Monday, March 12, 2007

"The most bee-yew-tee-ful city!"

This is my last week here in the city of Prague, and since I finished volunteering last Thursday I am making it my job to make sure I really see Prague. I started today with Prague Castle, and the surrounding area, including Saint Charles bridge. My leg's been bothering me some lately, so I took it pretty easy and simply wandered around at my own (slow) pace, stopping to rest frequently and sit and enjoy the absolutely gorgeous weather. I am a terrible tourist and often forgot to take pictures. (they, along with the Vienna pictures, will have to wait until a little later to see the light of internet day: I'm pretty sure I left the cable that connects the camera to the computer back home in the States, and to post pictures I have to borrow the SD card reader thing from Jason, the exchange student from Hong Kong who's living with Zuzana's family this year, and he's been missing for a few days. I think he went somewhere with his school.)

People keep telling me that Prague is a beautiful city, and I've never quite believed them. Here's what I've discovered: historical Prague is indeed beautiful, but the places where the average Czech citizen actually lives, works, and goes to school? Not so nice. If I must be brutally honest, and (cough cough) I'm notoriously not adverse to that, then I would say that the Prague that isn't populated by tourists or people trying to get tourist's money is rather ugly (in a communist sort of way), and extremely dirty. And, and this is hard to describe, it feels tired.

Now, I've been to only a few of the European cities: Prague, Florence, Rome, Vienna, and I could be completely wrong. Three of them (the exception was Florence), all gave me this vibe. But has anyone else who's lived or traveled here in the Old World felt this way? That Europe has worn itself out with too many wars, too many clashing cultures, and now lies buries under a grime of industrialization and a depression of post-post modern philosophy?

And maybe Europe is just getting the short shrift in my mind when compared to Japan's old cities, particularly Kyoto. Like the places I've been here, the area where I was in Osaka drew huge numbers of people with history and monuments. But unlike here, there was no distinct line between tourist trap and where people's lives took place; and the traditional culture that the historical places exemplified was integrated (however subtly) into the everyday as well.

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