But What About Prague

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Eight months have passed since I moved to Prague. Other than one post about an art exhibition, I have been silent about the city. The reason for this is not a lack of enchantment, but rather too much of it. Where to begin? There is no shortage of travel blogs that feature photos of the usual iconic tourist attractions and the same groan-inducing puns: Czech, please! or Czech out Prague! There is so much more depth to this city than I had ever imagined. I’ve only begun to peer into its mystery.

I much prefer being a resident to being a tourist. After so many years of living in wilder countries, Prague feels like coming back to the world. I had learned to do without a multitude of good restaurants, consumer goods, and cultural events. “Maybe we should have come here first,” my husband said after a few weeks here.

If we had come here first, we wouldn’t have appreciated it as much. I would have always wondered what life was like elsewhere and felt the itch to move. Besides, I wouldn’t trade the years in Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia for anything.

Regular Czechs, in general, are more pleasant that I had previously thought. Hard to read, but very down-to-earth and funny. The general attitude to tourists is either pride that so many people want to visit, or resignation that they will always have to share their city with thousands of tourists, not all of them respectful. The kind that travel in packs, completely oblivious to others. They clog up the sidewalks and refuse to let you pass unless you push your way through. Selfie Sticks and Segways are an added menace. It takes some vigilance to avoid being smacked in the head or mown down. It is said that it’s still possible to have the Charles Bridge to yourself. If you venture down there at four in the morning on a winter weeknight.

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“We need to build a second Charles Bridge,” one Czech acquaintance told me with a deep sigh, “Only for Czechs.” So far, the only animosity I’ve encountered was when I visited as a tourist in 2010. However, I’ve learned that those who work in the shops and restaurants in the tourist areas very possibly aren’t even Czechs.

An unexpected disappointment: the large number of American expats. It’s not that I don’t like Americans. It’s just that, after seventeen years of almost no contact with any in my daily life, it sometimes feels like I’m not living overseas anymore. The initial disappointment dissipated, however. I simply adjusted my behavior. My husband and I speak French in public, to lessen the chance of being understood. I don’t want to fall into the trap of where ya from as has happened so many times before. I listen, poker-faced, to conversations in trams and restaurants.

One of my old-timer American expat acquaintances vented to us about the newbies. “It used to be the really interesting Americans who came here. The adventurers. The ones who wanted to get out of their comfort zone. Now it’s the Daddy, can you send more money type.” He shook his head in disgust.

On several occasions, I’ve witnessed a curious phenomenon. It usually occurs on public transport, most often a tram. I enter and take a seat. A stop or two later, a pair or group of young Americans gets on. After a smug look around, the dialogue begins. Drawls of feigned nonchalance. The discussion is usually about classes or partying. A stop or two after that, another pair or group gets on. The first group, when hearing the new voices, falls silent. Eyerolls are exchanged and backs are turned with disdain. The cycle repeats. The record, so far, is four such groups on one tram.

When this happens, I cast a furtive glance around. Surely I am not the only individual disguised behind a stoic expression. The slightest flicker of recognition, the twitch of a stifled snicker. I never know for sure who is also in on the joke.

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Sanctuary can still be found. In Prague, so much hides in plain sight. I slip into the labyrinth of cobblestone alleys and shadowy staircases and get myself lost. Once insulated, the din recedes. The voice of Prague emerges, both angel and witch. Casting her spell and bestowing blessings. A full moon over the Charles Bridge on Christmas Eve while my husband and I stand hand in hand on the bank of the Vltava. The celestial chime of the bells of St. Vitus as I stroll through Petřín Hill during a gentle Sunday morning snowfall. There is no other choice but surrender.

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93 thoughts on “But What About Prague

  1. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Prague, and our next Europe trip will probably take us there. And we promise to not act like obnoxious college kids.

  2. I have also been witness to Americans conversing with one another where I live. In most cases, I don’t have a problem with it – I figure everyone has a right to converse, and not everyone can afford the energy to learn a new language every time they go somewhere to visit or (gods forbid!) stay for a couple years. I’ve also been known to join in on such conversations and even offer my amateur tour guide services. What I have a problem with are those people (American or not) who will sit or stand in a bus full of Germans and start throwing off on the country, the region, the city, and the people in a language other than German, thinking no one here is clever enough to figure out what is being said. The people who do this in English are particularly unimpressive – listen to the radio here, watch the television, English is not an unfamiliar language to many of the people living here.

    Usually, when I go on tour to someplace I’ve never been to before, I avoid the touristy places. I like to go where the locals go, I like to see how the locals live. Famous places also have the benefit of having been thoroughly and repeatedly photographed … taking things like time-stressed crowds, pollution, graffiti and the wonders of Photoshop into consideration, the postcards start looking better than the actual tourist spots. A small village outside of Paris would hold greater interest for me than standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. I can’t say I’ve been enamored with every place I’ve been to; but I like to think I’ve brought my manners with me wherever I’ve gone visiting, and avoided irritating local residents by getting in their way or by throwing off on them or their homes while still relying on their hospitality.

    • I’m sure you are a delightful visitor to any place you visit, and it’s kind of you to offer your travel advice to those who visit your city. I do the same…sometimes. I’ve had some march up to me (they take me for a local) and demand directions or to even to take them where they need to go. Um, nope. I’ve run into some who are so lost and completely hopeless at reading a map or finding the correct platform for a train. I’ll at least point them in the right direction and if I’m going that way and they’re kind, I’ll walk with them. Doesn’t matter where they’re from. I’ve also warned people away from bad restaurants and shops. As for people talking on trams, I also cring when people talk loudly about really personal things in English. Most people speak at least a little English here. I’ve yet to hear anyone say anything negative on public transport about Prague or Czechs.

  3. I didn’t notice the multitudes on that daylight bridge shot…I was focused on the lovely background. Is the attraction just about the view or vantage point ? Looks quite crowded.

    So happy for you to be a resident there. I’d settle for just being a tourist. Wonderful post, Julie. 💕

    • Ah, so you noticed all those little people squished on that bridge. It’s like that every day. All day long. The stream sometimes thins out, sometimes clogs up so badly you can’t move. I am going to go down there in the middle of the night one of these days, when it warms up a little. Just to see if it’s empty. Hope you can visit here one day, Van. You would love it.

  4. Great snowy images Julie – I am envious, I have only seen it in rain. That was a rushed business trip some years back but at least our hosts knew the best restaurants. My experience was tainted by the embarrassment of raucous UK stag and hen parties parading through the streets until the small hours 😦

    • Thanks, Robin. It’s even beautiful in the rain, but when the sun shines the whole place glows golden. The stag/hen parties…I’ve seen them in the other cities I’ve lived in, but here it’s constant. They’re not just from the UK. The old city is really overrun by the worst groups of tourists. There’s a real pack mentality that takes over and it can ruin the atmosphere for those who are respectful. I admire those who can ignore it.

  5. Dobry den Julie. Bonjour. Thank you for your post. I went to Praga around 2003. Went in shock. For a brief moment I pondered whether Paris was still the most beautiful city on earth… Imagine! Then decided it still was, in the category “large” city.
    Another shock was the impossibility to understand anything. No word even remotely close to romance or germanic languages. Pivo = Beer? I mean really.
    I also had a flashback seeing the monument to jan Hus. I recalled the pictures of the Russian invasion, and in my mind’s eye, I remembered all the buildings around the square, black with soot. I looked up: painted anew. And I thought: only 10-15 years since “independence”, and the Czechs have shaken their city back into life. I know many countries where nothing has happened in 15 or 50 years.
    Merci again.

    • Bonjour Brian – Yes, the Czech Republic shook off the bad years quite efficiently. I’m impressed by so many things. I have lived in places (one place in particular, not mentioning any names) that have hardly evolved at all since the end of communism. As for most beautiful city – Paris has the icons and the atmosphere, but I’m on team Prague. I didn’t feel that way until I moved here, though. It took a while to drown out the chatter and let the magic sink in.

      • In Sync with you. When we went, I told my wife I wanted to spend at least a semester there to learn the place and the language. 🙂 I need one slavic language. 🙂 She said no. 😦

  6. It is indeed a beautiful city!

    I can’t however imagine what it must be like to see the hordes of English men descend each weekend for their various stag do’s!

    Now as far as the puns go, I’ve always preferred the old “Czech mate” 😉

  7. Prague and Viena were jewels to me in terms of great European cities (and there are so many great ones)… Prague, in particular, had an impact on my as I had not imagined what an intricate city it was (even if I was only a tourist there). The city almost got me fired from my job when I got lost in the city (figuratively and literally) and shirked a day of work…adventures that I will always look back upon with a smile. You say something I believe to be very true: “If we had come here first, we wouldn’t have appreciated it as much. I would have always wondered what life was like elsewhere and felt the itch to move…” I have a very good friend from my hometown who lives in Prague, and that is exactly what happened to her. Great post.

    • Intricate is a perfect way to describe it. I’m not surprised that you sensed this on your visit and got yourself gloriously lost. It’s the only way to truly experience the city.

    • Yes, Segways. Tour groups on Segways. They think they rule the streets and sidewalks. A guy even drove right into me once. No apology. It’s really funny when you see some obnoxious boob bite the dust on one, though. They’re finally putting some laws into effect this year to reduce the nuisance, because it’s really out of control.

  8. Never heard a bad thing about Prague and judging by your beautiful photos especially in winter, it looks fabulous. Love your American people stories..ha ha. I was on a tour once with Americans and French people; the French only spoke English to us and pretended they couldn’t speak English to the Americans…they really didn’t like them. It was funny!! And… wonderful post.

    • Thanks, Sue. Funny about those French tourists. I can see their point if the Americans were rude, but to ignore people just based on where they’re from is lame. As someone who is now a French citizen and lived for 7 years surrounded by them in New Caledonia, I can say that the French can be a real pain in the ass as tourists. Whining about every tiny detail. I’ve pretended to not understand French on more than one occasion. 😉

  9. Hello Julie!
    Not so sure if you’d remember me – you’ve send me photos of your beautiful bun, Flower, once. It was so nice reading this post, as I’m going to Prague in April later this year!

    Your photos are, as always, lovely. And I really enjoy your style of telling a story. It’s just so pleasant to read.

    I hope you’re doing well. Chat soon 🙂

    All the best
    William (Life’s a Bunny)

    • Hi William! Of course I remember you. 🙂 So nice to hear from you. Flower is still with us: 9 years old and having a difficult time right now. Hopefully it will pass. Great to hear you’re visiting Prague soon. Feel free to send me an email (address is on my “about” page) regarding your trip. Hope you’re back to blogging! I’m going to check Life’s a Bunny right now. 😀

  10. Interesting read. Travel adds so much to one’s life, but tourism does change the location visited. Many tourists do act like morons.I remember travelling through the US for 4 weeks and most people mistook me for being British. When I arrived in LA, and heard the Aussie accent for the first time in a long time, I wanted to cringe and pretend I was British. 🙂

    Thanks for your thoughts about Prague.

    • It’s funny how some of us want to escape our own countries when we travel, even to the point of wishing to be assumed to be from elsewhere. I used to try to hide that I was American, but I don’t so much anymore, at least from non-Americans. I’ve found that most decent people couldn’t care less where you’re from as long as you don’t impose on their space. When I feel the presence of a potential motormouth, however, the French disguise comes out.

  11. I always try to “blend in” as much as possible. I am always in absolute shock when I am on public transportation and hear people talk about those around them. A lot of Koreans KNOW English. Oh, how it gets under my skin!

    • I don’t recall hearing people talk about those around them in English, but I have heard French people do it. I always wonder if people who are speaking a language I don’t understand are doing the same.

  12. Love your views Julie, written and photographed. We arrived in Prague middle of Feb ’93 after an overnight train journey from Venice and had the best time, feeling as though we had most of the city to ourselves. The Soviet influence was still there.
    With you on preferring to live somewhere instead of being a tourist!

  13. A beautiful read – your thoughts on Prague, people , tourists and segways. I can see it. I got knocked over myself by one in Rome, when a whole tourist group swarmed by on wheels in a street. A real nuisance they are. They let anyone use those vehicles, and what if they had overtaken a group of elderly, disabled people?
    Prague in snow is a beauty too. I have never visited, but my husband says he loved the city when he visited many years ago. I remember him saying that there was a little bit too much of buildings and architecture as an overall impression though. I guess that comes with being only a tourist.

    • Thank you, Leya. Terrible that you got knocked over by a Segway. So, they’re in Rome, too. I have seen a few here and there in other touristy cities, but nowhere like in Prague. The guy who drove into me (didn’t knock me over) looked at me like he expected ME to apologize. When he saw my look, he turned a little pale and scuttled away on that ridiculous vehicle. One of the most obnoxious inventions ever, along with the Selfie Stick.

      • Well, I do not disagree with you…and the reaction of the guy with the Segway in my case was about the same. His group looked away and most of them seemed to be doing their first Segway trip ever.

  14. I have been worried that you weren’t well or were just fed up with us bloggers, dear Julie and now you are back from and with Prague; it’s just great.:) Unfortunately I now the city only as a tourist and I love it all the same but what I can very well feel with the local people is what it means to have all these tourist around you all the time, because Ticino is also tourist region. My daughter gets so angry because these “foreigners”, maybe they are Swiss, never try to speak Italian, even if they have come here for ages. So when we are outside we just talk Italian so as not to be recognized by the tourists! Thank you very much for your opinion about Prague. Very best regards Martina

    • Thank you for your concern, Martina. I’m going to be posting less often for a while. From your photos, Ticino looks lik a beautiful area, so I’m not surprised that you have a lot of tourists. It’s a challenge being a resident in a place with so many visitors. It seems we deal with it the same way. 🙂

  15. I’ve been in Prague in January few years ago for the first time, and i was totally fascinated by visiting the city…it has such a special atmosphere, some places seems quite…unreal. Love walking trought its cobblestone streets…i never imagined about so many Americans expats. Great photos Julie, lovely indeed.

  16. So funny and beautiful! Really enjoyed reading this. I’ve been to Prague six months after the Berlin Wall fell and already the streets were flooded by tourists but the people were still a little quiet and scared from the regime they just left behind. But maybe that was just my interpretation as a 19 year on interrailer. I’m so curious how they feel about their own history. Did you talk to anyone about this?

    • Thanks, Ber. Compared to the other nationalities I’ve lived amongst, the Czechs seem to be the least willing to talk about it. When I bring up the subject of the time before, most people shrug and say they were too young to remember and that’s the end of the discussion. I doubt that’s entirely true, because most of them are my age or older and I was an adult when the change occured. So, I don’t bring up the subject anymore.

      • I guess it’s not easy to talk about. Maybe because some people had a better life back then but it’s a bit of a taboo to admit that. Maybe it’s because it was a hard life and they want to forget about it. We might find out one day…

  17. This is why I love to visit small towns, and unknown places. There you can meet and watch the real native people and real life. As I mention in my post about Louvre nowadays all famous pieces of Art you can see and read about them in the internet. But because of crowd in that famous places you cannot enjoy and relax.

    • Hi Alexander – The Louvre is a nightmare to visit. I’ve been there twice and will probably never return. These days, I almost always visit off-the-beaten-path places. There are some places that I never want to visit – Ibiza, for example, and Disneyworld. Makes me shudder just thinking about it.

  18. Lovely pictures and insights into Prague. I enjoyed one of the most insane weekends in my life in Prague. It was just after communism fell and there were very few communists. I had run out of money so I slept rough at the station, which then got attacked by skinheads at about 3 am and that was just the start! Will never forget it and there was an atmosphere of mystery and a special kind of old Europe about the place as I endlessly wandered the streets.

  19. Not sure how I’ve done it, but I’ve circled Prague for years and never visited! I’m sure part of it is my penchant for “weirder” places that aren’t where everyone else wants to go, but I know it needs to be seen and I know I will love it. Maybe not the tourist-thronged bridge, but all the hidden stuff you refer to!

    • I understand your preference for weird destinations. I’m totally the same. Since I’ve lived here, I’ve maybe walked across that bridge 3 times. I keep trying to force myself down there to take photos, but I get close, see the crowds, and chicken out. It is probably magical at sunrise in the summer. You might not have it completely to yourself, but there will be a lot more space. I intend to try it once it warms up a little.

  20. I came to this after re-reading Liquid memories and slipping back to Across the Bridge, Julie, so my head was still full of stuff and not ready for the light hearted approach. Good to know that, through all this, you have someone to stand hand in hand with and be happy. Is publication an imminent reality, and will you be able to let it go? (blame this comment on Robin at Northumbrianlight 🙂 )

    • Thank you for reading all of that, Jo. Most of the memoir is “done”, but I’m not focusing on publication yet. I’m reworking parts of it at the moment. It’s more important for me to be satisfied with what I’ve done than to try to put it on the market as soon as possible. I’ve already let most of it go. 🙂

      • It’s a riveting read, Julie! Although I can’t claim to have had that background many aspects resonate, both for myself and my family. I didn’t ‘hear’ publication in your words. There’s a strong feeling that you’re doing it for yourself. It’ll be ready when it is 🙂 🙂 Are you familiar with Sherri Matthews (A view from the summerhouse)? She’s writing a memoir based on a traumatic relationship, and is fighting a lifelong battle for her grown up daughter, who has Asperger’s Syndrome. Some people have hard lives, don’t they, but she’s still full of joy and warmth. Anyway- sorry for rambling on. 🙂

  21. I am sadly ignorant of the parts of the world you have mentioned here, but I delight in discovering the character they possess when others give me the opportunity. I am usually amazed at the extent to which the educational system in the US failed to present the countries of central and eastern Europe on their own terms. They were just like this big bloc of Soviet puppet states or something. I remember when I was young, and the opportunity to watch soccer in the US was so rare, and I watched Yugoslavia play Argentina (the favorites) in the World Cup. The match went to double overtime as I recall, but the character of the Yugoslavian team was really interesting for me to see. They won me over that day. It was a little like discovering something I hadn’t known existed.

    Thanks for sharing these views into a whole new world!
    Michael

    • Hi Michael. It’s well known that world geography is not a priority for the US educational system. Many people think that Czechoslovakia still exists – but to be fair, I’ve heard people from all over (Australia, UK, France, etc) use that word. All of these countries have a distinct personality, while also keeping some similarities that are remnants from the communist years. I consider myself fortunate to be able to live here and truly experience these cultures.

      • Not only Prague has changed, me too. I left as a student and life was so easy in those days. Anyway, I shall be in Prague in two weeks time as want to visit the Prague Patchwork Meeting that is held from 1-3 April.

  22. hello la vagabonde its dennis the vizsla dog hay selfie sticks and segways duz sownd like a bad kombinayshun!!! almost like jowsting only with kameras on poles insted of lances!!! ok bye

  23. `Sanctuary can still be found. In Prague, so much hides in plain sight. I slip into the labyrinth of cobblestone alleys and shadowy staircases and get myself lost. Once insulated, the din recedes. The voice of Prague emerges, both angel and witch´…

    I loved those lines taken from the ending paragraph. A beautiful retelling, dear Julie…
    The photographs are stunning… Cheers to such a wonderful place on earth.
    Sending love and best wishes. Aquileana 🌟

    • Hi Aquileana – yes, I’m very thankful that such places exist. The fact that I happen to live here still amazes me. Thank you and warmest wishes to you, too. 💐

  24. Of all the capitals in Central Europe, Prague is the only one I haven’t visited.
    I don’t know why, but I fear to find it besieged by stag dos, Segways, alchemist tours and so on, some sort of Venice, sans canals of course. It’s not snobbery, for at the end of the day I’d be – as a tourist – as responsible as everyone else for its state… but right here right now there are other places, wilder places, as you mentioned, that enthral me.
    I found your description of the Americans on trams very funny, because we Italians do it as well, myself included!

    Fabrizio

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