March 03, 2014

Prague, pt. I : Roaming the Streets

I spent the last few days of February in Prague, with a group of wonderful friends. This is the first part of my photodiary.

When I get on the bus in the heart of Dublin, on monday morning, the sun is shining bright, and I have no idea what the day will be like. Travel always refreshes me in ways I can't understand. There is a peculiar excitement to the days when I travel, even tough I never know what awaits outside the airport. As the plane carries us overseas, I look with envy at all those lands below that I have never seen. Before soon, the landscape transforms and I am looking at light brown hills and black forests made of skeletal trees. It all looks vaguely familiar, but maybe my mind is just tricking me into thinking this, trying to connect to a land I only know from the stories of my father. My name originated from here, but these roots are buried deep and forgotten. Before landing, I repeat in my head the few czech words I remember, trying to familiarize my tongue with the harsch letters. Dobré ráno, dobrý večer, dobrou noc, děkuji, na shledanou. It sounds right to the ear, but my voice is very shy in saying them.

My first impression of Prague is, as often, one of the airport and of the many buses taking us into town. Transport is the sameeverywhere. But as I step out of the red tramway, at the bottom of Malá Strana, my heart skips a beat, and I find myself twisting my neck to catch a glimpse of the city growing all around like a theater set. Nothing had prepared me for such a strange beauty. Every building is more surprising than the last one, painted in faded colors, ochre, clear green and pastel blue – complex patterns running along the staircases and the windows. It looks like one mad architect stole bits of Italy, England, Germany and Greece to build this. Prague looks like a Paris that wouldn't take itself too seriously, says one of my friends as we climb the hill to our hostel. I have only a few moments to marvel of the colors in the golden light, before night gathers and swallows us whole. I wake up the next morning, remembering colors, flashes of light, drinks, the laugh of my friends around me, and soon we're in the streets again. The fog lingers most of the morning, as we walk through the citadel of Prague Castle, and wander in the narrow streets covering the hill of Hradčany.

Midday strikes on the clock and we are in the very heart of the city, on the bridge over the Vltava : « Karlův most ». The winter sun reflecting on the river burns my eyes. I stop in the middle of the paved street and try to take it all in : the light dancing on the façades, the violin playing at the end of the street, all these voices speaking words I don't understand, and the voices of the boys nearby that guide me to them. The best way to discover a new place is to get lost in it, and we are very good at it. We spend a long time in a camera shop marveling at the antiques, then head back to the river as the sun set over Pentrin. I take numerous portraits of each of them, those boys and girls that I don't really know but whose smiles are kind and true. Night is here again and we are still walking, from a incredible jazz concert on a dock to another club. Walking back to our hostel with blurry eyes, listening to the eerie silence of the streets under curfew, my life suddenly looks very messy and very safe at the same time. Sometimes, it frightens me to see how far I've come from my previous life. Here I am, a stranger in a new city, dancing and drinking and feeling absolutely lost, and unbelievably happy. I could never have imagined living what I live right now, but there is most likely even more adventures ahead, and in this there is more delight than fear.

On the morning before we leave, we got up before dawn to see the city one more time. My head feels very light, and my legs, like lead. The fog is here again and we don't last long in the cold, but this last view feels magical. Soon the plane is taking us home, and sure, it all feels a bit surreal to leave this mysterious city we just met, but I know I'll be back one day. This is the kind of place you can't simply say goodbye to.

So here's to the late breakfasts and the weary legs. Here's to sleepless nights and music blasting. Here's to the fog in the hills and the cold hands grasping cameras. Here's to alchemists houses and to chasing the Golem. Here's to jazz concerts and red wine. Here's to the light of the boats on the river and the voices you learn to love. Here's to being lost and here's to finding a way home, even if it is home only for a few moments. Here's to us and everything that makes these moments like pure adrenaline on a peaceful lake. Here's to the next time.

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