Zlata Praha

As we were getting ready to get engrossed in the mystery of Prague which was I believe was less than an hour drive outside Dresden, we gazed at marvelously picturesque views of mountains which seemed really huge. That was not the view you might get to experience in the Alps but it was still pleasant to look at. There was no more German language, which I was determined to brush on back home. Czech has always struck me as confusingly complicated but to me as a teacher of foreign languages it was fascinating to see all those linguistic changes unravel in front of my own eyes.
It was a couple of hours before we arrived in Prague, the mysterious and romantic capital of the Czech Republic. When I saw all those dilapidated buildings and dull streets, I thought my hopes of experiencing the enigmatic and enchanting beauty of Prague were thwarted and I was so wrong to get my expectations way too high and set myself for disappointment. We were driving round and round some really sullen architecture and it felt as though we were taken on a trip on a time-machine and found ourselves in a Soviet city facing lots of economic and social problems… I wasn’t feeling too good because I had caught a cold and even though I tried to soldier on, it seems to be catching up with me. I was getting ready to move on from what I thought was just another disappointment… The hotel we were staying at that night was a big change from that in Dresden and I was making a pretty negative impression of the city… The elevator wasn’t working properly and it turned out we would have to queue up for breakfast till 6 a.m… Was that nice, no! Even though I was feeling the way I was, I was still excited about what tomorrow would bring. It was nice to figure out how to work my new mp3 player I got in Dresden and another exciting thing of the evening was watching our president Putin on my favorite BBC World News. I suddenly felt homesick watching our president on the international TV channel in Prague… That was a perfect international experience I was thrilled about! I phoned my parents for the first time since I was on my trip to let them know we were ok. I think seeing Putin’s face on my TV was one of the reasons why I did so… We tucked in what was left of the food we got back in Dresden which was another international experience of the night and were ready to dream about what we would see the next day.
We had an early start as usual and had a bit of a breakfast in our hotel room. We were staying in a noisy industrial area of the city and it took us a while to get to the Prague railway station where we were to pick up our guide for the next two days. The building was rather dull and dreary and got me wondering again if that was the country’s turbulent past that had such an impact on its present. It seemed like the city had some really dark secrets to hide. Our guide was a lovely vibrant lady of my age and I was astonished by her level of proficiency in Russian. Some seconds later we forgot she wasn’t Russian…
So we were driving down some hill (I got an impression Prague was a bunch of slope hills). It was scorching hot and I was wondering how I was going to get through that day with my cold… But I was determined to give Prague another chance so I didn’t mind the cold as long as this city wasn’t going to leave me disappointed.
The first stop on our long way was the Prague Castle which was some walking distance away. This is a residence place of Bohemian kings and today’s President. First we were to witness the changing of the guards. There was nothing in particular about this procedure but I think it’s a must-see for a tourist because in some way it gets you in touch with the country you’re visiting. We had a good view from where we were standing so we even filmed some bits. Then we walked into the gate and saw a really beautiful fountain and architecture. The Prague Castle is one of the largest ancient castles in Europe and I wasn’t aware of that till some point. I wished I had done more research on Prague. The castle complex which is located in the area called Hradčany (Castle District) houses St.Vitus Cathedral which we will be touring later and a number of museums. It’s a shame we didn’t bump into the President taking a walk the way some other group of tourists did, according to our tour guide who never stopped to crack up jokes.
The next stop was St. Vitus Cathedral which was by far one of the most breathtaking pieces of architecture I’d seen on my trip. It is a Roman Catholic Church in Gothic style. There was something purely magical about this cathedral. The interior was just equally astonishing. And then we heard a choir of some Chinese teenagers who as our tour guide said were on tour of the world’s different cathedrals sing. I was incredibly moved by that spiritual song and that genuinely made me want to cry even though I’m no way religious. The acoustics was just splendid and their singing seemed to have struck a chord in my heart and soul. That was purely magnificent… Then we got outside to take in the beauty of the cathedral.
We were continuing walking the cobblestone streets of Prague and shown some other places when we stopped at a vineyard which provided panoramic views of the city which was starting to live up to my expectations. All those endless roofs were there in front of our eyes and we had some nice picture opportunities.
We took some pictures of the lovely Toy Museum which had an interesting statue outside it. That was a statue of a naked teenage boy which as the tour guide said Russian tourists call a pioneer… It was considered good luck to rub a part of his body which looked pretty indicative of how desperate tourists were for good luck… I thought I’d rather not do that because for some reason it felt inappropriate especially for a teacher…
We were now in Mala Strana (the Lesser Town) where we were shown the narrowest streets of the city which I believe not everyone in our group would be able to walk. When we saw some policemen in the street, the tour guide used a Russian slang word menty and cracked us all up because the Russian police is notorious for being not the one to trust… We were guided to the Franz Kafka Museum. This writer is much acclaimed and considered one of the most prominent one of the 20th century. Unfortunately, I’ve never read any of his works but I know they are said to be quite disturbing to the mind. I think if we had visited his museum, we would have got a better understanding into his personality and literary work. Outside the museum there was one of the most amusing fountains I’d ever seen in my entire life (and I said I had a fountain fetish). That was a fountain of the pissing men whose gentleman parts were rotating so it looked as if they were urinating on the fountain which is shaped like the Czech Republic. It felt a bit inappropriate again to come close for a better view… This seems a way to honor Kafka’s quirkiness and anguish and for some odd reason, I loved that piece of architecture because that was definitely not what I was expecting to see in Prague.
We walked past some lovely riverside restaurants which look very inviting and it would have been nice to stop by for a few beers but of course we had no time for that…
We were about to go up which was one of the highlights of our tour of Prague. That was Charles Bridge (Karlův most). It looked spectacular even from down there we were standing and I recognized it at once. It wasn’t packed with tourists but it didn’t feel too busy at this time of the day. The sun was beating down and it wasn’t a midday yet… You can’t just miss that sight when you’re in Prague because it is the pedestrian connection between the Prague Castle and Old Town where we will be stopping by later on. The bridge offered some magnificent views of the Vltava, the largest river of the Сzech Republic, and of the Prague skyline. I was loving the city at the moment and the feeling of love was really infiltrating the air as while I was posing for some pictures and just soaking up the atmosphere, I was thinking that would be a perfect place to be walking hand in hand with that special someone… Charles Bridge was decorated with an alley of dozens of statues that looked absolutely out of this world against the clear blue sky. We were making wishes on several occasions and one of them was definitely a return visit to Prague I was totally changing my mind about. There were also some street artists selling some art and I wish I had had my portrait done but it’s obvious why I didn’t after all…


… I could spend ages taking in the scenic views of the Vltava and keep indulging in that pensive mood I was in but it was time to the last place of interest for the time being which was Old Town Hall and Astronomical Clock. That was when I first experienced the hustle and bustle of the city because the square was getting busier and busier with lots of people speaking a great variety of languages coming and going. We got to listen to the chime of the clock but unfortunately I wasn’t aware of the importance and meaning of the clock up until recently… But there was nothing extraordinary about what we witnessed. But that was definitely another authentic Prague experience we will treasure in our memory for years to come…
The girls sat down on the ground to rest their feet just opposite the Astronomical Clock. I was proper tired but remained standing and did some people watching. I felt like a tiny little part of a huge crowd of tourists. That was when it hit me I was in one of the most favorite travel destinations in Europe.
A short while later we went on a boat trip of the Vltava and saw some more magnificent sights on our way to the harbor, for example, the Týn Church, the fancy Paris Street… I love boat trips, I’ve always felt I had a special connection with water… That was an indulgent experience not just for my soul and eyes but for my stomach as well… I hate to get on the subject of food in the story of my trip but it was just amazing! Every dish was just spot-on and I grew to love the Czech cuisine. Our dinner started out with a bit of becherovka which is a herbal liquor and a traditional national drink. Then we tucked in an enormous amount of chicken, pork which was just what we needed after a long day tour of Prague. It was nice and relaxing to be watching the iconic views going by… That was absolutely magical and it felt like I was in my element down there in this boat. We even got stuck in traffic and had to wait for other boats to pass through! The boat trip came to end before we knew it and we had some time to ourselves. I wasn’t planning on anything in particular so it was pretty confusing to realize I was in such a magical magnificent city but didn’t really have any idea where to spend a couple of hours…

We had a bit of a shopping spree and did some souvenir shopping. I was majorly surprised to find out that a lot of sales assistants in the market spoke good Russian. We were about to buy some traditional Czech waffles and I asked a sales assistant if I could try them and she sounded a bit offended when she said she spoke Russian. I was a bit embarrassed that my degree in English was too much in the face. It seemed for a while we were back home because we heard lots of people speak Russian. Czech souvenirs were the most fascinating ones I’d come across throughout the entire trip. It was nice we took some Czech things back home…
We had some more time to kill and finally stopped by for a few beers which were surprisingly cheap. It’d be a crime to leave without shooting a few I think. As I was sitting there people watching, I think I’d seen so many different faces that I haven’t seen in my entire life and was exhilarated to be one of those faces in the streets of Prague which seemed to have let me in some of its secrets… As we were taking a stroll, we saw some man dressed in a white sheet looking absolutely motionless. As we were walking past him, I turned my head to get a better look and suddenly he came alive to give me a courteous bow and wave me a kiss. That certainly put a smile on my face and made me sad such gentlemen didn’t occur often back home…
We did some food shopping and spent the rest of the time relaxing our feet and letting the world go by in Wenceslas Square in the New Town which was a venue for major historic events in the history of the country. It felt like home after a couple of hours we spent here. My sister was enjoying some more beer and at that point I thought was bringing a huge disgrace to the Russian nation… My friend was having a good time feeding local doves and some more people seemed to join her too.
Before the end of that long day in Prague, we were scheduled to visit one of Prague’s Black Light Theatres. We were to watch the Wow show which involved the performers using light techniques to create visual illusions to tell some stories of everyday life. That one we saw was of a man facing his fears. We were seated in the front row and I swear never in my life had I been in a room with people from so many different countries. The whole message of the show didn’t quite come across to us at that point but it was definitely nothing what we’d seen before as we felt water drops falling from the ceiling, saw some creepy spiders popping up out of the blue. The show was interactive and my sister even got asked to blow some bubbles… We were joking it was the beer that got her involved in the show in the first place… We were really moved and perplexed by what we saw…
The last event of the day was a visit to Křižík fountain, a one-off water show where dance performances, music and water are synchronized together. That night Black Swan by Tchaikovsky was staged. My sister detests opera so she felt a bit disappointed. The darkness was falling and that was a truly magic time to spend in one of the most magical cities of the world… The place seemed to be in the middle of nowhere and it was nice our coach took us there, otherwise we would have definitely lost our way. I was excited to see Black Swan and happened to see it played in our local theatre just weeks before the trip. As the music started playing, I felt butterflies in my stomach! The choreography and music was just beyond incredible and I genuinely enjoyed every second of the show even when it started raining and we had to look for a place to hide because the last thing I wanted is to have my cold get even worse… Standing there in the rain watching the beauty unravel was purely romantic and of course I wanted someone to share this moment with me… Just as I did in Dresden, I felt I got in touch with the kind of beauty that is often blurred in the everyday drudgery and was elated by the experience…
It was time we went back to our hotel to spend one more night in the city which started growing on me through the course of one single day. I went from being utterly disappointed to being utterly amazed and enchanted… I pretty much experienced every emotion in the book that day… First impressions can be so painfully wrong and can really affect our judgment. I’m happy I wasn’t meant to be disappointed by this city that seemed to have shared so much with me that day that I felt absolutely shattered by the time we got back to the hotel. I was ready to admit Prague was “a dear little mother whose claws never let go” as Franz Kafka said in one of his letters to his father…
The next day was going to be a new day…

Elbflorenz (Dresden)

They say that life is not the breaths you take but the moments that take your breath away. I believe I had one of those moments when we arrived in Dresden which was about 3 hours’ drive away from Berlin. It was almost midnight and it looked as though we had lost our way because we seemed to be driving around the same old buildings that looked like hospitals or some other social institutions. That was definitely not the kind of Dresden I’d been expecting to see. And then out of the darkness of the night that was setting in and gloominess of impersonal buildings popped up a view that was definitely a breath-taker for me. That was absolutely extraordinary to see an iconic view of Dresden which I previously saw in pictures by night. I felt tears coming to my eyes and I think that particular view instantly got me fall in love with what I was to see the next day. Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture but this is pretty much what it was like 152_163_original
As I said, Dresden looked very calm and serene and I don’t think we saw a single person walking the streets as we were driving to the hotel where we were staying for the night. It was a big change from Berlin which to me now seemed more and more vibrant and full of life.
Our hotel looked quite nice and as the night before, we couldn’t wait to get into bed and get a good night’s sleep and let all the impressions of the day sink in. Our initial reaction when we walked into our room was nothing but “Wow!”. Dresden is often referred to one of the world’s cultural landmarks and even our room in what I guess was an ordinary hotel looked like a little work of art with nice furniture, pictures and curtains to match. That was unbelievably beautiful and we immediately went on tour of the rest of our room and we definitely loved what we saw. I found a Bible lying in the wardrobe and for a moment I felt uncomfortable thinking that some insanely religious people might have been staying in this room before but then I thought I didn’t mind that as long as I was in this lovely room. I was getting ready for bed when I found out that my mp3 player was missing…. I went through my bag over and over again and it was nowhere to be found… I was getting panicky and then I realized I must have left it under the pillow in Slubice the night before when I was listening to some radio before bed… I really hated myself for leaving it behind in Poland… That was so precious to me because even though it was just a piece of metal or something, that had been with me for a good couple of years and eventually came to be a tiny part of me because I love listening to music. Well, that was it… A tiny part of me was left behind in Poland and I was wondering if it was already found by someone under that pillow… I was thinking how I proved with my own example that Russians were way too careless and carefree when they are on holiday. This player would definitely get me through long bus trips between the cities and now that it was gone forever, I knew they were going to be really boring and I couldn’t make a point of listening to foreign radio stations late at night before bed. I felt really sad and was somewhat ashamed of telling my sister and friend because I knew they would probably make fun of me because I thought I was the only person out of the entire group who had their personal things lost on the first night at a hotel. Well, after a shower I was sitting there in a dim lit hotel room and browsing some of the brochures that were kindly left on the desk for us and actually felt German and my university degree seemed to come in handy. When I was already in my comfy bed, I couldn’t sleep because I was thinking how stupid it was of me to have left that mp3 player under the pillow… This is what I usually did back at home but I had to remember that those hotel rooms weren’t my home after all. And then I thought since there was probably nothing I could do to get my player back, I might get a new and a better one (that one was rather old) here in Germany where I thought I could get a good value for money. So what if this tiny part of me was to be replaced by a new German one? I loved this idea…
After what was an absolutely delicious and substantial breakfast, we set off for a tour of the historical centre of Dresden. Our tour started in Theaterplatz (Theatre Square) that featured some of the city’s key sights. I knew about the bombing raid of 1945 which killed about 25 thousands of Dresdeners and saw lots of beautiful and imposing buildings of the city destroyed to ashes. Just standing there taking in the square which looked quite small but very impressive made me contemplate the fragility of beauty and how it can be ruined and destroyed within the space of hours…. It was unbelievable how all those explosives were falling from this purely blue sky to cause unprecedented damage to the cultural heritage of the city and to leave thousands of lives scarred forever… But the way the city centre was painstakingly restored to its former glory proves that even when beauty is monstrously destroyed, it can still be restored to something new and amazing if enough effort and dedication is put into it… There is no way you can piece the broken glass together but what we saw there in that square right in front of our own eyes proved that even if the scars and wounds are still there, there is always a fresh beginning and a new lease of life for those who keep faith. Even though it took decades to get some of the major buildings restored from the smallest fragments, it finally happened and some of the former beauty survived and it certainly was a privilege to see the city so lovely and alive…
Dresden Castle, which was one of the oldest buildings in the city, was on our left and looked so enigmatically beautiful.
Semperoper, a concert hall, looked just amazing. SAM_1813
Zwinger, a breathtaking palace complex, was on our right and we had a chance to see its courtyards later on. Those three buildings seemed to dominate the square. It was really fascinating to be listening to our tour guide who spoke a very nice Russian even though she looked and behaved so German. She seemed to love her city a lot and happy to share some of its history with us.
We were shown the Procession of Princes (Fürstenzug) which was a 102-m long mural which showed the rulers of Saxony in chronological order. That was made of the famous Meisen porcelain… I wish I could get a porcelain item but I knew I wouldn’t probably be able to afford it… But Dresden is big on porcelain and that’s a fact. I wish we could have more time to take a closer look at the wall and learn more about the history of the city we were visiting…
But we had to move further on along the narrow streets of the city centre… There were again almost no one here except us and that certainly made our visit feel even more magical… Then we got to see the building which I had only heard and read about for my German exams… That was Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche), an astonishing piece of architecture which again dominated the city’s skyline after it was completely restored several years ago. That was absolutely breathtaking and I never had any idea how magnificent it was!
We took a walk of some more of the area and saw some fancy hotels in one of which if I remember correctly Barack Obama was staying… We also noticed some Soviet-era pictures on some buildings and that was a reminder for us of where we came from…
As the tour guide continued her story, we wandered into the courtyard of Zwinger which again made us feel as if we were royalty taking a leisurely stroll of the lovely garden… The entire area looked so green and Dresden is said to be one of the greenest cities of Europe and I guess this was not by chance I was wearing green that day so that I looked really nice in the setting. All those fountains (I have a passion for those) and pavillions made it all just a brilliant experience and Europe was feeling almost like home to me… That was all so refined but in no way pompous and that certainly appealed to me.
At the end of our excursion we were to visit the Old Masters’ Gallery (Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister) featuring one of the world’s most acclaimed paintings “Sistine Madonna” by Raphael which celebrated its 500th anniversary in 2012. This is why there were pictures of her everywhere we went. The gallery was in Semperoper which was a part of the State Art Collection (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden) that included eleven more museums which we certainly weren’t lucky to visit that day.
On our way to Dresden, we were told by the guide tour to look into Madonna’s eyes because these are the eyes that are said to haunt you forever once you look into them. So I was really looking forward to experiencing the painting first-hand. Even though I’m not an art enthusiast, I was so excited to be visiting one of the world’s most significant collection of art and seeing some of the paintings I previously saw in pictures come alive… I know some people might find art tedious and boring and think it has nothing to do with the lives that ordinary people are living, I, for one, think we need art in our lives just the way our body needs energy to become stronger and more resilient. Art can fuel our souls and like a remedy makes both emotional and physical wounds heal… And it doesn’t matter if most of us don’t really have the appreciation of art and are totally confused and perplexed by those works of art and genuinely have no idea what the fuss is all about… We may come to understand what seemed pointless at some point… What we need to do is open our eyes to beautiful things and let them change the way we are… Some of the pictures we saw were extraordinarily beautiful and impressive and I could feel beauty and art walk into my life and soul… “Sleeping Venus” by Giorgione, “The Tribute Money” by Titian, “Chocolate Girl” by Jean-Etienne Liotard (I have a magnet of it), “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” by Johannes Vermeer…, etc. That must have been enough to blow the mind of an art enthusiast away… It felt as if we and all the people that were there to enjoy (or at least trying to understand) the art were one big eye… I don’t even know why I should bring that up but I remember seeing a teenage gay couple taking a tour of the gallery too… I think the fact that amongst all this exquisite beauty me and I believe some more people from our group happened to notice them and admittedly got a bit disgusted at the view (even though I’m not homophobic) suggests how way behind the rest of the developed world we are… I should think that wasn’t by chance that I saw them at that place… We were close to the highlight of our visit which was Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna”. That was a massive painting and crowds of people were standing looking at it. To be perfectly honest, as much as I persevered in looking into her eyes, I can’t say I was astonished or felt her look back at me which I expected would have happened if there was something I saw in those troubled eyes… I didn’t know it before the guide told us that they were troubled at all… She provided some commentary which certainly did help me to get a better understanding of what the idea behind the painting was… That had a distinct religious message and which might have been what put me off. But I was happy I was given a chance to lay my eyes on the real Madonna and get exposed to art in a way that was absolutely new and magical to me.
When the tour of the gallery was over, we could stay there for s bit longer and take a closer look at the collection which was structured using different colours of the walls. The beauty of art was just a glance away from us and that felt surreal… That was really educational and for the time I spent in there I felt a better or at least a more intellectual person who chose not to be ignorant…. The whole collection was not as large as we expected and we tried to take a moment to look at each of the paintings which might have been our way of showing our appreciation of what was indisputably amazing. It was a bit confusing to see the cherubs from “Sistine Madonna” (those two whose figures are distinctly seen in the painting) enjoy a glory of their own and were featured in bottles of champagne, magnets, ash trays… It made me assume people might not take this piece of painting seriously despite all those glowing reviews it got… Anyway, it was something I really failed to understand…
It was time for us to leave the gallery which was truly wonderful. We were now on a mission to get that missing part of me, i.e. a new mp3 player…
I knew this might be a problem as my German wasn’t up to a high standard which I suspected would be required in purchasing a technical device… How on earth would I be explaining what kind of a player I was looking for? I felt I wasn’t ready to rise up to the challenge. That must have been the fact that I had a degree in German which as surprising and strange as it may seem, made me feel so insecure. But we were definitely looking forward to checking out Altmarkt which was one of the biggest shopping venues of the city. I think that wasn’t too long before I found what I thought was perfect for me in terms of the price and technical features but I knew there were certain things I needed to get more details on and I walked up to a shop assistant hoping she spoke English. I’m ashamed to admit that was a bit scary to go out there and do what I’ve been learning to do for years and years. At that moment I had a feeling there was no language in the world I was fluent in and I knew I would be a disaster. I asked the shop assistant if I could take a closer look at the player and all I heard her say was “Ich verstehe Englisch nicht” (I don’t understand English). It was so embarrassing! Looking back, I realize I could have tried to speak German with her and might have been a success but I think I was caught up in the moment and had my mind go blank… Then my friend who also has a degree in German made an attempt to talk to another shop assistant because now my sister decided she needed to buy something. We couldn’t believe we were so terrible! We couldn’t understand a word he was saying! We love to believe that was his accent that prevented us from understanding him. For a moment I felt I was English and no one around me understoood my tongue… Overwhelmed with the sense of guilt and shame, we made our way to the check-out counter and thought this is where we should put it to end and rely on the quality of German products and purchase them without „ausprobieren“ (testing) them. If only we had thought of this word before a woman at the check-out counter said it… We understood everything she was saying and that made us feel a little better about ourselves… We still had a long way to go when it came to German… A visit to the shop which taught us to face our fears was a perfect motivation to improve our knowledge… And of course I got a new mp3 player which I’m still really happy about. We spent some more time just wandering the shopping center which looked pretty much like those we have back home except it didn’t feel too crowded and you didn’t get people giving you weird looks for no reason the way they do in Russia.
All we had time for was a meal… And we felt we needed it badly at that point… We were hoping to get to try some of German specialties such as Bratwurst (fry sausage), Currywurst (a roasted pork sausage) and of course beer which we didn’t get to try the day before in Berlin. We were disappointed not to find anything but some traditional food that we could eat back home. There was a stall which seemed to have some German food on sale but it didn’t look trustworthy. Now we regret not having bought something from it because I don’t think we could have got a food poisoning in the centre of Dresden. I think that was just our Russian thinking taking over us. So we ended up getting some pasta and beer which were just delicious! What we noticed about restaurants and cafes in Germany is that a waiter doesn’t not go back to get the bill but they wait for you to pay it straght away … First we couldn’t understand why she didn’t leave after she brought the bill and thought there was something wrong with us that made us look not trustworthy… Only later did we find out why….
We had some little more time in Dresden. We got back from where we started. I was sitting there on the stairs holding on to a bag with my new mp3 player looking at Dresden Castle, Semperoper, Zwinger and that incredibly blue sky and was wishing for nothing like what Dresden had to go through back in 1945 to happen to it ever again. Will this beauty be able to stand another test? Now that I’ve seen it, I felt responsible and really cared about what was right in front of my eyes… Germany was the country I’d love to spend more time in. I couldn’t believe that was all going to end there and a view of Dresden castle against the blue sky and that iconic view of Dresden by night would be all I have left of Dresden… Well, I shouldn’t forget a new mp3 player of course… Everytime I turn it on, I feel the memory of this city revoke in my mind.
I’ve made so many beautiful memories in Germany and surprisingly got to love German just for the fact for those two days I’d been walking the streets which were injected with German. I also learnt to be more optimistic and know that if something goes missing, you can find a way to replace it and if there’s that accent you don’t understand, there will be one which will be so much easier to understand.