Monday, May 9, 2016

Prague, magic city

Prague, City of a Hundred Spires, a UNESCO monument and one of the most beautiful cities in the world. 

A walk up the hill to get oriented.
How can you not love a city that
has a vineyard in the main park?
Although it is the capital of Bohemia, literally, and World heritage listed, Prague didn't grab me immediately, as Budapest had. Maybe the cold was a factor - there were light snowflakes in the air two of the days I was there. But Prague eventually snuck into my heart bigtime. 

Petrin Tower

Day Two. The best way to walk around the Old Town is just let it unfold. Every new corner brings another beautiful streetscape. I was drawn down alleys and around corners, across squares and through arcades and into courtyards and around little gardens, and into pastry shops and cafes, until I started to recognise particular buildings and realised I was making circles.

A day or so later having got used to dodging the segways and being mobbed by groups of tourists on walking tours, I joined one of the many tours on offer. Tomas was my guy - follow that yellow vest. He studied history and culture at university in his provincial city before moving to Prague and he is now a full-time guide ("so be generous with your tips if you enjoy the tour").  He told us you don't say Czechoslovakia, and you especially don't refer to anyone as Czechoslavakian. That is a bad thing to say to a local, but now we can't even say Czech Republic, because just as I was crossing the border a few days ago this country quietly changed its name to Czechia. So it is not only me having trouble keeping up with the name changes.

Tomas told us "we are very proud of our chick peas. Our chick peas are very good and very cheap, cheaper than water." Oh, he said Czech beers. OK, now I get it. Tomas had lots of delightful stories to share. The Czech President is known to imbibe. Not just now and again, but consistently. He entertains his people endlessly, one example being when in the middle of some lengthy and deadly serious talks at the European Union, he rose unsteadily to his feet and announced very loudly "Death to all all vegetarians and abstinence" and then just sat down again.

From Tomas' clever, brief and entertaining talk about the nation's history, there is one word that I will forever remember as a key to what it is to be Czech. Defenstration. The political act of throwing people out of windows. It has been such a recurring theme in history that there is a common saying here 'never argue with the windows open'.

Defenstrations have happened more than once at the hilltop complex that includes the Prague Castle. The fortress is beautifully lit up at night. Tomas told us that the Rolling Stones played there once, when the country was just coming out of the communist era. His parents still talk about going and how they cried, it was such an event in their lives. There were few lights then, and when the Stones met Vaclav Haval they asked why. They were told, we have so many things we need to spend money on, it is simply not a priority for us at this time. Tomas said "Mick looked at Keith, and Keith shrugged, and Mick said, our boys will sort that." So the lights that illuminate the castle today are those set up by the Stones' road crew. Or so the story goes.

At the statue of Jan Zizka Tomas told us about this heroic and talented but largely unknown bohemian general from the fifteenth century who never lost a battle, even after he had been blinded. He always led his men from the front, and when dying he ordered that his body be skinned, and the skin made into drums, so that he would continue to lead his men into battle. (Janet, take note.)

Standing in Wencelas Square where it happened and hearing the story of the so-called Velvet Revolution sent shivers down my spine.  The result was the end of 41 years of communist rule and the creation of a parliamentary republic. Friday, Nov 17, 1989, a few students on a march that was not even overtly political in intent. Some police violence, students panicing, some blood in the streets. Saturaday, rumours flying around the whole town, 15,000 people gathering. More rumours. Sunday, 500,000 people in these streets. Vaclav Havel on that balcony up there, taking his keys from his pocket and shaking them to emphasise something he was saying, and then across the whole square, silence; except for the sound of 50,000 sets of keys being shaken in the air.

The result of this uprising? The Rolling Stones, jeans, McDonald's, the euro, and segways.
Kafka has only just been
'discovered' by young Prague-ites

Bridges over the Vltava - an old photo. 

No comments:

Post a Comment