Varna. Day 3

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Another beautiful morning just by the Black Sea with some seagulls making appearance again right behind our window! I wouldn’t mind having them with me so much more in my life! It looked as a perfect day for swimming! At last! I wanted to think of it as a part of some celestial conspiracy that I hadn’t been able to give the sea all of my attention during the first two days because if I had, I’m not sure that the previous days would have happened as they turned out to. Yes, there is not enough sea in my life for sure! We all have that one thing we want more of in our daily lives. Deep down we are not entirely sure whether actually having it would benefit our lives as much as we think it would but the thought of wanting to having it is sublime in itself! It was time to grab my swimming suit and live, forget about all body confidence issues and everything – the sea will take me as I am!

Another breakfast that consisted of totally the same food accompanied by more people-watching. It was so nice to watch people on their way through the sea garden down to the sea. A holiday vibe is so contagious and happiness seems so easy to reach – just grab your swimming suit, sun protection and umbrella and go to the sea – you are set to enjoy life! We’d better be done with the breakfast! Ok, now we are on our way as well! This is what we originally had come here for! The sea! It’s there glistening in the lazy sunlight! It all seems so elaborate first – walking to the beach, finding a nice place to get settled there, changing into your swimming suit… It’s all until you feel your feet stepping on the hot sand and then… you feel the sea against your skin. There’s something so intimate and sensual about this, as if going back somewhere you belong or finally reaching this place where your feeling of happiness is secure… It’s a funny thing that I can’t swim so yes, I have to be on alert and that somehow keeps me from making the most of my time with the sea and I can’t let it take control. I do this funny thing I do, which is to lick my skin to make sure the water is really salty. Yes, it certainly is! Isn’t that something I was yearning to do as I was struggling to get through what is just a typical day of my life… Now I had my prize! I’m here in the Black Sea in Bulgaria! Who would have thought it would happen!

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Of course as you are in the sea doing whatever you feel comfortable doing, you can’t help noticing the people around you because we are all sharing the same happiness of being here! It’s interesting to watch them experiencing this happiness in different ways. Just lounging in the sun doing quite nothing embracing your laziness but feeling so quintessentially alive! Luckily, there were almost no Russian people there (we can spot each other especially when it’s another lady sizing you up – a very Russian and annoying thing to do). I can alternate  being in the sea, pensively sitting by it, listening to it, looking at it fascinated by how it has this power to draw us all – to where we belong, to where we want to be.

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Someone who thinks of the sea as of just a place to cool off on a sultry summer day is going to hate me for all of my sappy sentiments. Yes, seeing life through my lenses might seem like that and trust me, it’s not always easy for me either… Now Varna was all about the sea and what was outside it didn’t matter so much. We felt like recharging a few hours later because there is this kind of vague fatigue that being at the sea gives you. Maybe we should take happiness slowly. It was so liberating and a bit cheeky to be walking back through the Sea Garden feeling the wetness of my swimming costume against my skin that felt as if there was a bomb of molecules of sultry warmth that was waiting to go off and leave me with a feeling of being pleased. Not even caring to zip my shoes completely and hearing its laces hitting the ground as I walk…

We were back and everything was still there – the Festival and Congress Hall on the right, Одесос Hotel (reminding me of the Ukrainian seaside city of Odessa that shared some of its past with Varna) on the left. It wasn’t too posh or chic but it was fine – such a great way to feel about life, it’s just there at this moment being lived and enjoyed! We went back to the hotel to regain the sense of a more ordinary life and I was stunned when I saw myself in the mirror with this sultry suntan the afternoon at the seaside had given me! I had no regrets at all and the impact it might have on my skin was the last thing on my mind!Sometimes in life you just have to let go of whatever you feel keeps you in control…

What followed was a lovely late lunch at this same place where we had it on our first day here. This turned out to be a Spanish restaurant called Bodega. Why would I ever have thought it was Greek… Anyway, I was sitting there sipping on my amazing Spannish wine making travelling plans for the future. There is this zest for life that travellling gives you…  Here comes my paella – so delicious! And for my sister something she calls the best fish she’d ever tried! Big cheers to Bulgaria, Spain, Greece and wherever we were hoping to have our zest for life fuelled again… It might have not been a typical Bulgarian experience because that got me thinking that in this battle for which comes closer to a more civilized lifestyle, Bulgaria was the unanimous winner for me that afternoon. Then I heard a group of girls having a conversation in English. None of them seemed to speak it as their native language but the things they said were so emotionally charged and mature… I was thinking of my students back home and where our education is going… You never know where these thoughts are going to hit you but that’s when you start having your life in perspective in a way you can’t back home. I also felt jealous of these girls – they are sitting here in this country, which doesn’t seem home to any of them, having their lives ahead of them, travelling the world and connecting through the bridge English had built for them…

We walked around the central squire a bit more and ended up spending the evening doing a bit more swimming and then watching the sea as it started feeling a bit too cold (it has a more sensual edge when it does and you want every little minute with it). We couldn’t help heading to the same Sea Terrace restaurant for a late-evening dinner. This fish and wine… We must have had too much of the latter or it was just a part of some other conspiracy, but we ended up getting a bit lost on our way out of the sea garden that was again bustling with life staying true to its upbeat nature… We took one wrong turn and ended up somewhere that didn’t seem like anything we’d seen. The winding paths in the park… Again and again – was it that big? What I saw further ahead of me was not the coloured Asparuhov Bridge that I wanted to see but the dome of what looked like a stadium. My sister’s reaction to the Pantheon Monument commemorating the fascism victims as she was spitting the curses at me blaming me for us getting here was priceless. It was something like “Look, so what the hell is that?” Now I can laugh about it but at the time I felt a mixture of confusion and guilt (to the monument). I wasn’t really alarmed, I knew we had to keep walking to the left and that seemed like the only way back out of here. The park was almost deserted and those few people we asked weren’t really able to help. I wasn’t alarmed by that either (just a tiny bit probably) and kept walking listening to the mighty Russian swear words. I was even fine if we had to stay out here till the sun went up but I doubted we would. After what seemed an eternity of walking through a dimly lit part of the park, we found ourselves in what looked like the part of Boris I Boulevard we hadn’t visited yet. Now we were fine but why are curses still on for me? Well, whatever. It’s funny that the waiters of the restaurants lining up the street weren’t able to tell us exactly how far we were from Slivnitsa Street… As I saw the huge building of Cherno More Hotel, I knew we were there. My sister was feeling all anxious as if she had just escaped death… Am I going to be like this as well in a few years? All the things she says to me at times like those always leave me feeling frustrated but I know I would soon get on top of them somehow. For me, it was an experience and I knew I would be writing about it and I am! The stray dog (but microchipped as all of the dogs in the area were) was a source of solace and comfort for my sister that night as she was hugging it so tightly that the elderly man that we saw hanging out here previously playing a harmonica was standing there struck at the level of connection they both had! His posture was just priceless! Am I still too young to understand all of that… Anyway, I just had to let all those feeling sink in and go to bed wait till we would laugh about it tomorrow. The sea is still there!

Varna. Day 2

It is amazing to wake up to seagulls making weird sounds outside your window and knowing that right there to the left you have the Black Sea even if you can’t see it from up here! The only thing is that it’s a bit cloudy… We were to have breakfast at the same café where we had it the day before when we had just arrived. It was a bit confusing because the staff didn’t seem to speak any English (I guess Russian neither) and we didn’t know we would only need to have to wait to be served. I asked for some cheese (yes, I am a huge cheese lover) and heard something that would break an English teacher’s heart, which went like this “How many cheese?”. Well, this person should have been happy he wasn’t in my class! I have to say that the famous Bulgarian brined cheese didn’t taste too nice and to me didn’t seem like cheese at all. It was just unpleasantly salty. The coffee was average but what made for a beautiful experience was being able to watch different people walking by and noticing that older Bulgarians do look similar to their Russian counterparts and younger people look more European. That was a nice soft duvet with equally soft pillows and of the course on the right – the Sea Garden and the Black Sea! Slivnitsa Street would accumulate lots of memories of our time here in Varna… As it was still cloudy, we decided we would do something I said I had to do on a seaside holiday, which was exploring the city as if there was no sea here. Of course it would be challenging because being the seaside capital of Bulgaria, Varna had a lot to do with the sea but discovering was what we opted to do.

Bulgarian roses have to be one of the largest tourist magnets here. No, you wouldn’t see roses in the streets of Varna but you can smell them in the air! Especially in the air as moist as it was on our first morning here. Roses are beautiful flowers and I might seem a bit old-fashioned when I say that women should be given them as a manifestation of affection. There is so much to choose from to suit any lady because they come in different colours and even shapes. I don’t believe it when someone tells me they don’t like to be given flowers. Yes, I might be typically Russian when I also say that roses feel a little more confidence-boosting when they are given by a man but even if you buy them for yourself, they are nice! We must love ourselves at the end of the day! Varna hadn’t struck me as incredibly romantic (for the moment it seemed just nice) so this wasn’t this aspect of these flowers that they explored but as a country, which is largely agricultural and rural, Bulgaria managed to become the leader of the rose-growing industry and actually about 85% of the world’s rose oil is produced here. Not so romantic especially given that statistically speaking, one needs about four tons of roses to produce a kilo of rose oil! Yes, so many roses could have made ladies happy… But they still do in the shape of beautifully-smelling products such as soap, shower gel, rose water, creams, perfume, etc. That was the smell that brought us to a “Rose of Bulgaria” shop just across the corner in Boris I Boulevard, a pedestrianized shopping street of Varna. It felt as if we were in the Rose Valley itself! All these products were reasonably priced! We would find ourselves dropping in this shop quite often while here in Varna.

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Now we were walking further along this street and yes, that was when I was starting to realize there were things to explore in the fellow Slavic country as well. All these houses looking you straight in the face. Of course there wasn’t an imposing pomp about them that you are very likely to see in central or Western Europe. There was something intimate or even overlooked in this street which to me seemed to have a little Turkish feel as well. The pinkish building of the Drama Theatre seemed quite typical of other Bulgarian theatres I’d seen in photos. An Art Nouveau mansion, St.Nicholas seamen’s church (yes, we can’t forget about the sea) and nothing reminding of the Soviet era in fact! As the street was lined with shops, we decided to check out one as a pair of shoes in the shop window really caught my eye! Yes, red was becoming my favourite colour. I ended up getting two pairs of red shoes and a bag to match! Yes, I now believe that these things are amazing memories of a trip just as much so as souvenirs. What else boosts a woman’s confidence more than a bit of a shopping spree? Yes, I came out of this shop feeling a bit happier to be alive (not that I wasn’t already even though I was in a seaside city covered with clouds).

 

Having walked a bit further down the street, we found ourselves right in front of Varna’s iconic sight – the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Holy Mother in St. Cyril and St. Methodius (names very familiar to all Slavs as they were the ones who started the Cyrillic alphabet, the alphabet of our Russians’ and Bulgarians’ hearts). To a Slavic person from an Orthodox country, there was nothing surprising about this church, apart from the palm trees surrounding it. We decided we would explore it more a bit later but decided to rest in front of a monument to Tsar Kaloyan of Bulgaria who restored the Bulgarian empire in the 12th century. There is certainly a lot we Slavs have in common because by merely having a look at this monument, I remembered about stories telling the tales of the Slavic tsars and their conquests. I was happy we were probably the last generation that was read books to and then read them themselves! It’s so great that apart from our suitcases, we bring all of this luggage in our heads along with us on our trips. You never know where your mind is going to take you on a trip!

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It was quite a dull and cloudy afternoon and we decided to have some lunch and go back to Boris I Boulevard where there was a cosy café with home-made Bulgarian food. Yes, we might not savour the process of eating food like they do in Italy, for example, but we love to make sure we serve plenty! That is a very Slaviс thing! We had something similar to what we call «окрошка» (summer soup) and Bulgarians call it таратор (tarator). We wouldn’t have to explain to them what it is we eat a lot during summer! We also had some chicken in cream (also a lot like back home). It was nice to be sitting here with a view of the St.Nicholas seamen’s church watching some construction work nearby.

We got hold of our first Balkan souvenirs on the way back to the hotel and I particularly enjoyed seeing the national costumes, similar to Russian ones but with a little local touch (which is so subtle that you actually need to be physically in a country to properly feel). It was still cloudy and there was even some rain. No swimming today again, I guess. Right, so that should be a day of exploring the streets of Varna without the sea getting all our attention. We first got back to the Cathedral in search of a post-office for me to post some postcards back to Russia. I think it’s such a beautiful tradition to follow to share a piece of your happiness and whatever other complex emotions you might be having at the moment! That was when we got a taste of the shared Soviet past. The building seemed quite old and the service was slow – very familiar! Now we were in the administrative area of Varna with a big building saying «Община Варна» (The Varna Administration). Yes, it was a bit strange knowing that technically we were in another country but we could read the signs! I would never find out what they seem like to most people in the world! It’s like a little secret we were let into just on the right of birth! There were some fountains and palm trees here in front of the administrative building. Yes, the streets looked rather dull it being a cloudy day and had no charm that is there regardless of the weather. We saw a little protestation right there but had no idea what brought the protestors here. An Evangelic church in the corner…

We did eventually got back to the sea in the late afternoon and it started raining really heavily! We were able to get almost the same seat we had the evening before and we didn’t really care that the rainwater came dripping all over the table driven by the wind. We really didn’t mind that unlike an elderly couple that had to change their table. For us it was part of the beauty I guess to see the sea during a storm. Sitting there with an endless grey mass in front of you dancing along to every gust of wind! It’s something that has to be experienced at least once in a lifetime! If you love someone, you have to see them in all kinds of different states and yes, the sea can be like that as well! Beautiful wine again, a nice fish salad and divine fish that we didn’t know we had ordered both as a snack along with fries and as an individual dish! Now when you say fish, that’s the fish I think about! Really amazing fried Bulgarian fish, really small and absolutely mouth-watering! This taste and smell will haunt us forever! Who says that TV travel shows are a cheap alternative to actual travelling is stupid!

It was time for another evening walk (still in our light jackets) and the weather was improving a bit. What is it about a Bulgarian night that takes lots of handsome Bulgarians out? It’s still a mystery to me! There were lots of people lounging in bars, clubs but the whole scene seemed quite peaceful and great for people-watching. There was inspiration in the air again and you don’t have too get rowdy to have a good time being out at night! More midnight people-watching just across the road from the hotel. What the central Varna certainly seemed to be was perfectly safe! Good night and let’s dream of some swimming for the next day!

Слънчева България (Sunny Bulgaria) Introduction and Day 1

As amazing and uplifting as travelling can be and as many beautiful and spiritually enriching things as it is capable of generating, it certainly needs something purely material to make it possible, i.e. money. If it wasn’t for this fact that let’s just say has to be accepted, we might have never ended up going to Bulgaria. I’m aware of it possibly sounding too harsh and probably dismissing the capacity of this whole land,  like any other in the entire world, to generate what I said above. In a way I guess I can say I should be grateful to this restraining power of money that presented me with a chance to discover where I might have never gone at all if that power for me at that point hadn’t been fairly strong.

What we originally wanted was to get away in the first place and it was a sea coast where we felt like being empowered, enchanted, fascinated (the list goes on). To hear, to see, to feel in a totally new way. I religiously and thus in a way compulsively believe in an entrancing power of the seaside to revitalize and yes, to empower. I think we all need some sea in our lives just like we need revitalization. What seemed genuinely unfair to me was that I hadn’t had a proper seaside holiday ever in my life! I had a quick peek at the Meditarrenean and what it did was to make me want revitalization that I felt so painfully short of back then even worse. The power of money and the power of my desire to feel a more lingering touch of the sea on my skin both thrown into the equation… Is there any feasible solution to this one? I’m really happy we were able to find it and yes, that was Bulgaria.

What do we actually know about this country? As akin as it naturally seems to us, all we know is that the now Russian famous singer Filip Kirkorov comes from Bulgaria and that we have a type of pepper here that we call “Bulgarian”. That doesn’t sound too much, does it? That does seem harsh to this land after all. I think it felt just wrong to me to go to the country that yes, doesn’t really seem too foreign to us here without researching a bit on its history also to see if what we thought we had in common is really there or if there is more that drives us apart. I honestly had no doubts that it would be so much more than just like a former communist state (what I don’t understand is whether we take pride in the fact or do we feel relieved by feeling we had so many fellows in misery?) It had its long and turbulent history, and communism is one of its relatively new chapters which understandably resonates with us the most. All in all, what I expected to be exposed to was a bizarre mixture of Orthodox, Turkish influences (I would not have learned that about the Ottoman rule) and communist flavours, which we know for a fact are not easily dissolvable. I started feeling a little bit patronizing but also somehow affectionate to this land like I would to a younger sibling I never had. I felt a bit responsible for this newer chapter in the history of the country that never really had a chance to stand on its own driven by the ambition of others just to be pushed to the background when needed. That was the feeling I was getting of Bulgaria back home. It was becoming interesting indeed to see if that feeling would transform into something different as we go there in pursuit of a seaside holiday that we could not afford to spend too much on. Yes, that was all about money in the beginning but I guess in a way its restraining power can turn out to be empowering as well. Well, when it comes to travelling anyway, because it’s where that something that we religiously and compulsively believe in might become a religion on its own or… be thrown out of the window to be transformed into another religion or merely disappear. So is Bulgaria almost like a home (a Slavic sibling to be respected and cared about in time of need) or is it actually capable of standing on its own and not as Slavic as we (like to) think? We knew we had to go and find out. Yes, doing that in the seaside capital of Bulgaria would add a revitalizing touch to this endeavour. Varna, here we come!

Getting to Moscow and navigating our way through the Domodedovo airport went really smoothly and this time the whole excitement of getting on the plane wasn’t as intense as it was the first time round. I think one can actually get used to being able to get from A to B really quickly by lending a pair of metal wings. It was just fine, the way something you feel comfortable doing is supposed to feel. It was a pretty short fly and here we were! Of course the first thing you see when you arrive in a new country is an airport. The one in Varna didn’t strike me as foreign at all because guess what retained the feeling of home for me? The Cyrillic alphabet! If our native language is the language of our heart, this alphabet for me should be the alphabet of my heart, the one engraved on it forever. It’s not that I was longing for home but it was a very interesting feeling to explore when you are somewhere new but at the same time there is that huge chunk of home that is just there. I was looking to experiencing that. I shouldn’t have but I was surprised to hear the customer officer speaking Russian to me asking me how long I was going to be here for. I said both “неделю” (for a week) and “семь дней” (for seven days). Well, linguists are horrible on holiday, aren’t there? Using this short encounter to explore the differences between Russian and Bulgarian words and ponder them shortly afterwards was what I did anyway… The signs are everywhere and… I could actually read them all! That was a funny feeling indeed! They looked and read really welcoming and got me ready to embrace the Bulgarian hospitality in the hot Bulgarian sun!

The reason why we chose to go to Варна (Varna) instead of more popular seaside resorts like  Златни пясыци (Golden Sands) was that the last thing we wanted was to be surrounded by packs of fellow travellers especially those from our own country who, just like us, might have come here driven by the power of money (or rather not too much of it). Varna seemed like a perfect option for us as rather than being a tourist-oriented resort, it was just a city where there happened to be the sea. I am not particulaswbrly a fan of spending days on end just basking in the sun and swimming in the sea which seems like the only things you can do in a typical seaside resort. We want more authenticity to give us more of a taste of local life. So this is how we ended up going to Varna.

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When we exited the airport, we couldn’t actually see the Black Sea yet but we could somehow feel it. I don’t really know whether it was our imagination or there was something quite tangible in the air. We got on the bus which was supposed to take us to the city centre. We had a bit of a difficulty trying to say where exactly we were going (what about this Cyrillic alphabet?). Well, this is when we should remember to distinguish between letters and sounds. This certainly brings out a language teacher in me because I often find myself having to explain the difference between the two to my students. Russian and Bulgarian sounds didn’t seem like siblings at all, more like stepsiblings I should believe… As we drove further into the suburbs, I was really shocked and remembered some people warning me that Varna might seem like an average Russian city in the 1990s. Well, I’m sorry to say that now but at the moment it certainly felt like one. I was starting to relate to Filip Kirkorov and understood why he decided to get out of here. The streets seem really dull and I was doubting whether I was still treating Bulgaria as a sibling that I thought my visit could rescue. It certainly needed help but was I the one to give it? That feeling was so striking because that had been the first time I actually had it while travelling. Of course disappointment is something that you have to deal with whatever you do but it felt like something really major. Did we really make a mistake by choosing to come here?

We somehow managed to get off at the bus stop we needed and that part of the city did felt a bit nicer. It was about 9 a.m. and there weren’t many people walking by. We found our hotel quite fast. The ladies at the reception were quite nice and yes, we could speak Russian with them, which I was surprised to find comforting because as a linguist, I find it very fascinating to watch people speak my language and the way they use because it gives me a feel of how native speakers of English feel about me when I speak English. Unfortunately we weren’t able to check in before 2 p.m. and had to leave our bags and walk around in the meantime. My sister was getting grumpy and I know she would hate me for bringing that up again and again and even though I know I can get like that as well, sometimes it really drives me crazy. Maybe that’s a part of having a strong personality but my weaker personality just falls a victim to it time and time again. She wasn’t happy at all and given that  initial impression of Varna, I felt my own agitation escalating as well. I thought we needed some coffee to recharge after the night we’d spent at the airport. Well, to be honest, a morning coffee makes no difference to how I would be feeling throughtout the day but I know my sister thinks it does for her so I pretended I needed it as well. There were a few cafes just across the road from our hotel and we checked out one. The service wasn’t too fast and I think deep down inside I even blamed the waiter for seeming a bit reluctant to serve us (it totally felt like home) and not even remotely handsome (that felt even more like home). Filip Kirkorov was so right to leave… I decided to try the Bulgarian specialty – the Shopska salad which consists of a lot of vegetables and brine cheese. It was quite nice actually, but my sister wouldn’t want to have any. I was trying to be optimistic and thinking about this pedestrianized area of Varna as a place where we will try to be happy in the following seven days. “Just give it a chance!’, I thought. One negative experience didn’t have to ruin it all for us. There was one beautiful thing on the right, just a short walk through  Приморският парк (Sea Garden) and that was… the Black Sea. Yes, we have a part of it in Russia and as a Russian, I was supposed to have seen it at least once but I hadn’t. This is why when I see the sea, it is like reuniting with the love I was supposed to met but never did. This is why I can’t get enough when I finally do… The sea, the sea! I just hate it when my sister sees a kid in me but I had to exaggerate a bit on my enthusiasm for her to stop ruining it for her and me of course. The Sea Garden felt deserted at that hour. Here we are! The sea, the sea! I don’t think I actually care what sea exactly that is, I just love it, in all its shapes and colours – isn’t that an unconditional love? We got a glimpse of the beach. Yes, it wasn’t too fancy but you get what you pay for. The times are tough, they really are… At least that was our first seaside holiday and we don’t have much to compare it with. “Look, the sea!” We went up some stairs and I could see it properly! My happiness for the week to come! Of course I can’t feel completely pleased when I see my sister being that unhappy and saying that we should have chosen a shorter holiday somewhere nicer instead. I felt I could agree with her on that because she’s the one who is the wiser of us two and I don’t dare question that but on the other hand, I couldn’t be as understanding as I was supposed to towards my older sibling because I had the sea around me! How could one possibly complain in a setting like this? We don’t even have time to be unhappy here! Yes, the park had a certain Soviet-era feel to it and everything about it did and yes, people seemed more like those we have at home and we don’t like that even though we are inevitably one of them anyway. I just started to take photos of random things in the hope that they would become just something for us to smile about some time later.

It was time to get some lunch and I was praying it would be a satisfactory experience for my sister. Yes, our breakfast had proved to be a bit tougher on our pockets than we expected it would here but we needed to look around more anyway. We came back to the same central street which was getting busier around that time. To me it looked and seemed like a Greek restaurant and yes, we were not too far from Greece. For the first course we were served what seemed a quite unusual but a great way to cool off – a melon soup! It tasted actually nice and seemed a very fine appetizer! Some nice vegetable rice and wine! Wine can do it all, it was divine! That wasn’t probably a typical Bulgarian experience but I hope it wasn’t the reason why I loved it!

Now that we’d had a look at where our lives would be gravitating around the following seven days, it was about time to go back to our hotel. The room we had looked really nice and spacious. I was ready to hit the beach just after I’d got changed but my sister wasn’t. It was getting cloudy and I was hating it but what can you do about it? I was trying to be optimistic and I guess it should be a crime not to be while on holiday. I was itching to leave the hotel room as soon as possible! Hey, there should be no rain because I’m finally here at the seaside! A while later, after experiencing a few problems with the door that I had to go down to the reception desk to ask to fix on my sister’s request who wasn’t happy with the post-Soviet service. I was happy the lady at the reception desk could understand my Russian (it’s hard to control what you are saying in your native language and how much of it is actually understood by foreigners). There turned out to be nothing wrong with the door!

Now that we had settled in in our new home, it was time to properly look around. It started feeling nicer in fact. The beach area with palms, lounges and music playing. It was just fine now.

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And now, here it goes! The Black Sea! The sand! I can now come down to say a big hello! This is where you forget everything except that you are alive and you are happy and you have the whole week to be so! As it had just been raining, almost no one was swimming and the beach wasn’t crowded. I phoned our parents just to let hear the sound of… the sea! Just to let them know we are certainly happy! It’s amazing how a quite short flight can take you to where you know are! It wasn’t an ecstatic feeling, it was just a very serene and relieving feeling to be here and to hear…

 

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There is a dog to boost my sister’s happiness and I was happy it came along (whatever or whoever to keep her happy).

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Of course I can’t help noticing a quite fine Bulgarian man in his boat at the sea (well, he actually looks better than Kirkorov!).

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We could sit here till the evening starting settling in.

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On the left we noticed a very nice-looking café, which was a two-storeyed building just there on the sand overlooking the sea! It was getting busy and we didn’t expect to get a seat, but we did! Wow! I thought you had to be a movie star to find yourself somewhere up like this! It felt as if we were on the upper deck of a ship gliding across the sea when in fact we were motionless. We deserved it, and so does every human whose live is inevitably constituted of a large amount of routine that sometimes makes us lose touch with what we are.

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Let’s just forget everything and pronounce a toast (but let’s not forget what my job is and try to figure out what language the people seated at the next table are speaking – probably Romanian)! It was just beautiful – a tasty wine, good English spoken by the staff… Can you actually get tired of drinking wine and watching the sea as the sun is going down ..? The meal was just amazing and seemed more typically Bulgarian now! The prices were actually fine as well especially for a place with a view like this!

Now it is time to go back to the hotel for a bit, text our parents to say we are in bed (at 9 p.m.!) and check out the nightlife and do some people-watching. There’s certainly a part of me that tells me I still hadn’t experienced too much nightlife when I was probably supposed to… I expected it would be a loud chaotic night as it could be at a seaside town but it wasn’t really. Now I can see and hear the people of Bulgaria! Yes, women here made me question again what I now tend to dismiss as a stereotype which says Russian women are the most beautiful… There should be something to it because somehow I always feel uglier than I normally do on a holiday. Beautiful dresses with a very subtle Turkish touch and very feminine. What we are not good at is looking feminine, beautiful and reasonably confident. The reason for it is probably because we don’t have such men! They weren’t bad at all! No, quite nice actually! Well, I was still feeling about Bulgaria as a younger Slavic sibling and siblings share because sharing is caring. Did it forget about the big Slavic sibling? That might be someone working in an all-female environment in a city heavily overpopulated with women in a country with a dramatic disproportion of men and women, but I do think women need men, just like poets need muses, to make us feel a bit better about life and ourselves with us being able to be in control how far (or anywhere at all) we are ready to let these feelings take us. It might be a feministic view, not very typical of Russia. I’m not 100% Russian when it comes to men, I’m afraid. The only issue with Bulgarian men was that just like us, Russian women (here I guess I am totally Russian), they don’t come across confident as if they don’t realize they could actually be good muses (probably this is why they walk in crowds of four or more…) I felt sorry for me, just like I would for a younger sibling… A beautiful night, our first one here in Bulgaria in this sea garden which was now having some of its fountains lit and it was all very busy even though it was midnight – children playing, couples walking… Yes, I’m not the one loving to be out at night… Just sitting on a bench hearing conflicting sounds of music coming out of bars and clubs. More people-watching just across the road from the hotel and more crowds of men. Now Bulgaria is sharing inspiration and I can get used to that. The first night at the hotel – a magic feeling of spending a night somewhere new knowing that this somewhere new has the sea for you to wake up to in the morning. We are humans, we deserve that!

Goodbye, Praha

The final morning in the city of Prague… Do I need to mention I was getting the blues? We were still smiling about someone we assumed could be American singing his heart away. Secretly I was wondering what a nightlife in Prague is like… At breakfast we saw a few Italians (I salute you guys, always and ever!). That brought back memories of my trip to Rome. That trip was soon going to become a memory as well. I was fascinated by the sound of the Italian language. It doesn’t take much to get me fascinated, does it? I could sit there listening to them for way longer. We had to check out and so did the group of Italians. They seemed to be having a problem with their credit card and my sister observed that nowhere is a perfect place to live and things that get us annoyed on a daily basis back home are common here as well… It took the receptionist quite a while to sort this problem out. He got all apologetic and did it in Russian, which I guess wasn’t an easy thing to do for him. My sister happened to use a colloquial word for “train station” as she was asking him for directions there. It was funny because he didn’t seem to understand what she was going on about. I love these little precious moments of linguistic misunderstandings, I treasure them in my memory! Is the sky getting clear? Why did it have to wait till today? Right, I know there will be no answer to this. Another walk through the Charles Bridge under the clear blue skies… Someone up above had certainly conspired to reinforce my pain of partying with Prague. Or was it just showing me its new colour to welcome me back somewhere down the line…?

One thing I knew for sure was that I would never forget that walk and neither would I all the others…

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We popped into a bookstore right at the Charles Bridge and it was a beautiful retreat despite us having very little money left.

 

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Now it was time to feed the swans (no, not with sausages). They are really greedy creatures and one of them was so impatient that it bit my finger. I kept thinking about them eating sausages and kept giggling. The views of the bridge and the Vltava got me into a pensive mood… It was a bit too chilly to sit on that bench a little longer but it was enough to make the feelings I was having last… I was ready for life to go back to a full swing, I was ready for spring!

 

Now we were off to Prague’s narrowest street which was just near the Čertovka (Devil’s Channel), Prague’s little version of Venice. Unfortunately it was closed for a reason unknown to us. Well, it wasn’t meant to be then.

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Let’s just walk then along more “regular” streets of Prague. We ventured to the other side of the bridge and I wished we had a few days before. The architectural details of the buildings were splendid! I guess we failed to find Nerudova Street famous for its house symbols as my sister was getting impatient. We walked back along the other side of the bridge when we saw one of the street artists there doing a sketch of someone. How was he doing that?

 

As someone with a zero talent for drawing, I was astonished at his ability. If only I was a good drawer and could draw my view of Prague at the moment. As someone started playing a melancholic melody and birds were flying over the bridge against the sky turning overcast, I felt a tear coming to my eyes. It was such a movie-like moment. No, I would never give up these stupid romantic thoughts. They were beautiful to have here but back at home I wouldn’t certainly need them if I didn’t want to end up feeling anxious and stressed every day… On the plane here I was reading about the famous Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva and her complicated relationship with Prague and there was this statue of a medieval knight that she mentioned in one of her poems. I looked down the bridge and here it was. Was I even telling myself off for another romantic moment…? Ok, let’s just leave.

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Another final thing to do was to watch the apostoles at the Astronomical Clock again. We didn’t really want to be approached by a Russian tour guide giving us instructions in a manner Russian mothers-in-law love doing that and she looked like an average one too. I felt so lucky having no one like that in my life! Mind your own business, woman!

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Time for a farewell meal now. We walked past the Powder Gate and found this lovely place I remember someone from the city recommending. It was a large modern building, not “run down” at all. The meal was gorgeous and I was served with the largest portion of pork ribs I’d ever seen! Life is too short not to try them here in Prague! They like their meals really large here! Some final beers… How many had I had over the course of the last few days? I guess that was more than I would have normally had in a year. Life is too short…

It was a late afternoon. We walked around  the Wenceslas Square and had a laugh about how my sister was having her beer right at this spot on our first visit here. It is a really iconic place of a more modern Prague. Let’s just pause and take this moment in…

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Off we go back to our hotel to get our suitcases. We got a bit confused on our way to the tram stop to take us to the train station and I had to ask a random stranger for directions and she instantly recognized we came from the same country… We did find the tram stop and when on a tram, we realized we would not be able to understand the instructions as they were only in Czech… When we realized that we’d been travelling for a while and the train station wasn’t still there, I asked a guy sitting next to me where it was (I even learned the Czech word for “train station” which still makes me laugh). He answered in good English that it was two bus stops ago. Ok, we got off. My sister was getting infuriated. Right, we got onto another tram thanks to a lady trying to help us using body language. We wouldn’t miss it now. I made sure it was the right stop and addressed a guy (a quite handsome one. Ok, forget about this word, you are going home!) to ask if it was the right stop. He understands English as well? Ok, let’s forget about that and go home… We got off and got a bit confused as to where to go when a lady offered to help. She turned out to come from Voronezh too! She had been here in Prague for a few years now. Familiar grumpiness… We could have done without her but I couldn’t help thinking about some kind of magic bringing us together that evening…

So here we were at the Václav Havel Airport with a few more hours to wait for our flight… Saunas, spas… How many more wonderful things there were to explore in the Czech Republic…? As we did get on our plane, it started snowing! So that was a bit of winter in Prague for me…

Looking back, I would have chosen to go and experience Prague in spring but I think that trip was just as magical as I was hoping and dreaming. The magic of the City of the Thousand Spires never lets go… Neither does our desire to live and escape winter and daily routine just to find ourselves wrapped up in another mystery around or within us. Let’s raise our beer glasses to the Gothic, magical and quirky Prague and let’s see if there is a magic trick to bring us here again (any time of the year will actually do…).

 

Praha. Day 4

Our final full day in the Golden City started off routinely well. It looked like the sky was clearing up a bit and even though that wasn’t supposed to be a busy day, we still had a few things to look forward to. Our breakfast got us ready to walk the central Prague again and drop in to a few shops on the way. Just to experience a typical Prague morning and be astonished at the thought of not having to join in the daily commotion. The Old Town was mine last but one time and that got me wondering how many more beautiful photos of me posing in its different parts had I been given more time to spend here. We had a mission though, which was to climb the Old Town Tower to get a bird’s view of all of the spires and get inspired as I’m hugely fond of this type of sightseeing. We had a bit of a difficulty finding the entrance to the Tower but we did get there a bit later. The wind was feeling a lot chillier from up here.

The Astronomical Clock stroke 10 but this time we could only hear it echoing in our ears as we were making our way all the way up. There was almost no one up here except us. The famous red roofs of Prague, I fell in love with you and I didn’t mind the wind sweeping off my hood and messing with my freshly done hair. I was happy to be struggling through the wind to see them. How many times will I find myself pondering over their beauty and magic charm as I am at my university building reflecting over my life choices and where they are taking me. How many times will I have to remind myself those roofs I can see are part of my daily routine which makes it obvious I’m not in Prague… But I was in Prague for now. The spires of the Týn Church and their maleficent glory, the Prague Castle looming away, the Wenceslav Square far off, the hills, and roofs and roofs and roofs. I felt free and alive, nothing fundamental that would tear me apart but just as much as you are supposed to as you are breezing through your daily routine.

 

We started making our way all the way down and even had a souvenir coin made for us after a bit of linguistic misunderstanding…. Another walk to the Charles Bridge, more people-watching and another look at a charming man who would see at one of the shops for two days running doing something a man isn’t meant to do – making aprons and smiling courteously. I bet he had no idea how cute that looked to see him at work! More views of the Charles Bridge – I could well get used to having it as part of my Prague existence! There were so many more little details to take in and I didn’t want to let go and let myself just leave the next day.

We made it down to ponder our existence some more outside the Franz Kafka Museum and I felt a child inside me rejoicing as I found the area around it virtually deserted, which meant a lot of photo opportunities. That was cheeky, Prague style. On my first visit here I remember seeing “The Two Pissing Men” by the same David and how bewildered I felt having seen something like that in Prague. Little did I know, I would get to know Prague a bit more intimately and there would be no questioning and amazement whatever I saw. These two exposed men were for me feeling resentful and that pretty much described the way I felt about going back home to what I’d been trying to get away from.

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We stood here for a little bit more and got inside the Franz Kafka Museum just to see a few souvenirs.

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As we were walking down to the Vltava bank, we recognized the very street we were walking about two years ago because there was this particular beer place I was dreaming I could visit back then. It didn’t look quite as appealing on this dreary day but the

recollection of the dream was sweet and warm like a glass of hot wine. We decided to make a more proper acquaintance with the swans. Standing here at the Vltave bank overlooking the Charles Bridge I could feel a kiss of spring on my cheeks. It was on its way and I knew it would find us a lot sooner than we thought! I breathed in but didn’t dare to exhale. How beautiful the world is – the swans, Prague…

We wandered for a bit till we found ourselves in a beautiful garden, which seemed like an amazing retreat. The spring was breathing more distinctly on me now… It felt as if we had found ourselves here by mistake because it had just popped out of nowhere. Magic of Prague… It turned out to be Wallenstein Palace. Peacocks walking around owned the area (or rather their tails dragging behind them did). Just as fast as we found the garden, did we find ourselves outside it. A walk through the Kampa Island brought us back to the figures of the giant babies and this time we got an amazing close up of yellow penguins lining the Vltava Bank. Prague and the Vltava – what a turmoil relationship!

Another mission was to find a recommended place to eat which was somewhere outside the Kampa Island. I found Prague to be quite comprehensible to navigate. There was another life going on here, less fundamentally magic as we moved a bit further off the Charles Bridge. We were moving towards the Petřín Hill. We came across the famous Monument to the Victims of Communism. The figures that were almost invisible as they were missing limbs looked really eerie.

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I loved the famous “run down” feeling of that beer place. The meal and the service were amazing and I could resist meat and cheese and “Seven Bullets” (the best beer I’d tried at that point). After the lovely meal and a few reflections over our beers, we decided to burn it all off and walk the Petřín Hill. It seemed sweepingly high but the beers must have blurred our judgment a bit so we avoided using the furnicular to take us up. The sweeping views of the city we got were all worth it! I looked behind me and never wanted to turn away!

My inspiration helped me to encourage my sister to keep walking up as she was getting a bit grumpy about how we shouldn’t have got up here. On that lovely bench we saw being not occupied overlooking the Prague version of the Eiffel Tower (The Petřín Lookout Tower) the world was regaining balance.

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A little bit of peace is always treat after a bit of commotion. It was getting a bit late so we decided we wouldn’t hang around for any much longer. I wish we had walked to the Prague Castle to watch it as the evening was settling in but my sister definitely didn’t feel like it. As we were going down, it started drizzling and that felt a bit nasty and my sister found it very menacing and went into the grumpy mode again… I was happy to have been wearing my newly purchased shoes and felt sorry for her in hers… The views of the Kampa Island and the Vltava with the penguins were amazing! It was all getting sad now and it seemed that it was now time to start saying my goodbyes. Why did I have to leave so soon…?

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I had that overriding urge to take photos of everything and that was how I knew I was already saying goodbye… The last evening walk through the Charles Bridge… I paused right in front of the Prague Castle and it struck me how good it would have been if I was good at photography. This particular angle was a bliss for photographers and they were some trying to preserve their share of the Prague magic. I was there for a while messing around with my camera. The magic was there and who cared about photography skills at that point… A final round of trdlo and hot wine, views of the evening Old Town… No, it isn’t goodbye yet! Let the magic linger on…

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Back at the hotel, we were getting ready to go out on this last night in Prague and head next door to the Beer Museum to get a taste of more kinds of the national drink. Beer had already become our routine drink! As we were getting ready to go out, my sister suggested we might want to feed the leftovers we had in the fridge to the swans when we went to feed them the next day. I have absolutely no idea why but what she said had me rolling with laughter all over my bed! Swans eating sausages! Was that just me or was that really something that didn’t seem quite easy to comprehend? Anyway, we didn’t have to go far and we were happy there was a table for us as the place was packed. I loved watching people there and I knew for sure a bunch of young men showing off were Russians before I even heard them talk… As we were sipping on our newly discovered beers, we watched more people coming and it felt like a privilege! There was an American man talking to one of the waitresses and I was saluting her language skills. A black guy who had passed by a few times came up to us and paid us a compliment. It was so sweet of him! A few nice words are a better catalyst of happiness than beer, for me anyway… With lots of things to smile about, we were getting ready to leave the place as it was almost midnight… Still smiling in my bed, I couldn’t get enough of the radio playing on my phone. That was our last night here in the Golden City. Early in the morning we got woken up by someone singing “Angels” by Robbie Williams at the top of his voice till someone shouted “Hey!” at him. As my sister would recollect, she thought there would be a fight but the singer was quick enough to cut off his singing. My sister was thankful to whoever it was for reminding her she hadn’t put her devices on charge…

Praha. Day 3

It was a beautiful (even though grey) morning here in Prague. Once we had been through that stage when we had to get used to being on holiday, we were ready to own the city and enjoy the time we had left to be here. Another delicious breakfast with just the same view we had the day before started us off for the day ahead. The only exception being that we got to witness a group of fellow Russians elbowing their way to get hold of the food. Those kids didn’t look as if they were starving but I guess it’s just a Russian way and I’m not sure if those were the years of starvation and hardship that had those kids and many others behaving the way they did or if those were just bad manners that gained Russian tourists quite a reputation all around the world which we still feel thankful and privileged to be able to travel. Anyway, I was here in Prague and I was loving that morning that had me sitting in the hotel cafe sipping on my coffee while I was watching the commotion at the bakery across the road. After we were done with the breakfast, we set out on the same walk along Dlouha Street which was starting feeling even more accommodating now with lots and lots of little shops which we knew there would be no time to visit.Each of the buildings with distinctive imposing details will leave their stories untold. We were again in the heart of the city and it felt so good to have a good look around the area which felt a bit different after the tour of the day before. We walked around the Týn Church and found it closed. The narrow streets surrounding it seemed full of mystery.

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Even though Prague wouldn’t probably be the top pick for an art lover, it has some really nice and quirky (Prague style) museums that are worth checking out. There are a few around the Old Town area such as the Choc-Story Museum  which we decided to see as the entrance looked really tempting and appetizing. We found it to be more of a shop offering lush chocolate products that would make a fabulous gift. There is something so sensuous and feminine about chocolate. We hung around here for a little more and decided to see some museums lining up the street. There was also the Museum of Communism which for us was more than a fact to amuse us so we skipped that one.

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There was another museum which we hadn’t been planning on visiting but as we were here surrounded by the magic of the City of the Thousand Spires, I thought I would take this chance to visit the Grevin Museum (Wax Figure Museum) as I wasn’t sure I would ever get an opportunity to visit the Madame Tussauds Museum in London. It was 10 am and the museum was just opening and we were the first visitors. The museum looked really modern outside with large pristine corridors. There were three floors and we were free to start with whichever one we wanted. The first floor featured political figures and distinguished writers and poets. This whole experience felt as if we were actually approaching these celebrities as every inch of their skin looked astoundingly real and I found it hard to believe those were mere inanimate objects and they wouldn’t talk or greet me back.  Those were such immaculate and painstaking pieces of work. It must have taken a genius to recreate human flesh using materials, expertise and imagination. The walls reflected some prominent events in the Czech history including defenestration when people opposing a current political regime were thrown out of the window with a thumping noise we could hear dully humming into our ears. A wonderful thing was that we had the whole floor to ourselves. There were some figures of  Czech writers and you could join them for a few beers in a setting which felt a lot like our first dinner on our first afternoon here. That was the spirit of Prague! Walking through a dimly lit room, we kept coming across more prominent Czechs and you could actually see some of them at work – writing, painting… Alphonse Mucha, Franz Kafka (whom I found very handsome), young Mozart who performed his famous Prague symphony in the enchanting Estates Theatre (Národní divadlo) who looked really vulnerable sitting here playing his piano (we could actually hear the music he was playing)… We saw some Czech kings and queens and that was a very interesting history lesson. Of course there was the mysterious Galem which brought me back to the day before when we were on a tour of the Jewish Quarter. His eyes were flashing with fire and that ws a scary sight. There was also the famous cartoon character Krtek and you could join him for an imaginary ride! On another floor there were sports stars and you could see them doing what they did best her and I certainly recognized Petr Čech, a German goalkeeper. We followed the glittering lights into the show business section which looked really chic and glamorous with an impressive lineup of Hollywood A-listers as well as international and Czech music legends. For a moment I was thinking I might not be dressed appropriately for the occasion as I looked around me to see another celebrity giving me a courteous smile or staring pensively. I admit it took me a while to get comfortable having all these “humans” with me looking larger than life. There would have probably been no other way I would ever see these individuals anyway. John Lennon (whom we would remember later that day), Gérard Depardieu, Marilyn Monroe, Celine Dion, George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt… I knew realistically I would never get an invite if all of these ever decided to have a party together. As Prague is popular due to opera houses, there was a big stage where you could feel like a spectator watching and hearing opera singers perform. There was also a makeover section where you could get a virtual figure of yourself but it was a bit tricky to work out. We had been in there for about two hours and at that point I was certainly confused as to where I was. No, I did know where I was because Prague is surely a place to make you feel a part of some bigger magic plot. I felt like a kid inside me was rejoicing!

 

That would be the only museum we got to visit on this trip but it was a really extraordinary experience and totally worth its price! We wrote our reviews in the guestbook and left with a friendly Asian-looking guy saying his goodbyes to us and he was the first person we met here who seemed genuinely happy to hear where we came from. We were back surrounded by the magic of Old Town which seized us back (it might have never let go at all). We walked to the area we had been exploring on our tour the day before and I still think nothing can beat walking anywhere on your own. The House of the Black Madonna, the Powder Gate, Municipal House… We walked a bit further down the street till we reached Wenceslav Square lined up with urbanisatic shops. I thought I needed a new pair of shoes badly and I got some new ones which werewolf more comfortable for walking and experiencing Prague, they sedentary enough for winter but I loved that I didn’t feel chilly wearing them and I was so happy that I didn’t even need winter shoes in late January! A bit milder climate in Russia would have saved us so much money we have to spend on clothing to fit unpredictable weather patterns. A new pair of shoes owned by a smiling person – if you happened to be walking the streets of central Prague that day, you might have seen me and I might have smiled back at you. Another injection of a happy feeling Igotwhen I saw some British newspapers on sale and i certainly couldnt resist getting a few to nurture my love and admiration for my sweet dream which is journalism. We headed back to our hotel where I left my old shoes (but not the temperature had given me). The Old Town Square was bustling at 1pm. We were so happy we lived just round the corner. After a quick stop at the hotel, we decided to go out for a bit of pub crawl and we thought the place might get too packed at night. It was just next door, the Prague Beer Museum. It look really cool but not as rundown as the pub we visited on our first day. We were really spoilt for floodwaters were more than 30 kinds of need to choose from! We decided to go for a meter of beer which was similar to the one we had in Sony Centre in Berlin where you have small samples of different kinds of beer. I asked my sister she would promise me we wouldn’t spend the whole afternoon in there as we had Prague right there waiting for us to savour it! I’m a very weird person when it comes to beer as I love mine with different sorts of flavours like chocolate, fruit… There was something on the menu to please my palette as well and I had a while five samples of what a lot of people would call quirky! I tried a bit of all of these and tucked into my meat – that was gorgeous! My sister looked like a kid in a candy shop and a very pleased one! These are these small light-hearted experiences that we actually love travelling for! Just having a me and enjoying a few beers – people who would say I might have well got the same back at home shouldn’t waste their breath saying that! We were thinking of the itinerary we would go next as we left this place feeling high on Prague! We might have looked a bit ridiculous with our map of the city spread over the table looking for the Dancing House on it. Yes, we were gallbladder the kind of problems we had to deal with for the moment!

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We walked all the way back to the Charles Bridge and the area leading to it even though we had walked it a few times during our time in Prague would keep throwing in new surprises to amaze us – street signs with one of them featuring a carp holding something in his hands, cute couples looking really loved up, handsome males, advertisements in both Czech and English. I loved having so much more real English in my life in this post-communist country! We admired the views of the Prague Castle in the broad daylight and I felt so happy to be alive (and I hadn’t forgotten that beer I had just consumed!). Walking the bridge this time felt a little different this time and it always did! It was quite busy in the late afternoon. I could see the city and its grey hills spreading before me and the exquisite figures on the bridge looking into the sky. How many people had looked at them before – it’s incredible! The postcard view of Prague was my reality and I could choose different angles to photograph and take it in. Kampa Island which was just a short way off on the side of the Lesser Town (Malá Strana) offered picturesque views of the Vltava River. That was a busy life going on under the Charles Bridge. “Imagine all the people”, I was humming to myself as we approached a bit of England here in Prague. The Lennon Wall was infused with inscriptions documenting current events and people’s reactions provoked by them. Even though the star himself never graced the city with a visit,  this wall was there to give people a chance to speak out which for me means being a human. Of course we couldn’t help leaving our tiny imprints here as well and another reason for me to go back to Prague would be to see if they were still there, which seems rather unlikely anyway.

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After that as we walked a bit down, our current mission was to find “Babies” by  David Černý whose sculpture featuring a heavily pregnant woman we had previously seen in Dlouha Street. I knew there was a more profound message behind these sculptures, but I couldn’t resist posing with these huge-looking giant babies anyway!

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Museum of Kampa provided a collection of very quirly images of objects, animals and that was what felt like typical Prague. We walked along the Vltava bank where we made acquaintance with lovely Prague residents – swans. They were desperate for food and had a lot of visitors grant them this wish. I just couldn’t believe they were here now in winter. They were little gorgeous performers hiding their heads in the water and then revealing them to a crowd of spectators. There was a couple of swans never leaving each other’s side there of course too and that was a touch of romance. It was a grey dreary afternoon but simply walking here surrounded by these barren trees and unknown grand buildings was marvellous and authentic. We felt a more intimate connection with the city now as if we were all alone gazing at its dreary waters.

 

We made it to the famous Dancing House which according to the popular belief stands apart from the typical architectural styles of the city. It is compared to a dancing couple, which was another romantic touch.

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Just around the corner there was a place where we were supposed to meet other Prague residents – cats. They were living here in a cat café called Social Point owned by a Russian. We were met by a receptionist who turned out to be Russian as well. There were three cats here at the time – Hugo, Beatrice and Kenzo. They didn’t seem too friendly and willing to interact though. I wanted to interview the owner for a report I was supposed to write for a cat magazine. He didn’t seem too friendly either and familiar Russian grumpiness in him started showing just as we got to meet him. We went to the lounge where there were a few other visitors and among them there was a mother and son who spoke Czech and it was fascinating just to hear them talk (that got me more focused on the language rather than the cats!). One of them was fascinated by my cake and just got onto the table and snatched it leaving a trail of crumbles on the floor… He wasn’t being a gentleman at all despite him wearing a bow-tie. My sister was pleased to be here with the cats and that made me happy. The place looked clean but I just didn’t feel like staying here for much longer so we left. Of course the whole idea of starting a café where people would hang out instead of spending their time consumed by their gadgets was nice but I just didn’t seem to enjoy this particular café.

It was already dark as we started walking back to the Old Town. There were legendary red trams coming and going and there were obviously carrying people on their way back home from work. It felt like an ordinary city for a moment but it stopped being so just as we saw the night image of the Prague Castle in the distance. It was just wow! We decided to take a look through a sort of a looking glass which was installed in the street but we couldn’t see anything so we thought it was just a magic rip-off. It was beautiful just as it was and little money we had lost wasn’t a big deal after all. My sister insisted we kept on walking but I wanted to take it in and make that a moment to treasure. It was getting chilly and my dream was coming true as it started feeling just a tiny bit like winter now! Yes! We reached the Charles Bridge and that time round took what felt like a routine walk through it. People seemed to be leaving just to head somewhere to chill for the night. After a bit of people watching we found ourselves in the Old Town where we did what we wished was our routine as well – watched the apostles of the Astronomical Clock and had some hot wine overlooking the Týn Church (it wasn’t as good at this counter though). It felt even more like winter now. It felt so amazing where fairy tales come alive and it doesn’t matter you had to wait for that way beyond the age appropriate for reading and believing in them. We watched some street performances to end the night and headed back to our hotel stocked up on food and beer. It was another great night and next was our last full day in the City of the Thousand Spires.

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Praha. Day 2

Do I need to mention I just love waking up in new countries? I love that feeling of actually LOVING to get out of bed and do what life is really about – discovering and exploring knowing that was going to be one of the days you would remember even when you are old and grey. So it was time for us to get lost in what looked to be a grey Prague morning and live our life and make memories… When I looked out of the window, grey skies seemed to me a beautiful theatrical setting for whatever our day would bring. We went down to get some breakfast and that was really filling and brought back memories of an amazingly substantial breakfast we had two years ago in Dresden, which is actually not too far from Prague and I could feel it with my palette that morning. We got a nice seat overlooking Dlouha Street. Right across the road there was a beautiful bakery and we could actually see people baking. On my first trip to Europe, I got to love that crispy chemistry of mornings and pastry and it hasn’t let go since. We made an observation as we were watching people getting out and about obviously on their way to work that they didn’t seem as happy as people in Rome and we somehow ascribed that to the Communist past our countries shared. A few sausages, some cheese, pastry and coffee got us fuelled for a day of exploring.

I felt fresh now that I’d had a decent sleep and excited about our first full day in Prague. Dlouha Street still had this medieval charm and I felt European to be walking along it on that slightly chilly morning. I knew well we were going to find ourselves amidst Old Town Square a few minutes later. Well, here it was and it looked quite different now that I’d just seen it in the morning! There was almost no one there at this hour and that was how I saw how travelling in a low season could be so much fun. I wanted both to take lots and lots of pictures and throw my arms into the air and shout “I’m here, Europe, and I’m so ready to take you in!”

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The plan for the first part of the day was to go on a free walking tour of the city. As much as guided tours might leave us feeling disgruntled and leaving us wanting something more comprehensive to give us an idea of a place, we thought we would give it a try. There’s no fee for this kind of tours, you’re welcome to pay at the end of the day but it’s not reinforced. We were quick enough to find the meeting point and I was loving the fact we would be exploring the city centre together with an international crowd which was getting larger and larger. I felt amazing but a little bit insecure approaching one of the people in charge of the tour and humbled about being able to speak English but once I started, I really got into it and I loved the feeling doing that gave me! There turned out to be people from Brazil (poor things, it looked as if they were freezing), France, Germany… Do I need to say I felt so excited and it was also absolutely delightful to be spoken English with! No need to translate anything, just live the life and live it in English! Our guide turned out to be not the guy I originally approached to sign up for the tour.

His name was Martin and he was Czech and I wouldn’t have figured that out instantly because his English was really nice and that alone gave me a reason enough to admire him and I wish I could feel like this about my students back home. But I didn’t want to think about that life back home on that morning. Martin turned out to have spent a while living in New York and learnt English “the easy way”, as he put it. First off, he urged us to take a good look around us and take in Old Town Square which had textbook examples of Baroque, Renaissance, Rococo… We were of course shown and given some history of the Old Town Tower and the Astronomical Clock and that was when we found out a lot of people who had travelled to Prague cited the latter as one of the most disappointing attractions of the city. It does look very small and fragile but hearing the guide talking about it made me happy I’d get to see its miniature figures at the top of an hour a lot before we left.  Our guide was an architect so I expected him to guide us through. He was really laid-back and told a few jokes. It was nice to get a tour with a local. After that, we walked a bit past some more medieval buildings which we hadn’t seen yet and there was a building of the Charles University in Zelezna Street founded in 1348. It was incredible it was actually the first university in central Europe.

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Where I was working didn’t seem a university compared to that. There was also Estates Theatre (Stavovske Divaldlo) there and once we stepped out of Old Town, the atmosphere seemed a bit different in that lovely but more deserted square. Next stop was a very extraordinary cubist building named the House of Black Madonna with an almost incospicuous figure of the Black Madonna on its right side. It houses the Museum of the Czech Cubism and a posh café.

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There are germs for architecture lovers everywhere in central Prague indeed! It felt good we had this part of the city discovered for us by the guide. We would have come across by it anyway but that somehow spared us the effort and confusion. Right across the road there was the Powder Tower which used to be part of the city gates. To me it really conveyed a persistently Gothic atmosphere of Prague which the sky kept agreeing with.

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There was an impressive limousine parked right next to it and as I later found out, it was owned by one of the largest strip clubs in central Prague. It is a really liberate city and it makes you wonder how the modern (which is sometimes vaguely felt) lives hand in hand with the old.

 

We were now at the corner of Na Příkopě Street and it looked really impressive with the Municipal House (Obecní dům) with a very imposing green golden dome, The Theatre Hybernia and the building of the National Czech Bank.

We made a short stop right across the road from the famous Wenceslas Square that witnessed focal points of the Czech history. I couldn’t understand why on earth the guide had to make a reference to the events of 1968 when there were Soviet tanks here following the beginning of Prague Spring in an attempt to stop a revolution from unfolding. In 1991 here in this square the first McDOnald’s restaurant in the country opened. I got the guide’s message. It’s a funny thing that as much as we love to slag off our government, whenever we hear foreigners speak badly of it, we get all defensive. I guess a German couple standing next to us might have felt uncomfortable as well (even though it has to be said, I wasn’t feeling like that standing next to them). Let the dead bury their dead… I got a feeling Russians weren’t really liked here and as much as I could see that coming, I felt a bit resentful… Most of the group went into a pub to refresh while we decided to hang around on our own checking out the neighbourhood and popped into the famous Havel’s market to get a few souvenirs because as much as getting them wasn’t our plan, we couldn’t resist that. It was wet and foggy but I was loving to be standing here in this cobbled street just across the road from Wenceslas Square.

Our group gathered again and we made our way back to the Old Town and got to a very nostalgic area of the city – Jewish Quarter (Josefov). It’s incredible to think of all the persecutions Jews have been put through. The architecture of the area was evocative of grief and distress for me. It must have felt really isolating to be living here. The Maisel Synagogue named after Miška Marek Meisel, a philanthropist who built it looked rather eerie surrounded by other equally gruesome buildings. Being here was an experience on its own and it made a change from what we’d seen so far. Tucked away in the busy city centre, it somehow didn’t feel like Prague at all and only the famous red street sign reminded us that we were in Praha 1. As we were standing here listening to our guide telling us about the story of the neighbourhood, I couldn’t help thinking about all these heart-wrenching stories it had to tell. I remembered the film “Life is Beautiful” which light-hearted humour and vivaciousness made it one of the saddest films I’ve ever seen. This area survived thanks to Hitler who wanted it to house the museum of the extinct nation. I had yet to figure out how it fitted my idea of Prague that I was now questioning. The rooftops were edged with what to me seemed like stitches that made hearts bleed with pain of alienation and loss…

We walked on to find ourselves to what made a huge contrast to the Jewish Quarter. Pařížská Street is perfect for window shopping as it is one of the most famous high-end streets of Prague. I vaguely remember being here on my first visit to the city and nothing had changed much since then as I still could only afford to take photos of some items on display (but with a more advanced photo camera this time round). “Je suis Charlie” sign reminded of a recent Paris massacre and I wasn’t surprised I hadn’t seen any of those back in Moscow… Right up the road we were shown a spot where there used to be the world’s largest monument to Stalin which was here for only seven years till it was blown to pieces. In 1996 there was a water-filled statue of the legendary Michael Jackson while he was on tour here. These two names won’t agree in a Russian’s head of course. History always has its funny way. I felt slightly uncomfortable that the man who ruled the country where my ancestors were born was standing here being totally out of place even if for so short a time.

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We were back in the Jewish Quarter and we saw the Old New Synagogue. The Hebrew numbers on its clock transcended me to another world and I found myself feeling even more perplexed now. For the reason I don’t remember the guide made another uncomfortable reference to Russians owning most of the Karlovy Vary property. Well, I’ve already mentioned Russians’ preoccupation with showing off their wealth and I was sorry I couldn’t provide any explanation as to why that is. They remind me of a disadvantaged kid who finally got treated to lots of nice things that he couldn’t even dream he would access… The Jewish Cemetry which is known to have over twenty layers of tombs made the sight really macabre and put me off wanting to take a pensive walk there later on our trip (it might have been a good idea to do that on a sunny day though). I was getting some of my sister’s blues she got the day before during our walk along the Charles Bridge.

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We walked a bit further from where we started getting a view of the Prague Castle looming in the distance. We were in a square named after a young man called Jan Palach who committed a suicide as a political protest during the Prague Spring in 1969. Another inevitable but grim sight on our way… Our tour ended here right in front of the Rudolfinium, a music venue and art gallery which is a very imposing neo-renaissance building.

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That was my first time in this part of Prague and I was really loving it on this grey winter afternoon. The Prague Castle was getting a little closer. We opted to take a tour of it a bit later on with the same guide because even though we weren’t too excited about some comments we had made, we were trying to stay nonchalant about that. At the end of the tour you are welcome to make a small donation and we did as well. I loved the tour as it helped us discover some more of Prague and do it in good English. On top of that, I was surrounded by an international crowd where for me two people stood out. They were a French stylish girl who did try to show off a bit and hid her slightly slanting eyes under her sunglasses accompanied by a black guy who looked really slick and stylish. Well, French will be French. While I was thanking the guide for this tour, I told him I hoped he didn’t have hard feelings about Russia even though as he had mentioned, a few of his relatives were affected by the Communist regime. All he did was to grin and based on that, I assumed Czech people were still bitter. As there was nothing we could do to turn things around, we got busy thinking of where to eat before our tour of the Prague Castle which was only half an hour later. I suspected a woman in our group was Russian (it was just my gut feeling I guess) and she approached us. It turned out her name was the same as mine and she’d been living in Berlin for about twenty years now. To be honest, I think she should have invested in better-quality hair products not to give her nationality away. It looked as if she was willing to get to know us better but we didn’t really feel like mixing with fellow countrymen so we ventured out to find a place to get a quick lunch. We weren’t really aware of where exactly we were going, but we had to make sure we stuck with this neighbourhood. We decided to check out a random café which had a “Tripadvisor Approved” sign. As it was a lunch hour, the service was unexpectedly quick and we stopped worrying about being late for our Prague Castle tour. We had a very generous helping of knedliki and pork and it was very delicious! The Czech language spoken on a TV made it a full-blown international experience! I even managed to understand some of it while I was queuing to get into the lady’s room. That certainly gave me a boost. My linguistic love and affection goes beyond English, it is for languages in general as tools enabling us to live, to experience and to do both through communication with other human beings. It’s a toast to languages! It was time to go and we were happy to find our guide standing right outside the Rudolphinium and we still had time to get some photos in front of a few monuments and take in this large imposing building providing stunning views of the Prague Castle and gaze into the eyes of some pensive statues. Just as we got our tram tickets to get all the way up to the Prague Castle, our tour began.

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We walked along the Vltava bank and on our left we saw the Charles Bridge and that was quite a new perspective of it for us. Bare trees all around seemed a bit gruesome but I think that was what Prague is about. Look at these swans swimming in the river, they are so cute! We’ll be encountering them more closely a bit later. We got on a tram which spared us a long walk up the hill. I held onto the handle to keep my balance but it was safe. A short walk took us to a panaromic view of the castle framed with barren trees.  Underneath it there seemed to be a large pit and I couldn’t resist leaning down. It was Gothic on an exaggerated scale! I was wondering what it must have felt like to be walking Hradčany some hundred years ago. It actually seemed we were frozen in time as we were standing here taking it all in. That was the world’s most ancient castle and I felt as if I were in a fairytale! We saw the Guards on duty of course. I remember seeing them but wearing lighter clothes on my first visit.

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First off, we were shown a small amphitheate where you could stand in the middle of a circle and hear your voice echoed but it’s only you who can hear it. I was feeling a bit shy to go test it in front of everyone but I quickly did while they were all about to leave to move on to another attraction and I should say, that was very bizarre to hear my voice being echoed here. Magic truly never ends in Prague! Here we were right at the entrance to the Castle with a strange-looking man protesting outside it. According to the guide, he had been doing that over the past year and had even been on TV. From what I understood, he was protesting against the government getting an ownership of the state property. Yes, democracy can have certain implications of course. That was a truly magical place and this peaceful protestation was even adding an edge of authenticity to the scene.

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Having walked a bit further, we got to see the Gothic emblem and epitomy of Prague – St.Vitus Cathedral. It was breathtaking just as when I first saw it. But there was also something more fragile about it against the grey sky. That just seemed so right and appropriate to be taking it in like this. We got inside and it was incredible and humbling to have it literally to ourselves as the cathedral was about to close for the day. I’d been in there before but that somehow added to the experience and let me focus on things I missed out on when I was here in the summer of 2012 feeling tears of joy and admiration coming to my eyes as I heard a choir of Asian singers in here. I’ve been in a few world-famous cathedrals and it’s curious how there seems to be so much they share and at the same time each of them appears to be distinctive. It felt chilly and wet here and being the last group visiting the place felt so unique! The watchers were getting a bit impatient and it was time to leave. Will I ever come here again? Let’s wait and see and in the meantime we moved on to what is “the cherry on the cake” – the façade of the cathedral. There’s just so much to take in you are virtually confused as to where to look. That feels like a Gothic Golem coming straight at you to leave you astonished. The gargoyles were larger than life. That is a masterpiece and leaves you feelinh humbled standing next to it.

 

One thing I couldn’t help noticing and feeling in my limbs was that it was actually chilly standing up here in Hradčany !  Who would have thought we would be feeling chilly here in Prague! I felt genuinely sorry for a girl from Romania who was wearing a little shawl over her sweater and got wrapped up in it to keep warm. Who I admired was a little cute kid being changed into warmer clothes standing up here with the wind blowing not making a sound and looking very cute, which is important! It’s amazing how kids are treated here as little personalities. I hope this kid grows into a very nice and handsome man. I was loving to be feeling cold and ironically, that was what we wanted to experience here. What we truly want is not a mere change of temperature but a change of scene and I enjoyed feeling cold HERE! We took a little break and got inside one of the cosy cafes to get some hot wine that brought this sweet delight to my limbs. That was magic unfolding. You actually need to get cold to see how fantastic feeling warmth back in your body really feels… It was getting dark and some streets lights were already on. I really felt I belonged here in these winding cobbled streets… I love to think there is still the air of me feeling happy lingering there. After the break, we all proceeded to the famous Golden Lane (Zlatá ulička) which can be visited free of charge after 4 p.m. It is funny that before that you have to pay to get into a street lined with shops that are likely to have you spending money too! This street seemed to small to be real and in fact there is still controversy over alchemists actually worked or lived here. We had walked it and that was nice anyway! The next stop was easy for me to recognize. That was The Toy Museum, the second largest exposition of toys in the world that I wished I had had time to visit when I was here first. Unfortunately, I wasn’t meant to this time either as it was closed for reconstruction. But at least the famous statue with a very worn-out private part was still here to make us giggle about our original reaction to it. There was some music playing from inside the Lobkowicz Palace right across the road showing how much more there is to be experienced up here.

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Before our tour wrapped up, we went down a bit to see the evening lights of Prague. Do I need to mention I was enchanted? I’m a night person 100% and I have a secret love affair with night cityscapes. The Charles Bridge, St.Nicholas Church, Old Town Square, the Petřín Lookout Tower  – Prague’s very own version of the Eiffel Tower. That view alone was well worth coming back for. I was standing up here surrounded by people of different nationalities listening to a guide speaking English, the language that brought all of us up here together. How majestic! We started coming all the way down and as you are standing up here, you are wondering how on earth you are going to find your way back down.

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We followed the guide down to the Charles Bridge and went on our own right outside the Rudolphinium where the tour got underway. The guide mentioned there was a chance to go on a bar crawl afterwards. Maybe next time if our budget is not so tight… My sister was getting panicky as she thought we might not be able to find our way back to Old Town. In Prague I was feeling quite confident navigating the streets and after some confusion (I’m a stereotypical woman when it comes to finding my way around), I said “Let’s go up THERE, along this street”. This deictic word “there” was an indication of my evolving connection with where I was and that was a big thing for me. I felt content with myself as we saw the buildings of Old Town emerging. I did remember walking here with the guide. Feeling a little jubilant about my progress in navigation, I suggested we took a walk along the famous Parizska Street we saw earlier that day because I didn’t really want to get back to the hotel yet. It made for a perfect entertainment to see its window shops. We were back to Old Town Square for another show of apostoles of the Astronomical Clock and I was thinking I could well get used to that! We had another round of hot wine and trdlo and that has to be one of my most favourite Prague street food and I could also see it become a part of my daily routine that would certainly different from the one I had been trying to escape here and yes, I’d been a success so far! We headed back to the supermarket to get some new beers this time and that wasn’t difficult at all. We felt shattered after a day of walking (I thought I might have to ditch those shoes despite them matching my coat). Some TV, some more radio and I was off to bed to let my dreams and fantasies take over my sleep just so that next day I could wake up to what I knew would be another day to remember.