By my 6th hour in Prague I was no longer sweating, but only because my body had run out of all liquid. I had, instead, achieved an appearance akin to Violet Bauregarde except I was a dry red tomato and not a juicy blueberry. My lips were cracking and my fingers had swollen into little vienna sausages. As I walked across the majestic Charles Bridge, the sun beating down mercilessly on my head, I looked at the gorgeous Prague skyline laid out in front of me, and wished I had stayed home.
Since I live in the Southern United States, I erroneously believed I could deal with heat and humidity. In fact, I went a whole summer with a temperamental air conditioner that worked only when it wanted. I was still completely unprepared for traveling during a heat wave in a country where air conditioning is rare and even getting ice in my drink isn’t a guarantee. I desperately wanted to love my experience, but on that first day I couldn’t even achieve like.
What I came to realize, was that what I needed most was time away from the hustle and bustle of the Charles Bridge and Old Town Square. I needed to be quiet and calm and appreciate some sites that were not in one of Rick Steve’s Pocket Guide tours. I needed to wander alone and embrace the city not follow behind a tour guide overwhelmed with information and people.
It was still warmer than I like, but I finally found my zen in Prague as I waited to board the Funicular and realized that it didn’t really matter that it wasn’t opening on time because it wasn’t crowded and I had nowhere to be and no time I needed to be there.
The funicular ride was calm and beautiful and deposited me in a garden atop Petrin Hill. From there, it was an easy and shady walk to Strohov monastery where although it was a little early for beer, it was not too early to visit their gorgeous libraries. As I meandered into the monastery grounds, an older couple approached me asking sweetly if I spoke English. When I assured them I did, they asked if I could help them get to Prague castle. Since I wasn’t in a hurry and centuries old libraries would still be there in ten minutes, I helped them navigate their way towards the castle.
Back in the monastery, I peered at the libraries that reminded me of Beauty and the Beast and listened to a tour in French to learn about the frescoes painted on the ceilings. Since I don’t speak French, this was a more or less futile task, but enjoyable nonetheless. The moment was magical and if I wanted to learn about the paintings in more depth, I could always google it later.
From the monastery, I wandered around the adjoining neighborhood and stopped in small quiet shops. I was slowly working my way towards Prague castle and dreading the crowds I knew I would encounter there. As I rounded a corner, the nice older couple bumped into me again, now trying to find a sight seeing bus stop. I got on my phone to help them and as we talked the coffee shop owner nearby heard us and also offered to help. She called a friend and between the five of us, we were able to locate the stop. As the couple walked away, thanking me for all my help, the coffee shop owner offered me an ice coffee with ice cream and asked about where I was headed. I said I didn’t really have a plan, so she suggested I visit the Loreta. Although it is directly on the way to Prague castle, many people miss it and she didn’t want me to.
Ice coffee in hand, I headed to the Loreta, which isn’t facing the main street, so is pretty easy to walk right by. It wasn’t crowded and as I meandered the complex which is a pilgrimage sight, the carillon bells began to play. As I paused to listen to their delightful chimes, I realized that I had surpassed like and I loved Prague. I don’t love the busy old town, despite its beauty. I don’t love walking tours surrounded by hundreds of other people, but I love the nooks and crannies. I find pleasure in the parks large and small and the centuries old history, in the safety of a city I feel fine exploring alone, in the resilience of a people oppressed for much of the 20th century. As one of my tour guides said, “Czechs don’t panic,” and so neither did I.