Friday, February 23, 2007
Praha: It's Like Candy
By Meredith Degyansky
Cobblestone streets, baroque and gothic architecture, museums, restaurants, and sausage stands line the city center of Prague (actually referred to as Praha by local Europeans). One winding river – the Vltava - divides the city and more than a dozen bridges link it together, including the famous pedestrian walkway, the Charles Bridge.
On the left bank of the Vltava atop a hill sits the most well known landmark in the city, the Prague Castle. Down from the castle is the “old town”; a hilly cobble stoned neighborhood swathed with beautiful buildings and pricey Czech restaurants. Across the river is “new town” housing the rest of the museums, cathedrals, five old synagogues and other attractions. The city of Praha is indeed pleasing to the eye; it is no wonder it has become a surreal conurbation overwhelmed with fanny packs and digital cameras.
The town itself is impeccably clean. There is no graffiti on the buildings, no trash stuffed along the curbs, no cigarette butts on the ground, and no gum stuck on the sidewalks. I immediately wondered how they kept it so clean. Whose job is it to maintain Prague’s flawless beauty? When do they do it and how? It seemed as if there was a continuous flow of pedestrians on the streets at every hour. But I still felt as if I could eat off the sparkling cobblestones. Now the water closets on the other hand better be in tiptop shape since it is necessary to pay to use any of the facilities about the town. (Tip: Keep some pocket change for when you must…) After utilizing these services multiple times, I decided the twenty or so koruns was money well spent.
Tourists certainly seem to make up the vast majority of people in Prague. The only place I saw Czech natives were working in the restaurants. The rest of the time I had no trouble speaking English and finding people to speak English to. I even met about five people from my home state of Maryland. Hearing so much English made me feel like I was in the United States again rather than central Europe. The crowds of people were overwhelming. All of my pictures contain other persons taking pictures in the background. The Charles Bridge was nearly impossible to walk across in the middle of the day. Then it dawned on me that that is why the books always say to walk across it at dawn. It isn’t any more beautiful at dawn; you can just actually see something rather than the huge winter parka in front of you.
I did not meet many locals in Praha; I am sure they are hibernating in the outskirts. Do not get me wrong; it is a lovely place to visit for a long weekend. The sites are captivating and something everyone should experience, but for everyday life, it is not ideal. It did not feel real. In the words of Professor Pedro Lange, “It’s like candy.” We could lick the ground if we wanted to. And so when I returned to Budapest, I felt a sense of relief to see dog poo on the ground and graffiti on the buildings. I could walk down the street, flailing my arms without hitting anyone. Ahh, Budapest… home, sweet, home.