I have been absorbing Prague very slowly. The buildings (nearly all of them) are so old that they look better in black and white. If I took a picture & removed the retail store on the first floor, I could convince you it was taken 90 years ago. Today is Monday, and there are packs of tourists – tons of them – mostly following the tour guides, each holding up a different colored umbrella so they can be easily followed. The guide with the green umbrella is speaking French. The yellow umbrella guide is telling the tales of the streets in English, another Japanese. Yet another French. It is hard to absorb a city crowded with tourists, difficult to get a grip on what makes it tick.
I cannot believe it is Monday in May. I do not wish to envision a Saturday in July. Very seldom have I encountered an actual city this ensconced with tourists.
Here, immense crowds gather at the hour to watch the chiming of the astrological clock in one of the major squares. It lasts 60 seconds, and you really have to focus to see it.
It is not like New York, because the tourists share the streets with those shuffling off to work. Nor is it like Chicago or even Miami. It is like Disney: people wandering, taking pictures of everything, stopping at cafes, walking into shops. It is as if we had entered the gates of a theme park. There are Brits here to party and Czech schoolkids on a field trip. There are grandmas and grandpas right off the bus tour. Here and there is someone hustling to work in a suit, not often, but just enough to remind you that people really live here. Not only does it look like Disney, but it seems Disney-safe. Within the gates of this “magic kingdom” are restaurants, cafes, and pubs. I would venture a guess that there are more crystal and glass shops per block than anywhere in the world.
The buildings, Art Nouveau, Baroque, a few Art Deco, are perfectly preserved. Nearly every building is worthy of a photograph, but my senses are overwhelmed. There are too many people. There are too many stimuli. Do I look up at the architecture, do I look at the shop windows, do I read the signs, do I take a picture, do I watch where I’m going?
The narrow streets intersect with each other in any number of strange angles. Here, a plaza may have 5 streets entering it, or maybe only 2. A street may be 2 blocks long, but not many exceed 5 blocks. Directions are almost fruitless, and getting lost provides the best reward. A map is a necessity, and after 12 hours of wandering, my internal compass is working and I think I have a handle on the city. I do not know what street I’m on, but I can tell where I’m going. But there’s so much more to see.