This morning as we emerged from the Prague subway Muriel asked me for the camera so she could photograph an optical illusion that occurs on the subway escalator. Everyone appears to be leaning backwards at such a preposterous angle that they are in danger of falling over backwards. As soon as Muriel said, “camera,” I realized I had forgotten it at home. After a daily ritual of over 250 days, I had put our family camera in an unfamiliar location and charged our camera in obscure outlet in our dining area. With no visual cues, I completely forgot to pack it along for our outing.
At first it felt like the day would be akin to travelling without a memory. Without photographs how was I going to document our day, how was I going to remember? In some ways it felt like an extension of my body had been removed. I also felt partly blind. In reality, I had been given an opportunity, albeit very late in our trip, to view or surroundings very differently. Looking around me I saw everyone else observing their surroundings completely through their camera lens. Even before they understood what they were looking at, they had photographed it. On some days that was me. I would be so preoccupied with documenting the moment for posterity’s sake that I didn’t really comprehend. It left me wondering how my photography would change if I spend more time initially observing with my naked eye?
If a picture is worth a thousand words and we take anywhere between 50 and 150 photographs on a sightseeing day, I should conservatively be writing a 50,000 word blog post today in order to make up for the lost visuals. Hannah and Abby note that my blog posts are long-winded so don’t despair dear readers, I won’t be permitted to make up the pictorial deficit with words.
Our first destination of the day was Prague Castle. We entered a gate which had a ceremonial guard posted on either side. As we lingered there a group of ten teenage girls started posing around one of the soldiers. They edged closer and closer to the young officer trying to top each other in their silly poses and conduct. As their antics and incomprehensible comments began to take on the appearance of outright mocking of the guard, Muriel stepped in. Despite the language gap Muriel gave them a stern tongue lashing and a lesson on respect. She didn’t stick around to see if lecture prompted a change in their behaviour but by tone alone the girls were quite clear on what they had just been told. I certainly am proud to married to this plucky Canadian girl who just can’t stand by and do nothing at the sight of injustice.
After Muriel’s defence of the castle troops we passed through the north gate and took in Saint Vitus Cathedral which stands in its midst of the castle complex. We found that several hundred tourists had the same idea. The cathedral is in a neogothic style and of gargantuan dimensions. Since it took so long to construct (nearly 600 years), the stained glass windows are quite modern with the last of them being completed in the 1930s. Saint Vitus is considered the most important church in the Czech Republic not only because it is the burial place of its kings but because it visually depicts the entire religious history of the Czechs starting with the story of Christ. One could stare at the interior and exterior of this edifice for days and not take in all the stories it conveys.
The neighbourhood around the main Palace is an amazing collection of houses built by the nobility and high ranking clerics who wanted to have direct access to the monarchy. Think of it as the Czech Beverly Hills of the 1600s. At the outer edge of this neighbourhood we had a light lunch in a simple cafe. It was interesting to watch how a couple of labourers spent their lunch break. They ordered no food but each had a two ounce shot of hard liquor followed by a large bottle of beer. Halfway through their beer they both had another two ounce shot. I am not sure how productive they were going to be that afternoon but by the look of their ruddy complexions I think they were just wetting their whistles for serious drinking after work.
In the afternoon we took in our second mini museum of our trip. We visited one in Hungary and Hannah had put this one on her wish list for Prague as a result. As with the previous museum, the set up was a bit quirky and the admission price at odds with diminutive theme. Despite this, Muriel expressed a grudging respect for the Siberian artist who created all these works, a sentiment which I have to echo. Among the odd items on display were a metal replica of the Eiffel Tower placed inside a cherry stone, the Lord’s Prayer printed on a strand of hair, a flea shod with metal horseshoes and holding a lock and key, two metal ships floating on a mosquito’s wing and several metal swans mounted on a poppy seed.
After our considering all things small we looked for a contrasting experience. We walked through the hillside Petrin park overlooking Prague and climbed the tower of the same name to take in some magnificent views of the city. The resemblance between Prague and Budapest is uncanny. Prague is merely a more compact version of Budapest with much narrower streets and a smaller river flowing through it. The tower itself, which was built in 1891, is like a mini version of the Effiel Tower without an elevator. The 299 steps to the top led to a fairly crowded and stuffy observation area at the top. Muriel chose not to linger lest she be tempted to toss a few of the more exhausted looking climbers out the window to reduce the temperature and humidity on the deck.
Upon our descent from the tower, we enjoyed the cool shade of the park below and stopped for some refreshments. It was there that we saw street entertainment that I believe parents of young children would all be willing to generously support. A man with a number of buckets of soap solution was creating huge bubbles non-stop. He was surrounded by kids chasing and popping the bubbles. He never let up the whole time we were there. Parents just relaxed on nearby benches and chatted with their spouses as if for the first time in years and a few wandered over to the nearby canteen to buy a cold beer. It would seem that these parents, let alone the kids, would remember this interlude as their most enjoyable time of their entire vacation in Prague.