Prague is enchanting.
I have a guide book to Europe. I borrowed it from my parents. Actually, my mom wrote me a love note in the front cover that i only discovered this week. It was a lovely little surprise. So, the perfect for this kind of trip. It has key information for each country like phrases, currency, and a little history, then a guide to the sights in each major city.
The very first sentence about the Czech Republic says, “Nothing will prepare you for the beauty of Prague.” Today, I learned a little about that.
I also realized, again, what a good decision it was to go ahead and go to Athens. I had my first real night of sleep in a long time, and I never wanted to wake up. I had been planning to go to the earliest Prague walking tour at 10:00, but when I woke up I realized it was raining. It was raining, I was so tired, and I decided to go back to sleep until the rain passed.
The rain never passed and I only slept for another hour. Zuzana and I had been joking yesterday that I might just stay in the apartment all day and rest, since I can, and I actually came very close to that. It’s a good thing there’s no food here so I was forced to leave. Still, I really enjoyed a leisurely morning for a change. I felt only slightly guilty about spending my limited time in Prague in bed.
I discovered that during the day, there are several restaurants on the lower levels of my apartment buildings and the ones around it. None served breakfast, so I had Chinese food for brunch and used wifi. My only real plan was to go to the free walking tour, the next of which was at 2:00. Although it was really overcast, the rain had abated. I was hoping for it to stay that way.
It met in the old town square. I arrived pretty early and wandered around for a while. I had passed through the night before with Zuzana, but it was nice to see in the daytime. I met two girls who were also going to take the tour, an Australian girl named Cherise and an Egyptian girl named Miriam. We hung around together for most of the tour, but it was one of the friendlier groups I’d ever been with. I met an American girl who has been living in Istanbul for a semester abroad and a Brazilian mother-daughter duo. The mother had the most fabulous hair I’d ever seen.
The guide was really friendly, too. He is an American guy from Georgia and Florida. He was charismatic and funny, and informative. Like all European cities, Prague has a rather tumultuous path with lots of death and drama. I think this was one of my favorite European walking tours so far, even though the conditions were less than ideal.
Yesterday was sunny and at times downright hot. Today was rainy, and usually downright cold. The guide had a few tricks up his sleeve, and kept us mostly under shelter when he was talking to us. Of course, there was no help but to get wet from place to place. My shoes were a goner immediately. Once the damage is done, you get used to it and move on. It only really bothers you in the beginning, and then any time after you’ve taken your shoes off and have to put them on still wet.
We stopped for lunch and a break at a place that served, among other things, American pancakes. This was tempting, but there wasn’t time for much more than soup and bagels. Thinking that I might only have two meals today, brunch and linner, I had two whole bagels. You never know when you’ll have the chance to eat again.
After I asked about Kafka, he showed us a few of the places that he lived and worked along the route. I guess people don’t usually ask about him, but he spent a lot of time in Prague and seemed like he really got around. He lived in many places, had many jobs, and we even saw his synagogue.
Mozart also loved Prague, and Prague, Mozart. I got to see the theatre where Don Giovanni premiered and a statue dedicated to him based on the ghost in the final act. They love it so much in Prague that it runs pretty regularly at the opera house. It’s actually on now, but I didn’t have the time to see about getting a ticket. It’s one of my favorites. I’ve seen it either three times now or four, I can’t recall.
The Jewish quarter was, as usual, one of my favorite parts. I’ve always wanted to see the Jewish cemetery in Prague. It was much to small for the Jewish population, but since they were confined to the ghetto they had to improvise. Graves there are stacked up to 12 people atop one another. It’s amazing. In the Jewish museum are some the drawings of the children of the nearby Teresin ghetto, which I have learned about and really wanted to see as well. Unfortunately, the tour ended too late for me to make it back there.
After the tour, I went to get coffee with my new friends. They brought other people they’d met on the tour, and there was quite a good little party of us. People split off one by one, everyone pretty much wanting to spend the rest of the evening in their respective hostels where it was warm and dry. I desperately wanted to do the same, but this was also my last chance to see anything in Prague. When Ben, an Australian guy, told me he was going up to the castle, I decided that I had to come along.
We said goodbye to Miriam and Cherise, along with another guy named Scott. They had all said repeatedly that they were going straight back to their hostel, but changed their minds. The five of us were a merry party, after the initial shock of being back in the freezing rain wore off. At first we tried to share the few umbrellas that we had between us, but those of us without soon were so wet that it didn’t make a difference.
It was clear right away that we had all made the right decision to go to the castle. Even before we got there, we were discovering the beauty of Prague. We didn’t consult any maps. The castle is on top of a large hill, so we just headed towards the incline. The staircases we found were amazing and the views of the city just really elegant. I think we even forgot about the rain for a while.
We made it to the top, but everything had already closed. Still, the architecture was beautiful. I think the weather had scared off everyone else because we were the only ones around. I love that. I love having a place to myself to enjoy, without having to worry about pickpockets or other tourists getting in my photos.
We came down the other side. I think we thought that we had discovered the beauty of Prague before, but it was nothing compared to this view. Even the rain was suddenly atmospheric. the soft light filtering through clouds in the early evening made the whole city seem to glow.
On the other side of the hill, we weren’t quite sure what to do. I proposed going to the Charles Bridge. I had seen it the night before with Zuzana, but I wanted to see it in the light as well.
We took almost the same route as Zuzana and I had the night before. I showed them all where she had shown me all of the swans, which is still delightful. There are wonderful views of the Charles Bridge from that point. As we carried on, we discovered a few things for ourselves. There’s a fountain where two men, Hitler and Stalin, stand on either side of the Czech Republic… Both peeing on it. The best part of this is that it moves. The hips rotate back and forth, and the pensisis (peni?) move up and down as they stream pee onto the country below.
We also stumbled upon this alley the boys had heard about during a boat tour. It gets so narrow that only one pedestrian can fit through at a time so there are stop lights to let you know when you can walk through. You could also look with your eyeballs to see if anyone were coming and whether or not you’d both fit, but that wouldn’t be nearly as fun.
The Charles Bridge is perfect at dusk. The entire city of Prague is so picturesque and photogenic. My camera takes decent photos in the half light, but any darker and they would have been all a blur. Across the bridge, we looked back and saw the castle atop the hill. It was lit from below, but there was still just enough light in the sky to discern all the buildings below. Everything was bathed in cool twilight blue. It’s one of the most beautiful sights of the trip.
I thought a lot about Before Sunrise today. I know it was actually set and filmed in Vienna, but as I mentioned in an earlier post, Vienna, Budapest, and Prague share the same concept. Perhaps it’s because I just didn’t get the chance to really explore Vienna. I wasn’t thinking about that movie or I honestly would have given myself more time there. Whatever the reason for it, probably all of the unexpected enchanting vignettes within this day, the movie has been on my mind.
I’m loathe to leave the city, but I really need to get out of the rain and get some real rest. My foot started hurting in the strangest way; it’s the muscles on the top part of my foot. I’ve never had that happen to me before and I’m not quite sure what it is or what to do about it. After the Charles Bridge, the pain became quite sharp.
We had a small meal together before we parted ways. Ben had an amazing looking crepe from a street vendor, then Scott and Miriam had pizza while the rest of us had drinks in a cafe. Since they’re going to Hungary from here, I gave them the rest of my florints. It was a nice little bit of change for them, but the denominations were too small for me to get changed anywhere. I don’t mind passing it along to my friends, though.
Getting back to the apartment was easy enough, and it does feel so good to be dry and out of the rain. I hope my shoes dry by morning. It will be an early one. I have to get to the airport!
Today was such a beautiful day for Prague and for friendships. I hope all of these people and places will come back into my life someday.