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alice in wonderland

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From November 1, 2003: In November 2003, I took my first trip to Prague. I had already decided that I would move there, but hadn’t yet seen it. A friend of my boyfriend-at-the-time got me an all-expense paid trip to Prague, to deliver some electronics. It was cheaper to pay for my flight than to pay the taxes and duty fees of having them delivered from the States. So I flew to Prague and stayed for several days, for free. This was only the second time I had ever been to Europe – I have since been to several countries, more times than I can count.

Me, standing on a path along the Vltava River in Prague.
Me, standing on a path along the Vltava River in Prague, 2003/4.

Alice in Wonderland. That’s what I felt like today as I took my first solo walk around Prague. I dropped lots of mental “breadcrumbs” so I could retrace my steps back to the apartment where I’m staying. The buildings seem so much more substantial than the buildings back home, as if the facades have been thickened with time. I feel like Alice after she drank the shrinking potion, staring up at the rooftops in awe. I felt a bit drunk on the view. This place is full of huge, imposing, majestic statues on the ledges of rooftops and a few stories above the ground. They tower over you, and at night, the way they’re lit up from below, they look deliciously evil. I’m still not convinced they aren’t alive, breathing over the city, trapped in stone stillness, waiting for an apocalyptic event to break free.

McDonald’s is such a blight on the planet. Walking through Václavské Náměstí (Wenceslas Square), I very much needed to find a bathroom. I refused to go near the McDonald’s or KFC, instead opting to pay 5 Krown to use the bathroom at the train station. Václavské Náměstí (pronounced “Vats-laf-skeh Nam-yes-tee) is a strange mix of new and old: wide cobblestone streets full of traffic, lined with neon signs advertising cell phones, bars, and apparel – but at the very head of the square stands a grandiose sculpture of Wenceslas himself, in full Knight armor, astride a horse and surrounded by angels.

The architecture here is unrivaled – well, unrivaled by anything I’ve seen in my life which, admittedly, isn’t much yet. Some day I’ll see things like the Duomo in Italy, or the ruins of Greece.)

The city glows at dusk, tram wires slicing through the sky, not unlike one of my favorite pictures from my trip to Amsterdam.

It feels like Christmas here already – like the Christmases of my childhood, before I was old enough for the holidays to be complicated. I probably spent a good 45 minutes walking round and round the same booths at the Christmas Market, weighing the pros and cons of flying home with a bag full of glass candleholders, but it would just be more stuff to pack up and lug overseas when I return to Prague for good. I will go back to the markets to get some hand-painted ceramics for my parents.

My friend, Lynn, asked me about food here, since I’m a vegetarian. Luckily, the people I’m staying with are vegetarian as well, so the hard work is already done for me. Last night I had a delicious vegetarian burrito. Today, I had baked feta spread on many pieces of toast, more vídeňská káva  (Viennese Coffee), and tonight we’re going to a vegetarian restaurant/bar called Radost FX.

Absinthe abounds here. (Remember Van Gogh? They say he was drinking Absinthe when he cut his ear off). When I was much younger, I thought Absinthe was fascinating and I was dying to try it. Now I admit I’m a little afraid to go near it – not because it’s storied to be deadly if you drink too much, or because it’s potent, but because I hear it tastes HORRIBLE. Sugar or no, I think I might pass. But we’ll see – I’m being sent home with a bottle of it, so I’m sure I’ll sip a spoonful on a quiet, bored evening before deciding it DOES taste horrible and never touching it again. (It smells like black licorice or anise, neither of which I’m fond of.)

I keep seeing couples holding hands, and while I’m enjoying my time here and falling in love with the city, I can’t help but feel lonely. This is certainly a wonderful city to experience on your own and to get lost in your own thoughts… but it’s also one enjoyed just as well lost in another person.

View of Prague from across the Vltava River.You must make an attempt to see Prague at least once in your life. Your heart will skip a beat upon first view of Karlovy Most (Charles Bridge at night), or the first view of anything here, really. Your mouth will hang open, and you’ll walk into things as you’re strolling down the street with your eyes are permanently aimed at the horizon where stone meets cloud. You’ll do double-takes and scurry away to get out from under the watchful gaze of Wenceslas or Athena. (I have pictures of them, oh yes I do.)

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for even a light dusting of snow before I leave. It’s surreal. I’m waiting for someone to pinch me.

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