Monday, December 1, 2008

Of Chickadees, Czech Doughnuts, and the Charles Bridge

Under Prague, there are over 21,000 miles - or almost nine lengths of the Appalachian trail - of sewers.

Running through Prague is the Vltava river, home to colonies of tourists (on the Charles Bridge) and colonies of seagulls (on the pilings below the bridge).

Above Prague towers the Guiness book of World Records "Biggest Castle", looking from far below like a miniature model built by a scrupulous twelve year old.

Throughout Prague...

Corner stands offer hot roasted curls of dough - Eastern European doughnuts - rolled, smoking, in flat pans of cinnamon and sugar before being handed across to toddlers-in-arms and young couples visiting from Japan, Germany, or England.

Building facades mix and mingle like a bag of party mints - pink against green, blue against yellow, white against violet. Paintings you might expect to see inside a church pop up on the exteriors of apartment buildings, statues peek out from around balconies, and people stop to take pictures of the average street block almost as often as they click the shutter on a monument.

Sounds rain down on the willing ears of walkers - individual dings for the quarter hours from a spread of clocks, pealing bells from Old Town, Castle Quarter, and Little Quarter on Sunday morning, and an extensive hourly show at the Old Square Astronomical Clock tower featuring a skeleton, a Turk, the 12 apostles, and lots of ringing.

Chestnut stands are so popular they sell out. Mulled wine and dense cups of hot chocolate fill pedestrian hands not wrapped around chestnut bags. Bakeries beckon with tiny triangular turnovers and meringue clouds the size of the stomachs they are destined for. Ethnic food of every color and price can be found inside Indian, Afghan, Moroccan, Italian, and even "Thai-French fusion" restaurants. There are even pancakes with syrup - almost unheard of in Europe - at "Bohemia Bagel", an ex-pat institution that opted for alliteration instead of historical accuracy, since bagels are not exactly traditional Czech fair (although are roasted pig knuckles and bagels really so different?).

Visitors stand in line on the Charles Bridge to pet the shiniest spots on the statue of a saint; he was tossed into the river for refusing to tell a Czech King what the queen had confessed. According to tradition, the saint can grant each lucky visitor one wish. Visitors stand in line for a lot of things, actually.

Black light theaters tout their magical shows, in which neon-clad actors seem to fly across the stage, swirling colored scarves and shapes through the black-lit air around them in seemingly impossible flight patterns (for which stage hands clad entirely in invisible black are responsible).

Streams of people flow down Wenceslas square, funneling into streets leading to Old Town and New Town, many veering onto Na Princope street where they can achieve all their shopping dreams at Zara, Benneton, and H & M AND stop by The Museum of Communism for a walk through the history of 20th century Prague.

Prague is a city full of "big" sights, but for me it's the atmosphere that makes it one of the greatest cities of Europe - the chickadee nibbling at a homemade feeder, happy people reading the paper over perfect pastries at The Bakeshop, little kids on big shoulders watching Christmas carolers or an ancient astronomical clock in the Old Town Square.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So much to imagine from your words, and such a pleasure to see living people in your photos as well as the small bird! Thank you for an enlarging period in this morning. Love, mom