Subject: Prague Perspectives
Date: Saturday, June 10, 2000 11:24 AM
A few minutes shy of 5:00AM, the overnight but from Wurzberg, Germany rolled into Prague, Czech Republic. The nascent dawn silhouetted several towering church spires that dominated the eastern skyline. The architecture of the drab utilitarian bus station was considerably less inspired. As we prepared to leave the bus, I still remembered the travelling routine from Asia.
Judith and I teamed with the one other backpacker whom disembarked the bus so that we could find lodging together. However, we were having some difficulty getting oriented, as there were no signs in English. Also notably absent were the hotel touts (ubiquitous in Asia) or any people whatsoever. We set out towards the metro station, in hopes of finding people or information, and were soon approached by an English-speaking man whom offered us a room in an apartment building across the street.
Judith and I followed the Czech man through the dark corridor of the communist-era building, up the stairwell, into the musty living room of a modest apartment decorated from the same era. A set of double doors opened to a large bedroom, the proffered lodging. The tacky, but charming, room captured the spirit of Soviet-era Prague. A simple nightstand with a white doily separated two twin beds with white hand-sewn comforters. On the pink walls above each were dilettante paintings of the bucolic Czech countryside. Against the adjacent wall stood a wooden bookcase with hardback Czech books in somber colors. On the faded oriental rug in the middle of the room were a coffee table and garish white ulphostered chair with an ersatz sheepskin covering. Chipped crystalware was proudly displayed in a cabinet next to three large windows that dominated the far end of the room. It was perfect.
Just as Judith and I were paying $50 to the Czech man serving as an agent from the apartment, the slumbering owner emerged from his bedroom across the living room. The elderly Czech man, still in his pajamas, warmly greeted us in Czechi. Despite our terse response in English, the undeterred man glibly carried on.
We awakened at noon and set out on foot for the historic section of town. Within 15 minutes we found ourselves surrounded by gothic churches, baroque buildings, bistros, brewhouses, cafes, and crystalware curio shops. Costumed women with bell dresses and men with white wigs distributed flyers announcing performances by Mozart, Bach, and Vivaldi in several opulent concert halls. Friezes and rooftops of churches and museums alike were richly adorned with ornate golden depictions of saints and nobles. It all testified to impressive wealth (both past and present), particularly for Eastern Europe. While most of the buildings dated from the 17th through 19th centuries, they all seemed remarkably well preserved.
Standing upon the worn stone of the 14th century Karluv bridge, Judith and I gazed upon the broad Moldau River slipping beneath us. Dripping romance, the graceful water evoked Smetena's famed Romantic composition, which Judith remarked seemed a natural derivative of our idyllic surroundings. We continued past the painters and minstrels performing on the cobblestone surface to rolling cobblestone streets lined with picturesque pastel houses.
World renowned, locally brewed Pilsner Urquel never tasted so good as it did in an 18th century brewhouse. While the 12% alcohol made my liver work three times harder than back in the States, I was not so drunk that I was going to exchange my Greenbacks for the conspicuously counterfeit Czech notes offered to me. I simply told the unrelenting man that I would walk with him to a bank to exchange his obscenely large denomination bills for smaller bills. He promptly made himself scarce.
Our gregarious Czech roomie greeted us in the morning with pleasantries concerning our night's rest, the weather, or perhaps world politics. We dutifully nodded and smiled. Our communication w/ the restaurant waitress was marginally more successful, but I was not want to complain w/ a 15-cent ice cream cone (the English speaking places charged $1.25).
At noontime in the central plaza, we were serenaded by a cacophonic symphony of competing church bells. Only brewhouses were more numerous than the churches. I had come to one of the pubs to solve one of humanity's most burning questions, whether Czech's own Bohemian Budweiser brew is as bad as the States'. Not to fear, America still retains the claim to the world's worst lager.
Passing on a cafe Franz Kafka allegedly frequented, we ascended a gently sloping hill from the western banks of the Moldau to the regal Arcibiskupsky Palace. What fun we had when we realized we could taunt the humorless honor guards. If only CK could have been there for the photo op...
After admiring several exquisitely painted church ceilings, I concluded that they must have been painted so elaborately in order to give bored parishioners something to do during the services. Outside of one, we sat atop a sloping peach orchard, reveling in the panoramic vista before us. Below us, red clay shingled roofs led to the Moldau, which, under the auspices of church steeples, glided past four bridges in a sweeping arc.
At a Czech restaurant that night we discovered the wonders of traditional Czech music, vaudeville, and liquor. Becherovka, reputedly the most popular, tastes of equal parts of Ouzo, Jagermeister, Vick's Formula 44D, and Listerine... I couldn't get enough of it. Of course, this was just the right amount necessary to dance a waltz there. We decided to keep our dancing shoes on and boogied down in the cellar disco of a 17th century gothic building.
A sunny Saturday afternoon- the perfect time to relax in the shade of an oak tree along the back of the Moldau and write this journal. Backpackers and bohemians alike join us on this warm day. If we should ever decide to get up, we just may rent one of those rowboats gently gliding past us.