Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Prague; A City Worth Falling In Love With

I had seen pictures and heard of Prague and had always wanted to visit. Prior to coming over I assumed that Sächsische Schweiz was closer to the southern border of Germany and started making plans to make it to Switzerland and Austria, but upon learning that is was on the eastern border I immediately thought of Prague. We were within walking distance of Czech Republic and another 2 hours and we would at Prague’s doorstep. Upon mentioning it to my cousins they were all in for it. By this point it was just the 4 of us and we quickly hiked back down to our car and hit the road. 

We passed the border and there was a border patrolman sitting in his car half asleep. We drove right passed him and took the back roads through the countryside. The surrounding area looked very fertile and farms were abundant. Every now and then we would pass through a small farm village. Again I could not resist thinking about this area during WW2. I would find myself looking for traces of bullet holes in the dated buildings and farmhouses.

About 30 miles from Prague we came across something interesting, several very large fields of marijuana. I saved the location on my travel map but will not be disclosing it here, or possibly anywhere for that matter. I have outgrown my trouble making years and decided to just take a few photos. There was a part of me that chuckled thinking what would have been if I came here 10 years prior.

Just before pulling into the outskirts of the city we stopped at what would be a European equivalent to a truck stop. We were starving and the menu appeased us so we got our table and ordered food from the English-speaking waitresses. I was hoping to have pretty Czech girls served us but these girls where hefty and could have used some dental work. I enjoyed my coffee as I waited for my food. Everywhere else in the world does coffee different than in the US. In the states there are pots full being constantly brewed in offices and business. It’s all so watered down and in Europe it’s pretty much an espresso shot, just a hair more on the quantity. I thoroughly enjoyed the coffee and gave my cousins trouble for ordering hamburgers. My duck, dumplings, and sauerkraut arrived and it was absolutely delicious. My cousins returned fire and ridiculed my sauerkraut.

We parked in the Hlavni Nadrazi, the largest train station in Czech Republic, and made our way through Vrchlického sady into the city. There were vagrants, trash, and it smelled like urine in the park. We hurried through as I hoped that it was just this one park that suffered “Occupy Wall Street Syndrome”. As soon as we crossed the first street I could clearly see that it was.

I couldn’t stop looking at everything else other than where I was walking. The buildings where adorned with plaster decorations, and intricate architectural details. It was spectacular. Nearly everyone walking the streets was a different culture and no doubt a tourist. I could spot the locals sitting lazily in cafes, tucked in under shady umbrellas.

We only had about 4-5 hours to spend in the city and we needed to take a tour on steroids. I wish I could have stayed until I learned everything there is to learn about the city and all of her amazing buildings and the history of it all. Statues, churches, towers, shops, cafés, museums and so much more! It was a cultural and historic goldmine.

Our first stop was the Old Town Hall Tower. It is over 700 years old and just over 230 ft tall. The center of the tower was retrofitted with an elevator and a ramp winded its way around the perimeter of the tower walls all the way up to the top. I wanted to experience every step of the tower and took the ramp. The top was overly crowded and we had to push our way through the crowds to get out to the exposed walkway. I stayed behind all of my cousins keeping watch on their belongings and being very mindful of my own as I checked them every time someone bumped into me. The view of the city was next to none and people swarmed through the cities narrow streets like ants below us.

We continued deeper into the city in the direction of the Prague Castle and needed to cross the Vltava River by way of the 14th century Charles Bridge. The bridge was limited to pedestrian traffic and the perimeters of it were crowded with carts from which merchants sold souvenirs. The bridge was masterpiece with religious statues running along both sides of it. Each one with a story of its own, and much of them standing in place of originals that had long been destroyed or housed in some museum. I was hoping my cousins weren’t getting impatient with my picture taking and tried to keep up with them. There was so much to be distracted by, I stopped to watch an artist draw his tourist subject, a small quartet warm up for a performance, a couple rekindling their love for each other, and a stoned out dreadlocked bubble artist.  I could just sit here all day, like the locals do, and people watch.

We hurried our steps towards the Prague Castle. I read somewhere that it was the largest in the world. It was encouraging to see scaffolding and tarps up in preparation of restoration efforts, though I was annoyed that it would get in the way of my taking undisturbed pictures of it.

We passed the main gate and the armed guard and were immediately awestruck by what stood in front of us. St. Vitus Cathedral was protected by the castle walls and stood peacefully inside just inside the castle gates. What a majestic specimen of gothic architecture. My head started to spin as I kept looking up and up and got lost in all the intricate details.

We made our way around the cathedral and through all the courtyards. It was nearing evening and I spotted rain clouds coming in from the north we did not linger. On the way out we stopped at another overlook and I spotted something about halfway between us and the Vltava River. It was a dark sinister looking wall that from a distance looked like faces and ghosts trying to escape. Even with the ominous clouds approaching I convinced the others to try to find where that wall was once we descended down into the city.

We made it to where I saw the spooky wall and the garden was still open for another 30 minutes. It was a palatial Garden that belonged to the Wallenstein Palace that now housed the Czech Senate. We entered through the side and I was floored. A massive pond filled with koi lay in the corner of two buildings. I could hear a loud squawk from a peacock somewhere beyond. We circled the pound and made our way through the hedge maze. 

In towards the center of the large hedge was a turn out that headed to the senate chamber. The wide walkway was lined with gorgeous statues and the shorter hedges were neatly trimmed.

I was still looking for the sinister looking wall that I spotted from the castle and continued on. I caught a glimpse of it and headed towards it. It was crazy looking. Almost like a massive colony of Swallow nests with an occasional spirit like shape trying to escape from within it, or maybe I was just seeing things? It definitely was eerie in its artistic beauty.

The security guards started to usher everyone out just as the first few drops of rain started to sprinkle. On our way out we bid our farewells to the multicolored and a white peacock and went off running in the direction of our car.

We ran through a section of the city where there were far less tourists. I gave up my backpack and camera bag to my cousins who ran along under the one umbrella that we happened to have. I didn’t mind the rain. It was pleasant, and when is the next time I would walk through the rainy streets of Prague? I soaked it all in. There is no way to write down all that I saw and felt, if only in a volume of books. Prague is something that you need to experience for yourself. By this time the rain was coming steady and I could see people pointing fingers at from beneath covered areas. I was walking like I didn’t have a care in the world. I was in love with this city, probably skipping with a smile from ear to ear.

We made our way through the occupy Prague park and I took my turn driving as we left the city. By this time I had figured out what the German lady was saying on the GPS and followed her directions out towards Germany. Again we took the back roads and the sun peaked out at us just before dipping beyond the horizon.

The sun set and with it came darkness. WE would pass small villages and towns and there was an abundance of women with knee high boots and sparkly clothes waving at us as we passed by. I felt sorry for them, I felt a caring pity but continued on towards Germany. I was so excited to see my uncle and aunt but had some 6 hours of driving to do. We took turns driving and made it to Lage at 2 AM. I lay in the bed they made me and was ecstatic about being at my uncle’s house. With each day this trip was confirming how important family is. I could wait to wake up and have breakfast with everyone. The whirlwind of Prague ushered me into my slumber.