Would we like Prague?
For reasons unknown, in my mind’s eye I had conjured a place of dark, narrow medieval streets, a city suited to woodcut illustrations. So my expectations were low as we alit from the train at Praha Hlavní Nádraži.
And this is why a dunce like me must travel. Because Prague looked nothing like I had imagined! We fell instantly in love. The Vltava River! The Charles Bridge! Swans a-swimming everywhere. Stately buildings painted with confectionary colors.
And the Charles Bridge! I must return and walk a dozen more times across my now-beloved Charles Bridge.
Far from my imaginings, Prague is a vibrant city celebrating the best of the old and the new. They accept the past with equanimity – tourists flock to the Jewish Quarter for tours;
And Communist-era buildings, with their “Brutalist” architecture still stand. One of them is the Intercontinental Hotel where we stayed. Although we did learn that highly-placed party members actually lodged at the much nicer Ambassador Hotel next door built expressly for them. (We can talk about Marxism later…)
From our hotel, we looked out on the famed Metronome, a symbol of the Czech people’s struggle against Communism, which stands on the former site of an enormous statue of Stalin. One of our guides commented wryly that the metronome never works – just like Communism.
But all that is in the past, and the people of the Czech Republic have clearly embraced the present. They are deservedly proud of the progress they have made in a mere thirty years since 1989’s Velvet Revolution when students massed in demonstrations and jingled their keys to let the Communists know it was time for them to leave.
It is a delightfully historic city where the old and the new clasp hands in warm recognition. We were smitten by the Old Town Square, which dates back to the 12th century.
I will fondly remember it for my discovery of the famed Czech beer.
But Old Town Square’s culture is not just about beer. We also discovered the outstanding Gallery of Art where we saw beautifully curated exhibits of Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol.
And speaking of culture, on our way back to the hotel that day I spied the statue honoring Prague’s favored son, Franz Kafka. The statue depicts the subjects of Kafka’s story “Depiction of a Struggle”, which also describes me as I read the story. Please let me know if you are able to understand it, because I could not.
I found that story, and several other exceptional pieces in a book called Prague: A Traveler’s Companion wherein some of the most celebrated authors of the Czech Republic pay tribute to the magical spell Prague casts over its people. It would take months or years to explore this city and properly understand its past and present. A few days is not nearly enough, but how grateful I am to have been there at all. I remain, happily, under its spell.
“If Prague is still standing, and has not yet lost its allure or its beauty, it is because its very stones, like its people, have expressed their patient perseverance.”
- – Ivan Klima