Do not go to Prague as a tourist, go as a humanist, a historian, a music lover, go as anything – except a tourist.
Don’t go to Prague as a Tourist
If you go as a tourist expect to see nothing on the Charles Bridge except other tourists. Prague Castle — whose architecture represents every style of the past several hundred years — good luck with that. All you will see is hundreds and hundreds of people looking skyward, bumping and backing into everyone else who is looking skyward, and a literal sea of flagpoles, umbrellas, and sticks all topped with a sign or a colourful kerchief, being held up by tour guides who are shouting, “over here, pay attention please”, “Por aquí, por favor, la atención”, “Qua ?ây, s? quan tâm xin vui lòng”, again and again in dozens of languages.
St. Vitus Cathedral, famously Gothic, its exterior ringed with beautifully menacing gargoyles? Be prepared to stand in line for 30 minutes just to enter the Cathedral, and shuffle along behind an endless line whose beginning seems to have no end. If you remember to look upwards, something easy to forget given the non-stop chatter of the tour guides, the sharp thing in the backpack of the person in front that is constantly jabbing you, and the person behind you who keeps stepping on your heel, you will see a soaring vaulted archway, and if you can block out the cacophony you will be awestruck by the genius of the engineers who built it.
Keep your wits about you as you look up at the Astronomical Clock, if not you could be victim to the many pick pockets who seem to be lurking about under the Clock, or of being accosted by the hundreds of people selling everything and anything possible. And be prepared to have your heart hurt when you see the saddest, tattered, most forlorn looking homeless people who are used as sign holders. Some of them appear to be so weak they can hardly keep their sign upright.
Wenceslas Square, more rectangular than square has in its 600 year history been the site of the Prague horse market, anti-communist uprisings, and celebrations for winning sporting teams, but today it is filled with the franchises of the monoculture. Who could allow a 600 year old building to be defaced by all the drilling required to hang neon signage and posters for Big Macs?
In a quiet bar away from the endless shops selling Bohemian crystal (I mean does anyone really want to lug home a 12 piece punch bowl set?), we met Dude (or maybe Dudic), who was part bar-fly, part local historian.
Dude was definitely more on send than receive, but over a few beers he told us many interesting things about Prague including the somewhat dubious story that during the second world war, the Nazi pilots could not bring themselves to bomb Prague because it was so beautiful. It could be Dude has Prague mixed up with Paris, but it is true that Prague did not suffer the terrible bombing fates of so many European cities, leaving it an architecturally beautiful place, rising and falling gently on both sides of the Vltavy river, making it a jewel of a city. When Dude finally paused to take a sip of the beer we had bought him we said a quick good bye and went back out to the street.
Not sure exactly where we were or how we got there but it was a surprise when were invited into a store-cum-art gallery, by Janna, the owner, for a cup of tea. Somehow, with no real mention of it, the tea was replaced by wine. I think Janna wanted to practice her English and after a few glasses of wine told us about life under the repressive and tyrannical Soviet regime, stopping every once in a while to refill our glasses, hug us, and wipe away a few of her tears.
In between all the wine drinking and hugging, Janna’s daughter comes breezing into the room. She seemed like all the young people in Prague, wearing heavy mascara, the just short of stylish clothing and chattering non-stop. She is about 15 or 16, speaks English, Czech, and German and has a full time job as a tour guide. She tells us that tourists always want to see the Golem’s ladder so we really, really, absolutely, for sure, for sure, must go to the Synagogue of Prague which turns out to be only a few blocks away.
We stumble along the cobblestoned streets, the wine and beer having taken affect, to the Synagogue and find a simple structure, larger than expected and possessed of a quiet serenity that was almost palpable. We were unsure if we were allowed entry, so we just stood in the entryway, and from there we could feel the animism present – and the history of the place seemed to speak to us. We forgot to look for Golem’s ladder.
We turn a corner and are almost struck by a trolley car. We spot a hedge which seems to be the entrance to something, so we quickly duck in, narrowly missing a trolley coming the other way. Where are we? A garden? And what are those huge things in that cage? Golems?? They are huge, giant owls and are perched high, high up in a cage streaked and dripping with owl feces. And just beyond is the strangest wall made of reddish clay resembling dripping owl feces and seems to have hidden messages within. Gotta stop drinking during the day.
Leaving the gardens of the Wallenstein Palace I realize my feet are killing me and when a street vendor tells us the concert is about to start, it’s only 400 CZK and I can sit down, we buy two tickets and soon find ourselves listening to Bach performed on the very organ that Mozart himself played while in Prague. It was magical, ethereal, unforgettable.
Gail Burgin started her blog during her recent travels through Europe. She shared her journal entries with friends and family while her husband Frank Merino, took the photographs. It was during that time that she realized she developed a knack for writing and has enjoyed continuing on with sharing her stories. We are lucky to have her write about her experience in Morocco with us today.
Check out her other article here at Morocco Medina, A Trying Tale of Two Carpets