The Inspiration for Finding 007 in the Czech Republic
A couple years back, I was moving my business into a new building and had saved up enough points on my credit card from the construction costs to grab a free plane ticket to Europe. My first thought was to head into Paris and spend 2 1/2 weeks getting to know The City of Lights and test my French speaking skills. But after I booked my reservation, I started to think - just Paris?
I had never explored Europe. Maybe this was my chance. I could rent a car and go on an adventure.
A couple weeks later, I happened to be rewatching one of my favorite Bond films, Casino Royale (definitely the 2006 Daniel Craig installment). Suddenly it hit me. "How cool would it be to pack up my bags and travel like James Bond?"
But Casino Royale was set in Miami, London, Italy, Madagascar - and that great hotel and casino were in Montenegro according to the movie's graphic. Maybe I could do Italy and London but Montenegro would be a heck of a long drive and the other places were out of the question.
As I started to research other James Bond movie locations in Europe, I discovered that Casino Royale was mostly filmed in the Czech Republic, not Montenegro. I could actually do this!
So I filled up Google Maps with pinpoints of all the locations I could find both inside the Czech Republic and out. This wasn't an easy task in 2015. At that point, there were very few bloggers writing about Bond locations and some of the information (I found out later) was incorrect.
I worked out an amazing 16 day trip. Most of it was based on James Bond locations from multiple movies like Goldfinger, Goldeneye, and The Living Daylights, not just Casino Royale. But I also investigated some other favorite movies like When Eagles Dare with Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton, and In Bruges with Colin Ferrell. With the locations picked, car and hotels reserved - I was on my way.
My Bond Experience Begins
After picking up the rental car in Paris and spending a jet lagged night in Bruges, Belgium, I sped across Germany on the Autobahn in my little Opel. This was my first Bond-like feeling, pushing that little car as fast as I could without her shaking to pieces. I thought I was doing great at 180 to 190 kph until a family in a Volvo station wagon sped past me!
After an exhilerating and sometimes tense drive, I ended up in a little town called Marktredwitz where I had to park my rental and pick up a train to ride into the Czech Republic. I could have chanced crossing the border in the car, but my car rental agreement said I couldn't take the car into Eastern Europe. This is definitely a consideration you should make when planning a road trip to the Czech Republic. For my second trip to Prague in 2018, a couple years later, I flew directly into Prague so I didn't have this issue - however, they did charge me for a travel visa to take the car into Germany.
The more I thought about it, riding that train was really a pretty cool idea, since that is how Bond and Vesper arrived in the movie. My hope was, maybe I would catch the same train to Karlovy Vary, the town where the casino (Kaiserbad Spa) and hotel (Grandhotel Pupp) were filmed.
In terms of logistics though, know that the train that you take from Marktredwitz only takes you as far as Cheb in the Czech Republic. After that, you have to switch trains to get to Karlovy Vary or Prague. The train station in Cheb feels like a relic of the U.S.S.R. and the Cold War. Talk about feeling like you're in an old spy film! Check out the high tech clock used at the station (photo below). It looks like something straight out of Hitchcock's Torn Curtain.
As I boarded the train I realized my dreams of caviar and champaign were to be dashed. The train was closer in style to the interior of the Hogwarts train in Harry Potter than the modern luxury ride found in Casino Royale. Like Bond, I felt skewered. But still, from navigating the train station to seeing the train and the station, it was a cool experience. Next time though, I'd suggest taking the less expensive, more comfortable bus.
My first stay over was in Karlovy Vary, a spa town famous for it's healing waters. I'll get more into that part of this journey in a future post. But for now it's time to pick up the pursuit of Bond as I make my way into Prague. As I detail each location, these were not actually in the order I viewed them, but instead it is more set up for your potential path, especially if you have just one day in Prague to do some Bond chasing.
The Ministry of Transportation (Body World's Exhibit)
Remember how I thought I was going to have to go to Miami to see some of the locations from the movie? Well, to my surprise, almost none of Casino Royale was filmed in Miami. The Body World's exhibition was actually filmed in Prague! And if you really look closely at the film, you'll notice that the building is more akin to European architecture than to anything you'd see in bright and colorful Miami. I find this with a lot of Bond movies. Things are not always as they seem. In fact, Casino Royale is chuck full of these slights of hand.
Study the cars closely in that scene, including the taxis. All of them were made up to look like they were in Miami. The producers did an amazing job of tricking us into buying the location as being South Florida.
Due to the trickery of the movie makers, I didn't even look for this building the first time I was in Prague. I had no idea it was there. Some other bloggers put me on the trail. So on my second visit, I walked up from the Florenc station (pronounced Florence) and made a point to knock it off the list first. This view is on the river side of the building. It is a government building, so don't expect any pomp and circumstance. And there definitely isn't any Body World's exhibit there. No need to go inside as the internal scenes were filmed elsewhere. More on that in a moment.
The Danube House, Prague (Bond Gets His 00 Status)
Just about a 10 minute walk East from the Ministry of Transportation you'll find an office building called the Danube House. In the opening scene of Casino Royale you'll see the building shot in black and white, and this is the only time the film admits to being in Prague. The location holds the significance of being the spot where Bond gets his second kill thus earning him his 00 status. Needless to say the building was high on my list.
There was no real public transportation to get from one spot to the other, but there was a convenient walking path. On my first journey to Danube House I saw an Aston Martin (I like to affectionately call this my Spirit Animal). That told me I was on the right path!
The building was relatively easy to find, but it didn't totally look right to me the first time I saw it. I snapped a couple of pictures but was disappointed when I got home to see it wasn't the same.
It wasn't until my return trip 2 years later that I realized the movie was not filmed from the side facing the road, but instead the side facing the river. There is a lot of trial and error in this movie location hunting. I also messed up both times waiting until the evening to get the shot. While the movie does take place at night, the Danube House is closed at that time. No chance to see the cool interior. Maybe next time.
Vitkov Monument and Museum (Body World's Exhibition Interior]
Another place I didn't get to go was to the interior area used for the Body World's exhibition. This wasn't filmed at the Ministry of Transportation building, but instead at the Národní památník na Vítkově - which is the museum right below the Vitkov Monument. There isn't a handy bus that goes between Danube House and the monument, so expect about a 20 minute walk south to the park. As I understand it there is a very nice view of Prague from the cafe on the rooftop and apparently you can ask to go into the cloak room that was used in the movie, but it is in the basement of the facility and not in a normal viewing area, so you will have to ask for the "Casino Royale cloak room in the basement." I guess I will also save that for my third trip to Prague.
The Czech National Museum or Národní Muzeum (Venice Hotel)
The last of the Casino Royale locations that I wasn't able to make it into was the grand staircase inside the Czech National Museum. But this wasn't due to a lack of time. Instead, it's because the interior has been under construction for 7 years. Yes I said it, 7 YEARS!
Since I missed it in 2016, I was so excited to get there in 2018 only to be disappointed again. It was my understanding then that it would open in October 2018, but you should check ahead. The significance of this location in terms of James Bond is, it was used as the lobby and grand staircase in the Venice hotel at the end of the movie. That's right, more misdirection in terms of locations. They dressed up a museum to look like a hotel lobby! I did get a shot of this magnificent building from outside, but that was it.
While you're here, check out all the shops and great restaurants in Wenceslas Square (yes of the "good king" Christmas fame).
Of course, there is so much more of Prague to see, like the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square, the Charles Bridge, the magnificent view from either the Petrin Tower or the view of the 5 bridges from Hanavsky Pavilon, and of course St. Vitus Cathedral and Prague Castle. But we are on the trail of James Bond, so let's take the Charles Bridge into what is known as Lesser Town, past the Lennon Wall and on to the Strahov Monastery.
Strahov Monastery (British House of Commons)
So, what is Bond doing in a Monastery? Well actually it is M and her assistant Villiers that have just left a meeting where they were berated over Bond's activities in Madagascar (that amazing chase at the beginning of the movie, post credits, through the construction zone). As they walk through the grand library, you'll remember M saying how she missed the Cold War. Judy Dench was such a great M.
That beautiful library is not in London, but instead, the producers decided to save some money and shoot in the stunning Strahov Monastery Library - a true jaw dropper.
I will warn you, it will cost you a few Czech Koruna (you can call them crowns) to tour it, a few more to have permission to take a picture, and even more to shoot some video, but it is well worth it. The library is gorgeous. You can't walk into the actual library, you'll have to shoot a picture from the doorway. But I promise, it will look like the movie. Meanwhile, step to your left, go down the hall and look in the smaller library. It is just as impressive. During the busy Summer months it may be harder to get here. I was told I might need a reservation, but in late-April I walked right in.
Václav Havel Airport (The Miami International Airport)
For our final Prague destination, or maybe your first if you're flying into Prague, it's the Václav Havel Airport. What does this airport have to do with Bond? Remember the Skyfleet aircraft, the near miss of the jet that sent police cars flying, and James Bond fighting in the oil truck? That was all filmed at the airport in Prague.
This is a very easy airport to get in and out of. If you're not renting a car, the bus system will take you all the way to Terminal 1. Understand though that Google Maps appears to be limited in showing this route, but the bus does go all the way into the airport. I took a ride on the subway from downtown all the way to Sídliště Petřiny station and on the way out of the station signs pointed me to the 910 Letiště bus to Terminal 1. It was well marked and you'll find a decent amount of English to help get you around.
Mission Accomplished, Now What?
At the end of most Bond movies, we left seeing Bond relaxing and taking in the sights and enjoying time with his Bond girl. I would highly recommend exploring more of the city and renting a car to see more of the Czech Republic as a whole. It is a stunning country full of red rooftops, historic architecture, great beer, fantastic food, and a true Eastern European feel. And it's one of the most affordable countries to visit.
Just keep in mind, it's better to use a trusted bank ATM in Prague. Any free standing machine simply marked ATM may not give you a kind exchange rate. The machines in the airport are actually great trusted places to get cash when you arrive.
James Bond Will Be Back...
If you've watched the older Bond films to the end, you'll know James Bond always returns. This is just my first recollection of my journey's in the footsteps of Bond. My next Bond related post will detail some of the locations outside of Prague, including Karlovy Vary and Loket. Also watch for future posts that will follow Daniel Craig, Roger Moore, Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton films across Europe and the globe.