Prague is a difficult city to describe. It stretches like a Medieval dream across the banks of the languid Vltava River. Old Town is a year-round Renaissance Faire, while New Town and Wenceslas Square burst with vibrant modernism splattered against a curvaceous Baroque background.
Prague is booming. It’s not the provincial Eastern European hideaway I’d expected. She has clung to her old world medieval charm, but since she liberated from the Iron Fist of communism in 1989, tourism has flourished. Today, chic Czech women clutching Prada bags clack down cobblestone in heels, passing bawdy stag parties on weekend holiday. Neo-Renaissance facades cradle Michael Kors and Apple while unenthusiastic costumed young men beckon you toward touristic jousting shows. Hints of debauchery whisper if you listen–lurid sex shows and all-you-can-drink pub crawls wait in dimly lit alleys.
But Bourbon Street this is not. Authorities keep obnoxious stags in line and local establishments are eager to warn you of charlatans. The city is clean and eco-friendly. Locals are fit and put together. Beggars are minimal compared to other major European cities. They kneel in submission with hands outstretched in steeple and heads to the ground. Sure, I’ve walked past a few transients urinating on corners, but it’s still a city after all. Prague is proud of the independent, flourishing democracy it has become and it’s not about to let disrespectful tourists ruin 1,000 years of struggle.
Brief History Lesson of the Day: (because, what would my blog be without it?!). The Czech have enjoyed relatively recent independence. Around 930, Old Good King Wenceslas (yes, of Christmas Carol fame) first created the Kingdom of Bohemia. But for another thousand years, the country struggled for autonomy wedged in between greater powers. Following WWI, in 1918, the nation of Czechoslovakia was finally born. Its freedom was short lived. Soon, like most of Eastern Europe, the Nazis invaded, pulverizing the Jews and the Slavic culture. Thankfully, Prague was spared the devastating bombing that much of Europe faced and thus remains one of Europe’s most architecturally intact cities. Czechoslovakia was liberated in 1945, but it was shortly after reabsorbed by the Soviets in 1948. Thus began the Communist oppression. There was a bloody, and sadly failed, Prague Spring uprising in 1961. But it wasn’t until 1989, when a University student set himself on fire in protest, that the Czech finally gained some influence. The Soviet Union was crumbling and in the “Velvet Revolution” of 1989 they let their adopted (or abducted) child go. It’s so called the “velvet” revolution because of the very little bloodshed. The Czech have never been a military super power. Thus they greatly rely on and admire accomplishments achieved by thought and reason. In 1992, during the “velvet divorce,” Czechoslovakia amicably split to create two separate countries of different cultural backgrounds: Czech Republic and Slovakia. (I’ll be going there in a couple weeks!).
Phew, still with me?
I find myself a little frustrated with those in Prague here just to party. Yes, it caters to British weekend warriors and starry-eyed Americans who’ve seen The Hangover one too many times. Cheap beer, Westernized kitschy bars and all-night deviation beckon. But I can’t help but fear for its sanctity. The traveler who sleeps all day just to party all night completely misses the essence of this city only to join all-you-can-drink pub crawls at Hooters. Sigh. Maybe it’s just my older, wiser, self speaking (see Berlin entry) but they just don’t realize what a morning stroll along the river can do for the soul. I do think a piece of my soul will die if this ever turns to Vegas.
Today I spent a solid amount of time writing on the river, basking in (gasp!) 60 degree sunshine, then I visited the Prague Castle and influential St. Vitus Cathedral. I’ve never seen such glory. Intricately etched spires of a magnificent cathedral and palace stand on a hilltop overlooking the entire city, yet somehow manage to be welcoming to the people. I admire the Czech. They are peaceful, thoughtful, lively, savvy and unconcerned with your bull shit. They don’t care who you are–they treat everyone equally. Taylor Swift is still awesome here and the beer is dirt cheap. For a country that has recently had students setting themselves on fire in the name of fair democracy, they can’t even take our current election seriously. And yes, the whole word is absolutely watching us.
I officially might be in love.