My trip to Prague was a special treat for me, as it is one of the
cities that I visited 15 years ago in 1990, just after the fall of
Communism. And although I probably spent no more than two or three
days there at the age of 15, it's one of the cities that I remember
most distinctly from my Eastern European tour. I still have vivid
memories of the quiet plaza near Tyn Church, filled with pigeons and
flanked by the towering astronomical clock at the Old Town Hall. I
remember strolling along the Charles Bridge late one evening and even
recall the accordion tune played by a lone street performer - a tune
that I had never heard before and never since.|
And while all of the landmarks are still there and largely unchanged,
the feel of the city has changed dramatically over the last 15 years.
The cobblestone plazas are now packed with tourists who greatly
outnumber the pigeons; horse-drawn carriages clak along down the city
streets; souvenir shops dominate the storefronts; and the Charles
Bridge, which was once a quiet place to spend the evening, is now
bustling with activity 24 hours a day, lined by dozens of street
vendors and hundreds of tourists.
Prague has become a premiere tourist destination. At any of the major
city attractions, you can hear languages spoken from every corner of
the globe. Prague even boasts Europe's largest dance club, a
five-story maze of rooms just 100 yards from the Charles Bridge.
Following the advice of Robert Zeithammer, a Czech friend that I met
at MIT, I climbed up the Eiffel Tower replica atop Petrin Hill to get
a bird's eye view of the city. To the north, the steep spires of the
castle rise above the top of the adjacent hill. Looking beyond the
expansive park to the east and across the river, the elaborate
architectural facades of downtown Prague stretch off into the haze.
Joining some friends that I met at the A-Plus Hostel, I spent an
evening at Krizikova fontana, a large complex of fountains where
choreographed performances combine water, lights, and live dance to
create a dazzling display of color and motion. Only when I looked at
the informational pamphlet did I realize I had seen the performance
before during my original trip visit to Prague, so I jumped at the
opportunity to refresh those dusty memories.
After spending two days mingling with the other tourists, I decided to
heed Robert's advice to get out of the city and took the northwest
tram to its furthest extent. There, I hiked through the Great Gorge,
a deep canyon with steep black walls that appears anomalous so close
to the city and flanked by green rolling hills. Even though it's only
15 minutes from the city center by public transit, the quiet valley is
totally removed form the bustling chaos of the tourist district.
The solitude of the Great Gorge reminded me of the Prague that I
remember from 1990. And while it's wonderful that the city has become
such a prosperous, popular destination, I'll always remember with
fondness the lonely, private city that I once knew.