Posts Tagged ‘Prague


Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

John Lennon wall, tag done while I was thereI’ve learned something this week that I am sure to carry with me – something that I hope will ceaselessly paint the way I see my life, past and present, with weightless color and light.

On Sunday evening I sat on cool stone high above the Prague rooftops between two new friends with whom I felt completely at ease, completely at home. I’d known both them and the city for a mere two days, but climbing in the cab that night to leave felt as though I were a sour berry getting plucked from the stem too soon. Sitting there in the park above Prague – the sun setting behind the buildings and the cold coiling around us like ribbon – I allowed myself to seep in a warm, blurry contentment. Perhaps, I thought, this fuzzy and loose sort of bliss is simply a result of having gotten only two hours of sleep. But as the colors of the city – pinks, pale grays and creams, the turquoise of old copper, and the coral orange of rooftops – darkened with the setting sun, I knew it wasn’t only exhaustion.

I let my tired body sink into the window seat of the plane and my mind flipped with fondness through images from the weekend – fighting through Christmas crowds in Old Town Square, walking over empty Charles Bridge at 3:00 in the morning, laughing to the point of tears, dancing to the point of exhaustion, sucking flaming shots of absinthe and who knows what else through straws. So many happy new things to remember, yet from this point I immediately jumped to earlier memories, first to my new family and friends in Amsterdam, then to Italy one year ago, to college rowing, to my sister and brother, to my childhood home. I recalled nothing with contempt – only pure affection and gratitude.

I talked to my sister online the following day, and though I really couldn’t wait to tell her about the amazing time I had in Prague, some unexpected urge prompted me first to tell her that I miss her, but I told her this with only love and excitement, not bogging it down with heavy need and homesickness. I am happy to begin noticing a change in myself. As I commit one exhilarating new experience after another to my memory this year, as I grow more and more comfortable, more at home, more happy in Europe, I can see my love for my previous life and home begin to change, begin to lift up.

This love no longer stands in defiance against what I am now trying to do, no longer sits like a rock in my chest reminding me of how happy I once was in a different place. Instead of a weight that I carry with me, it will now raise me gently up to the new things I come to – push me like a guiding hand or lift me like wings to find clarity, color and beauty in each new step I take.

When you no longer need your previous life to feel content and comfortable, no longer view home with a sickness but simply with an undiluted love – that is when you’ll truly appreciate it. I will always wish to be able to blink and be at home again when I need to, if only just for a moment, but there is no reason that has to hold me back or change the way I see new places. I have long clung to a bitter scorn and resentment at the fact that time forces us to move on before we’re ready, before we’ve had enough – and it will probably be years before I ever truly release that. But I am finally starting to learn that the happier you allow yourself to be somewhere else, the more fondly you think of everywhere that you’ve been before.



Prague Castle across the river

Well, I can now check Prague off my list (get it???) and I am so happy to be able to say so. It is a fabulous city. I spent a fabulous weekend there in fabulous company and my heart broke when I had to leave after only a few short days. I stayed with Tiffany, an acquaintance from college and fellow Literature major who is now living in the city center’s Jewish Quarter and teaching English as a foreign language. We barely knew each other when I arrived at her gorgeous, old, high-ceilinged flat on Friday, but by the end of the weekend it felt as though I were visiting an old friend.

The city is full of Euro-posh restaurants, cafes and clubs, all blended seamlessly with its layers of colorful history. We started with lunch on Friday at a vegetarian-chic place called Lheka Hlava (Clear Head), where we sat in our own private room feeling healthy and oh so trendy. Then it was off to see Charles Bridge – completed in the early 15th century by Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia, Charles IV – and the Prague castle, which dates back to the 13th century. They’re the kind of monumental, stunning sights that you dream of seeing in Europe and the sort of history, magic and romance that can only be found here.

That evening we got dressed up and saw the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra at the Rudolfinum, a lovely Neo-Renaissance building that provides the perfect stage for striking and beautifully overwhelming music. After the concert we ate a late dinner at a stylish and serene French-Asian fusion restaurant called Nostress, sitting and talking for hours over rose, salmon and steak.

Saturday was spent strolling through the gorgeous Prague streets, admiring one fabulous building after another. I’ve now hardly written anything and find myself running out of adequate adjectives, so please bear with me. Tiffany introduced me to famous Czech Art Nouveau artist, Alphonse Mucha, whom I can’t get enough of. The women in his paintings are reminiscent of Greek and Roman figures and framed by the kind of rich, elaborate detail and color that was popular in the early 20th century. Each one is gorgeous, sumptuous and endlessly evocative.

Next, we spent a little time in the Museum of Communism to learn about the city’s tumultuous past; it provided a somber insight on the darkness and dictatorship from which Prague has only recently emerged and begun to rebuild into the jewel it is today. The revolution was in 1989; violence in the fight against communism erupted in the streets of Prague as (Tiffany pointed out) we were probably sitting at home watching Disney movies, worlds away from the oppression the Czech people survived.

The image we left with was of the huge Wenceslas Square, every inch packed with people in protest of the Communist occupation. We left the museum – housed in an old castle that is also now home to a casino and a McDonald’s – and headed for Wenceslas, turning the corner into the square and walking down the crowded boulevard that now thrives with shops, hotels and restaurants. At the head of the square, outside the National Museum, lies a subtle and graceful memorial to Jan Palach, the student (not even twenty-one) who set fire to himself in 1969 in protest of the Soviet invasion of Prague. The area is now alive with peaceful commerce and expression, and he is remembered by a mound under the brick on the ground, a black cross and a few roses that lay over it.

Old Town Square was also buzzing that evening with the opening of the Christmas Market and the lighting of the big tree – the tree is smaller than it used to be because allegedly the larger one that was once used fell on an unassuming British tourist and paralyzed him. The square was packed to an almost impossible degree with locals and tourists enjoying the holiday music, treats and lights. After coffee at the Globe, we braved the crowd for as long as we could before taking shelter in a traditional Czech restaurant where we warmed up with some local fare: cheese soaked in beer, fried cheese, potatoes galore, and some sort of pot roast, all washed down with some dark Czech beer. I mean, I couldn’t eat trendy food all weekend.

The meal gave us energy for a fantastic night on the town that lasted until morning and made me appreciate the city on a whole new level. (A side note for those of my generation: we went to a club called Radost FX that was the location for Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” video.) With only 2 hours of sleep, I floated through the following day in a lazy and I’m-so-tired-I’m-delirious kind of happiness. We ate at more fabulous places, visited the Kampa Museum to see some inspiring modern art set against the river and Prague’s skyline, and overall just enjoyed the beauty of travel with wonderful people.

My weekend ended that evening atop the steps of Letna Park – at the base of what used to be a 30-meter statue of Stalin. The sun set and we gazed peacefully over the whole of Prague and I tried to ignore the sad fact that I was soon to leave it. The city was more beautiful than I had imagined and my company was more fun. And in this lies one enormous reason that I travel: the chance of a little weekend exceeding my expectations, and the guarantee of at least having my expectations – whatever they may be – always answered by something I could never have imagined myself.

"Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!" -Henry James, The Art of Fiction
January 2019
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