Was it really almost a month ago that Melody and I were tromping around Eastern Europe? A bit of snow is falling from the sky here in Rocky Point today and finally I have a moment to remember, to look again at the notes I took and the photos I processed and to write again. Melody and I talk on the phone or write to each other almost every day, and there almost always seems to be some kind of reference to a funny memory, a beautiful sight that we shared, a tough moment that we muddled through together.
Melody works full time and with teenagers at home that gets to be a big bunch of busy. I am now only working one week a month, thank goodness, but during that work week there wasn’t a moment to think about writing or photos or anything at all but taking care of business. Mo and I ran off to “the cottage” a couple of times and of course, with all the work over there, I didn’t even think about writing. I am so glad I at least took some rudimentary notes so that I can remember the last three days of our magical trip. Funny, we both wrote like crazy during the first two thirds of the trip, but on the last third, we didn’t seem to have the energy to even think about keeping notes, much less doing any real writing.
I guess it is a bit like the baby book. Remember that? The first child has a big one, with every tiny thing filled in, and by the time the fourth comes around the baby books get a bit smaller, just a bit, right? I guess it was like that for us. We certainly didn’t love our last destination any less, but we just couldn’t keep writing about every single detail!
When we woke to brilliant sunshine on the morning of our departure for Prague, we were thrilled. Vienna is a big city, and the dreary days had been a bit tiresome. We had a short distance to Prague from Vienna, only a couple hundred miles or so, and the day would be broken up by a nice lunch along the way and an early arrival in Prague by mid afternoon. Within minutes of driving north from the city, the beautiful Austrian countryside opened up in front of us with all the magical vistas of imagined fairy tale towns dotted among the hillsides.
Most of the fields had been harvested and the ground was freshly plowed. The skies were clear and blue with just a bit of haziness from early fall hanging in the air. As we passed through the villages and in view of lovely small farm houses, I was impressed with how orderly and clean everything looked. Most of the villages had a tall steeple dominating the skyline, with similar architecture that seemed characteristically Austrian.
I felt myself getting more and more excited as we got closer to the Czech Republic. The landscape began to change a bit, with verdant hills and distant castles, and once over the border, the characteristic steeples dominating the skylines changed dramatically. The more austere rectangles of Austria gave way to the gentle swirls and curves of a different way of looking at the world.
We stopped right near the border at a lovely little eating establishment along the highway for lunch. I can’t believe that I don’t have the name of the place because it was so charming and lovely. Again it was a cafeteria type lunch but the food was incredibly good, at least what we ate was good. There were some really interesting looking sausages and meats offered that were a bit beyond my need to be adventurous. Especially the white glutinous looking fat sausage floating in some kind of colorless broth. Maybe not.
Melody and I marveled at how similar this part of the world was to the valleys around Eugene, Oregon. Everything was green with beautiful lush conifers punctuated by oaks with red and golden leaves and brilliant green fields already showing a good crop of winter wheat, or at least that is what it looked like. The skies were so blue they almost were impossible to look at directly, and the sun had that slanting fall light that illuminates everything in a way that doesn’t happen any other time of year.
On the road again, it was only an hour before we approached Prague, what appeared to be a very big city with a lot of freeways and more traffic. At first we only saw the ugly leftovers of “Architorture”, gray cement and steel with no character at all. But as we rode deeper into the city, the valley of the Vltava River opened up below us and the spires of old Prague appeared on the western horizon.
Our hotel, the Jury’s Inn, was just a little over a mile from the main part of Old Prague, and across the street from a major metro station. The room was lovely, with a bathtub bigger than either one of us could fill, lots and lots of hot hot water, and a wonderful comfy bed with more down comforters and duvets. We were so happy that Lorena offered to do an unscheduled orientation tour of the city starting at 4pm for those who wanted to walk to Old Town and get a taste of what Prague had to offer. She was really surprised when every single one of the 30 people in our group showed up for the impromptu tour!
We walked along the streets, enjoying the people who all seemed to be smiling and talking and laughing. Within ten minutes or so we were in front of the Municipal House in Old Town Prague, one of the finest examples of Art Nouveau decor in all of Europe. Even from the outside it was impressive, and we knew that we would return for a closer look during our free time in the city. Passing through the dramatic Powder Gate into Old Town Prague was thrilling. Lorena explained the history of this gate, dating back to the 11th century, once the entrance to the city and the road all Czech kings traveled to their coronations on Castle Hill.
It is hard to explain how excited I was, and Melody as well. It was an inner feeling of excitement, an amazing thrill to be entering this beautiful city on this gorgeous afternoon. The group walked as far as Old Town Square, the location of the famous Astronomical Clock. Hundreds of people were gathered at the base of the clock waiting for it to do its thing, and as it struck , Melody took photos and cried with pure excitement. She had read about this amazing clock and it was one of the big things on her list to see. Again, we had much more to see in the days to come, but this first afternoon everything seemed gilded in golden light as we walked through Prague for the first time.
Lorena and the group dispersed, but Melody and I knew that we had to go to the bridge, the famous Charles Bridge on the Vltava River. I could go on and on about the history of this place, of the city and the bridge, but I somehow wish that I could convey how it felt to be there, to stand there, to see this magical, historical, world destination place with my youngest daughter. We laughed and walked, and ooohd and aaahhhd at the river, at the golden light on all the spires, at the amazing architecture and at the people! oh My. The People! It was a perfect moment for us, one made even better by the fact that the next days were dreary and gray again, and our second trip to the bridge was in cold fog. I am sooo glad that we took this time to go find the bridge and see it on our own that first afternoon in the city.
We made it back to the hotel in time for the nice dinner offered to us, with some very tasty chicken and vegetables accompanied by lovely glasses of good wine. Lorena warned us that the next day would be all about walking, with several hours of a walking tour through Prague Castle and back across the Charles Bridge. The weather prediction was for record breaking cold weather with fog and rain. We didn’t care, we had seen it at its very best on this first magical afternoon in the city of Prague.