How can you get children interested in architecture? Take them to the Czech capital and play 'Spot The Sad Lady', says Adrian Mourby

This time we were visiting Prague on a short break and I thought John would be excited to see what is, in effect, a whole Baroque new town on the banks of the Vltava. We have the Thirty Years War to thank for the fact that the Czech capital was rebuilt in Catholicism's florid new style, but John couldn't care less. "Frankly Dad, I've had enough serpentine columns."

It was like taking a child to Disney only to find they no longer care for the Mouse. Once we'd done the astronomical clock, visited a shop that sells reproduction armour and decided against the Museum of Sex Machines, what on earth was there to do? I was certainly not going to pay for endless ice creams. Then, thank goodness, we saw Storch House whose whole frontage disappears under a welter of graffiti.

"Who's that?" asked Livvie, pointing to a figure.

"Er. Good King Wenceslas," I replied, checking with my guide book.

"He looks like a woman."

"Ah well, people did in those days."

The image was by Mikulas Ales. It was very soulful, very Alfons Mucha, as were the life-size artisans depicted nearby on the shopfront of Rott's the ironmonger. The Czechs have been painting their houses since the Middle Ages but when Art Nouveau erupted at the end of the 19th century, as a form of nationalism, they redecorated many of their older buildings in Mucha's limpid new style.

By the time we were entering the Jewish quarter John and Liv had developed a game: Spot the Sad Lady. On the front of a house in Parizska they discovered she'd developed three dimensions - and very large breasts - and was holding up the lintel of a merchant's front door. At the Grand Hotel Europa they found her with two friends, all gilded, on top of the hotel sign. "Why do they write the names up in gold?" John asked.

"Art Nouveau was a very celebratory style," I said.

"What's Art Nouveau?"

I kept my head down at that point. "I know, let's try to find stone foliage and semicircular stained glass over doorways!"


"First one to spot some gets an ice cream."

It was a good afternoon. We took in the Hotel Central, which has plasterwork tree branches all the way up its façade, and Hlavni nadrazi, the main railway station which has lots of curvy metalwork and huge naked statues. That brought forth titters, of course.

Prague has two kinds of Art Nouveau, that which was imposed sgraffito-style on earlier buildings and the real thing, like the glorious Municipal House where we had tea. "I bet there's a lady with Big Boobies somewhere around here," Livvie said. It took us a while to find her. She was in a semicircular mosaic over the front of the Municipal Building, sidling up to a rather distracted-looking king.

"Why's she naked?" John asked.

"At the time people just liked putting naked women on public buildings," I suggested. "And they wanted to make them look real."


"I don't know! I think it was to do with celebrating indigenous people. In some places the style was known as National Romantic."

"What style?"

"Art Nouveau."

"OK," they said. The label wasn't so frightening now. It was fun.

In fact, in Male Namesti the two of them almost came to blows over whether the black and white sgraffito on a medieval house was or was not Art Nouveau.

"There are naked ladies," said John.

"But it's black and white," Liv insisted.

"So ... they didn't have colour film in those days."

I think the message got through on some level.

International Festivals Bureau (0870-247 1204) offers two-night family breaks in Prague from £498 for a family of two adults and two children sharing, including flights and b&b.