Thursday, October 02, 2014

Principles of Prague

"Prague won't let you go, the little mother has claws." 

An ominous phrase Franz Kafka once penned about the uneasy relationship with the city of his birth. Not exactly the glowing review of a city you'd expect from a renowned local - so I did have some initial misgivings when we randomly picked Prague to visit. Practically hidden from view in the impenetrable eastern bloc of Communism all throughout my school life, I knew but little of the Czech Republic - or Czechoslovakia as it was known then! Didn't know very much about the city of Prague either - other than three very peculiar yet oddly salient facts, that the city had given birth to Kafka, Mucha and the Golem.

And though a brief run-through of all the kitschy touristy places would doubtlessly confirm that fact with dozens of souvenirs touting those familiar names, the beautiful city of Prague can lay claim to so much more than that.

A symphony in stone they call it - and how very true that is!

The view out the window

Just the view from my hotel window - right next to the visually stunning Charles Bridge spanning the width of the Vltava River - is enough to reveal a picturesque scene of towering spires and spiralling turrets straight out of a beautiful handpainted storybook, each pastel-coloured building block enhancing the next to form an unforgettable vista of breathtaking beauty. Spared hideous large-scale destruction during World War II unlike other less fortunate European cities, the city's largely medieval core remains thankfully intact. Narrow cobblestoned alleyways tempt the intrepid visitor down the most remarkable examples of architecture ever seen, literally a living textbook of building styles throughout the centuries.

Baroque. Gothic. Art Nouveau. Even up to the avant garde deconstructivist design of the Dancing House by Vlado Milunic and Frank Gehry.

The Golden City of a Hundred Spires indeed! Honestly if I could, I would have carted back half the amazingly intricate doors I'd seen - and let's not forget the framing statues around the doors. Honestly didn't do very much on the first day we arrived apart from oohing and aahing over the beautiful buildings, along with darting in and out of stores.

Funny things is you would expect having such architectural beauty surrounding them all would lead to some ecstatically jolly local merchants dancing maniacally on the cobbled streets - which is unfortunately very, very far from the truth. Couple Germanic reserve with some Slavic dourness and you'd get a bit closer! Perhaps that is what Kafka initially meant about the claws since the storekeepers all seem remarkably glum despite garnering booming business.

Which leads to the most unusual shopping experiences I've had.

Paul : The gemstones are lovely. 
Shopkeeper : Garnets. 
Paul : Could I see more examples? 
Shopkeeper : You can. 
Paul : Are there bigger stones? 
Shopkeeper : There are.
Paul : Maybe teamed with some gold?
Shopkeeper : Yes. 
Paul : Well, are you going to show me? 

Lest you mistake their monosyllabic grumpiness for misinterpretation, most of the locals actually speak English very well, mind you. There's just a curious lack of salesmanship for the lack of a better word.

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