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Getting the Best Out of Prague: Don’t bother with Starbucks, Just Look Up

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I’ve been living in Prague for around four months now.  I like it here.  My life is falling into a routine which is good because it helps me to feel more comfortable and settled but bad because I am in danger of losing the magic of being in a new place.

In ‘Talking it Over’, a novel by Julian Barnes, Stuart knows that he is in love because his walk to work is mysteriously transformed.  He starts noticing things, little details – decorations on buildings, a plaque commemorating a Zepplin raid – that he had somehow previously managed to overlook for years.  Things are looking up for him: that makes him look up, literally.

I try to do the same as much as possible here in Prague.  The results are rewarding.  Every building seems to have its own little appealing quirk whether its a pretty mosaic mural in an Art-Nouveau style, a muscle-bound Greek god hoisting up a windowledge on his huge shoulders or a frieze of the great proletariat engaging in some industrious activity.

I was standing outside Starbucks on Wencelsas Square waiting for someone. Just in case you think I’m being all spoilt and western again, I’d just like to make it clear that we were just using it as a rendez-vous point –  even I think 90Kc is steep for a vanilla moccafrotthacappolatte.

A little bored, I craned my head back and had a good look up at the building on the corner.

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Look at these queer jade faces: they look as though they could have been stolen from an Aztec temple or mystical totem pole.  Wander around the corner into Stepanska and look even further up (the zoom on my camera wouldn’t reach that far) and you’ll be rewarded by seeing a row of lions’ heads with golden teeth jutting out from the wall.  Seeing them gets me thinking.  Who put them there?  Why lions?  Thinking in this way is good: it means I’m engaging with my surroundings not just sleepwalking along in a routine-induced daze.

If you’re scared of getting lost, walking out in front of a car or bumping into people, then you can engage in active noticing more safely from the window of a tram.  Try jumping on the 9 at Jindrisska.  Fight your way to a seat – not the ones for invalids by the doors as you’ll soon have to leap up again for a senior citizen or someone on crutches.  However much you love people-watching,  ignore the people inside the tram, tilt your head back and look out of the window.  Don’t move until you get to Andel.

Now experiment.  Try other tram routes.  Stare up to examine the buildings around you while you’re waiting for the bus or tram in the first place.  You could even try taking things a step further.  Disappear down side streets just to see what’s there.  I know you know this already but sometimes it’s easy to forget.   You might find something worth seeing or you might end up nowhere.  Don’t worry.  We know the world isn’t flat: there’s no risk of falling off the edge into a void.  Except here of course.

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