popular stops. Katrine, had given clear indications that we had to meet on the tram stop ‘Brusnice’, at the lesser crowded area. I was quite perplexed. What was to see there?!
But after crossing the main road and walking into a hidden park, the view over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Černínský palác, captivated the sight. This was a well-known building for me.
I had been there many times to attend briefings and write reports to the Norwegian Ministry. Katrine, on the other hand, is carrying a special connection to this beautiful facility.
What started as a Czech drama has ended into a true love story for her.
2. Overlooking The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs
In 1968 Czechoslovakia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs was a man named Jiří Hájek. As a lawyer and diplomat, he has had many prestigious jobs; he served as an Ambassador in Britain, he represented Czechoslovakia in the United Nations and he served as Czechoslovakia’s Minister of Education. His last post was as Foreign minister in the government of Alexander Dubcek during the Prague spring of 1968.
However, after the Soviet Union took control over Czechoslovakia in 1968, he protested against this in a speech at the United Nations. He called it an occupation, which caused widespread controversy and resulted in his dismissal from high offices.
Some years later, Jiří Hájek emerged as one of three leading spokesmen of Charter 77, an informal civic initiative that criticised the government for failing to implement human rights provisions. Thus, he became the target of police interrogations and threats. These political activities affected his whole family. As a result, his only son, Jan Hájek, decided to flee from his homeland Czechoslovakia. He applied for asylum in Norway, where he undertook a degree in architecture. In 1988, fate introduced him to Katrine.
Eva: And since 2000 you have lived in Prague?
Katrine Lundgren: Yes, we moved to Prague for the second time in 2000. The first time we lived here was when our son Martin was a one year old. We lived at Jan’s childhood home with his father. After the Velvet Revolution in 1989, Jiří got a new life; he got a lot of interview invitations from journalists, as he was not allowed to speak during the communist era. He had a lot to tell from his time as a politician here, as a human rights advocate. It was a very active time and he got to experience his grandson and be with his son again. Unfortunately, he died after a year. After three years in the Czech Republic, we decided to move back to Norway, as we planned to live our lives there. However, we had to come back to the Czech Republic in 2000. My husband Jan could not find a job as an architect in Norway. It was very hard times for this profession, but in Prague he had plenty of offers.
3. Take a bite at a hidden gem “no one” knows about – Hotel U Raka
Before continuing the long walk, the best thing you can do is to grab something to eat or drink at Hotel U Raka. It is a luxurious hidden small hotel, but also a restaurant with delicious food to a decent price. Not hungry? I would suggest to have a sneakpeak inside anyway. It has a magical fairytale-look-alike feeling.
This place is only 300 m away from Brusnice.
– “There is one thing you have to know in order to get inside”, Katrine says and knocks on the main door.
– “You have to knock on the door to get inside to the backyard of the restaurant.”
Really?! This could never be a touristic hot spot, I thought, and I was completely right as soon as a waiter opened the door and let us in. When the gate closed, I could hear …. nothing. The unexpected silence was pleasantly substituted with birds chirping. Soon, these songbirds started to fly from the blossomed trees and into ancient vases, reminding me of a Disney-scene. Simultaneously, we were almost completely alone. Wow.
When you moved to the Czech Republic, your career also had a complete turnaround?
Absolutely, I am an educated occupational therapist, a job I had for six years. I also worked in college where I taught occupational therapy for a total of ten years. So, when I moved here, I had to figure out what I could do. I got inspired by a travel agent who asked if I would like to guide for them. I thought that it was a good idea. At the age of 40 I re-educated myself and became a licensed guide. I also enrolled in Scandinavian Language School and asked if they needed Norwegian teachers. They needed native speakers, so I have been working there since 2012. I also do some translations sometimes.
How was it for you to leave your stable job?
We had an apartment in Oslo that we rented out and got income from. Therefore, we did not have to depend on me working full time. In addition, Jan had no problem getting enough work. Honestly, I have not been stressed about my job situation. Actually, it has been wonderful. I have had the freedom to find something that I really like to do – and I love to guide!
4. Next stop: Wallenstein Garden (Valdštejnská zahrada) through Prague Castle
With some food in the belly, we can move further. Not far though, as only walking distance away is Prague Castle. It is an ancient symbol of the Czech Republic, the most significant Czech monument and one of the most important cultural institutions in the Czech Republic. In fact, the castle, most likely founded in around 880, has been listed by UNESCO.
Since the castle is well-known, I would rather focus on getting your attention to another “hidden” place which I discovered only thanks to Katrine. Namely the Wallenstein Garden, or, in Czech, named as Valdštejnská zahrada.
We descend the hill from the castle, reaching Malostranská, within close proximity to the city’s metro station.
Now, hold your breath! White royal peacocks and the castle on the hill are once again dragging you back into the Disney World (!!). Remember to check the opening hours as this place closes very early.
5. Continuing chasing parks – Vysehrad
To get to our next stop, we have to board one of the trams again. Malostranská is a key junction point in Prague, making it super easy to travel wherever you want. Here you have several options in order to get to the tram stop Ostrčilovo náměstí.
Reaching the top of the hill, you will see the historic fort. On the East bank of the Vltava River, you can enjoy the well-preserved historical buildings from the 10th century.
Perhaps, one of the most captivating places here are the ornate doors of the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. It is also called the ‘Castle on the heights’. For today’s tourists it is a popular place for pictures.
But to be honest, so is the rest of the city …
If you have never been to Prague before, I can assure you that the whole city is a playground for influencers and models. Here, you will find thousands of beloved places for photoshoots. People are hiring photographers and are posing in galla dresses under the cherry blossom spots throughout the months of March and April. Crazy, but true! Prague is breathtaking, historical and unbelievable beautiful.
But back to the walk. When leaving Vysehrad, Katrine showed me the Vysehrad cemetery. Why? Well, here you can find the remains of many famous people from Czech history, for example: Antonín Dvořák, Bedřich Smetana and Alphonse Mucha.
6. Dance & Drink at Viniční Altan in Grébovka. You made it!
One of the highlights of Prague is the Viniční Altan in Grébovka. The vineyard´s wooden gazebo restaurant serves good food and has a wine bar. It is an ideal venue for your visit, especially during the evenings. Being located on a hill, you can enjoy the sunset with a glass of wine.
Also, if you love to dance, this place organises salsa dancing during the summer weekends and the entrance fee is not expensive! If not, I would suggest to arrange a picnic in the park. Accompanied by the music from this venue, it will definitely be a romantic and memorable experience.
So, Katrine, you have been a guide in Prague for 18 years now. After all, it is a pretty small city. What is it like to walk on the same streets, tell the same stories and be surrounded by tourists who ask the same questions all the time?
I have never got that question! No, it is really okay, because people are so different. You need to adjust a little to whom you talk to and that is what has been so exciting. Sometimes it is quite a tough job because you have to concentrate a lot on what kind of feedback you get and what people are interested in. So it is never boring!
Cheers for that!