It’s ten minutes before class starts, and I’m running up the stairs of the metro station, hoping that I can quickly walk the last two blocks to the school and arrive before the lecture starts. The wind is chilly and brisk, and the passing trams only add strength to the measured gusts of the wind. Suddenly the melancholy tune of a street musician fills the air, rising above the morning crowds. I look up, trying to located the hidden musician, and realize once again how beautiful this city is. Tall, five story buildings line the winding street, each decorated with statues, latticed balconies, and scroll work around each window. Occasional buildings are decorated with painted pastoral scenes, or tall, ornate double doors with stonework or family crests above them. The morning class is forgotten, and I stop for a moment to let the peace of this city sink in.
This new life in Prague has been full of such moments. Yesterday afternoon I wandered down a small alley I had noticed earlier, and discovered an ancient church, intact, with beautiful stained glass windows. The alleys nearby all curve to accommodate this church, as the city has simply grown up around it. Now tall buildings dwarf this tiny church, and it lies hidden, only yards from a main street and busy traffic. Last week, a walk to the Voltava River, which runs through the center of town, brought me suddenly around a corner to a breathtaking view of Prague Castle. It sits on a hill west of the river, and dominates the skyline of the city. At night its exterior is lit, along with the other historic buildings near it, and the view at night from across the river is simply beautiful. Time seems to have stopped in this city, and I find myself slowing down to the city’s relaxed rhythm. I am gradually exploring the alleys which wind invitingly off the main roads, and many lead to quiet town squares, cozy pubs, and the occasional English bookstore.
There have been the occasional adventures in culture shock. That morning in the bakery when I carefully read and pronounced the name of the pastry I had selected, only to have the clerk freeze for a moment at my terrible Czech and then switch quickly to near-perfect English. I have since learned to have a friend write down a few Czech words on a slip of paper, and then to use this when shopping for household supplies. I still find the Czech greetings of ‘Ahoj’ (pronounced Ahoy) and ‘Ciao’ (pronounced like the Italian greeting) strange, especially as I am neither at sea nor in Italy. I have twice been mistaken for a Czech, and once for a German, before managing to switch the conversation to English.
But I am happy here. I am gradually learning Czech, and learning to pronounce entire words and even sentences without vowels. I look forward to sunny days enjoying a latte in a cobbled town square, attending concerts in ancient churches, and visiting Prague Castle. For now, I sit in a softly lit pub, listening to the clink of glassware and the rise and fall of Czech voices, and watch the night gradually fall upon this city. And I am content.