Prague


Day 298

The Leopold Museum, Vienna. July 2010.

So you go across the ocean and live out of your suitcase and see lots of wonderful places and feel the sadness in some places and the joy in other places and eventually you come home and you unpack and you look at all your pictures and you realize that while you were away you thought your life was breaking wide open and about to change and that everything would look different when you got home and you realize it does — it does look different — and that sort of scares you.

So what do you do?

If you’re me, you sit down at your desk and you comb through everything you’ve written in the last few months and look over all the notes about all the places you went and the things that you saw, and then you find a nice piece you wrote about feeling gracious and grateful about life and peace and you remember that walking makes you feel peaceful and so you walk and then you walk some more and then when you’re all walked out you sit down and write a little note about life going on and on and on when you’re home and going on and on when you’re away and when you’re sleeping and when you’re awake and even when you’re not watching it carefully, life keeps coming.

And then you remember that you started walking in the first place because on some days you have trouble sleeping and concentrating until you’ve gone out walking and so you go out and walk some more and  you look around at all the places that are familiar and comforting to you, and you go back home and you take off your sneakers and you go to bed and you think, Man, I am glad to be home.

The John Lennon Wall. Prague, July 2010.

Day 297

Yes, Jessica, there’s still time to go for another walk with me before my year-long walking adventure runs full circle.  I can hear you breathing a sigh of relief so thanks for asking and yes, guys, I am back in New Jersey. Walking. Can you hear me breathing a sigh of relief now?

Well, breathing just a sigh, I guess.

Since tomorrow’s walk will consist of driving my car to Foreign Aid automotive, talking with Zen-mechanic Albert for a little while, walking home, and doing it all again at the end of the day…I thought it would be better if I kept posting about my trip to Eastern Europe for just a little while longer. Like maybe for the rest of the week.

Here’s something I posted in Shelf Awareness about a lovely English-language bookstore in Prague. Which I walked to…of course!

A BEER AND A BOOK. OR TWO

Patrons at the Globe Bookstore and Café in Prague don’t have to choose between books and drink: here they can find both.

“In Prague, beer is cheaper than water,” manager Kaja Curtis (at right, with a customer)

Look - she's buying a copy of THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING!

said. “But the culture of literature and the arts is alive and well. There’s a lot of emphasis on books and literature and on education here. That’s always been the Czech tradition.”

Stepping into the Globe and entering its quiet, wood-, sun- and book-filled sanctuary, it’s clear the indie bookstore is thriving in Prague. The city’s first English-language bookstore, the Globe was founded 15 years ago and has welcomed a marquee of literary legends from Klima to Roth and caters to ex-pat poets and writers who’ve made this capital city their home. The storefront is stacked with titles on two levels and across a wrought-iron balcony; the rear is a spacious bar and café with a lively garden and American-style food.

In May, the store held a launch for The Return of Kral Majales, a hefty collection of English-language ex-pats’ poetry, fiction and short stories edited by Louis Armand. The Globe hosts a biweekly book club, poetry readings and music performances, as well as free English-language movies every Sunday.

The café drives the business, but the bookstore is the heart and history of the place, general manager Eva Regulyova said. When I stepped off Pstossova Street into the store on a hot weekday morning, I literally dropped into a café chair, pulled out my notebook and started writing down titles I wanted to read.

From my perch I could see the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, any number of magazines from National Geographic to Vogue; Alain de Botton’s The Art of TravelThe Art of Living by Epictetus, The Big Short by Michael Lewis and Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin, to name a few.

Literature looks different when you travel. Fiction by or about Balkan, Czech, Hungarian and Bohemian people jumped out at me. Spies of the Balkans by Alan Furst and The Glass Room by Simon Mawer–how could I have overlooked these titles at home when here they seemed like essential reading? Ditto The Shadow of the Sun and Travels with Herodotus by ex-pat Polish journalist Ryszard KapuÅ›ciÅ„sk.

Once a month there’s a folk singer in the Globe’s café. She was there when I went back for a second visit and had a lovely chat about literature with Kaja. She was singing “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane,” and it was hard not to feel a little melancholy because I’d be leaving soon, too.

Day 284

Having walked for two absolutely glorious weeks through Prague, Vienna, Budapest — and back to Prague now — I have a few questions and a couple of suggestions for this  triumvirate of Habsburg Empire capital cities, which I offer with complete modesty to their rulers and general citizenry:

CONFUSING!

So Much SIMPLER!

1. Why does your money all look alike? It’s very confusing to Americans who come here and want to spend it! Color coded money would be s-o-o-o much simpler (and dare I say more considerate?). How about green for Austria, Blue for Prague, and Black for Hungry? If you can’t do that, then would you please advise your wait staff not to cringe (or growl) when we offer Hungarian forint to pay the bar bill in Prague? Because after a few drinks, it really all looks the same!

2. Your money looks alike, but your languages sound so different. What’s UP with that? And what do the Hungarians have against vowels?  I xzcyuzii! you should zcxpvoiuOK?

3. Since the communists punched the joy out of Hungary  but apparently left Czech pub life intact, I think it’s only fair that Prague  send some of their happy tourists and students over to Budapest on a rotating basis, where they can drop forint like pennies for big fat mugs of beer. What about a 3-day Prague-Budapest pub crawl. From what I’ve seen here in the morning,  any kid drinking Red Bull and Rum doesn’t need to sleep anyway.

Your Tuition Dollars Hard at Work in Prague

4.HOWEVER, those students and visitors will have to be accompanied by a translator, or maybe a body guard, until the Hungarians warm up to them. How else will the tourists be able to avoid being stopped in the metro stop just below the international bus terminal, and instructed to pay a 23 euro penalty before leaving the underground and going home — as we were forced to do!?

Caught on my camera phone! What's up with those ARMBANDS!?

You’ve never been strong-armed until you’ve been swarmed by metro police and grabbed by a Hungarian woman in a blue arm band, saying “your passport lady, your passport!”

5. Which leads to my final proposal: I think we should all admit that while Vienna has unbelievable arts and culture, Prague has a history that requires frequent use of the word BOHEMIA and a cityscape that looks like you’ve stepped into a fairy tale, and the Turkish baths in Budapest are an AMAZING way to spend a day, when it comes right down to it, American’s civil rights are the best in the world (yes, yes, if you are middle class and white,  but that’s another story isn’t it?). Which is why I didn’t hand over my passport – and I never will.

Day 283

This is really the view from my balcony in the Mosaic House in Prague — the hippest, best place to stay in all of the Czech Republic.

“It feels like home,” Rosemarie says. It’s after midnight, and we’re sitting in the hotel lobby/bar, listening to some good old American rock. The colors are mute brown and silver-grass green, like the inside of an eco-friendly Apple store. We are surrounded by mellow beautiful and somewhat drunk hostel-hoppers in their twenties. “It feels good to come back to here,” my mother-in-law says. I am amazed, again, at her ability to appreciate life and so much of what is energetic and avante guard, but that story is for a different day.

The Mosaic House just opened a month ago and it deserves its New York Times In Transit blog accolades and then some. From the moment we walked into this sleek hotel-hostel and checked in with Cat — an American from Atlanta, Georgia — we have been in heaven.

Don’t have that extra bed you’re supposed to have in your room? No problem — we’ll give you two rooms decorated in deep plumb and soft white.

Traveling with a broken camera and can’t upload your photos? No problem — David will go out this afternoon and find you a card reader, which will only cost 15 bucks and which he will charge to your room!

Entertaining your daughter’s friends on the balcony ? (Yes, this is really my balcony, this is really my room, this is really me at sunset tonight after walking five hours through a medieval village.) No problem: here’s a corkscrew, a bucket of ice, and if you walk down the street you can buy four bottles of wine for 2 bucks each and everyone will love them.

Come to Prague, friends. Walk everywhere. And stay in Mosaic House.

The night we arrived (after 12, thank you very much, suffering from Budapest melancholy) Rosemarie and I piled into the elevator with a couple of very cute blond boys. They were not much older than my son. And they were pretty “happy.”

One looked at my mother-in-law and gave her a beaming smile.

“Don’t you love Prague?” he said.

She smiled back. “Yes, we do.”

Traveling is a great equalizer, and staying in a hotel that has the energy of a hostel and the service of a 4-star palace is the best way to be where you are, and happy there.

Which we are!

Day 263

Here she is walking on the Prague cobblestones -- like mother, like daughter. In fact, I think those are my shoes!

If you send your kid on a study abroad program, is it okay to follow along? Or is that a little bit like taking up Tae Kwon Do because your kid  just got his blue belt, or studying French because you love the way it sounds when your daughter says J’ai besoin de plus d’argent, s’il vous plaît?

Wait – I did those things, too. So why not follow my daughter to Prague?  It’s better than looking at the photos she’s posting on facebook and crying as I think of all those hard-earned dollar streaming across the ocean where they’re being converted into  kronos and euros and beer. Right?

Next week my mother-in-law, Rosemarie, and I, will be joining Melissa in Prague and taking her down to Vienna. For now, though, I’m content to look at her photos, and enjoy her walks vicariously. I hope you enjoy them, too.

Melissa with a piece of the Berlin Wall

Statue Park, Budapest

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