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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Ahoj Praha!

 

So what is it like to travel in winter? That was the question that got us on the road this time. For us winter had never been the time for travelling and exploring and it hadn’t been too long since we got addicted to spending our free time dreaming and thinking about seeing new places to give us an urge to live another day. As much as we as a nation are supposed to be equipped to deal with low temperatures and no matter how much exquisitely beautiful poetry has been inspired by Russian winter, for me it had always been a perfect time to curl up and get pensive about what lies ahead when life is back at full swing again, which is when spring comes. But would winter feel different if we got away? We’d been toying with this idea for a while but it had never been something we would seriously consider. But once we thought why didn’t we just squeeze in a chance to experience winter on the road this time instead of waiting to hopefully do it in summer? But with the economy as it was, would a chance ever come up in summer? Travelling is a lot about grabbing this chance as long as it is here, just to experience, just to live that dream. Yes, that would have to be a very brief trip but we still might have the summer to hope for so we were fine with that. Now what about the destination? We had a few options and they all seemed to us very a beautiful getaway to experience winter in the way we’d never known before. But what about going somewhere we’d already been to see if being there on our own would feel different to what we’d seen being there with a coach group? Coach trips are good for leaving you yearning for more because whatever place you’re visiting, you hear yourself promising you must come again but on your own. That’s the reason we’re done with coach trips. It’s nicer to get a decent taste at once than to take a few tentative bites that might fail to give you a decent taste anyway. So what was this place we’d got a little bite of that we could afford to get a more solid bite of now? It was a random decision but it was mine this time I think. So in the end we opted for Prague which seemed perfect for us. We got a very incomprehensive idea of the city on our one and only visit there and I believed in Prague having this potential and magic to really transform our sweaty and hot perception of it we got on our brief guided tour of the city. What would the Czech capital be like in winter and what would winter be like there? Not as cold as back home probably but what we were also looking to explore was the whole idea of being away from the Russian winter… Of course Prague has a great variety of things to offer and it wasn’t until I started reading up, which I’d learned the hard way to do after what seemed to me like missed opportunities to see beyond what an average tourist gets to see, that I realized that those amazing but somewhat superficial things like good beer and vibe were just a backdrop for that Gothic magic they were essentially part of. As I was doing my research, all those places I remembered briefly visiting started coming alive and that’s how I knew I had to thank that quick coach trip for giving me that urge now to explore my feelings for Prague because as they say and rightfully so “You can’t miss what you’ve never had” and I have a few places to miss now and so many more I’d like to make acquaintance with and miss when I’m back. Anyway, reading guide books felt like walking a blurry memory lane and I was determined to make some illuminating memories to shine a light in my heart. It was a very special feeling of reconnecting with what you think you might have seen and it makes you wonder how resilient and lingering memories can be if you shine a little light on them. It was somehow coming together as we were approaching the start of our trip. We knew 2015 would get off to an amazing start and when the clock struck midnight and it entered our lives, we didn’t even have to make a wish because it seemed almost there, just a train journey away to Moscow in a few week’s time when we would get on that plane and that’s when it would start seeming real. It seemed so strange to be packing my bags in winter, almost as if time had turned back or ahead. I just couldn’t get my head around the fact that I was about to set out on a trip in winter! Another thing which seemed difficult to figure out was my wardrobe. It was freezing cold at home at the time but according to the weather forecast,  in Prague it would feel like spring but as much as we wanted to get away from the Russian winter, we still wanted to experience the flurry magic of Prague in winter…

Anyway, after a pretty cold train journey, we found ourselves in our capital city at about 5 a.m. before the metro was open so we had to wait around at a little café at the train station and as I was watching the snowflakes in the drowsy capital sky, I was hoping I would get this same image when we got to Prague. We wanted to catch the first express train for the airport and had to stand outside for a while and that was when I realized what is not so much “fun” about travelling in winter. Another thing I was hoping for was that would all be worth it in the end. We safely got to the Sheremetyevo Airport which seemed quite deserted (the number of people travelling rapidly declined at the time because of the economic crisis our country was plunging into and we were happy they didn’t use the Euro in the Czech Republic). It all felt so easy this time round – checking in our luggage, going through the passport control… We had a lot of time to kill and get astonished at how overpriced things in the duty-free shops were. As we were waiting for the boarding to start, we took seats in a lounge where we got a perfect view of planes taking off and that got me so emotional that I thought I might shed a tear. There’s just something about airplanes that I find utterly fascinating. They looked so amazing on that crispy winter morning. I was wondering if there would be someone sitting there just like I was watching our plane as it was taking off and wondering where we were going… I couldn’t understand how this woman who looked like a staff member was just standing there talking on her phone instead of watching the magic of travelling unravelling through that window. She might have had enough of seeing it every day I guess. It was now time to board and it was all very quick. Just as the first time, I wasn’t getting flight anxiety, I was just fine.

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Taking off was easy and the view I got from my window reminded me of winter outside. I was finishing reading my guidebook and that built up the excitement for me. Our Prague experience officially kicked off as our plane safely landed and I saw a sign that read “Welcome to the Czech Republic!”. From what I saw through my window, I assumed winters were really warmer there and it looked like a Gothic winter outside. Václav Havel Airport wasn’t crowded either and the first time we felt ourselves grinning from ear to ear about what was to come was when we saw a huge goat figure advertising the famous Velkopopovický Kozel beer which we would be getting a lot through the course of the next few days! We were almost ready to start living it up!

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We got on a bus that would take us to the city centre where our hotel was. We felt so hot, poor Russian things! We were saying we might have to invest in some lighter clothes, otherwise we would get heat strokes! Yes, we now knew what winter might feel like! In the Czech capital city it looked more like an early spring but the sun wasn’t shining. There was an international crowd on the bus. The outskirts of Prague seemed to be full of Stalin-era apartment blocks and there was nothing exciting about them. In a way I felt sorry my country’s regime was to blame for making this part of Prague ugly… We literally had to elbow our way to the exit (very Russian way, I know) because I realized the driver might not stop the bus at this very stop and it was so handy for us to get off here rather than at the final one. We did eventually get off and I was so happy I was making progress at navigating because I had figured out right that our hotel would be just a few meters away from the bus stop and I was relieved! The guy at the reception desk started speaking Russian to us and we were aware people would be trying to do that because some Czechs speak Russian and there are quite a lot of Russians in Prague. It wasn’t comfortable to be speaking my native language because I wasn’t sure if this guy would understand me but we were fine in the end. We got up to our room and it looked really nice and comfy and there was a beautiful painting of the Old Town there and I couldn’t wait to see it later that day! Yes, we are in Prague! For the second time! And this time there would be lots of Gothic magic with a lot of sightseeing, food and beer! Yes! We were still sweating and determined to get some T-shirts to wear underneath our winter coats! After getting some rest, we were ready to refuel our energy levels the Czech style. I checked online to see if there were any nice places to eat in the neighbourhood and of course there were quite a few!  I had checked back home but now that I was actually here it seemed easier to wade through the options. We decided we would go for this place called Lokál just across the road. As we entered it, I knew this idea of what this country was about was coming alive inspired by Jaroslav Hašek and his famous The Good Soldier Švejk that I remember sitting in a book shelf at my parent’s house. Somehow being at this place brought back what being too young, I failed to put to words as I looked at a picture of this clumsy stout man on the book cover. There was nothing pretentious about this place, it seemed run down but just as run down as you would want your proper Czech experience to be. I could well imagine Švejk sitting here casually sipping on his beer. Pivo – this one word for beer that we share with the Czechs! That was time to get our proper taste of it, a taste of the country. Beer was so much part of the Czech culture and it is no wonder that it has the highest beer consumption per capita in the world! We went for Velkopopovický Kozel after struggling for a bit with the menu in Czech, which we were a bit ashamed of as we know that Russian and Czech are in a way similar but I believe we had some quirky symbols Czechs use for writing. I’m not a big fan of pivo to be honest, but I’m a fan of getting new tastes of all various lives and for me holding this huge glass of beer in my hand surrounded by people sipping on their portions of the national drink felt like getting a taste of something vaguely familiar but oddly new and that was my idea of the Czech Republic at the time. We were really impressed by how the waitress brought this paper where there were lots of pictures of beer glasses and ticked off the amount we had ordered and that was only two to start us off. There were about twenty in that paper and that was when we got a feel for how much beer Czech people were capable of consuming and I was afraid we hadn’t been in Prague long enough yet to be up to this challenge. We raised our glasses for this new little winter trip that we hoped would have this special winter magic. The gorgeous Old Town was just a few blocks away and I was really eager to reunite with it, that was so beautiful to be living that moment and I felt I was coming alive from all the things I didn’t like about the Russian winter and about my daily routine as I had all of this magic to look forward to right here in the heart of Prague! Our main course was very substantial and nourishing and consisted of a few knedlíks which are basically potato pastry and served with lots of meat (goulash) which Czechs famously love. That was delicious and filled us for a long time! Yes, the Czech cuisine is far from being healthy but it’s so good! We stayed at this amazing place for a while admiring its authentic “run-down” atmosphere and decided to go for a little evening walk around the city centre.

Yes, days were still short and we were aware of that. Dlouha (“Long”) Street was lined with lots of beautiful medieval buildings. I was loving the Czech language signs around me and feeling so lucky we would be living in this particular street. Streets like this one are often overlooked by tourists who tend to gravitate to bustling central squares unaware of these queiter streets just around the corner. That was also our first encounter with a quirky side of Prague’s architecture. Right at the road intersection there was a very odd monument by David Černý showing a curvaceous heavily pregnant lady looking very exposed. It wasn’t until back home that I realized that standing between her legs wasn’t actually awkward at all (as some people who saw my photos assumed). The whole idea behind this monument was to enable us to step back into this huge glass-looking womb. Looking back, it’s clear to see we are in fact born again whenever we come to a new place and that evening was our new birthday indeed!

 

On the right there was what looked like a laid-back bar (there are plenty of them in central Prague) with a large photo of James Dean who starred in “Rebel Without a Cause” and sadly passed away really young, a terrible loss to the world – a handsome talented male which is a perfect muse for a female yearning to embrace life and that’s exactly how I felt that evening. Another look around the area made us aware of Czechs’ love for opulence and wealth that Russians are notorious for. You never know, fancy cars parked outside might have also been owned by fellow countrymen whom you find a lot in the Czech capital. It might be good for material things to make a statement but that was a rather arrogant one and made me want to take a quick photo and go on to explore something else.

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There were some fancy boutiques as well and one was named just as my sister (Tatiana) which made me assume it might have been owned by a Russian as well. Next there was the Spanish Synagogue, a very extraordinary piece of architecture, in the Jewish Town, which is a very vibrant and nostalgic area of the city we would encounter later on our trip.  Right next to it happened my first encounter with Franka Kafka without whom a visit to Prague won’t be complete and it’s not quite possible to avoid this Prague-born writer while here.  Kafkaesque might well describe a Prague experience because a sense of something quirky unravelling wouldn’t stop haunting you while exploring this city. The monument to Kafka showing his figure sitting on top of a large suit with no head with the latter carrying him definitely added to this feeling. There was a group of Spanish tourists listening to their guide. Happy we were on our own at the moment, we took a quick photo of us next to it.

 

 

 

Just before we knew it, we stepped into Old Town – Stare Mesto. Finally I reunited with it and it did feel like a winter miracle even with the weather feeling quite warm (at the time it was getting a little chill, which felt very appropriate for the moment). The magnificent spires of the Tyn Church, a Prague landmark, were peering from behind into the sky which was growing dark. That was the sight I couldn’t have possibly got on my first visit. To me the dark sky made them seem as if they were made of corrugated paper. The National Gallery building, a monument to Jan Hus, an influential thinker and reformer, and the famous Old Town Hall Tower with the world’s oldest Astronomical Clock. Now I felt I was 100% in Prague!

This is where I gave my palette another taste of the city with a  trdelník, a sweet pastry that came fresh from a wooden stake (trdlo) and constituted a part of Prague’s magic. It went down so well with hot wine and made the moment feel a little Christmassy. While standing here in the heart of Prague, we started thinking we might not have to get any lighter clothes to wear. I was loving it in fact! Our first evening in Prague wouldn’t be complete without a walk through the iconic Charles Bridge and it was a short walk from Old Town Square. Before that we were to witness another miracle and watch “The Walk of the Apostles” of the Astronomical Clock (Orloj). It was amazing to watch the crowd gathering as we were approaching 6. I was happy I was about to experience again what a lot of people cite as one of the most disappointing attractions in Prague now three years later. To me it then summed up the capacity of things captivating people even in this day and age when we are bombarded with all sorts of images. I felt emotional as the clock started striking and each of the apostles made an appearance to the crowd just to make a comeback an hour later as the show got underway again. It was so sweet! A funny thing was that the crowd stood there for a few minutes after the show was over as if waiting for it to restart.

As we stepped a little from the Tower, I was really delighted to get a really good view of the Tyn Church and people bustling around the square. I had a feeling the next few days would turn out great! I missed you, Europe! Being able to walk this way to the Charles Bridge and walk it the opposite direction from the first time we were here felt amazing. Cobbled streets full of people (not as much as if it had been summer though) enjoying a lovely evening walk was what I missed and needed a lot! Seeing some of travellers bundled up in layers of clothes gave me a clue as to where they might come from. I knew we wouldn’t be getting souvenirs this time but I was happy to see them cutely displayed in window shops.

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The Charles Bridge was somewhere around and I couldn’t fail to recognize it when we started approaching it coming out of a maze of central narrow streets full of wonders of a varying scale. It was just as magical in the dark as I had imagined it would be! Iconic views of the Prague Castle were incredible though a little blurred. As we started walking the bridge, my sister got a bit grumpy and went on about how depressing the view seemed and I decided I knew better than to get into arguments for now and silently enjoyed the moment as the bridge seemed a bit rickety under my feet (or were they getting tired in those shoes I had decided had to match the coat?). I don’t think that was the beer we’d had earlier but this first walk on the trip seemed a bit surreal and blurred as if we were submerged into the Gothic darkness. Deep down inside (so as not to wind off my sister), I felt happy to see this depressing side of the bridge. It was a very complex feeling I guess to be happy to be depressed and travelling is all about feeling and all we had to do was to let the city work its magic on us and our feelings.

We walked both ends of the bridge and found ourselves in Old Town Square again, stayed here for a while and made it back to our hotel. The city centre was getting really queit and it felt unusual. I guess people were now hanging out in bars and pubs. We were going to have our dinner back at the hotel instead and popped into one of the supermarkets in our neighbourhood to get some food. Well, beer was plentiful of course and incredibly cheap! It’s amazing how these ordinary shops give insight into the local culture. Figuring out the prices takes a while because your head is working in the rouble mode. We actually felt happy after we’d done some mathematics – it was all a very good value! Deciding on which beer to have tonight was a bit tougher though. These type of choices are hard to make when you’re in the world’s beer capital. Back at our hotel, we were really happy to rest our feet and have this very casual meal sipping on our amazing beers! We will be going casual and quirky for the next few days! That’s the Prague style for you! Of course as tired as I felt on my first night in Prague, I couldn’t go to bed without listening to some local radio. Me in a new country, a dark hotel room with dim lights coming through the window and a foreign language in my ears – I felt alive!

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