The Capital City, Prague…so this is what I missed when I arrived in the Czech Republic dazed and confused back in August. Why didn’t any one tell me I was walking away from the city center when I left the Hotel Terminus for a bit? Had I gone in the opposite direction, I would have stumbled onto Wenceslas Square and would not have arrived on a road to someplace else. Of course, being a guy, I never asked directions. So now, at Christmas it was time to make up for lost time, well not really lost time, more like ignorant time. I made up for it by limping everywhere. Luckily my hotel in Mala Strana was within a short distance from the famous Karlův Most (Charles Bridge) and old town. But my first stop was at a church Our Lady Victorious down the street from the hotel the location of the “Infant of Prague” statue. When I was little I can remember my mom having a great devotion to the Infant and even had a shrine in our home dedicated to the statue so I thought it was important that I see the real one for myself. It’s less than 2 feet tall and at the time I visited it didn’t have all of the “statue clothes” on. Usually there is a gown, rings on two of it’s fingers, a red cape with an ermine collar and a gold crown on it’s head. I imagined that someone would dress it up for Christmas the next day. But for today, it was just a plain jane or plain Infant if you will.
I had stopped at a restaurant that touted a Czech version of “Tex-Mex.” I was more interested in the “Mex” part of the food rather than the “Tex” part. It was surprisingly close to the real deal and for just a moment I was transported back to California. Well fortified with beans I started my night time exploration of the city. Since I didn’t have Susan’s handy dandy tour book with it’s maps and stuff, I left it to serendipity and my tendency to walk down wrong streets to lead me around. I had heard that the astronomical clock went off at 8 pm every night so for my first night in the city that was going to be my destination. Now if I could only find it. All roads lead to Rome and, I reasoned, even the town square and I made it just in time for the short presentation. I looked up at the tower and remembering my slow painful climb up the town hall’s tower in Olomouc, I passed on attempting to climb to the top. I justified it by saying to myself, “It’s night. What could I possibly see from way up there?” What could I see indeed, probably a lot, but I’ll never know now will I?
The next day I was out and about. It was Christmas morning so there were things to see and sites to view. I trundled over to the church on the other side of Charles Bridge for Mass and was treated to great music in a beautiful building. Yes, it was in Czech, but the Mass is pretty universal so I could follow it. From there it was up the hill to Prague castle and St. Vitus Cathedral (full name: St. Vitus, St. Wenceslas and St. Adalbert Cathedral) behind the castle. Also it seemed to be a “free” day so I wandered all around the area doing my touristy thing. The view from the top of the hill overlooking the city this early Christmas morning was pretty neat. If there was a drawback, it was the Starbucks located just outside the castle entrance. No, I didn’t stop for over priced coffee just took a picture of the out of place Seattle-based establishment and moved on.
Then it was down the hill and moving across St. Charles Bridge again to old town in the day light and then over to Wenceslaus Square. All the businesses were open as if Christmas was a normal work day. There was a memorial set up beneath the statue of the king dedicated to Vaclav Havel, the first president of the new Czech Republic. The picture looked like it was made from Legos but it was unmistakably Havel. Candles formed a circle in front of the statue and the picture. By now, I was hungry and although tempted to go to Burger King, I settled on a coffee shop, had some wonderful Czech pastry which became my drug of choice since I arrived here and, of course, coffee. Although it was chilly, I opted to sit outside. I love outdoor cafés so I can people watch as they walk by. It was off, then to find the Gestapo headquarters and to visit some sites connected with the Nazi occupation. It was Christmas, and nothing says Christmas like old Gestapo buildings. It looked like any other government building but I couldn’t help but remember what I had read of this place and the torture cells in the basement. I had wanted to go in but the building was closed. So I stood outside and imagined what it was like during the war. Walking back to my hotel I decided to go a different way and promptly got lost which is par for the course. In doing so I did discover other historical sites along the way so it wasn’t a complete wash out. You can read that account here.
I returned to Vsetín the day after Christmas at night so when I arrived it was quieter than usual if that is possible. My neighbors had left Christmas cookies for me when I arrived and it gave me a boost. I had Skyped the family on Christmas morning in California while in Prague so that warm feeling was still with me as I shuffled around my toasty flat munching on the home made treats. Jana and Lance had me over to dinner with their family the following day and that also boosted my spirits. (A lot of boosting took place). That followed with stints at the Minton’s and at Hanka and Karel’s smoothed over what feelings of being alone had burrowed into my psyche.
December 31st in the town square with the Minton’s we rang in 2014 with fireworks and all manner of carrying on. Also in January, Susan and I took a day trip to Velké Karlovice on one of the coldest days I have ever experienced. As what had become a usual occurrence on our day trips, we ran into a wedding in the old wooden church there. I have to tell you it took forever to get warm again after we returned to Vsetín. Stupidly I had neglected to wear thermals or woolen socks or even my snow boots. The temp was -15ºC and I felt it in my bones…for weeks.
(coming soon…two more parts…Spring springs and warm weather returns)
…and so it went…