Raw Impressions or Love Story
Prague. We touch down in the drizzle of the night, 9.30. The first sights are not impressive, but what airport in the world is charming after all? Little do I know I’m going to be hit… I’m about to fall madly in love. After a few turns on very anonymous highways, I find myself going up and down the streets of Hradčany, the Castle district. My heart follows the same irregular trail of emotions, discovery and awe. Noble palaces, centennial trees and tramways in a hurry pass by as we turn again to cross a bridge over the Vltava. Just the time to look right… The Powder Gate is there, next to me, as if he wants hug me welcome. Fearful, fearless, dark as gunpowder, indeed.
Prague, the beautiful. In the blink of an eye we cross the river again, over the Legion Bridge this time. We reach the heart of Malá Strana. There we find home: a building from the last century, with dragons as newel caps on the stairs and grey stars on the ceilings. The smell of wood coming from the old doors is familiar, rich. I’m home, but I don’t want to go to bed.
We leave for a walk, to grab a bite. Dinner really doesn’t matter tonight. I don’t care. There’s too much beauty to see.
At dawn, the next morning, I feel impossible to stay in bed any longer, I can’t breathe. I need to get out and live my romance to the extreme. We just wander around the Lesser Town, a Baroque quarter, Malá Strana in Czech. I don’t take pictures, I can’t. I need to see everything with my eyes: I want no lenses between me and Prague.
Once on top of the famous bridge, I stop at every statue. Each one of them tells me about a legend through its gestures or its history. The color, the years gone by are a reflection carved on the stone. The most famous statue of all stands there, defying time and official chronicles, shining in a nimbus of myth.
John of Nepomuk, national saint of Bohemia, who found death drowning in the Vltava river at the behest of King Wenceslaus. John, the confessor of the queen was forced to throw himself in the river after refusing to divulge her secrets.
At the end of the bridge, the sweet scent of cinnamon and sugar coming from a little pastry shop attracts me: it’s time to try the trdelník and get some coffee.
How does one define the taste of these amazing sweets without being trivial? Would it be enough to say I couldn’t stop buying them? They’re delicate, warm, soft.
Alluring Prague in the daylight.
STAROMĚSTSKÉ NÁMĚSTI: A Piece of Fairy Tale
Walking down Karlova street, I find all kinds of architectural styles, Art Nouveau next to Medieval towers, sharing the neighborhood with Baroque buildings, a festival to the eyes. I had once heard Prague is a city to be seen with your head always up. Nothing could be truer… houses have voluptuous sculptures on the corners, balconies are decorated with golden statues and doors get opened with creative knobs. Everything is a celebration. This city is a mysterious woman, a Medieval witch casting a spell upon me. A lady in her best dress: she always knows what to wear with charm and style.
We find a crowd waiting at the Astronomical clock, everyone wants to admire the sacred dance of the hours, opened by the Death, relentless. Unforgiving. Striking the time passing by. Other three figures flank the clock, they are set in motion at the hour too. They represent things despised at the time of the clock’s making: Vanity, a figure with a mirror; Greed, an old man holding a bag of gold; Death, the one that starts the mechanism, and a Turk, standing for pleasure and entertainment. On the hour, when the Death rings the bell, all other figures shake their heads, side to side: they are not ready to go.
JOSEFOV, Roots going deep
When I enter Pinkas Synagogue, Prague hits me again. Some Jewish traditions run in my veins because I so decided years ago: a ritual immersion in a mikvah is one of the steps a converted Jew goes through. It was touching to learn there is a very old ritual mikvah right here.
I’ve lived these last years away from any religion, not observing any law. Only trying hard to be honest, fair enough for a religion. However, it is very moving to see my sons wearing a kippah.
My husband understands how I feel. He sees my eyes full of tears and explains my kids why mom chose to become Jewish. Takes them by their hands and gives me a moment alone. Tears ran down my cheeks when I understand those tiny lines I see on the walls are names, people, lives. My grandma’s last name is on that wall too: everything is clearer than ever. Maybe there is more than choice in my veins after all.
Is Prague more than a lover? Is she an old-time friend bringing answers to lifelong doubts?
Even when chaotic, the Jewish cemetery offers itself in full peace, no place in Prague is neither creepy nor scary, and I never feel the need to leave.
Art is Everywhere
After a day of excitement, we explore Malá Strana and its calm atmosphere. The park near the Kampa Museum is lovely, only a few steps from John Lennon’s Wall and very close to the Devil’s Stream.
That night I feel tired, but I barely sleep. At five in the morning I am up again, ready to go out.
I pick my camera, my map and my sunglasses, I leave the house in silence. I want to meet this magic woman that enchants me and amazes me. My only wish is to spend some time with her.
As I walk down the streets I remember this is my birthday present. And it comes with birthday changes and resolutions. Prague is transforming me. And nothing is going to be the same once back home.
The streets are empty, only a couple of photographers have the same idea. But Praha might have a special preference for women. Or women who have her as a birthday present. As she came to our meeting with a few gifts.
I don’t really know what happened. Suddenly, Charles bridge is empty. We are alone, Prague, me and her bridge. I can do as I please. I sit and lay on the ground searching for your most attractive angles, spires and corners. And the skies gave me the best light and the softer sunbeams.
Getting to Prague Castle with tramway 22 is an adventure; it passes by Nerudova street, a famous road in the city. Once up the hill, and after going through the main entrance, there are several courtyards and squares, all of them treasure a piece of history of the Republic.
Saint Vitus Cathedral, the biggest church in the Czech Republic, dominates the Prague Castle and the city as well. The gargoyles outside are frightening while the inside stained glasses are powerful. Look up for the rose window, and the inner colored vitraux. They throw different shades of light on the various chapels in the building. Organs show injudicious splendor.
The Golden Lane (Zlata Ulicka), is a little famous road, dotted with houses so small that would be best fit to shelter kids and not stores, Medieval weapons and armies of tourists. Legends tell the street is named after the alchemists who lived there during the reign of Rudolf II. The king was obsessed with the philosopher’s stone and the ability to transform metals in gold. Franz Kafka lived at No. 22 for a year.
The children adore the display of full Medieval suits of armor and torture machines, they are in the quarters of the Golden Lane houses.
I fall in love with the idea of setting my feet on the same road Kafka walked, carrying a bunch of manuscripts under his armpit.
It doesn’t take me long to understand Prague has not struck only me. I caught my husband taking pictures of her curvy dancing buildings with dreamy eyes and gasps of wonder… not once, not twice: many times.
SRNEC, Black Light Theatre
One afternoon I surprise all the family, it is my gift for them, a way to thank for my birthday trip to Prague. We walk down Národní street and then move to Nové Město where – by chance – we find the Museum of Communism.
I always admire the way some countries have to laugh at certain tragedies. This way they can get back on their feet faster and move on.
Right on time, after this throwback in history, it’s my children’s turn. Finally. They’re about to fall in love too. It’s your art, Prague. It’s your Black Light Theatre.
I had booked the tickets months in advance full of doubts: How could two digital children possibly like something so naïve and hand-made as this kind of crafty theater? They laugh so loudly and love it so much… Real, authentic, innocent fun at Na příkopě 852/10, 110 00 Praha 1-Nové Město, Czech Republic (+420 774 574 475)
No end is for ever
We spend the last day visiting Nové Město, places related to the recent history of the country. I walk up and down Wenceslas Square. The cross of Jan Palach brings back to my mind the many books and films about Prague. The Lucerna Gallery is hard to find, but so beautiful, a piece of the past in the hassle of the modern city.
Another strike of luck: I remember to send my postcards while I am near the central Post Office. I can’t believe my eyes at the sight of such magnificent architecture.
There’s art everywhere in Prague. It is impossible to ignore the beauty it bears. Even under the heat of the afternoon we keep walking to find Faustuv dum. Charles Square and the New Town Hall. We get lost only to come across the Lego museum. The children were proud of a mother getting lost.
How could we leave without a last visit to Stare Město? How could I dare leave without seeing the Clementinum?
So off we go… in search of one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. We find it and visit the astronomical tower as well, and after an exhausting series of stairs, Prague rewards me with the most amazing view from over 60 meters height.
And then, that fabulous Library. Once they open the doors for you, they turn the lights on softly. My heart starts jumping. The smell of old books is penetrating yet pleasant. I close and open the eyes, the sight literally takes my breath away.
I could write a list twice as long about all the things I did not do in Prague, or out of Prague (like paying a visit to Kutná Hora, for instance) either because of lack of time, or because when one travels with children it’s better to choose what to do and when, and when to rest, as well. They need to rest in order to learn and take advantage of the trip. If not, it’s worthless.
But, as always… the best part of not having enough time to do everything is that it gives you the perfect excuse to return.
The food in Prague is art. The beer, the people, the walls. Everything is art in Prague. Beauty, such a big word, reads so small next to Prague.