With visits numbering well into double digits, my affection for the Czech capital city of Prague remains undiminished, even in the midst of surging summer or winter crowds. When I’ve been in danger of being swamped, I veer off to a side street or quiet park; I’ll also wait for the relative solitude of nightfall or dawn. The magic is knowing I haven’t strayed very far from the big sights.
How I ended up chasing dreams over cobblestone streets, past the thousand spires and ornate facades, and across centuries of European art and history, has exceeded the limits of my imagination.
From the moment I stepped off the plane on my first visit years ago, it’s been a statement of love, reaching, pushing, pulling my senses. Now, like people who love and know a lot about each other, it’s about intent, full on into the realm of recognition and desire.
The distinctive aroma of grilled sausages wafting out from streetside vendors, the scent tempting me and passersby with the idea of “mystery meat in a bun” at all hours of the day. The cravings strike swiftly late at night after a solid effort at the pub.
The smooth slightly-sweet chocolatey flavour of the “černé pivo” (dark beer) called Velkopopovický Kozel. Slices of soft spongy bread “ knedlíky” (dumplings) soaking up the rich savory sauce accompanying the juicy “vepřová panenka” (pork tenderloin). Yes, “česká kuchyně” is on the heavy side, but it sits very comfortably in me belly.
The uneven cobblestones beneath my shoes, causing the expected ache after a long day walking back and forth across the river. To reach down to the old smooth stones in the streets, to touch the massive sandstone blocks on bridges, to run my fingers over the facades on original buildings, feeling like I’m reaching back through the centuries.
The solemn and muffled murmur as people come across for the very first time the sweeping scale of Old Town Square or the beautiful views from Charles Bridge. The familiar screech, grind, and roll as the classic red-and-white streetcars rumble down the tracks.
The magic at dawn of seeing a special kind of light, casting a golden halo on red roofs and yellow houses, the city alive on morning fire; and of seeing after sundown hundreds of street lamps throwing a warm sodium-yellow blanket of illumination over the city.
Becoming Lost with Familiarity
I realize I’m in danger of viewing the Czech Republic in the same way some might view Germany. Considering how I feel about Germany, I’m completely indignant when all anyone can think is “Oktoberfest”, as the country offers much more. Ironic, really, as I often only see Praha when I’m in the Czech Republic. As Czech friends are very quick to remind me, Prague is not the Czech Republic; the message is my own piece of humble pie.
Is a visitor necessarily concerned with the cultural, political, or social development of the city, the nation, her people; or with any of the important contributions influencing European civilization at large? How about the preservation of the city’s cultural heritage spread across centuries of urban architecture and design? After all, there are good reasons why the entire historical centre of the city was awarded the status “UNESCO World Heritage Site”.
For me, it’s simple. All it takes is coming out of the side streets at Na Příkopě to see the boulevard open up at Wenceslas Square, sloping gently upwards to the National Museum in the distance. Or the streets snaking through the Old Town, leading to the massive plaza, and seeing the familiar Old Town Hall on the one side and the two tall spires of the Church of Our Lady Before Týn on the other. Or it’s about getting lost in the maze of narrow avenues, finding something new where I haven’t been before, but becoming reacquainted with the historical and familiar.
The city name Praha comes from the Czech word “práh”, meaning “threshold”. I couldn’t have known my first visit to Prague would set into motion the steps I’ve taken: the decision to leave professional astronomy, to go out into the world for at least 365 consecutive days, and to venture into something “scary”, something entirely different. Every decision has led me here, typing away on a laptop and reminiscing with a smile and few regrets. This city has been and will always be my “práh”.
As a friend has pointed out, the proper grammar for the title should be “Praho, miluju tě”, but I’ll stick by my beautiful mistake. A slightly modified version of this story appears on Maptia; my thanks to the folks at Maptia for their generosity.
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I made all of the photos above between 2008 and 2013. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-4tK.