I love Prague. The architecture is amazing. The castles, the cathedrals, the buildings, the shops, the cobblestone, the statues, the bridges, the boats, the sky, the parks, the birds . . . LOL. There is a lot to love. But I don’t love it as much as I did in 2000. Or actually, I love it as much, but I so long for things to return to how they were.
When I visited in 2000, it was May and the streets were quiet. My first moments in Prague included standing on a near-empty Charles Bridge looking up at the fairytale castle and cathedral on the hill at midnight. They were lit by a million twinkle lights.
I remember falling asleep with an open window. I was sure the cool air carried a bit of history and mystery on its wings, and I couldn’t wait to explore the next day.
I remember awaking to the sound of church bells announcing Sunday morn. If there was one bell there were a hundred, and I was certain I’d landed in the most magical place on earth. And then, just as the bells died down, one solo voice rose up—an opera singer strolling the cobblestone lanes. I didn’t understand her words, but the music of her voice moved me.
I remember walking the cobblestone streets the next day with just a few tourists and mostly locals. I felt a part of something big, something unknown but special. People had walked the same streets for hundreds of years and here I was. My feet pressed down over the places they walked.
I remember my friend and me being the only shoppers in the marionette shop. The handsome salesman had us blushing as he caused the puppet to dance at our feet.
I remember authentic restaurants and little stores with sweet grandmas selling their handmade items. I filled a suitcase with items made by a sweet woman named Michaela. She was sweet as she’d show me the things she’d worked so hard to make. I enjoyed her so much I named one of the characters from my first novel after her. That’s what I miss the most—women like Michaela and the shops of random handmade items. I could handle the tons of tourists (there are tons now), but I miss the old shops. Most of them have been replaced by cheesy souvenir places that sell the same T-shirts, shot glasses, and Russian stacking dolls, which aren’t close to being Czech.
Folks have discovered Prague, and while I don’t mind sharing, I wish today’s tourists could know what’s been lost. Of course, on this trip I discovered a new city a few hours away by train—not as big, but just as beautiful. There were amazing buildings and castles and cathedrals and shops and cobblestone and statues and bridges and parks. I wish I could tell you where it is. If you beg me, I will tell, but I have to admit I enjoyed escaping the crowds and seeing only a few other tourists. I wouldn’t mind keeping it to myself for a while.
What about you? Do you have a special place that exists that way only in your memory? What did you like about it? What do you think has been lost in the years since?