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.

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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Some Towns of the Czech Republic (Gothic Style)

The next day we woke up to nasty chilly weather outside which pretty much set the tone for the day… I decided I’d put on my Cheburashka T-shirt I got in Moscow to brighten it up for me. We were to visit some places outside Prague that day. We were given an option to stay in Prague till the middle of the afternoon but we signed up for this trip. One day wasn’t just enough to experience Prague…
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First we were to take a tour of the Sternberk Castle which is located in Český Šternberk which is about 50 km away from Prague. Some Czech musiс was playing and there were some dreary rural landscapes gliding by… The sky was overcast and it certainly didn’t add any charm to our trip. Sternberk Castle was constructed in the middle of the 13th century and is actually one of the best preserved Gothiс castles in central Europe. The whole experience of the day was truly Gothic… It was owned by Zdeslav of Divisov, later called Zdeslav Sternberg, then the property was taken away from him and after that returned till it was nationalized by the Communist government in 1949 and the Sternberk family got it back in 1992. It was actually amazing to find out that one of the descendants of the family agreed to work as a steward and give tours of the castle after the castle was nationalized just to keep in touch with the place. Now this man’s son occupies four rooms on the second floor. The name of the castle roughly translates “a star on the hill” and this is exactly what this castle looks like when you go up the hill towards it… The views around it were just magical, all those endless thick forests and the Sázava river were giving it a touch of Gothic mystery…
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The court of the castle provided some scenic views of the hotel just across the road and it looked marvelous from up there. We had a guided tour of the castle by the same lovely girl from yesterday who didn’t stop amazing me by how brilliant her Russian was.
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The interior of the castle looked just as the weather outside, dull and grey but it truly felt like stepping back in history to find out about the cultural and historical significance of the place. There were lots of exquisite engravings and paintings on the wall. They charged an extra fee for photography and that’s why I don’t have the pictures as I was afraid we might run out of Czech crowns. It was incredible to be walking around this building to get a better understanding as to who used to live there back in the day. From what I saw I don’t think I’d love to live there, I wasn’t feeling too comfortable in the place and I think the idea of having all this space to myself would be unbelievable. We were amazed to find a fresh bottle of wine standing on one of the tables. That must have been the owner of the castle enjoying himself… That just made me think how all those people owning properties like this are like the rest of us… At the end of our visit we got some souvenirs to take back home and took some pictures against the local forest and as we were driving back to our next place of interest, I came to realize there was nothing else I loved more than the lovely landscapes of the part of Russia I am from.
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Sometimes the views seemed a bit like those we have back home but they fail to make your heart and soul smile the way your home landscapes do… I guess there is something in our DNA that keeps us close to where we come from and live…
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The atmosphere of the place was as eerie and macabre as it is said to be but to my utter surprise, I didn’t feel physically uncomfortable standing there looking at thousands of bones around me. I actually thought it would be a good idea for my bones to be used in such an aesthetic way after I die so people from across the world could come and see all those beautiful things… I’m not sure if people whose bones are used in the ossuary would think the same way I do and unfortunately, we are never going to find that out… I tend to think it was a good tribute to the dead and instead of rotting in the earth their bones were used to create exquisite decorations and a whole new spiritual experience… Looking at the chandelier at the centre of the hall where all the bones of a human body were used, I was contemplating life and death and how we need to make the most of our lives and make each day count before we become just a pile of bones in those decorations. In this place, death didn’t feel like something to be terrified and mortified about, it was just what any life ultimately ends in… I’m happy that place made me realize that fact of life and I wasn’t emotionally wrecked after visiting this creepy place, I was just ready to move on with my life which I grew to love a bit more that day. And it has to be many and many decades before I am what people come to this place for…
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… This abbey cemetery we saw looked different from cemeteries here where death is nothing but a sad ending and, in contrast, there it felt more like a peaceful ending or rather a new beginning… I felt really optimistic about life ahead and this is why I was extra amused to see the sign “If you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie and wipe the seatie”. I honestly thought that was something local people came up with and knew I had to remember it… Life is so much about those small things that we do on a daily basis…
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The last stop of the day was St. Barbara’s Church (Chrám svaté Barbory) in Kutna Hora which is one of the most famous Gothic churches in central Europe. The whole experience didn’t seem so Gothic now that the sky was clearing up… Just another reason to smile after a pensive visit to the ossuary…
This church took five hundred years to complete. St. Barbara was a patron saint of miners which was the job of many of the town’s residents. The town used to thrive on silver mines. The church was by far the most beautiful piece of architecture I’d seen on my trip. It was just breathtaking and all those trees and flowers around it made it a view to remember forever. I started feeling a bit inappropriate for wearing my Cheburashka T-shirt at the moment… The interior of the church where no fee was charged for photography was just as impressive. There were lots of beautiful engravings there and just like St.Vitus Cathedral in Prague and unlike Russian churches and cathedrals, it wasn’t emotionally oppressing and made everyone welcome to come in and reflect.
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Then we were given a brief tour of Kutna Hora and shown a local version of the Charles Bridge in Prague and also got to make some more wishes near the fountain in the Italian court which is now a museum of coin-minting. Kutna Hora is a comfortable town away from the large mysterious Prague but if certainly had some secrets of its own to hide. Our day trip ended with a lovely dinner at one of the local cafes where we stocked up with some cheap becherovka to take back home.
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The weather got so much better and it was time to go back to Prague to say a proper goodbye and pick up some people from the group who chose to stay there… I wish we had as well because there was so much more to be seen in Prague but in hindsight I have no regrets because now I know Prague is definitely worth another longer visit and those towns and suburbs like those we visited that day give us in-depth knowledge of the country and the way people live there. I don’t think in Prague I would see people casually getting on with their daily routine, for example, drying the linen or playing cards out on the terrace the way I did in Kutna Hora and again these are those small things that we need to see and experience miles and miles away from home.
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Zlata Praha

As we were getting ready to get engrossed in the mystery of Prague which was I believe was less than an hour drive outside Dresden, we gazed at marvelously picturesque views of mountains which seemed really huge. That was not the view you might get to experience in the Alps but it was still pleasant to look at. There was no more German language, which I was determined to brush on back home. Czech has always struck me as confusingly complicated but to me as a teacher of foreign languages it was fascinating to see all those linguistic changes unravel in front of my own eyes.
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It was a couple of hours before we arrived in Prague, the mysterious and romantic capital of the Czech Republic. When I saw all those dilapidated buildings and dull streets, I thought my hopes of experiencing the enigmatic and enchanting beauty of Prague were thwarted and I was so wrong to get my expectations way too high and set myself for disappointment. We were driving round and round some really sullen architecture and it felt as though we were taken on a trip on a time-machine and found ourselves in a Soviet city facing lots of economic and social problems… I wasn’t feeling too good because I had caught a cold and even though I tried to soldier on, it seems to be catching up with me. I was getting ready to move on from what I thought was just another disappointment… The hotel we were staying at that night was a big change from that in Dresden and I was making a pretty negative impression of the city… The elevator wasn’t working properly and it turned out we would have to queue up for breakfast till 6 a.m… Was that nice, no! Even though I was feeling the way I was, I was still excited about what tomorrow would bring. It was nice to figure out how to work my new mp3 player I got in Dresden and another exciting thing of the evening was watching our president Putin on my favorite BBC World News. I suddenly felt homesick watching our president on the international TV channel in Prague… That was a perfect international experience I was thrilled about! I phoned my parents for the first time since I was on my trip to let them know we were ok. I think seeing Putin’s face on my TV was one of the reasons why I did so… We tucked in what was left of the food we got back in Dresden which was another international experience of the night and were ready to dream about what we would see the next day.
We had an early start as usual and had a bit of a breakfast in our hotel room. We were staying in a noisy industrial area of the city and it took us a while to get to the Prague railway station where we were to pick up our guide for the next two days. The building was rather dull and dreary and got me wondering again if that was the country’s turbulent past that had such an impact on its present. It seemed like the city had some really dark secrets to hide. Our guide was a lovely vibrant lady of my age and I was astonished by her level of proficiency in Russian. Some seconds later we forgot she wasn’t Russian…
So we were driving down some hill (I got an impression Prague was a bunch of slope hills). It was scorching hot and I was wondering how I was going to get through that day with my cold… But I was determined to give Prague another chance so I didn’t mind the cold as long as this city wasn’t going to leave me disappointed.
The first stop on our long way was the Prague Castle which was some walking distance away. This is a residence place of Bohemian kings and today’s President. First we were to witness the changing of the guards. There was nothing in particular about this procedure but I think it’s a must-see for a tourist because in some way it gets you in touch with the country you’re visiting. We had a good view from where we were standing so we even filmed some bits. Then we walked into the gate and saw a really beautiful fountain and architecture. The Prague Castle is one of the largest ancient castles in Europe and I wasn’t aware of that till some point. I wished I had done more research on Prague. The castle complex which is located in the area called Hradčany (Castle District) houses St.Vitus Cathedral which we will be touring later and a number of museums. It’s a shame we didn’t bump into the President taking a walk the way some other group of tourists did, according to our tour guide who never stopped to crack up jokes.
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The next stop was St. Vitus Cathedral which was by far one of the most breathtaking pieces of architecture I’d seen on my trip. It is a Roman Catholic Church in Gothic style. There was something purely magical about this cathedral. The interior was just equally astonishing. And then we heard a choir of some Chinese teenagers who as our tour guide said were on tour of the world’s different cathedrals sing. I was incredibly moved by that spiritual song and that genuinely made me want to cry even though I’m no way religious. The acoustics was just splendid and their singing seemed to have struck a chord in my heart and soul. That was purely magnificent… Then we got outside to take in the beauty of the cathedral.
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We were continuing walking the cobblestone streets of Prague and shown some other places when we stopped at a vineyard which provided panoramic views of the city which was starting to live up to my expectations. All those endless roofs were there in front of our eyes and we had some nice picture opportunities.
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We took some pictures of the lovely Toy Museum which had an interesting statue outside it. That was a statue of a naked teenage boy which as the tour guide said Russian tourists call a pioneer… It was considered good luck to rub a part of his body which looked pretty indicative of how desperate tourists were for good luck… I thought I’d rather not do that because for some reason it felt inappropriate especially for a teacher…
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We were now in Mala Strana (the Lesser Town) where we were shown the narrowest streets of the city which I believe not everyone in our group would be able to walk. When we saw some policemen in the street, the tour guide used a Russian slang word menty and cracked us all up because the Russian police is notorious for being not the one to trust… We were guided to the Franz Kafka Museum. This writer is much acclaimed and considered one of the most prominent one of the 20th century. Unfortunately, I’ve never read any of his works but I know they are said to be quite disturbing to the mind. I think if we had visited his museum, we would have got a better understanding into his personality and literary work. Outside the museum there was one of the most amusing fountains I’d ever seen in my entire life (and I said I had a fountain fetish). That was a fountain of the pissing men whose gentleman parts were rotating so it looked as if they were urinating on the fountain which is shaped like the Czech Republic. It felt a bit inappropriate again to come close for a better view… This seems a way to honor Kafka’s quirkiness and anguish and for some odd reason, I loved that piece of architecture because that was definitely not what I was expecting to see in Prague.
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We walked past some lovely riverside restaurants which look very inviting and it would have been nice to stop by for a few beers but of course we had no time for that…
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We were about to go up which was one of the highlights of our tour of Prague. That was Charles Bridge (Karlův most). It looked spectacular even from down there we were standing and I recognized it at once. It wasn’t packed with tourists but it didn’t feel too busy at this time of the day. The sun was beating down and it wasn’t a midday yet… You can’t just miss that sight when you’re in Prague because it is the pedestrian connection between the Prague Castle and Old Town where we will be stopping by later on. The bridge offered some magnificent views of the Vltava, the largest river of the Сzech Republic, and of the Prague skyline. I was loving the city at the moment and the feeling of love was really infiltrating the air as while I was posing for some pictures and just soaking up the atmosphere, I was thinking that would be a perfect place to be walking hand in hand with that special someone… Charles Bridge was decorated with an alley of dozens of statues that looked absolutely out of this world against the clear blue sky. We were making wishes on several occasions and one of them was definitely a return visit to Prague I was totally changing my mind about. There were also some street artists selling some art and I wish I had had my portrait done but it’s obvious why I didn’t after all…
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… I could spend ages taking in the scenic views of the Vltava and keep indulging in that pensive mood I was in but it was time to the last place of interest for the time being which was Old Town Hall and Astronomical Clock. That was when I first experienced the hustle and bustle of the city because the square was getting busier and busier with lots of people speaking a great variety of languages coming and going. We got to listen to the chime of the clock but unfortunately I wasn’t aware of the importance and meaning of the clock up until recently… But there was nothing extraordinary about what we witnessed. But that was definitely another authentic Prague experience we will treasure in our memory for years to come…
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The girls sat down on the ground to rest their feet just opposite the Astronomical Clock. I was proper tired but remained standing and did some people watching. I felt like a tiny little part of a huge crowd of tourists. That was when it hit me I was in one of the most favorite travel destinations in Europe.
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A short while later we went on a boat trip of the Vltava and saw some more magnificent sights on our way to the harbor, for example, the Týn Church, the fancy Paris Street… I love boat trips, I’ve always felt I had a special connection with water… That was an indulgent experience not just for my soul and eyes but for my stomach as well… I hate to get on the subject of food in the story of my trip but it was just amazing! Every dish was just spot-on and I grew to love the Czech cuisine. Our dinner started out with a bit of becherovka which is a herbal liquor and a traditional national drink. Then we tucked in an enormous amount of chicken, pork which was just what we needed after a long day tour of Prague. It was nice and relaxing to be watching the iconic views going by… That was absolutely magical and it felt like I was in my element down there in this boat. We even got stuck in traffic and had to wait for other boats to pass through! The boat trip came to end before we knew it and we had some time to ourselves. I wasn’t planning on anything in particular so it was pretty confusing to realize I was in such a magical magnificent city but didn’t really have any idea where to spend a couple of hours…
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We had a bit of a shopping spree and did some souvenir shopping. I was majorly surprised to find out that a lot of sales assistants in the market spoke good Russian. We were about to buy some traditional Czech waffles and I asked a sales assistant if I could try them and she sounded a bit offended when she said she spoke Russian. I was a bit embarrassed that my degree in English was too much in the face. It seemed for a while we were back home because we heard lots of people speak Russian. Czech souvenirs were the most fascinating ones I’d come across throughout the entire trip. It was nice we took some Czech things back home…
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We had some more time to kill and finally stopped by for a few beers which were surprisingly cheap. It’d be a crime to leave without shooting a few I think. As I was sitting there people watching, I think I’d seen so many different faces that I haven’t seen in my entire life and was exhilarated to be one of those faces in the streets of Prague which seemed to have let me in some of its secrets… As we were taking a stroll, we saw some man dressed in a white sheet looking absolutely motionless. As we were walking past him, I turned my head to get a better look and suddenly he came alive to give me a courteous bow and wave me a kiss. That certainly put a smile on my face and made me sad such gentlemen didn’t occur often back home…
We did some food shopping and spent the rest of the time relaxing our feet and letting the world go by in Wenceslas Square in the New Town which was a venue for major historic events in the history of the country. It felt like home after a couple of hours we spent here. My sister was enjoying some more beer and at that point I thought was bringing a huge disgrace to the Russian nation… My friend was having a good time feeding local doves and some more people seemed to join her too.
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Before the end of that long day in Prague, we were scheduled to visit one of Prague’s Black Light Theatres. We were to watch the Wow show which involved the performers using light techniques to create visual illusions to tell some stories of everyday life. That one we saw was of a man facing his fears. We were seated in the front row and I swear never in my life had I been in a room with people from so many different countries. The whole message of the show didn’t quite come across to us at that point but it was definitely nothing what we’d seen before as we felt water drops falling from the ceiling, saw some creepy spiders popping up out of the blue. The show was interactive and my sister even got asked to blow some bubbles… We were joking it was the beer that got her involved in the show in the first place… We were really moved and perplexed by what we saw…
The last event of the day was a visit to Křižík fountain, a one-off water show where dance performances, music and water are synchronized together. That night Black Swan by Tchaikovsky was staged. My sister detests opera so she felt a bit disappointed. The darkness was falling and that was a truly magic time to spend in one of the most magical cities of the world… The place seemed to be in the middle of nowhere and it was nice our coach took us there, otherwise we would have definitely lost our way. I was excited to see Black Swan and happened to see it played in our local theatre just weeks before the trip. As the music started playing, I felt butterflies in my stomach! The choreography and music was just beyond incredible and I genuinely enjoyed every second of the show even when it started raining and we had to look for a place to hide because the last thing I wanted is to have my cold get even worse… Standing there in the rain watching the beauty unravel was purely romantic and of course I wanted someone to share this moment with me… Just as I did in Dresden, I felt I got in touch with the kind of beauty that is often blurred in the everyday drudgery and was elated by the experience…
It was time we went back to our hotel to spend one more night in the city which started growing on me through the course of one single day. I went from being utterly disappointed to being utterly amazed and enchanted… I pretty much experienced every emotion in the book that day… First impressions can be so painfully wrong and can really affect our judgment. I’m happy I wasn’t meant to be disappointed by this city that seemed to have shared so much with me that day that I felt absolutely shattered by the time we got back to the hotel. I was ready to admit Prague was “a dear little mother whose claws never let go” as Franz Kafka said in one of his letters to his father…
The next day was going to be a new day…
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