In my native language of Latvian, the words ‘Vecās Pēdās’ literally translate into ‘old footprints’, and they elegantly describe our recent trip to Prague.
Alvi and I first visited Prague over New Year’s in 1996. We had planned a once-in-a-lifetime ski holiday of the Swiss and Italian Alps, from St. Moritz, to Davos, to Bormio. Spending New Year’s Eve in Prague was the big kick-off of this adventure.
The Czech Republic’s successful Velvet Revolution had liberated the nation from Moscow’s tyrannical grip, and it was casting off the last vestiges of Soviet rule. Tourism was returning to The Czech Republic, and we’d been told time and time again, how beautiful Prague was.
I remember it being extremely cold in Prague that winter. During our daily sight-seeing walk-abouts, every so often we’d duck into a tea house just to warm up. Oftentimes, the tea houses were not heated at all, but the tea sure tasted good.
Our hotel was situated part-way up the hill in Hradcany, on the west side of the famed Charles Bridge.
As we meandered up the hill to tour Prague Castle, I stopped at a small make-shift wooden cart, that was manned by an ancient, gap-toothed Czech woman, with the bluest and sparkliest eyes I’d ever seen. She was the purveyor of fine, fur hats, such as these.
Since I was frozen, I was most certainly looking to purchase a toasty warm hat.
For such a small little vendor stall, the blue-eyed woman had a surprisingly large inventory. I was drawn to a light brown, very fuzzy and poofy roundish hat.
She looked at me looking in the mirror, and she shook her head – negativo. I splayed my hands out as if to say – Ok. What’s your idea?
From the back of the stall, she hands me this squarish, jet black, long-haired and furry Cossack hat. What a glorious piece of head gear! Sold! After putting it on, not only did I feel warm, but I felt a little bad ass….
The Czech woman grinned as she watched me put on her hat, and her toothy smile reached her sparkly blue eyes.
Best purchase I’ve ever made. Warmest piece of head gear of all time! I wore that hat with great pride through each subsequent, frigid Canadian winter, until we moved to the Caribbean. More importantly, that hat saved my life on that trip to Prague.
Along with many citizens of Prague, we spent New Year’s Eve on the famed Charles Bridge.
That’s when things got crazy.
First off, the bridge was literally jammed with people, all jostling, drinking heavily, with some singing and dancing.
We were told to watch the fireworks at midnight on the bridge, and then cross over the bridge to find a disco on the opposite side of the river.
We enjoyed the fireworks and as we tried to make our way across the bridge, things became quite dodgy. The combination of New Year’s Eve, too much alcohol, and some inadvertent jostling gave way to some fights, which quickly spread through the crowd on the bridge.
Someone slammed into Alvi’s shoulder, and even though we were straining to hold on to each other’s hands, we ended up being separated. The crowds were becoming rougher, and some started hurling champagne bottles at each other. Alvi and I found each other and finally crossed the bridge. As we sought out the recommended disco, a mob of unruly guys surrounded a car, over-turned it, and then proceeded to light it on fire.
For us, this was a bit much, and we steeled ourselves to cross back over the bridge, to get home. That was one of the most memorable New Year’s in recent memory.
As I mentioned in a previous story ‘Family Secret’, Alvis had booked another concert for us in Prague – the Ben Howard concert. We were both thrilled to return to Prague after so many years.
The city is absolutely beautiful, with outstanding architecture, delicious restaurants, bustling city squares, all within easy walking distance. We enjoyed some interesting architecture such as this:
…and the Astronomical Clock…the world’s third oldest such clock, but the only one still operating….
…and the charcoal black Gothic spires of the Church of our Lady before Tyn….
…and these brightly colourful rowhouses….
…and of course, The Dancing House….built by architects Vlado Milunic and Frank Gehry in 1996….
…which has been nick-named ‘Fred and Ginger’ after the legendary dancing duo Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers….which has a cool roof-top terrace…
…and interesting shop fronts like this…
..obvi my weird fascination with doorways continues…with this…
…and this gorgeous shop, in which I could have spent hours enjoying this…
…and this … Trdlo – a sweet, coned shaped pastry, filled with ice-cream…
..and some interesting signage….this one not a vegan restaurant….mostly knees and necks….
…not the Apple store….
As we were strolling the streets, Alvi says, ‘Hey! Let’s try to re-trace our steps from the last time we were here. Let’s find our hotel and let’s go up to Prague Castle. But without using any navigation system or maps.’ Cool! And off we went.
As memory served, we had to cross the Charles Bridge. Done. That was the easy part. As we moved farther from the bridge and up the hill, the streets started to look familiar. At one point, Alvis confidently states, ‘It’s that street’.
As we started to ascend the hill, up in the curve of the street, we spotted our hotel of some 23 years ago. I was genuinely happy to see that the Red Lion Hotel is still in business.
After climbing up to and touring Prague Castle, I found the exact spot where my blue-eyed Czech Cossack hat vendor’s stall had been. In its spot, near the fortress wall, overlooking the entire city, now stands a Starbucks.
For lunch, we ate directly across the street from the Red Lion Hotel.
After a great lunch…
…our waiter, a young fella of some 25 years or so, chatted me up by saying he knew we were Canadian as he recognized our accent.
Turns out he had spent some time in Toronto, in Vancouver and in Whistler – or as he put it – where the Olympics were held. ‘Those were great games’, he said.
‘I agree – super fun’, I replied.
‘And they ended the right way’, he said. ‘You guys beat the USA’, he said. (He was referencing Canada’s Men’s hockey win over Team USA.)
I laughed, ‘And all was right in the world with that win’, I said.
‘Epic game’, he said. ‘And Sidney Crosby?’
‘A national hero’, I replied.
He laughed. ‘Absolutely’.
‘Oh’, he said. ‘We’ve just sent you one of ours’.
‘How’s that?’ I asked.
‘Our David Sklenicka just signed with the Montreal Canadiens’, he stated… proudly.
‘Thanks for sending him to us’, I say. ‘He’ll have a fun career with Montreal. The fans over there are nuts about their hockey…..!’.
He laughs. ‘We too, are crazy about our hockey’.
‘Yeah’, I get it’, I say.
The young fella went to seat some new customers, but returned a short while later.
‘Are you enjoying your visit to Prague?, he asks.
‘Is this your first time here?’
‘No’, I say. ‘We were here about 23 years ago. And we stayed there’, as I point across the street to the Red Lion Hotel.
He laughs and shakes his head. ‘Really?’
‘Yeah’, I say.
‘Those were different times’, he says.
‘Yes. And things are better now, eh?’
He laughs at the ‘eh’. ‘I really like Canada’, he says.
‘Me, too’, I say.
He leans in …. ‘Canada is a young country, as compared to countries in Europe. And I feel like you don’t have any racism’.
He pauses… and thinks a bit.
‘In fact, different cultures are…..’, and he pauses again.
‘Encouraged?’, I say.
‘Yeah’, he says. ‘In Toronto, there are all kinds of different cultural areas…..crazy…’.
‘Yeah. China Town, Little Italy, Greek Town…’, I say.
‘Greek Town? I missed that one’, he says.
‘Best Greek food ever – on the Danforth, I say.
‘Y’see. No racism’, he says.
Interesting conversation with a young Czech guy in Prague.
And to David Sklenicka – ‘Bienvenue a Canada, dude! Enjoy Montreal!’