Tuesday, April 10, 2007

bonny prague-land and high-lands

The Czech Extravaganza ended with much more of the same – aimless meandering to grumble about how 'things were better when I was here' and get used to the stench of body odor, beer, and stale cigarettes that wafts from even the cleanest of places. Other minute details that shan't be overlooked:
• Prague Castle now charges to get into the cathedral and onto Zlata Ulica, or Golden Lane, where Kafka once lived. (We said no; does one really need to see another shop full of tat?) The average bear could easily spend over 15EUR to see the various (boring) buildings on the grounds of the castle.
• I've taken a liking to Mala Strana, the area below the castle, which I once thought of as a bit boring. Some very bright city planner has limited the tat shops to two per block, and the wide array of cafes and restaurants and galleries gives this area a fresh attitude. The riverside streets have been gentrified since the floods in '02 and are prettily painted, full of lovely shops and restaurants, and have enough green space throughout to easily hide away from the hordes on the…
• Charles Bridge. I remember walking this bridge in the early hours of the morning, once in particular just at dawn, with no one else but me and my companions around, the city dozing, boats moored, birds still asleep and nothing but the moon, the slowly fading stars, and a breeze to contemplate. Somewhere my psyche has added a romantic mist from the water and the soft glow of the theatrical lighting of Prague's many spires. Sigh. Now it is merely an extension of the tat shops in the Old Town. Only a few artists remain on the bridge, selling their mind's eye visions of the fair land. Or you can buy plastic toys, or wooden toys, or Russian dolls painted to look like Manchester United or, of course, the ubiquitous "Czech Me Out" t-shirts, hats, buttons, socks, and bras.
• I have never seen so many KFC outlets in a four-mile radius in my life. Sadly, most were full.
Perhaps, in some way, every time a place so ingrained in the mind is revisited, the reality of time passing can smack you in the face. That said, I'm proud of Prague, of how it continues to stay Czech beneath the gloss and the shiny schtick. We did some wandering away from the center, and that's where we saw the reality of life in this city that for some, represents the quintessential Eastern European experience. We met up with my mate Jack (link on right), who recently moved back to Prague, and he said something that has stuck with me – that for awhile, he was living in two cities – Prague from five years ago, and Prague today, trying to find the balance. I applaud him for finding his ground on returning – how difficult it must be to come back, to start over, when you can taste and feel and know how it once was.

In bonny Glasgow now, beneath grey skies with a chill in the air – just as it should be. Matt and I spent the weekend in the Highlands, climbing Cairn Gorm (well, cheating for some of it) and wandering Inverness and Ft. William. It was a lovely Easter weekend, and I was treated like a princess – dinner at Abstract, a posh restaurant, and a night at a four-star hotel in an old mansion along the River Ness. Sunday we had a fab meal in Ft. William, stayed in a charming B&B, and were ready to cycle on Monday but the weather decided against it. I'm here through the week and looking forward to recharging post-travel, getting ready for the next six weeks, and to say goodbye, again, to friends, students, colleagues, and life in Switzerland.

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