I got back from PAX BAR the night I arrived in Prague, and went down to the hostel bar. I was uncomfortable. I didn’t want to step out of my comfort zone. I was safe in my bubble of being alone. But that’s not the point of staying in a hostel. You’re supposed to talk to people. Meet other travellers.
I sat in the bar, alone, and thought, Why isn’t anyone talking to me? And then, Well shit Hope, you might actually have to be the one to start the conversation. The prospect was horrible. A pub quiz was taking place and everyone was sat round tables in groups already. I spotted one table. Kept telling myself to just go over and join them. It felt so unnatural.
A girl with long auburn curly hair sat next to me at the bar. She wasn’t doing the quiz but she was trying to answer the questions. She was stuck on one. I leant over and joined in the discussion she was having with her husband. Her name was Bobby, from the States, and they were travelling for two weeks to celebrate her turning 30. We paid to join the pub quiz, another girl joined us, and for one evening, we became friends.
I’d pained the night before over which bunk I should sleep in. Top, bottom, by the window, by the wall. I was in a mixed dorm of twelve. I ended up taking a top bunk by the window. It felt safer.
I met Aja, my bunk buddy. He was from India and was travelling Europe. I told him it was my first time staying in a hostel and that I’d been couchsurfing in Berlin. “Really? But isn’t that scary? Staying in a hostel seems much safer.” I was surprised. It seemed the other way round to me. I’d never even questioned it.
Climbing down from my bunk I tried to quietly gather my things. I showered, and went downstairs.
I couldn’t remember whether breakfast had been included with the hostel so I thought I’d try my luck. It wasn’t. I paid 150CK for their breakfast option, an open buffet. I was hungry and tired. It was the easy option. It was disgusting and I regretted it. Fried hot dogs from a jar, cold meats, sliced cheese, bread, granola, oranges, and sliced bananas with the peel still left on. It doesn’t sound bad, but it was.
I walked down the road in the direction of old town. I would find a coffee shop. Wake up. And plan my day from there.
Portishead, I have discovered, is the best music to listen to when walking around Prague. I don’t know why. It just works. Trust me on this. If you’re ever in Prague, put your headphones in, enjoy the beautiful sites, and listen to Portishead.
The coffee shop I happened upon was called Coffee and Chocolate. Two of my favourite things. How could I say no?
The woman smiled at me. She seemed warm and friendly. The decor of the place was red and slightly garish. I ordered an Americano and sat down by a window. I let myself glaze over and watched the rain.
Two coffees later and I was awake.
I had a map out in front of me of the area and was planning my day.
It was wet and drizzly but I was awake and with a plan.
I donned my hood and set out.
The Spanish synagog was beautiful but paled in comparison to the Art Nouveau style of the new Jewish synagog. Its opulent blue, gold, and red design was eye catching and captivating.
I walked around the building slowly. They had lots of information boards about communism in the Second World War, the impact on Jewish communities in the area, the aftermath, the way they had rebuilt their lives. So much of it I already knew, but to read about it from such a specific view point, Czechian Jews, was fascinating.
Reading the history was made even more interesting by the fact that I am currently reading a book by Barbara Ridley called When It’s Over. Set in the 1930s onwards, it follows a group of left wing activists fleeing from Germany, to Prague, to Paris, and then Britain. I felt like I was walking their route across the continent. It was strange. Although a fictional story, reading the history in tandem, and visiting the city they all meet in, brought it to life in an eerie way.
Having visited both of the synagogs, I searched for the Museum of Communism for over an hour. My GPS telling me that I was only 3 minutes away from it for most of that time. With Foot Locker to the left of me, Credit Banking to my right, and a shopping centre in front of me, Google Maps proudly announced that I had reached my destination. I concluded the whole event was a practical joke and that no such museum existed.
Giving up on the museum I decided to get lost wandering the streets of Prague looking at the architecture. It was stunning. Magnificent buildings four or five storeys high. Rooftops sliding up into points and sloping red tiles. The most intricate of etchings in the stonework and paintings on the walls. The beauty of these buildings was something I had never experienced when looking at architecture before. It was as though each and every detail had been carefully considered and constructed for each and every building. Nothing was left. Even the roads twisted and turned like a maze, running into and off one another. The buildings leaning with the curve of the roads and pavements. Never a straight line or corner in site. Only a slow amble around a bend.
I later learnt from a fellow traveller that the reason Prague had maintained such opulence and grandeur over the years was actually because of Hitler. Hitler fell in love with the area and so made a point of making sure that none of the Nazi armoury was kept there so that the country wouldn’t become a target. He also went so far as to preserve the Jewish Quarter there, firstly because of how beautiful it was, but also because he had plans to turn it into a museum after the war featuring the history of the ‘extinct race’.
I tried to imagine an alternate version of history where WWII had ended differently and Hitler’s sickening museum existed.
Early evening I took the metro back to the station. It had been a slow, drizzly, but beautifully rewarding day.
I wanted some downtime. To sit, read, think, and write.
I sat and wrote, read, and breathed. It was bliss to just relax and not have anything to worry about or anyone to be held accountable to. I was completely and utterly alone and without worry or anxiety. It was great.