Recently I went on my first holiday without family, and with friends. Specifically, two fairly new friends whom I didn’t know a whole lot about, but knew I liked them enough to want to know more. Being at this sort of mid-twenties crisis of wondering who I am and where I should be laying my priorities these days, I figured this was a solid foundation for just what I needed – new experience. And I was right. It was totally refreshing.
We went to Prague. This wasn’t even my idea, and I wasn’t even initially invited. I just hopped on the wagon spontaneously, (I say spontaneously; my heart has been dying for something like this for years, and I was actually promised a trip to Prague about two years ago, which then fell through along with the boyfriend who had promised it – so I had been waiting for Prague for a while) and I’m so glad I did. It was ultimately satisfying to just let go and say ‘why the fuck not?’ for a change (from my usual bedroom-bound, cat-loving, Pride-and-Prejudice-fuelled comfort-zone-feast of a dwelling.)
One of my pet hates is waste. Wasted food, wasted paper, wasted time, anything. It gives me the willies. Also being a bit slow (I promise I’m not lazy or arrogant, I just have a kind of echo-effect going on in here) and lethargic a lot of the time (pray gods this is temporary, or I’ll never find my real self – I refuse to believe this is it because who wants to never get truly excited…?) I think I am a bit of a paradox, like the OCD sufferer who’s also “bone-bastard-idle” from the Smack The Pony dating videos… This makes for a balancing act between getting everything I want to do done, and giving myself the time I need to do it in to feel a) not worn out and b) like I’ve not wasted my time. I impose a sort of trap on myself that is likely to set off, at my own hand, if I ever fall short of these meticulous rules.
Anyway, I think I did a pretty good job this time. Being three very different young women, all quite independent and comfortable in certain aspects, we formed a complementary kind of coup that meant we covered a lot of ground in very little time, and each got a rather varied experience out of a short trip and saw things that we might not have if we’d been making all our own choices. Being respectful, free and open-minded, we managed to ‘cram’ (although we managed not to wear ourselves out, but only carried on until we felt we’d taken in a satisfactory amount for the day) in a fair bit of culture and viewing before our time was up. I sawalmost as much of Prague as I wanted to; I came home happy, and I would definitely go again.
What struck me overall about Prague was the conjunction of beautiful and diverse architecture with the evidence of living history about the place; there was a kind of gritty-pretty air about it. According to our Bohemian Walking Tour – a six-month-old project we heard about through our fantastic hostel, and through which we gained a Bristolian (of all things, given my background) tour guide for a day – Prague has been through a lot, and the economy has only started to pick up with the tourism boom in the last few years. The evidence is on the face of every building. Grand classical structures stand in the fantastic landscape, almost defaced by the appearance that the city bears a great weight on its shoulders. Not only dirt and dilapidation but graffiti are a staple part of Prague’s aesthetic, making it no less fascinating but instead adding character to an already quirky and established place.
Even the fact that Prague was home to Franz Kafka is enough richness of character for me, and the Kafka museum is certainly something to write home about. I think, aside from the British National museums, this is probably my favourite and I would highly recommend it for any fans of his writing. The creativity that has gone into the design or the building and the presentation of concepts and history is brilliant. It was a toss-up that one of my friends even came with me, but afterwards she was so moved as to buy herself some of Kafka’s works, and to post several quotes on her own blog. Not that that’s surprising, of course, because he was an amazingly intricate, provocative and beautifully clever writer. I have trouble even describing its effect on me, but for want of better words; what he does with language is beautifully precise and precisely beautiful. It is ultimately satisfying and articulate.
Anyway, enough praise for the already-discovered; in my naive, sheltered literary existence I am easily overwhelmed and ill-equipped to discuss.
Apart from the Kafka museum, we saw lots of the city on foot thanks to the tour on our first day, including (only the outsides of, which was my only disappointment) many landmarks – several castles, some hills, a giant monk-ridden library, and some other stuff I’ve already forgotten. Oh, and Bohemia Bagel. A reasonable, ok bagel cafe that one friend got obsessed with, probably because they had average veggie options (unusual in Prague, where salty meats and rich sauces run riot.) The food was one telling sign that I couldn’t live here. Although I eat like a teenager, I aspire to a healthy life, and I think my mind, in its soul-searching mode, said no to the tastes it encountered out in Prague. I’d like to remain open-minded and think that if one made the effort, one might supermarket/home-make their way into a healthy eating, plain-tasting life here, but I’m lazy, and this city would not make it easy for me.
We made a point of finding the giant faceless crawling babies, said perhaps to represent the artist’s (the same genius who erected two men pissing into a pool shaped like the Czech Republic) views on communism, perhaps communism in a certain context. Perhaps just some giant motherfucking faceless crawling babies. Seriously, like, the size of elephants. Nailed to the TV tower, and dotted about other areas of the city.
There were also lots of dogs, apparently there’s a much higher dog-person ratio there than the UK, and that set off my slathering obsession just a little bit more. One thing I am ashamed of is that I didn’t make the time to learn the language before we went. Although we didn’t need much of it at all in our three days, I really would have liked to have it in my toolbox anyway, not only because it sounds more mature to actually know something of a country you have visited. We did learn one word that we liked very much, and that became our motto for the whole trip: děkuji (“thank you”.)
And along with all the tickets, boarding passes and other mementos, I still have Google Translate on my phone, and it’s still set to ‘English > Czech’.