Published: December 20th 2011January 31st 2011
When the email from Delta arrived in my inbox last January with offers of insanely cheap airfares to Europe, I just had to do it. Prague had always beckoned, plus, how could I pass up a $700 roundtrip from Dallas? And so I arrived in Prague less than 3 weeks later for a long weekend, excited and open to discovering another new city with the promise of cobblestones, narrow alleyways, hints of former Soviet influence, loads of Gothic and Baroque architecture, and yes, lots of potato dumplings with brown gravy. Good thing I packed winter clothes since the temperature rarely went above 32 degrees during my busy 4 days, which may sound uncomfortable at best but actually added to the experience in ways I’m still recalling almost a year later. I can still feel the slap of freezing air on my face as I was alone looking out over the city from the top of St. Vitus’ Cathedral in Hradcany (Prague Castle), or the incredible blast of cold air coming up from the Metro as I took the speedy escalators down to catch a train in stations that are perfectly preserved examples of their 1970’s design (think convex mirrors, lots of
chrome, poured concrete designs, mustard yellow and avocado green).
When you think of Prague, most people think of the iconic Charles Bridge, Mala Strana (Old Town) Square and Hradcany, just to name a few, but you’ll never know this city by staring at buildings and gazing at steeples. This city exudes history and has straddled (or perhaps been squeezed by) some of the most of stirring events in Europe, yet has still managed to retain its own history, identity and narrative. Germany has always loomed, as did the Eastern Bloc for decades, but the people you meet are unabashedly Czech. You never forget the native tongue while looking at the signs or glancing at the TV, except when Cyrillic magically appears and you realize that there are still vestiges of the long-gone Soviets. And there is the random reminder of home, like a TGI Fridays, but thankfully those intrusions are rare. Hazy little bars with brick and stone arches seem to appear on every corner, offering cold beer, unfiltered cigarettes and worn, initialed tables. This is a place that has survived the commotion of time and geography, and has remained grounded and even modern.
After meandering over the
Charles Bridge then up and around the expansive Prague Castle on my first day, accompanied by what can only be described as a perfect representation of EU nationals at every turn, I took a leap forward and decided to spend that afternoon at the DOX Center for Contemporary Art. Housed in a former metal factory, the DOX is a cavernously intimate gallery that displays local and international contemporary artists. Imagine a 15 foot cross made entirely out of shoes, or graffiti inspired art. It would be easy to point out the stark contrast of the building and its art with the ornate architectural tableau of the city, but dig deeper and you’ll see that the DOX is just continuing on in the tradition of adapting to modernity and time by allowing the artists to innovate and create—or basically to just ‘be’—which is what Prague has done for centuries. To find the DOX you make your way past Soviet-era apartment blocks interspersed with a few Art Nouveau apartment buildings, just north the main historic core of the city. Be sure to take the tram if you go – what a fun way to see the city as only a local sees
On my last day I took the Metro out to (another) church on a hill – Vysehrad. Located just south of the historic core, it is a wonderfully wooded park overlooking the Vltava River that offers peace, vistas and few visitors on a chilly Sunday afternoon. After making my way through patches of ice and snow, I trod up a slight incline pathway to the first of 2 centuries-old churches in the park. To be perfectly frank, I don’t remember the churches names or even going into them, but do remember having the feeling of being in a small village somewhere deep in the woods craning my neck at churches with impossibly tall steeples. But then wandering just a short way to a perch above the river and seeing the rest of Prague and its pointy buildings in the distance. Lucky for me this was January because you have the sense that this is quite the place to be in the summer, with the trees, shade and breeze coming off of the river. I may just have to come back someday and see what that’s like.
There are more photos below