Get your mind out of the gutter… Not that kind of eye candy!!!
I’m talking about the kind of eye candy that made me see what charm actually is. That made me seek for more details yet felt so basic. That made me discover new colors and textures. That prevented me from blinking. That made me forget about being anywhere else; forget about my phone; forget about everything else going on in my life. Eye candy that made me want to just be there, in it, to take in as much of it as possible. Eye candy that showed me that grunge and baroque, industrial and eclectic, even gothic belong together. That made me realize embellishments can simplify. Plain old beauty. Eye candy everywhere.
It started on the train from Munich, looking at the Czech countryside. There was a moment when I thought: “This place is just as beautiful as Virginia’s Blue Ridge mountains…” As we got closer and closer to the Czech capital, this centuries old country’s raw edge became apparent: beyond it’s recognizable paysage, I saw its jaggedness, its blue-collar feel, mostly in abandoned and colorfully graffitied factories, dilapidated by what I imagined to be the country’s complex history. People live around here.
I heard Slovak for the first time when the conductor announced that our arrival at Praha’s main station would be a few hours from then. Hmm, this isn’t German… It’s actually much softer: it rolls in the front of the mouth, like a familiar latin language. Yet none of it comprehensible. I might have also picked up a hint of Russian in its composition, although I have zero experience with that language either – I credit Hollywood for my imagination.
Our approach into Prague became palpable. I started to catch that feeling of excitement I always get when I arrive somewhere new: I’m addicted to the anticipation of discovery, to the thrill of uncovering a new place, a new way of life.
As soon as we crossed the Vltava river, everything changed. Everything looked different. Suddenly, we were in a big city. It was dusk, magic hour. All I thought was: W.O.W! Eye candy everywhere.
My AirBnB hosts greeted me at what would be my home for the next 4 days. Adėla and her husband Roman warmly and proudly showed me around their incredible recently renovated one-bedroom flat in the center of town. I like to pretend I live in the cities I visit; this place, I could definitely live in. All of its modern amenities juxtaposed against the details of a historic 150 year-old building. The perfect marriage of old and new. And location, location, location. Eye candy everywhere.
Yet, I couldn’t wait to get out and feel the city. The walking began. Nightfall had arrived. I let my eyes guide my stride. I don’t know how far I walked following the lights and sounds of Friday night in Prague; I don’t even know where I went or what I saw. I was just tasting the discovery, taking it all in. I was already in love. Eye candy everywhere.
At breakfast on Saturday morning at the Liberia Cafe, recommended by Adėla, I heard the couple next to me speak 5 languages between the 2 of them: English, French, Slovak, German and another one I didn’t recognize (perhaps Russian?!). I felt blessed with yet also completely inadequate being bilingual. While we are lucky as Americans that our language is pretty much “default” in most of the world, I sometimes feel its homogeneity lacks luster. In restaurants, tourist attractions and cultural establishments, almost everyone spoke English. On the streets however, I was surprised at how little of it I heard. I recognized perhaps one or two American couples, and a handful of brilliant British accents. Lots of French however, none of it Canadian…
Being a tourist in the winter is special: blessing and curse. The blessings are that winter offers a unique view on a city and there aren’t that many of us tourists on the streets; the curses are that not all of venues are open for the frosty season and, well, it’s cold AF. I was well prepared for the chill, until it started snowing. My hair!!! Let’s get real, I needed a hat: it’s too cold to be worried about my coiffure…
I stepped into a Czech fashion boutique and met the only woman I had a significant interaction with besides Adėla during my time in Prague. Natalia didn’t speak English. Yet style, comfort, fabrics, warmth and design brought us together, like only la mode can do. I tried on 5 or 6 hats, and pretty much anything else she brought to my attention. In that moment, we were completely connected. We used words neither of us understood, sounds and hand signals, looked each other in the eyes, and in the end, we both laughed. We spoke fashion.
I bought a hat and a scarf.
Had I neither been on a budget nor at the beginning of this journey, I would have bought a lot more. The fashion in Prague is remarkable. Sure, I found the usual suspects: the high-end district with designers you can buy everywhere else in the world. I’m referring to the local designers. I saw the country’s edge I previously felt illustrated in their clothing and accessories: blunt, yet curvaceous, classic yet funky, exactly my kind of style.
This edge also manifested itself in my experience with a countryman’s art exposition at DOX, where contemporary meets Praha’s hipster Holešovice district. One of the most thought-provoking art exhibit I have ever seen. Named DeTermination, Daniel Pešta explores earthly existence and depicts his interpretation of the human race in the context of genetic, racial and social determination in a multi-media format that challenges the cycle of religious and political tragedies (to paraphrase…). Eye candy everywhere.
My only souvenir from Prague is the exhibition’s poster.
Religion played an unexpected part in my visit to Prague. Sunday morning, I stepped into the Nanebevzetí Panny Marie church, lured in by the sounds of the congregation singing inside. Standing room only, I found refuge in the back. Faithfuls rushed to light their offering candles; a man’s full-time job was to organize them in sandy basins. As latin worship words danced in the air, a carefully choreographed ceremony was taking place, like a dance, rehearsed to perfection for ages. I didn’t know any of the moves, but I respectfully observed the beauty of a community coming together to honor their beliefs and practice their faith together. I was touched and humbled. I wondered how different the world would be if we all found the peace I felt in that moment.
Later that morning, I found myself at the Old Jewish Cemetery. As a complete contrast from my experience earlier in the day, I was sobered by the reality of humanity’s history; saddened by its ugly; awoken by its reality. Yet still touched and humbled. Much like I had felt in Berlin several months prior, grateful for my opportunities, determined to honor my blessings and exercise my choice.
I read somewhere that walking the Charles Bridge at dawn is one of the 100 things to do before you die. I did that. It was the most memorable moment of the trip. Sometimes, it’s worth getting up early. I knew I was in the right place when it started to snow… Eye candy everywhere.
Prague, I want to see you again.
For now, next stop, Austria, where I will meet Vienna.
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