Blissful, less highly-scheduled, slower-paced summer has ended, and I am back to my wonderful, frenetically paced job as a high school ESOL teacher. The highlight of my summer, which I have shamefully postponed sharing, was a long overdue visit to Prague.
There are many places I have visited whose most celebrated panoramas are indeed beautiful, but then they are somehow smaller or dingier or more mundane than anticipated. That's not necessarily a disappointment, as I always feel that a real place is more 3-dimensional and therefore more interesting, even with ugly sections and cheesy tourist traps, than what I'd imagined.
Prague, however, is widely reputed to be one of the world's most beautiful cities--and it absolutely lives up to the hype. The hilly west side of Prague includes the leafy Petrin, complete with a monastery and meandering paths, and Prague castle, with a Gothic cathedral in the center and surrounded by layers of the castle as added through the centuries, including the ancient halls where jousting tournaments and feasts were held. The view of the hill is also crowded with spires of baroque churches and red tile roofs. It is more beautiful in person than in any photo. From the hill itself, you look down on the eastern part of Prague, across the Vltava river. The same baroque spires and red tile roofs fill the skyline, with occasional Gothic turrets and bizarre modern architectural curiosities, like the Zizkov tower covered with plastic black crawling babies!
The view, of course, are the first things that you become aware of as you arrive in Prague. I spent my first day walking joyfully past all the major sights, which can be seen relatively quickly. I found my beloved restaurants and cafes--idyllic spots with quaint lighting and cozy corners-- and made sure to taste my favorite pastries, chocolates, and snacks (it was fortunate that my trip included lots of walking!). I wandered through Prague's meandering streets and across the picturesque and ancient (and, regrettably, tourist-packed) Charles Bridge. I felt my tongue stumble over Czech words again--and I remembered the same frustration felt years before as I became familiar with the impossible-seeming strings of consonants.
I took the train from Prague to nearby Karlstejn to visit its castle and beautiful countryside. How I love Czech trains! The stations are dingy in an inexplicably quaint and charming way. The trains themselves feel old but comfortable, and there is nothing to compare to the rhythmic clatter of the train over the tracks as you roll past lovely villages nestled in the hills.
My trip included visits with old friends: I had two reunions with classes of formers students, met a friend to go salsa-dancing (yikes, for someone who loves dancing so much, I am a really miserable salsa dancer!), and spent an afternoon at the park with a friend and her two kids, both born since I last saw her.
Words cannot describe the nostalgia and joy I felt. I felt like I had rediscovered a part of myself that had been lying dormant for the past 6 years. The lifestyle in Prague was so well suited to me: I worked hard, but for about 9-10 hours a day (less than now), commuted by public transport and thus never had to worry about cars, had lots of time for reading, walked everywhere. I felt so happy, healthy, and alive--my days were filled with new discoveries and interesting interactions, and the unexpected was around every corner.
I am happy in my life now. I have a job I find rewarding and meaningful, a wonderful group of friends, a comfortable place to live, a family I adore, and I always seem to make time to travel. Life is pretty good. But I can't help wondering if it will ever be so magical again.