Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Czeching out Prague


It was Friday night. I was standing outside of Prague main railway station with my friend Ahmad thinking that our trip was over before it had even started. Why wasn’t the number that Peter gave me working? I took a deep breath, exhaled, and suddenly remembered a piece of advice that Dylan gave me back in Venice. “We have to dial two zeros before our numbers for our phones to work.” I tried again and breathed a sigh of relief as I heard Peter’s voice on the other end. “Hey, you made it,” Peter said in a surprised voice. It was the first of many jokes that my friend Tomas’s father would make throughout an unforgettable weekend in the Czech Republic.

Saturday was dedicated to exploring the Czech region of Bohemia. The Melrosian family that Ahmad and I were staying with took us first to Žlleby castle. The medieval castle was filled with suits of armor, art, and other cool stuff, but unfortunately for all of you, pictures were forbidden during the tour. It’s worth checking out, however, if you ever make it out to Zleby! After lunch, we drove to the town of Kutná Hora, home of the stunning, UNESCO-certified St. Barbara’s Church. While the interior of the church was indeed amazing, it’s the walk along Baborská street leading up to the church that I enjoyed the most. Besides the breathtaking view, Peter pointed out all these traces of sea life that one could see in the sandstone wall along the street. A long time ago, Bohemia was actually underwater and although the Czech Republic is now a landlocked country, Peter was still proud of the fact that his homeland has a navy! The other part of the walk that I enjoyed was a certain little someone constantly stopping to lie down in the street to snap silly self-portraits of himself with the family’s iPad (aka Bob).      

Bob got a chance to rest at our next stop- the family’s cottage, where Peter spent his summers growing up. Here, Ahmad and I got a chance to help the family out with some good old fashioned yard work and I mean it when I say old-fashioned! No power tools, just a scythe (the thing the grim reaper carries) and a few sickles (think Communist flag without the hammer). In under an hour, we had the whole front lawn mowed and then had some time to play a modified version of cricket involving a frisbee and bouncy ball. As dusk began to set in, we piled back into the car and headed back to the family’s apartment in Pardubice. I could tell everyone was pretty tired, but Peter insisted on giving Ahmad and I a quick tour of his hometown. He showed us the main sights of the city and we had a good informal chat about life. Someone made an amusing slip of tongue that led us all to agree that there not only needs to be more discourse between peoples of the world, but intercourse as well. In addition, I found it fascinating that Peter’s one big wish for the US is that more Americans learn a second language. It is only through learning another language that you realize that the other guys you think are so strange and perhaps dangerous are more similar to yourself than you think. I had never really thought of learning German before as a way of building world harmony, but now I have extra motivation to both maintain my German when return to the US and perhaps start learning a new language.

On Sunday, Peter gave us all a grand tour of Prague. Even though Ahmad and I were only able to spend about five hours exploring the city, for much of the time in the rain, we both agreed that it was one of the best European cities we had visited and resolved to come back in the future. In order to see everything as efficiently as possible, we began on the west side of the city up on Prague Castle and worked our way east toward the main railway station. The castle complex was really something else. The Czech Republic’s president has Royal Gardens, St. Vitus Cathedral, and spectacular views surrounding his official residence. The lucky bloke doesn’t even have to mow the lawn- a robot lawn mower takes care of that. Next, before crossing the famous Charles Bridge, we visited the Infant Jesus of Prague in the Church of Our Lady Victorious. The wax-coated wooden statue has an interesting history worth looking into if you have time. Afterward, we spent the remainder of our time walking around the Staré Město (old town) and Nové Město (new town). We stopped in another nice church called Our Lady of the Snows before rushing over to see the astronomical clock in the Old Town Square strike 4 PM. An automated procession of apostles and Death emptying his hourglass occurs once an hour, often above a large crowd of tourists. As our own time winded down, we walked along the grand Wenceslas Square (more of a boulevard than square) to pay our respects at a memorial for victims of communism and to take a group picture in front of the National Museum. It was sad to say good-bye to the family back at the train station so soon, but I will see my neighbors again in August once we are all back in Melrose. Děkuji Peter, Maria, Tomas and the rest of the family for a wonderful time! Danke fürs Lesen und bis nächstes Mal!        


  

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